Eating is typically something we do several times a day, and it is an activity that gives us great pleasure. Consequently, food holds an important place in our emotions and our hearts. It should come as no surprise, then, that when people shift to a vegan lifestyle, they tend to place their initial focus on their diet.
Regardless of their culture, ethnicity, or country of origin, new vegans are always interested in and fascinated about vegan cuisine. Learning what is and isn't vegan, determining how to plan meals, exploring unusual foods, and discovering new ways of cooking and eating are all part of the adventure.
Many vegans start out as vegetarians, and this is a great way to transition to a totally plant-based diet and cruelty-free lifestyle. Although veganism and vegetarianism are closely aligned, there are a number of important distinctions between them. The primary difference is motivation. Vegans are drawn to a fully compassionate lifestyle (not just diet) because it personifies their belief that all life is precious. Vegetarians, on the other hand, may have any number of reasons for eliminating meat or other animal products from their diet. They are not necessarily prompted by compassion. By definition, vegetarianism deals only with what one doesn't eat; there is no pervading philosophy that underscores it. Without a unifying belief system, there is no impetus for vegetarians to express compassion (if they are indeed inspired by compassion) in any way outside of their diet. Nevertheless, diet is where the majority of people begin their journey to veganism.
Among the many ways that vegans manifest their reverence for all life is by choosing foods that are exclusively plant-based. Both vegans and vegetarians forego the obvious products of death in their diets -- meat (of any color), fowl, and fish. But vegans and total vegetarians (people who abstain from animal products in diet only) go several steps further by avoiding all other foods of animal origin -- such as eggs and animal-based milk products -- which, on the surface, are less conspicuously brutal but in reality are equally as gruesome as meat production. Vegans also do not consume honey or foods that were processed with or contain animal by-products. Except for these additional parameters, the foods that vegans and vegetarians can choose from are the same.
Some vegans blend their practice of veganism with other belief systems that may directly influence their food choices, such as religious or karmic perspectives or special health strategies. For instance, there are vegans who do not eat onions, garlic, root vegetables, or other foods because of prohibitions imposed by their religion or spiritual practices. Other vegans may regard food from the vantage point of health and therefore elect to follow a dietary plan expressly designed to improve their physical well-being. As a result, there are vegans who believe in fasting, following a raw (mostly uncooked) or "living foods" (those that are sprouted, contain active cultures, or are freshly picked) diet, practicing a regimen that includes specific foods or food combinations, eliminating oil or other items that are naturally high in fat, or adhering to a fish-free macrobiotic diet, among other approaches. These diets are merely individual paths to what some vegans consider to be either sacred customs or healthier ways of eating. They do not reflect any general guideline that vegans as a group adhere to or that they are obliged to comply with.
Because veganism's underlying impetus is one of compassion, not specifically health, it's also possible to find vegans who do not eat an overly well-balanced or wholesome diet. Nevertheless, a philosophy of total compassion toward all life must, of course, include oneself. Therefore, disregarding your health or willfully engaging in poor eating habits doesn't harmonize with the tenets of compassionate living.
There is so much flexibility with vegan eating that there really is no typical vegan meal. Often new vegans just replace animal-based products with cruelty-free versions and analogs. Others explore the vast range of vegan ethnic cuisines and incorporate a variety of foods from different lands and cultures. Some vegans eat quite simply, centering meals around nutritious staples, such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables, while others are attracted to gourmet dishes and exotic specialty foods. Consequently, vegans exhibit a gamut of eating styles, and what one vegan does is not necessarily representative of what other vegans do. Like all groups of people, vegans have a variety of tastes and preferences, so the food choices of vegans, although always plant-based, reflect the diversity of vegan practitioners.
The beauty of vegan eating is that there are no rules and no need to emulate antiquated meat-centered patterns. Being vegan can open the door to a world of unlimited culinary possibilities. Many vegans claim they never ate so well or with so much gusto and diversity prior to becoming vegan. With certain foods off limits, vegans tend to become more creative with their meal planning and more willing to try new foods. In essence, each meal becomes an exhilarating quest, an opportunity to experiment with unusual ingredients and seasonings, and a chance to test out innovative ideas.
Most vegans have assorted tales to tell about their favorite foods and styles of eating because the potential combinations are endless as well as exciting. All can agree, however, that vegan eating is a dynamic way to regularly honor all life. It begins with a belief that is planted in the heart, but it blooms uniquely in each cook's imagination.
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