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cooked vegetable on pan

Last year, a group of my co-workers decided to do #Veganuary so with the support of the group and a vegan leader guiding us – and since I cannot resist a dare – I joined them. After a mild panic attack a few days before I planned to start (because of the most savage cold of my life that kept me from planning ahead), on January 5, 2023 my first day back in the office, I released all of my worries up to the universe and looked forward.

Why I wanted to try eating vegan
Individual’s decisions to try eating plant-based foods come from different places. Some religions dictate it, some want to save animals, and some focus on the impact of the food industry on our planet. I wanted to see how diet would affect my health. Two months earlier after a physical I got prescribed three medications for blood pressure, cholesterol, and pre-diabetes. Though the medications improve levels and protect my kidneys, the side effects scared the crap out of me. Once I read the word “dementia” on the list – Uh no. Not doing that. So I went vegan to see how much of an impact 1 month could turn this ship around.

How difficult was it?
So much easier than I thought – even in those early days of cold dizziness. As I plodded around my tiny kitchen pantry, I found accidentally-vegan things to eat until I felt well enough to shop. Comfort foods like Pillsbury croissant rolls, kimchi ramen, and oreos. I always keep nuts, fruits/veggies, silk milk, and tofu on hand. I wound up getting closer to my personal chef, Trader Joe since he so willingly labels vegan products so I don’t need to think. Plus as an empty nester on most days, it’s so simple for me to prep and usually enough for two meals. I thought I would miss cheese more than I did – I often just went without. The whole experience felt fun with new textures, foods, flavors, and feelings as a result of eating better in general. I found some great accounts on social media including Maya whose feed made me so hungry that I bought her Ooh, That’s Vegan? cookbook.

My favorite Los Angeles vegan restaurants* (so far):
In Los Angeles, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by lots of reasonable (and some not so reasonably priced) grocery stores with plant-based products. It’s common for our restaurants to either create vegan options or their dishes become vegan after making a few minor modifications. My favorites (alpha order):

basket of mushrooms

My favorite vegan tip:
Mushrooms do a fantastic job as a meat replacement. Portobello mushrooms marinated in the flank steak marinade fulfilled my sentimental recipe memories. Oyster mushrooms lightly battered and fried taste so much like chicken it blows your mind. To find the largest variety of mushrooms – go to Asian markets. AND, they boast a larger selection of vegan kimbap rolls than Trader Joes carries (sorry, TJ – I still love you). Bonus tip: When cooking for a potluck and converting a meal to a vegan recipe, try it before the actual potluck. I wound up with a major fail but will try again just for my own bruised ego.

I’m still 95% vegan! After Veganuary, my numbers significantly dropped so I kept going, determined to test again later in the year. Don’t stop your meds without asking your doctor, but when I got my numbers done in the fall was not on meds and I no longer need any of them. So freeing! It’s changed my health and made me more in tune with my body and how food makes me feel. I lean towards gluten-free and intermittent fast on most days. 

95%, Seriously?
I still allow myself grace in a few spaces:

  • Korean Food: I’m still learning about my birth culture. So if I find a Korean food that I want to try and I can’t find a vegan option, then I will try it once (this year: egg toast). We went to KBBQ for my birthday and I ate japchae and banchan and felt satisfied while the rest of the family grilled. I bought the Korean Vegan cookbook because I love her recipes and life lessons. Truthfully, I ate actual KBBQ on two other occasions.  
  • Sentimental family treat: I grew up in Maryland so many family memories involved Old Bay steamed Blue Crabs. My childhood and my grandparents come back to life when we have this rare treat every few years. 
  • They tried their best: A few times family or friends tried to accommodate my vegan-ness but didn’t quite get there so I just ate it (or stuck to side dishes). I brought a lot of my own meals. I made vegan pasta bolognese (a friend’s vegan-modified recipe) and got the ultimate seal of approval from my kids who liked it too!
  • Salmon: Like once a quarter I craved salmon so I accommodated the craving. I definitely didn’t go around feeding every craving, plus a lot of my cravings changed. 

Actually, if you calculate I eat 2 meals a day (730/year) and I ate meat 20 times or less, I’m better than 95%. 

What now?
I’m staying vegan. I won’t follow you around relentlessly trying to convert you. Nor will I stop going to restaurants with you if you eat meat. If asked, I’ll share my experience and offer support by bringing you snacks, meals, or going out for meals. A few of the above restaurants offered the best meals I’ve ever eaten – vegan or not. If you’re curious, go for it. #VeganJanuary only lasts 31 days. If you slip, try again and keep going. If you really can’t commit to a month, try meatless Mondays. I promise, it’s not all salads and you do save a lot of animals, too.

*All meals were paid for. Book links are affiliate links so if you buy the cookbook, it won’t cost you more, but I do get a few cents for each that I’ll then use to buy more stuff from my favorite vegan social media stars.

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