I think that peoples' reasons for going vegetarian or vegan will powerfully influence the way they turn their diet away from animal-based foods. It can be a difference of a person moving away from something or toward something else. I learned a new term today: Vegivore. It's the latest trendy name to describe a trendy movement with real potential but just barely misses the point. As the name might suggest, a vegivore is more inclined to fill their plate with vegetables in the name of gourmet cuisine, however, that cuisine cannot be assumed to be strictly veg. Although the star of a vegivore's dinner might be Brussels sprouts, that doesn't mean they weren't flavored by a good saute with bacon drippings. Nevertheless, it's a step in the right direction.
When I became a vegetarian, I'll admit - I really didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have the vaguest clue how to cook anything besides Minute Rice and canned soup. I wish I could say I was kidding, but I'm not. I'm so not kidding that when people I haven't seen/spoken to in years find out I have a vegan cooking/food blog, they are unabashedly surprised. "But you don't know how to cook!" Well, it was a process - I remember in the beginning I had about three Things-I-Called-Dinner that I just rotated. What I have lovingly referred to as "fake meat" was not as abundantly available 8 years ago as it is now, so aside from the occasional tofu hot dog, it never really occurred to me to try to replace my chicken with anything other than vegetables.
But what do you eat?? Vegetables. Grains and pasta sometimes, too. Eventually, tofu.
It wasn't actually until I started to learn how to cook that I was introduced to neat things like Tofurky sausage, Yves meatless ground, and Primal vegan jerky to name a few. I realize these things can be indescribably helpful in easing the transition from a very animal-based diet to a plant-based one, especially if they aren't doing it out of beautiful and severe compassion for the animals. For my own diet, becoming a vegetarian taught me so many things about nutrition and the awesome results of providing my body with purer fuel. As a result, I am stingy in adding many processed foods to my diet, just as I would if I ate animals. Despite that they are plant-based, these meat analogs are still processed, so I limit my consumption.
I always felt a little awkward trying to explain why that was. Imagine my delight when I read the introduction to The Urban Vegan and found that a person with a Masters in English took it upon herself to explore the same topic. With Dynise's permission, I would like to share those words with you now:
Being vegan certainly takes some dietary adjustments. It takes a bit of mental adjustment, too. So a little bit of Zen wisdom is pertinent here. It's important to stay in the present.In other words, it's okay that Mister thinks vegan food tastes like marshmallows because something that isn't milk doesn't need to taste like milk and something that isn't cheese doesn't have to taste like cheese. When I make a nooch-based sauce, I do so for the savory nature of the nooch, not because it tastes like cheese, because it doesn't. On the rare occasion that I get a veggie burger, I usually get a flavored variety because I already know it won't taste like beef, and to be honest, I don't think I want it to at this point.
You don't expect an apple to taste like a mushroom, do you? Nor do you expect a cup of coffee to taste like a cup of tea. So why, I wonder, would anyone look back and expect ingredients commonly used in vegan cuisine, like seitan, tofu, and tempeh, to taste like meats? They are not meats. They are unique foods, just like apples and mushrooms, with unique histories, tastes, textures, and properties. The same goes for nutritional yeast-based sauces and soy- and nut-based cheeses. They might look like dairy-based cheese and cheesy sauces, but they are not.
My point, in short, is that all tastes, other than our innate love of sweetness, are acquired. Imagine how glum food would be if we never moved beyond our affinity for sugar. We all somehow learned how to like and identify the unique flavors of olives, coffee, wine, chili, and pickles, to name just a few. So try to appreciate new foods for what they are. Approach them with the open mind of a beginner and with an innocence, rather than with a preconceived notion of what they are supposed to taste like. Accept them for what they are, just as you accept people for who they are.
I've made peace with peas. They're small and sweet and green. They taste just like they should. They taste like peas. Have you made peace with your "peas?"