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Mar 16 / suzanne

I’ve Gone Vegan . . .

Coconut milk yogurt beats soy yogurt, hands down.

The other day at Starbucks, the barista was trying to sell me on the new Peanut Butter Mini-Cupcake (180 calories per bite – woohoo!), when I said, “Sorry, I’m vegan this month. I’ll have oatmeal and a tall iced soy latte.”

“Are you going vegan for Lent?” he asked.

Well, not Lent, of course — Jews do deprivation and soul-searching on Yom Kippur. But the notion isn’t entirely off base. I’ve decided to take March to think more about where my food comes from (not Starbucks, usually, but I was ravenous after a workout, and it was actually the only nearby coffee joint where I could get a no-added-sugar vegan breakfast). And when I think hard enough, I find it hard to justify eating animal products.

Normally, I limit my thinking to, “Omigod, that Asian pork shoulder was amazing.” (And it was.) But then I’ll see a movie like “Food, Inc.” or a trailer for “Forks Over Knives” or read a book like Eating Animals or Six Arguments for a Geener Diet or read a study about how heart disease is unknown in cultures that eat plant-based diets, and I think: I should really go cold turkey on turkey.

But forever’s a long time to go without Greek yogurt. Oprah challenged her staff to go vegan for a week, but that seemed wimpy to me. So I’ve settled on March — long enough to try out veganism as a lifestyle rather than a lark.

Here are a few impressions at the half-way mark. I seem to be a lot pickier than this week’s Grateful Neighbor, Amanda Pilcher.

•I’ve discovered the world’s best smoothie: Dump frozen banana slices and a hunk of cashew butter into a blender, pour in enough soymilk to cover, and add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. Blend! But not for too long — you want it thick and creamy. Cashew butter, which I discovered while roaming Whole Foods Market, is my new favorite food.

•Soy cheese and almond-based cheese are equally taste-free. They do taste different, but only in the way that, say, a rubber glove tastes different than a rubber band. One of them melts better than the other — I can’t remember which — but I don’t think either qualifies as “food.”

•Real food beats fake food. See the aforementioned “cheese.” When I burned out on pasta and sautéed veggies and was craving something baked, I tried an enchilada casserole with soy protein crumbles and soy cheese. It was passable but would have been better without the faux cheese and meat. Next I made tofu spinach lasagne, which was not so much awful (though it was) as not-lasagne. New approach: Instead of trying to imitate dishes that I know and love and have no business being vegan, I’ve gone back to the meat-free dishes in my pre-vegan repertoire. Two Cooking Light crockpot dishes I highly recommend: African Sweet Potato Stew and Vegetable and Chickpea Curry. Carol Peterman’s Red Lentil Stew is hearty and flavorful, too.

•My kids could easily go vegan. That lasagne I couldn’t stomach? The boys devoured it. (“Tofu! That’s a funny name! More tofu!”) I unloaded it on them twice for dinner and twice for lunch, no complaints. They totally went for Big Curry Pot, too.

•I’m done with tofu. Too slimy. I was going to make a tofu “cheesecake” for my cooking club’s Italian theme last night but bailed and made vegan pumpkin muffins instead (Come italiano!). I haven’t tried seitan or tempeh yet. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t.

•Animal products are hiding everywhere. I haven’t intentionally cheated, but the other day I was craving something sweet and bought a $1 worth of candy corns, figuring the ingredients were sugar and corn syrup, only to go home and learn via Google that candy corns contain egg whites. What do I know ? Here’s a listing of vegan candy. I was glad to learn that “cocoa butter” does not contain butter, so dark chocolate is in. Yes! Here’s a roundup of mysterious ingredients that make a food verboten for vegans.

•I miss plain yogurt. I miss it more than any other food, because I normally eat it every day. Soy yogurt is edible and coconut milk yogurt is pretty good, but they’re both sweetened (even “plain” coconut yogurt contains cane juice, a.k.a. sugar). Sometimes I want the mouth-feel of yogurt with the clean, tart taste. (Correction: My cousin tells me Wildwood makes unsweetened soy yogurt; however, it’s apparently not sold in my town.)

•I’m eating more veggies. Bok choi, swiss chard, parsnips — I’m venturing out more and feeling good about that.

•I’m not hungry but not entirely satisfied, either. I feel like I’ve OD’d pasta, bread and oatmeal. I’m not sure what to eat when I’m craving cheese, given that vegan “cheese” doesn’t do the trick.

Any suggestions from you vegans out there?

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