By Dan Hanley
I learned right away that Pepsi and potato chips are vegan. Soon afterwards I learned that Oreos and Nutter Butters could be added to the list.
As I got used to not consuming any animal products, I began to learn more about food than ever. I think for the first time in my life I began to realize that what I put in my body makes a difference. As I learned more about the nutrition side of being vegan, I learned that I had to pay attention to what I was eating and that I was eating things that gave my body all of the vitamins and nutrients it needed.
Yes, this was an epiphany. Before going vegan I never really thought about food and the positive or negative effect it could have on my body. Even in my early days of being vegan I didn’t think much about it as I was “vegan for the animals”. Fortunately for me I began to do a couple of things that introduced me to people who knew all about nutrition.
This started by going to my first vegan potluck. I don’t even know what I brought (it wasn’t potato chips) yet I do totally remember being blown away by all of the gorgeous and delicious food I was eating. Oh my. And I met all sorts of people who were vegan for different reasons, many who had been vegan for years. I could go on an don about this first vegan potluck, and the hundred plus I have been to since, but what I really want to let you know is that I highly recommend going to one as a new vegan. Oh, there isn’t one in central South Dakota? Start one.
I became vegan in Norfolk, Virginia and in 1996 there was pretty cool food co-op on 21st street. Yes, a food co-op. They seem to be rare these days and for me at that time going there was magical. I learned all about foods, all types of foods that I had never considered before going vegan. Can you believe this is where I first tried hummus? I learned about kale and nuts and tried a new version of oat milk. I tried my first dairy-free ice cream (nothing compared to what we have now!) and met wonderful people who were so knowledgeable about food and nutrition. Meeting people like this and learning from them was incredibly helpful to me on my new vegan journey. If you are new to veganism, I highly encourage you to find a place like this to learn and experiment!
Within the first few months I was already starting to “cook”. It took me a while to get to the point where I could cook without using parenthesis. My very first vegan recipe was a tofu loaf! I’ll never forget it. It was delicious! Cooking at home makes becoming a vegan so much easier as you learn how many awesome options there are for vegan dishes and you get to learn recipes that will change your life.
Restaurants were hardly friendly to vegans back then. My adversity to portobello mushrooms began here. A portobello mushroom “burger” was typically the vegan option at most places, if they had a vegan option. Ours is grilled, it’s delicious. Ours is marinated, you’ll love it. Ours has grilled and marinated mushrooms on it! Oh my. I’ll just take the fries. In my first several years of being vegan I never made it to an all vegan restaurant. I think it was year five that I was in San Francisco for work and went to Millenium. My goodness!
Suggestions for those just starting to become vegan:
Find a vegan potluck or meetup. If there isn’t one in your area, create one.
Find a food co-op or somewhere you can learn about food and nutrition.