When I first went vegan, I thought it would make me invincible. I envisioned myself being thinner, stronger and a whole lot healthier. Armed with the menial amount of knowledge I’d picked up when first researching a vegan lifestyle (after I’d already made the decision to go vegan), it seemed like a cure all for practically any and everything. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized that I was heavily idealizing veganism. Yes, I still believe it is by far one of the healthiest diets that most humans can thrive on, but I was taking an unrealistic approach to what veganism was truly about. I was met with a rude awakening after a couple of events that caused me to realize that being vegan, in fact did not make me a superhero.
The closer I got to my one year #veganniversary, the closer I got to the realism of veganism and the fact that it was indeed an entire change of lifestyle, but it was not something that could change everything that was capable of occurring in life. In early fall of 2018, I injured my leg. The injury wasn’t life-threatening, and because of that, I continued to live my life with the same gusto I had been for the past several months. The same gusto that had allowed me to become physically, mentally and spiritually stronger. After all, a positive by-product that came out of me going vegan was that I was able to not only lose weight, but prove to myself that I had the discipline to stick with something that took work– an entire overhaul of how I approached eating but also how I approached many other aspects of my life. Losing weight was tangible evidence that I could make a change in my lifestyle and achieve my fitness goals.
The more I focused on my physical activity, the stronger I became. I was sooo diggin’ that feeling! I actually felt my body changing and felt myself being able to do things I couldn’t do before. But too much of a good thing too soon is the best way I can describe the series of events that happened next. I suffered a mild leg injury from what I eventually determined had to have been overuse of my muscles and ligaments. In my mind, I had to push myself to the limit to keep feeling and being stronger. And pushing oneself is not a bad thing, but it depends on the circumstances and the person. In my case, I was starting to push too much, too soon, not giving my body enough time to rest throughout the week.
So, I’d come to terms with the fact that I’d sprang a ligament in my hip/thigh area. And you would think that I learned my lesson. But almost two months after the initial injury, I re-injured the same spot. However, this time, it was worse. Self-diagnosing, I felt really strongly that I knew what happened. The initial injured area never fully healed and I either tore or pressured that same area even more. The first sprang wasn’t debilitating, but it was definitely painful. But this time, I was literally stopped in my tracks for almost 48 hours, limping around with a wrapped up leg in agony. My body was telling me it had had enough.
This sent me into a depressing tailspin. I knew I couldn’t work with this injury but I also couldn’t afford not to work. I wasn’t sure what to do and the thought of not working for awhile terrified me. Then, I had an epiphany. I was seriously considering possibly permanently injuring myself for the sake of a job and some money. It was true that I couldn’t afford to be out of work for long, but I could afford to let myself heal for a bit. In fact, I had to do that.
I made the decision to leave where I was working. Eventually the pain started lessening in intensity but it was far from healed. I was back at work within a couple of weeks and I continued to really hone in on my homeopathic routine to help with healing. The pain is about 90% gone as of the publishing of this blog post. It just goes to show that letting “food be thy medicine” has really showed value in my life, in spite of my initial anger that being vegan didn’t make me invincible.
A more recent occurrence happened within months of me going off birth control. I decided to make the switch before going vegan actually, because remember, I had already decided to do a health overhaul — going vegan ended up being the last step. Supposedly, the body adjusts within a month after going off the pill. Hormones should be back to normal and all should be well. But for me, it didn’t happen that way. I had lived for a few years with the crystal clear skin and light periods that come as a result of birth control. I had actually forgotten what my body was like pre-pill. Well, I stopped taking the pill in late 2017. It wasn’t until almost a year later that that I experienced a full comeback of my pre-pill self. Really heavy periods and acne. A decent amount of acne. So much so that I was ashamed of myself for being so vain in my hatred of it and also surprised that I had gotten so used to having no acne so quickly, completing forgetting that this was all part of my normal before I ever started the pill. But after several long months, it was as if the birth control had finally flushed out me, taking all the lingering hormones out and now I was really me again. This was a blessing I was happy about, but I kept thinking “how can this be! Everyone on vegan Instagram has beautifully light periods and no pimples!”
But that wasn’t true. The more I explored, the more I saw many vegans with skin problems and period issues. I wasn’t alone and that was comforting. But it was another wake up call that simply being vegan doesn’t fix everything. It was also a motivator to try to find out how I could use food as medicine for these issues. Maybe I hadn’t been vegan long enough yet to notice a change in these areas. Maybe I had to wait for my body to fully detox from the hormones. Maybe I was still eating too much processed food and not enough fresh produce. Maybe I wasn’t eating the right types of produce. There were so many variables to think about. The body is essentially a giant science experiment, and I was and still am determined to figure it all out.
After I come back from Europe, I plan to start a regime with more produce to combat the severity of my menstrual cycle, along with the acne that comes along with it. I’ve heard some things about celery juice and how it can help fight acne (among many other things). It will also serve as a nice detox post decadent euro-vegan eats so I’m trying to reap all the benefits. I’ve already started using a menstrual cup and honestly, I noticed a slight difference during my first cycle using it. That may sound weird, but we as women and humans don’t give ourselves enough credit for making small changes. Bad things happening shouldn’t be considered “normal”. If you notice a positive difference after making a small change, keep going! I’m still amazed that I was able to cure a ligament sprang that felt so severe with herbs! But I shouldn’t be so surprised because people have been doing things like this for centuries. The longer I’m vegan, the longer I eat raw and fresh, the longer I stop putting man-made and chemical-filled things in and on my body, I’m certain that I’ll see amazing changes, probably beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Please stay tuned for more updates on my path to actually becoming an invincible vegan!
Edit**: As of March 21, 2019, I feel very comfortable saying that my leg is at 90%-95% when it comes to being healed. I’ve continued to do all that I can to help it get better, including using it more– something I was initially afraid to do until I recently read an article stating that the ligament will actually become stronger once it’s in use again. I plan on upping my physical activity even more soon, hopefully being back in the gym by summer. I don’t think I’ll start running again, but I will continue to listen to my body and maybe running will be something I can enjoy again by next year. I don’t want to over exert the ligament being that it’s freshly healed.
So this is it. In my first update post, I had made it to the six-month mark and was so excited about it. As with most joyful events that occur in my life, I celebrated with food. I went to get some grub with a pal. My plan for this year-one anniversary was to go get some food with a pal again– but this time, I wanted to up the ante and go to a nicer, swankier spot. One where a server comes to the table and brings us all our vegan goodies. But life had different plans. I was a little disappointed at first, but instead of wallowing, I decided to hit up a slew of vegan spots and focus on my triumph of making it through the first year.
So, here are a few things I’ve done over the past year along with the emotions, revelations, realizations, and successes that have occurred.
I Went Vegan? Yes! I Went Vegan!
Only after spending countless hours (maybe more than I should) on vegan Instagram did I realize that doing week-long vegan challenges before going vegan was more of a common thing than I thought. Well, that’s how my vegan journey started. I randomly decided to do a vegan challenge but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would
actually become a vegan. I was one of those people. You know, those people: “But bacon!” “Oh my goodness, I loooove cheese!” But I made it through most of that week okay. And along the way, something inside changed a bit. I wasn’t vegan for the trilogy of reasons yet (health, the environment and the animals) — it started out solely as a way to improve my health. When I told my then only vegan pal that I went vegan she sounded excited and happy for me, but also a bit skeptical. Maybe she sounded skeptical subconsciously, and at the time it didn’t feel great but now I totally understand it. I decided to go vegan pretty much overnight and that vegan pal is well aware that I originally wasn’t even thinking about going vegan. When we got in contact with each other, I wanted to do yoga not change my entire lifestyle. But the universe and the powers that be take us in the direction that’s best for us, so there I was– a new vegan!
To Food Blog or Not to Food Blog?
Next came the idea to take food blogging more seriously– but this idea was not without some… okay a lot of hesitation. The blog I currently have was born out of two things. The vegan Instagram page I had already been operating, but really my love of blogging. I had started a blog in the past and didn’t keep up with it because I wasn’t passionate about what I was blogging about. When I started my Instagram page, I wasn’t yet sure if blogging was in the future. I had thought about it, but as with most new ventures in my life, I
was terrified of actually starting it (even though things are never really that scary after the fact). But eventually I decided to take the leap and start blogging about this new passion of mine– living a vegan lifestyle. And of course, once I started blogging, it wasn’t that bad. As a matter of fact, it was amazing. And even though I was a blogging novice, I realized that wouldn’t hinder me because I loved writing and I loved being vegan. And those that saw my blog would be able to feel that genuine emotion of a new vegan fumbling and figuring it all out along the way. Also, being able to look back at the collection of photos on my Insta page and my recipe posts and writings on my blog make me feel great about the progression of my vegan journey. And even better is knowing that I’m actually able to reach people, whether through Instagram or the blog, helping to spread the vegan message even more. I never imagined that I could inspire anyone by way of my own vegan journey, and to be honest, it’s still a little intimidating. But It’s a good sort of intimidation because everyone on the planet is meant to inspire everyone else in some way. When we use our talents and focus on our passions, those actions will serve as inspiration for others to do the same and that’s exactly how it should be. And I’ll admit that it feels even greater to have a passion that can lead to inspiring others to focus on bettering their health, being a voice for animals and all living creatures, and protecting the planet we all share.
I Made Vegan Food, I Bought Vegan Food — I ate A LOT of Vegan Food.
Real talk. I didn’t know how to cook before going vegan. I knew how to make basic things like spaghetti with some pasta sauce, or how to scramble eggs (pre-vegan of course). The most labor intensive thing I could make was lasagna and my specialty was actually veggie lasagna, because I preferred veggie lasagna to meat lasagna even before going vegan. But being vegan forced me to learn how to start cooking more to sustain myself and get the nutrients I needed on a vegan diet. And so I did that. And again, being able to look at my Instagram collection of photos with all the food I’ve made over the past year, it makes me really proud that I started appreciating the kitchen and what I could do in it. And yeah, a lot of my recipes included those basic ingredients I’ve always used, because I wasn’t a pro yet. I’ve even written about that. But I am slowly starting to expand my cooking repertoire, learning how to make more intricate things and cooking from scratch and it’s been so fun and such an amazing learning experience. And then there’s going out to eat. I won’t lie, if I could afford to, I would probably go out to eat everyday because I enjoy the experience of dining out. And what do ya know, I happen to live in one of the vegan food restaurant capitals of the world, having tons of vegan spots at my disposal. Unfortunately, I don’t have a ton of money at my disposal. But that didn’t stop me. I created a food budget and used that to go out so I could have the opportunity to start experiencing the vegan food scene of NYC. Everyone has their vices. For some, it’s shopping for clothes and shoes. Others enjoy going out to clubs and partaking of the nightlife. While even more others spend their money on things like traveling or collecting special things. For me, it’s food. I love buying food and I’m not ashamed to say it. So I was determined to start exploring all the NYC vegan food scene had to offer. I tried mostly fast-causal spots and that’s still where I’m at, with the latest spots I’ve hit up being Hartbreakers in Bushwick, and Rip’s Malt Shop in Fort Greene, also in Brooklyn. I enjoyed those meals for my one-year vegan anniversary, along with a trip to Dunwell Donuts in Brooklyn for some delicious doughnuts. I’ve tried some scrumptious food and have been amazed at what is being done with vegan fare. It’s insane and innovative and I know I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. I can’t wait to see and experience so much more vegan goodness.
Pad Thai: Loving Hut
Planet Earth ice cream: Van Leeuwen
Dynamite fries: Hartbreakers
Fried Sprouts: Champs Diner
Doughnuts: Dunwell Donuts
French Toast: Champs Diner
Quinoa Taco salad: By CHLOE.
I Went Raw Vegan for a Week!
I also tried going raw for a week. I already knew I was doing my health a tremendous service by going vegan, but raw veganism was like the epitome of veganism, so I thought I’d try it out. It was a fun and interesting week for sure. You can read about how it went here on my blog. I definitely want to try it again and for much longer than my original challenge which was only a week long. I had planned to do another raw vegan challenge before 2018 was finished but it didn’t pan out that way. So maybe early in the year or right before I leave for my vegan food tour I’ll do it again.
I Went to Not One, but Two Vegan Food Festivals!
I also had the amazing opportunity to go to two vegan food festivals this summer. First, I went to Black Vegfest. This was awesome for two reasons: 1) It was my first ever vegan food festival and 2) It was the first ever Black Vegfest, so it was great to be able to take part in the first installment of what would no doubt become a staple festival for vegans but particularly Black vegans and vegans of color (myself falling into both categories). The food was great and I even met some awesome folks that I kept in contact with after the festival.
Next, I went to Vegandale — based on a real location in Toronto. Tons of vegan food vendors from all over the country and even the world. I went in with a specific goal in mind: get food that wasn’t local to New York City because I could try that anytime. I wanted to try some nationwide and global fare. So I hit up those vendors, trying food all the way from Switzerland, to Chicago, to Texas, to right next door in Jersey and more. It was so fun and exciting. I could barely eat all the food I got which I chronicled over on my Instagram page, but one of my Insta-pals gave me a heads up that I should bring some takeout containers with me so that’s what I did. But even then I didn’t have food for a week like I thought I would– a couple of days was more like it because I ate continuously for both days of the festival and thereafter. I have a big appetite okay? Not that I’m apologizing for it, because my grande appetite was extremely helpful when it came to trying to eat so much food in one day. Both festivals were satisfying to say the least– for my soul, my belly and my happiness. I was thrilled to have been able to attend two major festivals in the vegan world on my first year out. Kudos to me!
I Improved My Health Drastically, But Wasn’t Invincible.
My health improved so much after going vegan. The biggest change was in my nasal passages, which previously had been constantly blocked. Not so much like when you’re sick and badly congested, but definitely at a constant level– and I thought that was my “normal”. It wasn’t until I went vegan and more specifically I believe until I cut out dairy that my breathing passages fully opened up. I also lost weight and experienced a major decrease in the chronic headaches I once had and the colds I always used to get. Whether it was the elimination of animal derived foods or my increased intake of vitamin rich and nutritious whole foods that caused these changes, I am not sure– honestly, it was probably a combination of both. But either way, I’m certain that going vegan is the reason I feel and actually am so much healthier. But even with these major health improvements, I wasn’t invincible like I thought I was or would be after going vegan. I didn’t get sick for a long while after going vegan. I had a history of getting sick and catching colds very easily. I also went vegan in the beginning of winter. And I didn’t get sick at all that winter. The immediate rise in fruits and veggies likely did have something to do with that fateful, illness-free winter, haha. But eventually, I became human again and experienced colds and headaches. However, the fact that they came in so few and far between was still evidence enough for me that veganism was indeed my route to becoming a semi-superhero.
The Learning Continues and I’m Ready for Another Year!
After this first year I’ve learned so much about myself, my personal health, the food I eat, the products I buy and the impact that I have on those around me, the planet I live on and other living beings. Growing in perspective has been life-changing — like, it has literally changed my life. I don’t dislike or judge anyone who isn’t vegan because I was there just a year ago, but I do view life from a different perspective that I wish everyone could see life from. Still, I know that the world is purposely an ever-evolving place; one where change is indeed a constant. I’ve spoken to so many vegans who are amazed at how far vegan options have come and that gives me hope that this lifestyle and movement will continue to grow because as we all know, supply must meet demand. And if we keep demanding products that will lead to a world that is more cruelty-free and better for our health and the environment, we’ll keep getting more options that will help us achieve those things.
I love being vegan and although saying that I’ve been vegan for a year is still a little surreal knowing my history with food, I can’t wait until I am fully at peace with my own personal transformation and don’t have that surreal feeling any longer, knowing that change can also be a constant for every individual on this planet, myself included. And that even for me, someone who once, at times, ate bacon derived from pigs everyday and survived on so much unhealthy crap– starting a new life full of fresh, whole foods, and decadent, cruelty-free eats is completely possible. I’m so looking forward to year two, and three and four and beyond!
Macaroni and cheese is definitely up there when it comes to foods I love to eat. I wouldn’t necessarily call it one of my favorite foods in general, but it is absolutely in an even more specific category: one of my favorite holiday foods. When Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, I am not a happy camper if I don’t have some mac on my plate. And to take it a step further, culturally speaking, I’m used to a very specific type of mac and cheese. B A K E D. African-American households are no strangers to mac and cheese, and to offer us anything other than a tray of baked mac might get you some funny looks (or even a few unkind words), especially at a holiday meal. All the nostalgic memories come flying back to my head of my mom taking the elbow macaroni noodles and tossing them in a huge bowl with tons of cheese and seasoning and them placing it in a few deep dish pans, then, popping them in the oven (with more cheese slathered on top!) for almost an hour — one of the most hunger-inducing hours ever, with the result being a crunchy, soft, smooth, cheesy masterpiece being revealed as part of the rest of the dinner feast.
When you have memories of homemade mac and cheese being as insanely good as I do, it’s kind of hard imagining a ready-made style, boxed mac and cheese that you don’t evenbake could be as good as anything I’ve just described. Well, that’s not entirely true. Because there’s one brand of boxed mac and cheese that has stood the test of time. It’s from that really popular brand that we all know– it starts with a “K” and I have many memories of seeing their commercials on TV as a kid. They promoted the heck out of that boxed mac. And it worked because I know it was a popular product for kids across America– maybe even a staple in their childhood diets. It’s also a staple in the poor college student’s diet, the can’t be bothered to cook bachelor’s diet, and maybe even sometimes the single woman in the city’s (or country?) diet. But believe it or not, I’ve only had that mac and cheese maybe twice in my whole life. Pre-vegan of course. And I am not unhappy about it, because even before I had the more refined foodie palate I currently have, I always knew that homemade baked mac was where it’s at.
Then I became vegan. And I started learning about the world of supermarket vegan food. Not the fresh, whole foods I love talking about on this blog and on my Instagram, but the fast-growing variety of ready-made, easily prepped, frozen, and packaged convenience vegan foods. Most long-term vegans are in awe of the products they see today, because several years ago, most of these easy-to-make products didn’t exist yet! But being vegan today has never been so easy. Even though it may not be the healthiest way to live, if you can’t cook or don’t want to cook, there’s still no excuse for you to harm animals or the planet for your meal when you can stock your cabinets and freezer with tons of microwavable and ready-made vegan options (you also don’t have to do much cooking on a vegan diet that’s based in mostly whole foods but that’s another blog post for another time!). And you also don’t have to give up childhood favorites like ready-made mac and cheese!
That’s where Daiya’s Deluxe Cheddar Style CheezyMac comes in. This boxed, quick mac and cheeze is prepared like any other quick macaroni with cheeze sauce product: you boil the noodles, drain them, then add the cheeze sauce. And within minutes you have a hearty, cheezy pasta dish to have alone or to accompany the rest of your meal. So why am I doing a review on this product when several vegan options like it exist already? Well, there are a few reasons. Vegan cheese has come a looong way. I became vegan at the tail end of it’s growth, but I had already heard many of the rumors. Vegan cheese has sometimes gotten a bad rep. There’s been issues with it not melting easily. Issues with texture. And most importantly, there have been issues with taste and flavor. Some just aren’t feelin’ the flavor of vegan cheeses.
So when trying this product, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve tried Daiya‘s cream cheeze and I must admit, I wasn’t a fan. This was toward the beginning of my vegan journey and it wasn’t the best introduction into vegan cream cheese options. So I wondered if this cheeze sauce would follow suit with the cream cheeze debacle.
It absolutely did not.
Not only is this mac and cheeze amazing when it comes to flavor, but the texture is mind-blowing! The noods are basic elbow noodles. Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning that the noodles this mac comes with are gluten-free which is a plus for the gluten-free folks out there! But the cheeze brings in all the punch and glitz; it’s thick and creamy and there was actually an overabundance of the delicious saucy-goodness. The noodles were well-coated when I was only about 3/4 of the way through the sauce pack!
And let’s get more into the flavor. This cheeze sauce is SO similar to dairy-tasting cheese! If you are trying to ease into a vegan lifestyle (or get a non-vegan to try a vegan dish), this is perfect because your taste buds won’t know the difference! I can’t put enough emphasis on how much it tasted like the dairy-cheese I used to eat — it reminded me of hearing about folks on vegan Instagram complain that some meat substitutes tasted too
much like animal meat and it freaked them out. That was my experience here. This tasted so much like dairy cheese that it was a bit weird! But knowing that it wasn’t actually made from dairy was all the comfort I needed to continue to enjoy my mac. And again, the sauce is thick a.f! No need to worry about the sauce being too runny or not cheezy enough. There is also the perfect amount of saltiness to it. I jazzed mine up by adding some pepper to the finished product– if you check out the pic of my mac below, I also added some bacon to it because even as a vegan, I still believe that bacon makes everything better 🙂 But I didn’t add any salt because it didn’t need it! If you do add salt, do so sparingly– every palate is different so maybe you’ll think it needs some but enjoying it “as is” is perfect. And honestly, I’m considering trying my hand at baking this mac– with a few additions like some milk, shredded cheeze, and breadcrumbs, this can easily become a baked mac and cheeze masterpiece suitable for a spot on any holiday feast table. When I do bake it, I’ll be sure to update you all on how it went, and more importantly, how it tasted! 😀
So that’s it! If you’re looking to add a boxed food to your kitchen arsenal for quick meals or those times where you don’t feel like cooking (or don’t have the time to cook a more elaborate meal). Or if you actually just prefer to eat mac and cheeze that isn’t baked, or boxed mac because it brings back some childhood nostalgia, you need to get this product! I know there are a few other vegan boxed mac and cheeze’s out there– although I haven’t tried them yet, that won’t take away from how good this Daiya one is. Maybe I’ll do a taste test on a few of them down the line. But comparing to the taste, texture, ease of preparation, and overall deliciousness of this Daiya mac is not gonna be easy. Thanks for keeping us vegans going strong Daiya!
I’ve always had a big imagination. Over the course of my youth, this led to me having many passions and hobbies in life. When I was a kid, I used to love watching television shows about science (hello Zoom and The Magic School bus) and would try to recreate science experiments at home. I was also an only child, so the world was my imagination’s oyster– I would concoct vivid scenarios in my head due to a lack of mental stimulation that most kids might have found in the presence of siblings. I would read entire Goosebumps, Fear Street and Babysitters Club books in one day, then act out scenes from the books with imaginary people. Because of this immersion, I also grew to love writing, drawing and just being creative in general. But one hobby I never took to in my youth— or in my adult life for that matter, was cooking. However, thinking back on it, I’m not sure why that was the case— as a child, I loved watching cooking programs; I’d fall asleep to shows like Iron Chef (the original Japanese version) and Essence of Emeril. I always found watching cooking to be therapeutic in a way. But I never learned to cook myself. I loved my mom’s cooking but she never really taught me how to cook the meals she made and I never felt as interested in learning to cook as I did in watching others cook. But all of that changed about a year ago. It was a culmination of things that led to both a necessity and a desire to learn how to cook for myself.
The most epic event to occur was me moving out on my own — I had to start adulting very quickly. This of course included learning how to keep myself properly satiated so I didn’t, you know— die.
But I should probably clarify that I wasn’t a complete novice in the kitchen. I knew how to make the most basic foods for survival, that would allow me to not have to live off ramen in a cup and frozen microwaveable meals. I could make rice and pasta. I knew how to operate a can opener so that opened up a whole world of legumes and veggies to me. I even made veggie lasagna once in awhile— funny enough, even before going vegan I preferred making veggie lasagna to meat lasagna. But in my opinion, I was no cook. If someone asked me to make dinner on the fly, I would have considered that to be a curveball in my daily routine for sure, and more likely than not, we’d be having pasta and meat sauce— my go-to on the fly meal.
But the universe continued to unfold my life in an eventful path of twists and turns— well maybe I shouldn’t blame the universe entirely, because I came to many of the decisions that led me to where I currently am on my own; but I believe that everything happens for a reason, oftentimes with light (or very heavy!) influence from the universe as well.
Just a few months after my big move, I became vegan. So not only did I now have to learn how to cook, but in true “Tiffany style“, I had just made this task even harder for myself by now having to learn how to prepare foods I’d never seen or heard of in my life, while also ensuring that I was eating the right things so that I didn’t fall prey to what I thought was my “lingering” iron-deficiency anemia, or any other health ailments I thought I could now suffer from after having cut out meat and “good dairy” like yogurt and some cheeses.
I read up on and started fumbling around with the top vegan proteins. But how was I going to make tofu not taste like lifeless, chewy pieces of gunk? And I didn’t even know how to pronounce seitan let alone use it as a protein in a meal. What should I start eating more of? Less of? If you read my post about the staple foods I keep in the kitchen as a new vegan, I explain a little about traversing the line of becoming an unhealthy vegan versus a healthy vegan. Being that the former was a large possibility if I started my new vegan life living solely off pasta, rice and Gardein frozen meat substitutes, I quickly had to become well-versed on how to cook not only for flavor but for actual nourishment.
And that learning process is still ongoing. But I’ve also started learning other things about myself. One is that I can actually cook! As I said earlier, I never considered myself a chef. Even when I decided I would make a vegan Instagram account and document the meals I made, I still never thought I’d be up to the caliber of deserving the title of “chef”. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I put such emphasis on my food being plated beautifully. It’s true, I do eat with my eyes and I do believe that beautiful food is a feast in itself; but I also believe that for me, plating food in an aesthetically pleasing way will hide some of the fact that I don’t have top-notch cooking skills or use elaborate cooking techniques.
This is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it is somewhat in my nature to partake in what I consider to be a healthy amount of self-loathing in whatever I take on— although not entirely by choice but I feel doing so has kept me humble for the most part. If you follow my Instagram page, you can pretty much see the chronology of my chef development. A lot of my meals are based in the simple foods I’ve always been familiar with— pasta and rice— I use a lot of canned goods also, like different varieties of beans. But now, I see these foods in a whole new light. I realized that those basic foods are the foundation of many different styles of cuisine and that it was possible for me to make beautiful and nutritious meals using them without considering them to be too basic or not fancy enough. I also began to realize that jazzing up foods from a can was not something to be considered sacrilegious in the world of cooking. On the contrary, all foods, whether from a can or from the earth could be used to make great food. But that still wasn’t enough. Like most things I take on, there was some polarity involved. I have a tendency to start a hobby or project and not fully see it through to completion, or at least not finish it in a timely fashion. Either that, or the exact opposite will happen, and I’ll put my absolute all into it, accepting nothing less than perfection. I pretty much knew early on I would never not be vegan once I made the switch, and therefore all of my blogging endeavors involving vegan food would likely fall into the latter category. That meant that once I started putting dishes together, I immediately felt a lot of pressure to make sure everything looked beautiful even if there were only a minimal amount of components to it. It also had to be obvious that there was at least some element of effort put into each dish, no matter how simple it was. After all, I was taking pictures of this food and posting them on a public platform for the world to judge!
So that was the beginning of my role as a vegan chef. But I still didn’t consider myself a chef just yet— at that point, I was simply a new vegan sharing pictures of the food I ate on my evolving journey, while acting as a pseudo-chef. But remember, I also work in a restaurant. Being surrounded by chefs making food and plating things all pretty, and conducting R&D (research and development) on new dishes was really inspiring for me as I delved deeper into what was now becoming a passion for food and being in the kitchen. And so, naturally, my journey evolved into creating new things— I slowly began putting more focus on innovation with the dishes I was making, while purposefully keeping those elements of simplicity and ease to them, never forgetting my roots of not knowing how to cook and being lost at the beginning of my own vegan journey. I wanted my recipes to be accessible to new vegans so that they didn’t become discouraged on their own journeys. It was crazy because the very things I had been embarrassed about— that is, using super simple ingredients and techniques, became the very basis of the message and platform that I was now trying to promote as a vegan. There was so much self-discovery involved in this process because I now realized that the reason I didn’t start out with this premise was because of my own shortcomings such as an irrational quest for perfection and perhaps even a slight desire, and maybe need, to be accepted by others in the vegan community through my seemingly complex dishes. But I didn’t realize that so many people in the vegan Instagram community very much so appreciated the simplicity I was trying to avoid — in fact, this premise of simple, cheap and easy meals already largely exists within the vegan Instagram community because the community is largely made up of average people on a vegan journey who are also not chefs and who are also making food with simple ingredients, everyday.
Thinking about my evolution has been interesting. As I exposed myself to more vegan bloggers on Instagram, I saw amazing folks who actually made it a point to state that their food was “ugly” — as though they were trying to shun the idea that they’re food and Instagram accounts would only be acceptable if they made Pinterest-worthy vegan dishes. Seeing things like this helped me loosen up a bit more. I talk about these topics of becoming more comfortable in my growth as a recipe-developer and chef in the captions on my meal posts as well. I’ve had some rough days in the kitchen where something didn’t go as planned, and I was just like screw it.
Once, I made and plated a sandwich beautifully. It was a breakfast sandwich, stacked high on a bagel with lots of goodies, including tofu scram. I made the mistake of thinking that using a really sharp knife would help me avoid destroying the sandwich that I had already put together when slicing it in half. I was wrong. It toppled and smashed together. I was horrified. More so, I was pissed. I had already waited to eat after a long day so that I could put extra care and detail into preparing and plating this nice meal because I knew I’d be taking a picture. So not only was I hungry, but the wait didn’t even pay off because the sandwich was now ruined. But the anger didn’t last too long, because instead, the experience helped me continue to realize that: 1) it’s important to seize the moment when you can and should, and 2) this was life— nothing is perfect, and sometimes gravity wins and your sandwich falls and topples before you can take a picture.
I’ve also began to embrace the chaos of the kitchen and understanding the need to try out recipes and conduct R&D. More recently, when I created the recipe for my lavender cupcakes with lavender and blueberry buttercream frosting, I was so excited because I had begun making dishes from scratch. Nothing from a box here baby. Now I was starting to feel like a legitimate chef. And the cupcakes came out amazingly. But the buttercream. I screwed up the buttercream. And the crappy part was that immediately after screwing it up, I knew that I’d screwed it up but it was too late to turn back. This was me becoming comfortable with my mistakes — mistakes that would inevitably happen as I created things from scratch. But being a bit of a perfectionist made it hard to naturally be comfortable with those aspects of being a chef. So I had to pull inspiration from other areas of my life (and youth) and think about all of it as one big science experiment. Trial and error, and eating yummy stuff throughout — mistakes and all.
I’ve finally reluctantly accepted the title of amateur chef, but I’ve gone a step further and now call myself a plant-based recipe developer because I do love being an alchemist in the kitchen and creating new things from basic ingredients and turning simple food into food that looks extraordinary and tastes great and has things like “flavor profiles”. I feel that if the passion and willingness to learn is there, you don’t need classical training to be considered a chef. In fact, I know a couple of chefs with no classical training in the field, although I very much admire those who do have it. However, I myself definitely do not have enough experience in the kitchen or enough knowledge of food, flavors, or cooking techniques to take the “amateur” part off yet. And even when I do, knowing me, I’ll probably still call myself an amateur. I don’t know if cooking will become a more prominent part of my life after I leave grad-school or if it will remain as a passionate hobby. Just as my vegan and chef journey has organically unfolded, I am letting that part of my life organically unfold as well. But I am absolutely certain that so long as I can help it, and in some capacity, cooking and developing vegan recipes will always be part of what I have to offer to the world.
Inflammation is one of the body’s natural reactions to injury or infection. When we have a sore throat, our tonsils may become inflamed. When we break bones, tear ligaments or simply overuse parts of our body, those areas may also become inflamed or cause other body parts nearby to suffer the same swollen fate. I personally learned this the hard way several weeks ago. I woke up one morning and all of a sudden, I had pain in my hip area, around where one of my hip flexors are. I wasn’t sure what caused it, but I self-diagnosed myself using a bit of logic. I work on my feet all day— somewhat vigorously at that, because my job requires me to go up and down stairs often, and I had recently been training more than usual, including my lower-body. I also tend to go harder during leg days because I know that it is both the largest and strongest muscle group in the body, so I like to challenge myself. All of these factors seemed to spell out a recipe for disaster. I knew any one of these things could have caused my injury, but it was likely a combination of all of them.
This injury set me on a whole new path physically, but perhaps more importantly, psychologically. I had become so used to physical activity being part of my current lifestyle that the idea of not being able to exercise was crazy to me, and it made me feel very uncomfortable. So I sought to try to fix the problem— but the catch was, i was going to heal myself naturally. I told myself that if things get worse, if the pain becomes so bad that I can’t walk or no longer have a full range of motion, that’s when I’d obviously have to see a professional. Otherwise, one of my new goal’s in life was to utilize professional help as little as possible and try to solve issues homeopathically. And in this case, this route felt even better after doing a bit of research and finding out that ligament tears and small fractures could totally heal without any sort of surgery. I started researching natural remedies for pain and inflammation. I found many suggestions, and started to incorporate them into my daily diet and life whenever and wherever possible. Here are a few that I find to be key to helping with inflammation and pain, but do some research of your own because there is a wealth of knowledge to be found when it comes to homeopathic remedies for these types of ailments.
Turmeric has great healing effects when it comes to inflammation reduction. It is also used to help aid in managing infections. The agent in the spice that helps with inflammation reduction is called curcumin. This is also what gives turmeric its yellow hue. I started drinking more golden milk lattes to ingest turmeric, and also added it to my herbal teas and of course, I already have it with foods such as tofu scrambles. You can also add it to soups, sauces and sauteed veggies. Making curries is a great way to add turmeric to your diet without even noticing it, because the strong flavor blends in well with the other flavors often found in curries. However, there is a catch. Pure turmeric will not help with inflammation on its own. For turmeric to do its job in the body, it must be absorbed from the gut — this is only possible if there is a fat source present. Otherwise, little turmeric will be absorbed. This is an easy fix — in food, make sure you are using some sort of carrier oil; this is yet another benefit to sauteing and cooking with olive oil! I often use olive oil to grease the pan even for tofu scram (I rarely use vegan butters such as Earth Balance for greasing the pan — I primarily use it for baking purposes and as a spread on bread), and I always use it for my sautes. This will ensure that the spice has a fat source to ride along with as it enters the body. You can also add coconut oil to your golden milk lattes and herbal teas to ensure absorption. Black pepper is also helpful when it comes to turmeric absorption. The compound piperine which is found in black pepper, blocks the metabolic breakdown of turmeric in our guts. So ingesting turmeric with black pepper will allow more turmeric to stay in our system and not be broken down. From there, the fat source (i.e. oil) will help that extra turmeric be absorbed into our bodies. Check out my recipe for a delicious golden milk latte which includes turmeric, black pepper and coconut oil to ensure you get your daily anti-inflammatory dose of turmeric!
White Willow Bark
White willow bark is often touted as “nature’s aspirin”. This is because it has comparable effects on pain relief as the man-made medicine. This herb is derived from willow trees that are at least 2-3 years old. You can find it in many forms, including pills, teas, and tinctures. The goal is to absorb salicin, which is the active ingredient in the bark that has pain relieving properties. When ingested, about 80% of salicin is absorbed into the body. White willow bark can help with all sorts of pain, from menstrual cramps to severe pain and inflammation.
Peppers and Black Pepper
Practically all pepper contain capsaicin — the compound in them which causes all that hot, hot heat. In fact, all varities of peppers are originally derived from one single plant, the capsicum annum — native to the tropical regions of the Americas (a.k.a the bountiful Caribbean!) Capsaicin works in an interesting manor: when we consume peppers containing the compound, it binds to certain heat receptors in our body — even though there is no real danger at hand, the body thinks it is being exposed to extreme heat, and therefore will desensitize painful stimuli via our pain nerve cells. That’s actually pretty cool. Capsaicin may also help to improve blood flow circulation in the body when taken internally. This was helpful for me because I discovered that ligaments may take longer to heal because there is a poor blood flow to those areas. Therefore, improving blood flow may help with healing.
Black pepper uses that same compound mentioned earlier, piperine, to combat inflammation. The compound may reduce pain and inflammation even at low levels of ingestion. I already add pepper to most of my food — this is probably one of the easiest natural remedies to incorporate into your diet as most people use pepper on a daily basis. As mentioned before, you can also add the spice to your teas or other drinks. You can balance out the heat from the black pepper with some brown sugar or agave, or other spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Or, if you like the extra heat in your food or drinks, pile it on!
Ginger may have anti-inflammatory compounds that work similarly to existing meds used to treat pain and inflammation. When taken in relatively higher doses (at least 2 grams or more) it can have great effects on the body, not only for pain and inflammation, but also to help those with pain associated with conditions such as arthritis. Ginger can be added to foods, teas and other drinks, or even ingested raw (although it might upset your stomach this way). It is another easy one to add into your daily routine. Like capsaicin, ginger also helps with blood circulation when taken internally; so, when it’s combined with pepper and turmeric (maybe in a ginger turmeric latte?) or even on its own in ginger tea, it can help with the healing process of ligaments by improving blood circulation to that area.
As of the publishing of this blog post, my hip and leg are still not fully healed. However, I have done more research and found many sources that say that even a minor tear of fibers that hasn’t limited my mobility may still take weeks to heal. Right now, I’m attempting to isolate the pain. I spoke with a co-worker a little while ago who is well-versed in bodily functions as well as a trainer who I met at, of all places, Vegandale. They both stated that my hip flexor pain could actually be a result of issues from another location. As in, if my knees or feet aren’t doing great, my hip flexors may be doing extra work to compensate, thus resulting in the pain and inflammation. The trainer was great– she explained so much to me about what might be going on and how that area of the body functions, and even offered a small suggestion to start to alleviate the pain. For now, I’m focusing on my hip area, and then I’ll make sure my feet are okay. My knees feel fine but if anything, I’ll check those out too. I’ll update this later when I’m back at 100%. Until then, I hope these natural remedies help to aid you on a more homeopathic journey as they have helped me. And just to be on the safe side, you may want to check with a doc to make sure everything is okay before starting any sort of regimen, even a homeopathic one. And of course, avoid any known allergens, such as black pepper — even if they can help with the pain!*
[Edit:] As of January 7, 2019, the current state of my hip/leg has improved drastically. I still experience some discomfort which lets me know that my leg is not completely healed yet, but I am very mobile and able to carry on with my daily life. Here’s the condensed version of how this injury affected other areas of my life to date– I ended up having to leave where I was working because the pain was unbearable at the time. It was bittersweet but my health was more important. I ended up working at another restaurant (and luckily got the gig not too long after leaving the last place thanks to a pal) but was blessed that I finally got to work at a vegan spot! Funny enough though, this place was also dual-level! More stairs! But I had bills to pay and I needed a job and it was a vegan restaurant so I was in no matter what. And I think that a combination of not carrying heavy stuff anymore and not going up and down the stairs as often helped contribute to the healing process. I was also completely or mostly homebound on my days off which helped too. A negative aspect however, was that I couldn’t exercise. As of this update edit, I haven’t been to the gym in almost four months. It was kind of depressing and messed with my confidence a bit too. But everything happens for a reason so I was able to focus a lot on my mental state and why something like not being able to exercise had such a negative affect on me to begin with. I was also able to save more money from not getting as much food or going out to eat because since I couldn’t exercise as vigorously, I didn’t want to indulge as much because I was fearful of putting on weight. More mental love I had to give myself to work all that stuff out. But it was easier to save money anyway because I also had to accept a pay cut at my new position and that wasn’t fun, but like I said, everything happens for a reason. Flash forward to now and all thanks to this injury I’ve been able to work a lot more on my relationship with food– something I thought I’d worked out simply by going vegan but it wasn’t until I couldn’t exercise and had to focus more on my diet and the food I was consuming (and not consuming) that I realized that being vegan doesn’t fix everything.
[Edit:] As of April 24, 2019, I have started taking ibuprofen to help with inflammation and any lingering pain in my hip joint. I am also aware that it’s likely my hip joint/socket and not a ligament that had been the cause of all these leg issues, as there technically isn’t a ligament in the hip area, but being that I never went to the doctor, I don’t know if a ligament elsewhere was the culprit, although I doubt it at this point. I’m not changing anything in this article however, because my mistakes are part of my learning process 🙂
The ibuprofen has been amazing. I feel absolutely no pain from inflammation or anything else when I’m physically active. And it’s not just because ibuprofen can “numb” the pain. But instead, as an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), it has the ability to block COX enzymes within our body that aid the production of prostaglandins which actually promote inflammation. That’s all explained in more detail in this article.
However, I am still extremely proud of myself for letting my leg heal naturally. This injury happened several months ago, and if I would have went straight to using ibuprofen, even combined with non-medicinal methods (i.e.- no pressure on the leg, wrapping it, etc.), I would have run the risk of 1) becoming dependent on it, which is something that we are warned of even while we are told to use the drug daily to help with inflammation, 2) falling prey to some of the side effects of taking too much ibuprofen, and/or 3) building a tolerance for it, meaning it wouldn’t have the amazing effects it’s now having on my body.
The point is, I’m not completely averse to using modern medication, but for all the above-mentioned reasons, I think it’s vital that we try to solve as many issues as possible taking the homeopathic route first before automatically turning our bodies over to modern medicine. Natural meds were created by nature and will likely interact with your body wonderfully. Modern meds, although stronger in some instances, were created by man, and therefore may not necessarily interact with our bodies so seamlessly. I’m taking the ibuprofen just a couple of times a week to see how it goes. But I’ll tell you this: I never worry about overdosing or experiencing side effects from sniffing too much peppermint.
As I approach my one year vegan anniversary, I can definitely say that I’ve eaten a lot of food. But that’s not really any different than before I was vegan. I ate a lot of food then too. The difference is, I ate a lot of bad food. Even if we eliminate the definition of “bad food” by way of what most vegans might say (so removing animal meat, dairy and eggs from the picture), I also ate a lot of junk food, processed stuff and just had an overall unhealthy relationship with food; I ate horrible portions, never really ate intuitively, and didn’t listen to the signs my body would give me regarding the nutrients it both wanted and needed.
After going vegan, a lot of that changed. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat my share of processed foods and junk food. But now, I eat them more in moderation— they aren’t staples in my diet. I also eat them as part of an overall balanced diet, filled with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And my relationship with food has and continues to improve.
When I first went vegan, I was riding that fine line of trying to figure out what type of vegan I was going to be. Having eliminated so much of what I had been eating previously, the very act of eating was new to me. I started out trying to revamp the salad as we know it, making so many variations of it because it was my safety zone. Then, I made my way into discovering vegan fast food — all thanks to living in one of the major cities of the world that offers practically limitless vegan options. I also found frozen options like Gardein products, and it blew my mind. These things were not new to most vegans, I know, but I was shocked to see things like burgers, mozzarella sticks, chick’n tenders, “beef” tips, and meatballs. I thought to myself that this vegan thing wasn’t gonna be so hard after all. And then all the other realizations set in about foods I had previously been eating that were also vegan: pasta, rice, most bagels, and snack foods like pretzels.
You might be able to see where this is going.
I knew I would keep salads on board so I could get my veggies in, but all of this new information in such a short period of time was overwhelming. It took all the strength I had inside along with the powers of the universe and God himself to help me get a grip (I can get kind of anxious when I’m overwhelmed) and figure everything out so that I didn’t start to go down the forbidden vegan path of “unhealthy veganism”. In the beginning, this journey was only about health for me, so I thought to myself that I’d be damned if I let the former unhealthy me continue to be just as unhealthy but in vegan form— and although that sounds like an oxymoron, it’s not. It is possible to be an unhealthy vegan.
Now, I’ve slowly started to find my balance. I don’t buy as much food as I used to several months ago, because I’m learning to use and produce at a more sustainable and realistic level. No need to have an overstock of food if I’m not cooking for a lot of people— after all, I’m not stocking up for the apocalypse. So with these new revelations, I do have several staple foods that I keep in the kitchen to have on hand, no matter what. That means that if you were to come over at any given moment, it is highly unlikely that you would not see most or all of these foods. Here’s my go-to list of vegan goodies:
Tofu is a classic vegan food. I always have at least one to two packs of it in the fridge. It’s versatile, cheap and can be used with any meal — salads, as a standalone protein in a main meal, tofu scramble, and of course, as the base for so many vegan “remakes” like egg salad and certain cheeses such as vegan ricotta. It’s also a flavor sponge. Tofu has often gotten a bad rap because people say it has “no flavor”. I was one of those people. There are also gripes with the texture. But what folks don’t realize is that tofu comes in a variety of textures, from silken to extra firm. And as for flavor, the soybean based protein takes on the flavor of whatever you want it to, savory or sweet! When it comes to tofu, with the right seasoning and cooking techniques, you end up with a completely different food than what you started out with. There’s also the health benefits. Tofu is one of the greatest comebacks within the vegan community when people ask the infamous question: “where do vegans get their protein from?” Not only is it low in calories, coming in at about 100 calories for 1/4 of an average size block of tofu, but there are about 10 grams of protein for every 1/2 cup serving. Not too shabby. That means a whole block of tofu would come in at around 400 calories and between 30-40 grams of protein. That’s AMAZING. Just make sure to get organic tofu to avoid any GMO clash; it’s usually the same price or very close in price to non-organic tofu.
Ahhh, my food bae. I live and breathe for this fatty green fruit. Avocados are a staple in my fridge for sure — in fact, my fridge might as well be an avocado tree because it’s never without this fruit in there. Avocados are another versatile food (versatility is definitely a common thread on this list), coming in handy for literally any and every meal you can think of– you can chop it up on top of tofu scram, salads, and tacos, or as a side for pretty much any meal in practically any type of cuisine. You can also mash it up and slather it on bread, creating avocado toast, or mash it up and throw some tomato, onion and spices in it and make some guac — the possibilities are endless. Not to mention that when it comes to avo, you don’t even need all the pomp and circumstance — you can totally have it as is with a little salt or some EBTB seasoning, or completely plain if that’s your jam. And of course, there are health benefits. Avocados are full of vitamins and minerals. Just to name a few, they are packed with: lutein, potassium, and are a great source of vitamin B. And unlike most fruits, they are low in sugar, and they’re also a great source of fiber. Then there’s all that healthy fat– avos are one of the best sources of monounsaturated fat, which is the good fat that our bodies need to help lower bad cholesterol. But avos are high in calories, so be careful not to overdo it or you might counteract the good stuff.
Beans (lots of ’em)
I keep a variety of beans on hand for quick and easy meals. The three main types I always have on hand are black beans, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans (or chickpeas). You can throw kidney beans in there too. Whole Foods Market sells organic versions of all these varieties for only 99 cents per can which is amazing. I usually have no less than three cans of each and I replace them as I use them. I use beans for any and all meals — pinto and kidney beans go great with tofu scram, and you can use them in stews, chilis, over rice, in cold salads, or have them on their own. So that means that yes, they are versatile — there, I said it and I’m not ashamed because foods that are versatile are kind of important when you’re thinking economically and efficiently. You can also mash them up and have them refried or use them as a bean dip. And beans and legumes are another heavy hitter when it comes to health benefits. They are filled with protein and fiber, both of which are important for reducing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, as well as (re)building muscle. Chickpeas have approximately 14 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber per one cup serving, while kidney beans have approximately 13 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber per one cup serving. That’s a lot of protein and fiber, not to mention they taste yummy.
This is a broad category I know, but I usually have at least one of the following on hand: bananas, apples, grapes. In that order. Sometimes I have all three; sometimes I have several different types of fruits going on at once, and once in awhile I spring for berries which are a little pricier but worth it because I not only get my antioxidant kick but I can jazz up my smoothies and chia pudding for about a week with just one container of strawberries or blueberries. I often eat bananas alone, but also have them with peanut butter as a snack. And 9 times out of 10 I’ll throw them in a smoothie. Maybe 10 times out of 10. I eat apples alone as a quick snack and often carry them with me when I’m out as one of my recharge snacks (along with snack bars). I buy them in bulk when I plan on making juice. Grapes are a great snack for grazing, which I often do– that is eating food in the form of small meals and snacks throughout the day. Personally, I like green grapes more than the red variety but I’ll eat either. All fruits are full of a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants depending on which ones you’re noshing on, and they’re at the top of the (vegan) food chain of foods we should be consuming in abundance. They are truly nature’s medicine and I try to consume them daily but if not daily at least several times a week.
This is a big one. It’s almost up there with avo for me. I will literally eat peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon. Yes, I’m an adult and I said it. Furthermore, I will also take a giant spoonful of peanut butter and top it off with some sort of jelly or fruit preserve and have that in spoonfuls. Come at me if you dare. I have no shame, and why should I when peanut butter is not only delicious, but also high in good fats. Like avocado, peanut butter is also high in calories– there are about 200 calories in just 2 tablespoons; meaning I should probably lay off the spoonfuls, but don’t judge me. I rarely make a smoothie without peanut butter because, in my opinion, it’s one of the best flavors in the world. As I mentioned, I often snack on it alone, but it taste great on apples, bananas and celery. It can also be used to create yummy peanut sauces which you can slather on all different types of noodles or veggies. And of course, there’s the classic PB&J — no, it’s not just for kids. I’ve been known to have a PB&J sandwich for lunch — or breakfast, or dinner, on more than one occasion.
Cilantro is probably my favorite herb ever. I have yet to meet anyone that doesn’t like cilantro, but I’m sure they exist as silly as they may be 😀 Basil is a close second here, as I also love that herb, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the champ cilantro because I don’t think it’s as versatile. I think it’s important to keep at least 1 or 2 herbs in the fridge. I can add cilantro to anything. And I usually do. I don’t care if it’s a fruit salad, I will add cilantro to it. I don’t know what it is about the flavor of it that is so intoxicating to me, but I’m obsessed. I buy it in bunches and can go through about three bunches in two weeks or less. Yep, I’m a fan. Health-wise, cilantro (also known as coriander) is a great source of antioxidants and also has vitamin A which helps many of our organs work properly, and also assists in healthy vision and a healthy immune system.
Almond milk is hand-down my favorite plant-milk. I usually go for the unsweetened variety whether I get plain or vanilla. Whatever your poison, the point is that it’s always good to have milk on hand, and I usually have about 2 to 3 containers of it in the fridge at any given time. Plant-milk is good for all the same stuff dairy milk was good for: cereal, soups and sauces, as a smoothie base and for baking all sorts of goodies. Not to mention chocolate milk, duh. The health benefits will vary depending on your plant-milk of choice. So if you favor oat, soy, hemp or rice milk over almond, the calories, vitamins and minerals will all depend upon your choice. As far as almond milk goes, like dairy milk, it is often enriched with additional vitamins and minerals. However, almond milk specifically is naturally higher in vitamin E, providing approximately 49% of the recommended daily amount, whereas dairy milk provides no vitamin E at all. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in the body, helping to protect cells from free radicals. So drink up!
This can really be called “grains”, but I’m talking about my kitchen so I’m being very specific because within the gamut of grains, I kinda like rice a lot. But broadly speaking, rice could easily be replaced with quinoa or farro, so don’t limit yourself. And each grain has their own set of health benefits (farro for example, is higher in fiber than both brown rice and quinoa). I always have rice on hand because it’s a basic grain that is both filling and tasty and goes with just about any meal but also tastes great on it’s own. It’s an amazing base for foods from many different cuisine types as well. I won’t lie, I’m somewhat partial to white rice over brown rice. It’s a bad habit for sure, but not the worst of problems to have when trying to eat healthier. Both white and brown rice have vitamins and minerals — but it’s no secret that brown rice is more nutritious overall, particularly in the fiber department. The main problem with white rice is it’s high glycemic index, which can have an affect on blood sugar. In addition to this, brown rice is also considered a whole food, whereas white rice, because of the processing it goes through, is not a whole food– or more specifically, is not a whole grain. So it may be better to go with brown rice, especially if you know you have problems with sugar in you body or diet or you’re trying to consume more whole, plant-based foods in your diet.
I debated adding this to the list, but if you have read or made any of my recipes, it’s no secret that I use olive oil a lot. I use it to saute everything and anything. I actually rarely use it as a dip for breads although I do that as well (especially if there’s a flavored olive oil on hand!) but I mainly use it to cook with because of it’s high heat point and mild but rich flavor. I also love that it has health benefits. It’s another food that is high in monounsaturated fats, and it also contains polyphenols which act as a form of antioxidants. I am less cautious about using small amounts of olive oil than I am with avo and peanut butter. Maybe it’s a mental thing since olive oil is in liquid form so I feel as though it’s not as bad? Either way, it should also be consumed in moderation due to it’s high fat and calorie content, but I still say use it to saute every and anything!
So that’s my list. These foods are always in my kitchen no matter what. They are all super nutritious and taste great, and most of them are like the transformers of foods, able to change forms to become many different things making them extremely versatile for cooking. Using many of these base foods, I can simply add other goodies to make amazing meals. But if I don’t feel like doing that, I can just mix and match some of these base foods to make an exceptional meal as well. I didn’t even factor in all the amazing spices, vinegars and sauces I also like to keep around, but that’s a whole other list for a whole other blog post.
During the month of July I decided to try my hand at eating a raw diet for a week. There were a few factors that went into my decision to try this out:
I had experienced so many positive changes after switching to a vegan diet — and apparently, eating raw is like a level 100 vegan thing to do, so I figured this might improve my health even more.
I thought it would serve as a “boost” or catalyst in my daily diet to help with my continued journey at becoming healthier and more fit — in other words, I’d probably lose some weight.
I just really wanted to see if I would be able to eat raw for a week, because I was definitely skeptical that I could.
Going in to this challenge, I decided to create some tangible health markers so I could measure the effects, if any, that eating raw had on my body. These are a few things I was looking out for:
Did my energy levels improve?
Did I feel satiated/hydrated?
Did I feel stronger in any way(s)?
Did eating raw affect any other aspects of my body externally or internally?
I monitored these things beforehand, then, after eating raw, the plan was to self-assess and see how I felt after the week was through. Now let’s be clear — everything on that list had already improved since I went vegan. I definitely had more energy, I never really felt dehydrated, and many of the things I suffered from during my pre-vegan life were either gone or drastically reduced (i.e. – random weakness, dizzy spells stemming from iron-deficiency, lots of headaches, always having a stuffy nose, the list goes on). So I wondered: would eating raw make me a super vegan?? Would I become completely invincible?
The week prior to going raw, I started prepping — I looked up some raw recipes and tips from well known raw foodies in the Instagram community like Neto of The Raw Boy, and Kristina from Fully Raw Kristina. I reached out to the Instagram community via my own Instagram page to ask for tips for someone going raw. I was kinda surprised and overwhelmed with all the helpful info I received! I also did my own research and discovered that eating raw did not necessarily mean I could never eat warm foods or cook anything ever. On the contrary, both of these things were allowed, there were just a few stipulations to them.
So, What Exactly Does it Mean to Eat “Raw”?
Let me back track a bit and explain exactly what eating raw means in the first place. A raw food diet encompasses eating a diet of foods that are whole and that have not been processed at all or cooked on high heat. As I just stated, you can still cook your food or heat items up if you wish, but the purpose of a raw diet is to eat foods in their natural state so that you are able to obtain the full amount of nutrients in them — the raw foodists ideology is that all of these nutrients become drastically reduced or obsolete when foods are processed and cooked at high temperatures. If you wish to heat something up, the standard for raw foodists is that you can not consume any foods cooked above 118 degrees Fahrenheit (some agree that nothing above 115 degrees Fahrenheit is allowed, but that’s still within the same range). Aside from the low to no heat factor, the majority of the foods consumed on a raw diet usually consist mostly of fruits and vegetables. Other foods, such as nuts, grains and legumes also fall into the raw food category, but only if they are actually raw. I say that because most people don’t realize that a lot of foods they consume which they believe are uncooked are in reality, cooked in some form prior to being sold in the markets. Most nuts, canned legumes and even grains like oatmeal have all been steamed, roasted or heated in some way before they are packaged. So when you think of “raw” oatmeal (oats that haven’t been heated on the stove in water or milk), they are still not a raw food by raw food standards, because most oats have been steamed and then rolled flat prior to being sold.
This is also why you may have seen a distinction between raw foods and non-raw foods in the market. You know how people often tend to see something a bunch of times, and may not be sure what it means, but just never get around to taking the time to find out what’s up? Well, until I started investigating a raw diet, this is what was happening to me every time I saw “raw cashews” or “raw almonds” in the supermarket. I had no idea why they were “raw” or how they were different (if at all) from the cashews and almonds that didn’t have the word “raw” in the title, but it never occurred to me to look up what it meant.
When nuts are roasted or heated prior to being sold, this is usually done to kill any bacteria that may be on them after harvesting. They are also roasted to improve their taste and texture. This means the risk you run of eating raw nuts is that they may contain higher amounts of bacteria — but the thing is, the bacteria is very unlikely to cause any harm or illness. Furthermore, by exposing them to heat, what often occurs is a huge loss of antioxidants and a breakdown of healthy fats that naturally occur in many nuts — so the very health benefits we rave about from eating nuts are usually taken away in some part before we buy them. I am not against eating nuts that aren’t raw, but if given the option, I would certainly eat raw over non-raw any day, because the benefits certainly outweigh any “risks”.
You Also Don’t Have to Eat 100% Raw to be a “Raw Foodist”
Another rule of thumb that many raw foodists follow is the 80/20 rule. Some raw foodies do eat a 100% raw diet, but many follow this rule meaning that approximately 80% of their diet should be raw vegan while they have more flexibility with the other 20%. I kind of adhered to this rule during my week of eating raw — I consumed a few foods that weren’t 100% raw (more on that below). I did this for both convenience and to save a few bucks because I didn’t want to sepnd additional money on items such as raw peanut butter — yes, peanut butter is not raw because, although the ingredients on something like organic peanut butter are pretty simple, the peanuts are roasted before being turned into smooth peanut butter.
The Week I Ate Raw
Having armed myself with fruitful (no raw food pun intended) knowledge of a raw vegan diet, I felt more prepared to take on a week of eating raw. My main worry was that I would give up mid-way through, suffering from feelings of deprivation, or that I wouldn’t be consuming enough calories and I’d get sick (can you tell I like to think in worst-case scenarios?). I had already decided that it would be unlikely that I would consume foods such as legumes because, although it is possible to consume them raw, the process is too time consuming and I just didn’t feel like going through it. It involves a bunch of soaking and sprouting and I didn’t want to embark on that when I’d only be eating raw for one week. Because of this, I knew I’d be eating lots of fruits and veggies — I actually saw these limits as a fun challenge! At first I thought, “oh crap, am I really gonna be eating smoothie bowls, drinking juice and eating salad for a week?” But then the creative and competitive side of my brain kicked in and I thought: “this is the perfect opportunity to really let your creativity shine! How amazing would it be for you to try eating raw for a week and come out of it with a couple of bomb homemade recipes?” So that was a little bit of “behind the scenes” info — I was originally not planning on developing any raw recipes; but I’m also (usually) always up for a challenge. 🙂
On the first day I kept my meals pretty simple. Because I was already vegan, I didn’t feel
weird or deprived with my food choices that morning because I started out eating stuff I would have eaten normally as a non-raw vegan. For breakfast I had a super simple meal consisting of juice that I made the previous day for the week (beets, celery, carrots, and a few more goodies), along with some apple slices and (non-raw) peanut butter. Again, this was totally something I would have eaten on my regular vegan diet. Surprisingly, even though I usually have a big appetite, I wasn’t extremely hungry on my first day out. Later in the day I made a giant salad that consisted of spinach, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, snow peas, hemp hearts and spouts, with a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing along with some tahini — it was so big and filling that I didn’t finish it and I had the rest of it later that night. The tahini was also the second “non-raw offender” I consumed during the week. I actually thought tahini was a naturally raw food; I was wrong. I ended up finding raw tahini during my raw week, but since I already had a jar, I figured I’d just use that (I got mine from Trader Joe’s). Non-raw peanut butter and tahini still kept me within the 80/20 rule for sure. I also snacked on fruits and raw nuts throughout the day. The first day was probably the easiest of the week. I had this “new project” energy from starting a raw diet challenge so I was pumped to make things from scratch and enjoy really fresh food.
I kind of made different variations of the same meals I had on day 1 — for breakfast I had apple slices and peanut butter again, but this time I added celery stalks and also had a bowl of chia pudding topped with agave, raw cashews and hemp hearts. Again, this was food I would have eaten as a non-raw vegan, so all was good. I was also still snackin’ on fruits, seeds (pumpkin) and nuts throughout the day, because, well it was kind of the only stuff I could snack on. Oh, and more celery stalks with PB… one thing I loved about this week was eating so much peanut butter… for some reason I think I ate more of it during this week than I did when eating non-raw vegan — I was thinking this raw thing wasn’t too monotonous yet…
… I did the whole giant salad again with all the same ingredients, but this time I made a raw green goddess style dressing (minus the avocado)– I was going strong, but what surprised me was how alert I was to the fact that I wasn’t cooking any of my food. I was so used to making tofu scrams for breakfast or making meals to plate and take pics of and I hadn’t done that in two days. I realized that maybe it was because I had been cooking so much over the past several months that to suddenly stop doing that felt weird. Thank goodness eating raw still required to me to at least prepare meals and food to some extent, or I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself!
This was somewhat of a pivotal point in the week for me. I had a smoothie with fruit, peanut butter and spinach (almond milk base — the almond milk was also not raw), along with an apple for breakfast. I had my usual snacks but also bought a whole watermelon on this day because I knew it would carry me through the rest of the week for snacking and meals and what not. It was a good thing that I got such a hydrating fruit to carry me through because I got a huge headache on this day. I was surprised that I got a headache when I was in the middle of eating this super clean and healthy diet, so I attributed it to a couple of possible reasons:
maybe my body was not used to consuming such fewer calories than it had been?
Maybe I wasn’t self-hydrating as much?
The second reason made sense because I was eating a lot of fruits and veggies which contain a whole bunch of water naturally, so I didn’t think much of consuming a lot of liquid H2O. Also, since day 2 I had to pee — a lot. Well, more than I usually do in a day, so I thought “dang, I must be getting a lot of water in with all these fruits and vegetables I’m eating!” Either way, I’m still not sure what caused the headache to come on, but I let it go away naturally. And even with it’s arrival, it didn’t stop me from getting my chef skills on — day 3 was my first time really cooking and creating food– just without heat. I had a really decadent bowl of chia pudding for lunch, but it didn’t hold a candle to my dinner: I had green and yellow zucchini squash noodles (aka zoodles) with a raw sun-dried tomato and basil pesto sauce I created. The sauce was so, so good, and it was cool creating a recipe within the realm of raw food.
I didn’t eat a lot on this day because I went to the beach, so I left to start my day really early. I ate mostly fruit and nuts/seeds for the first half of my day — for breakfast (peaches, apples, peanut butter) and as snacks that I brought with me to the beach (raw cashews, pumpkin seeds and watermelon). When I got back, I had the leftover zoodles I made the day before, and I also ate a lot of fresh salsa. I bought a big container of fresh salsa from the supermarket near me — although I can easily make fresh salsa, sometimes I like to buy things like this to support small business — the salsa was locally made with fresh ingredients and not mass produced like the typical jarred salsa we usually see sold next to the tortilla chips.
I also created another raw dish and recipe later that night — a raw mushroom pate. I stuffed some Italian sweet peppers with the pate and added some of the sun-dried tomato pesto on top which gave it an extra kick. That was my dinner. This day was also when I first experienced that “light” feeling. You know when you’re sick or have a really bad cold (or even the flu) and you can’t eat anything or can’t really keep food down for several days? And so after about a week of being sick you just feel physically lighter because your body hasn’t consumed that much? Well, that’s how I felt on this day, minus the being sick and throwing up. It was interesting though because I was eating until I was full everyday, but because I was consuming mostly only fruits and veggies, my calorie intake was reduced a lot. Eating a good amount of peanut butter and nuts and seeds helped keep my calories up, and that’s one reason (aside from them tasting so good) why I made sure I ate a decent amount of them. When I asked the vegan community on Instagram what I should (and shouldn’t) do when prepping to go raw, some people said to be careful of consuming to many nuts and seeds and avocado because of the high fat content. Although I kept that in mind, my experience is one reason that everyone should listen to their body instead of only listening to what other’s say based on their own experiences. Had I not been eating a lot of nuts, seeds, and peanut butter, I probably wouldn’t have been consuming enough calories each day — and even with eating these high (healthy) fat foods, I was still feeling lighter on my feet.
Things started getting hard by day 5. I really missed hot and cooked food. I was also getting tired of snacking on the same things, because I think my taste buds get bored easily, but I didn’t wanna keep buying foods just for that reason when I still had fruits
and veggies to use for the week which I got specifically for eating raw all week. I got fancy with chia pudding and made a strawberry-kiwi chia pudding bowl for breakfast, topped with hemp hearts and raw cashews. The fruit variations in the chia pudding I had throughout the week kept the flavors varied so I never got tired of having it. Even though things were starting to feel a little “difficult”, there was no way I was gonna throw in the towel at this point, because I only had two days left.
This was the third day in a row where I developed a dish– this time I created a raw mushroom alfredo sauce for dinner, which I had with zoodles, mushrooms and broccoli. It was one of my favorite dishes I ate the whole week, and although it sounds a bit cheesy, because it tasted so good it gave me the extra strength to push through the last days of the week.
I woke up feeling refreshed but still missing my old vegan diet. Morning is easy to get through because if I’m not having tofu scram, I am used to having smoothies or chia pudding already — this morning it was a smoothie. My body was also craving some sort of physical activity — I purposefully didn’t exercise the entire week because I knew I would be consuming less calories and I didn’t know how that would work with me running or doing some sort of strength training and then eating meals that were based only in fruits and veggies — I know there are raw vegans who do this all the time but everyone’s body is different and I tried to listen to my instincts which were telling me to hold off on vigorous exercise for the week.
I also made a really tasty dish using cauliflower rice — sure, I plated it like a 3rd grade science project, but that raw vegan life had my creativity on a whole new plane. It was actually quite cute, but not necessarily in my usual plating style, where I like to simultaneously acknowledge that I’m an amateur chef while also pretending that I’m a gourmet-chef.
The final day! It was bittersweet — I was excited that I made it through the whole week, but I couldn’t wait to devour cooked food again. In honor of finishing the week strong, I made a dessert smoothie — I put a whole bunch of strawberries, cacao nibs, and banana in there and it was sweeeeet! I had my usual snacks and I had an early dinner consisting of cauliflower rice, with mushroom caps that I stuffed with my mushroom pate. I never posted this dish but I’ll probably post it on my Instagram page sometime in the near future.
I also have to confess, I didn’t go all of day 7 as a raw vegan. I didn’t wait until the next day to start eating cooked food again. I ate cooked food at the end of this day. It was calling my name like crazy. So what was my first non-raw meal after 7 days (or six and a half days? Maybe six and three-quarter days?) of eating a raw diet? Drumroll please… I had cilantro-lime white rice, black beans and my chili-lime fried tofu — but let me clarify: I didn’t prepare this meal because I was going crazy over not having hot food! I actually made food for a friend earlier that day and had extra. The plan was to save it for the next day, but I caved that night, go figure. The interesting thing was that my body did react to having cooked (or maybe just hot?) food after having not had it for a week. My teeth were really sensitive! When I took a few bites of food, it bothered them like crazy and it was uncomfortable to say the least. And my stomach felt a little weird shortly after eating. So obviously, my insides had to adjust. And that’s what happened immediately after going back to a non-raw vegan diet. But what about all the stuff I wanted to compare from earlier?
The Results of Eating Raw Vegan
After eating a raw vegan diet, I looked over the health markers again to see if there were any noticeable differences.
I did feel more energetic — I also felt lighter and more refreshed overall.
I definitely felt more hydrated; as I mentioned before, I had to pee a lot more and that wasn’t solely from increased water consumption, but also from eating foods that had a high water content, lending toward my feelings of super hydration.
I didn’t feel stronger in the sense of what I was thinking of when I thought of “stronger” — I didn’t feel an increase in my physical strength, but I would say that my mental strength was increased in maintaining this way of eating for a week and having the discipline to stick with it (even with my day 7 early ending)
Being 100% honest, other than feeling a little lighter and then the few moments of discomfort I experienced once I ate cooked/hot food again, I didn’t notice any major changes. I did have to use the bathroom a bit more because my fiber intake was up’ed that week, but that was nothing major. I attribute this lack of noticeable change to the amount of time I spent eating this way.
The same thing happened when I went vegan; I didn’t notice any changes in my health after just one week. Most people take on entirely new ways of eating like this for the purpose of losing weight. I did lose a pound or two, but everyone knows that weight-loss from a drastic diet change over the course of a week is usually not real weight-loss. If I wanted to see real health benefits, I would have to eat raw for way longer than a week. This may seem like common sense, but initially, I wasn’t sure. I had heard so much about eating raw, and how all the nutrients of your food stay intact more, making your health stellar, and how it was the fountain of youth and so on. Again, maybe eating raw long-term does yield these affects, but the only way I could know for sure if it was some sort of miraculous way of eating was to try it for myself — because what if it was the best way of eating? And what if it was possible to notice drastic health changes from eating raw after just one week?
As with any diet, there also exists those who say that eating raw is unhealthy because of how many restrictions are placed on one’s diet. I say listen to your body. There are raw foodists who have eaten their raw diets for decades and suffer no health issues — in fact, they experience the exact opposite — they have increased health and live long, happy lives. Personally, I would never change to a raw vegan lifestyle permanently. Not only do I enjoy eating cooked food too much, but I also enjoy cooking food! But after this week, I am certain of another thing — I will absolutely incorporate eating raw into my normal diet. I even plan of eating raw for another week before the official end of summer. It’s like a body detox or like a week of shooting your body up with vitamins and preparing it to take on the world for the next several months. Sure, I could eat raw for just a day or two, but if I’m gonna do it, why not do it big?
So that’s it! That was my week of eating #rawvegan. I hope it was not only entertaining to read about my experience but also informative in some way. Feel free to email me if you have any questions! And stay tuned for more updates of me eating raw vegan meals on my Instagram page, and look out for the raw recipes I created during this week, which can be found in the recipes sections of this site.