Everything is better with cheese. I had a friend in college that used to say that. And, you know what, he was right. I love cheese, in all its creamy, stinky glory. It is my go-to food. Or at least it used to be. Until I decided to go vegan and leave cheese behind forever.
What exactly was I thinking you ask? Well, I blame Netflix. During an evening of finding something new to watch, my bf and I came across a documentary called The Game Changers. Now, in our house, no documentary goes un-watched. So, after pouring another glass of wine, we dove in.
It follows UFC fighter James Wilks as he travels the world to meet a group of elite athletes and scientists that have discovered that plant-based diets are revolutionizing the sports world and can have an incredible and lasting effect on the overall health of the general population.
We were hooked. The science and the testimonies from these athletes and doctors were undeniable. So, of course, we had to know more. We found another documentary called Forks Over Knives the next night, and that was that. I began researching the vegan diet and reading everything I could find on how to begin, what the challenges are, how to shop, what to eat, etc. I ordered cookbooks, and reference books and started saving tons of websites. I was obsessed.
The big decision was how to start. Do we ease into it slowly, do we cut out foods one at a time? Nope, we go all in. We go big or we go home. We took a couple days to finish up leftovers that were in the fridge and pantry, then we cleaned house and, after extensive research on protein and vitamins and essential nutrients, we began stocking the kitchen with tofu and soy milk and nutritional yeast and black beans and coconut milk, and of course vegetables and more vegetables.
But not before we each made a list of our “barrier foods”. The things we thought me may not be able to live without. My list was big. At the top was cheese followed by pizza, bacon, mayonnaise, butter, buffalo chicken wraps, ice cream and chocolate. I wasn’t going to let those foods stand in my way, but I was definitely going to find alternatives for those right away. And wine... oh my God was I going to have to give up wine? After some frantic google searches I discovered that a lot of wines are vegan along with most liquors and some beers. Whew, that was close! We almost fell of that wagon before it even started rolling.
We were doing it. We were eating only plant-based foods and giving up meat, seafood, eggs and dairy. Just like that we were vegans. It was pretty easy. We were cooking delicious meals and feeling great. Until the first night that we were both getting home late from work and yoga class and wanted to get takeout. That's where we hit a snag. Our usual haunts were the Chinese restaurant around the corner and the pizza place a couple doors down. No more sweet and sour chicken or pepperoni and mushroom pizza. No more garlic knots or pork fried rice.
I didn’t let it derail us. I did my due diligence and found that the new pizza place in town offers vegan pizza and a slew of salad choices. But pizza with no cheese?? Can you even call it pizza? However, we were in this. We were committed so we ordered two vegan pizzas with our favorite toppings and two vegan salads. And you know what, it was delicious. I’m not going to say I didn’t miss the melted mozzarella that hangs from your plate, or the blue cheese dressing, but the dinner was great.
We continued making new things at home, even taking a stab at homemade Chinese food (which came out amazing and tasted better than takeout). Our first dinner out was a little challenging, but the restaurant was happy to substitute and alter their menu options a little and we had a delicious meal. They even had our new favorite vegan wine on the menu.
I’ll admit, once you leave the house it’s hard. Almost everything on the menus are or are mixed with animal proteins. Everything has cheese or creamy dressing or condiments. Although some restaurants offer vegan options, they are limited. You must be willing to ask for substitutions or omissions. I’ve found that most places are happy to oblige if you tell them about your diet.
Now I love vegan mayonnaise (tangy and delicious), buffalo seitan is my absolute favorite, and cashew milk ice cream is surprisingly creamy. I don’t feel like I'm sacrificing anything. Ok, Dairy Queen isn’t open yet, so I haven’t had to deal with that disappointment. But overall, it has been worth it. I’m just an herbivore in a carnivore world trying to convince herself that cheese isn’t everything.
I’m getting there, but vegan "cheese”??? Come on, you’re not helping.