When people — especially those for whom it is new — hear the word “vegan,” the next word that pops to mind might not be “easy.” But those who’ve been living this way for a while (I’m about 15 years in—suffice to say it doesn’t seem like a passing fancy) know that there’s never been an easier time than right now to try out a plant-based lifestyle. What’s more is that you can hack the vegan lifestyle using quick tips that can be used in every part of your life, thus saving you time and research as you move forward on your journey of eating, shopping, and choosing vegan options. Here are five of my favorite tips from my new book, How to Be Vegan, that can help get you started.
Vegan Hack 1: Get to Know the Pros!
There are a few organizations that do inspiring and momentous work on behalf of animals. Many of them offer veggie starter kits, handy facts, and current news on animal protection, along with recipes and other resources. For specific questions, and how to become more involved, these groups should be your first stops:
- Humane Society of the United States
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- Compassion Over Killing
- Mercy For Animals
Obtaining information and following organizations like these will provide you with the tools you need to bring your animal-loving ethics into every area of your life.
Vegan Hack 2: Pre-game When Going Out for Dinner.
You have the Internet — use it. Find the menu online before heading to a new restaurant to check out the options. If nothing obviously vegan is on offer, it’s a good idea to call ahead and ask if the restaurant will be able to make you something off the menu. The handy call-ahead trick serves two purposes: one, you’ll give the kitchen time to prepare, and you’ll likely be served something more delicious than if the chef has to cook something for you on the fly; two, the restaurant will be aware that there’s a market for vegan food. If the chef hears enough such requests, the chances are better that vegan options will be added to the menu or already-vegan dishes will be marked as such. Win! Pre-gaming in this manner will hack your whole evening, allowing you to spend the time you would worrying at the restaurant enjoying yourself instead.
Vegan Hack 3: Vegan At Home… Check for Leaping Labels!
When shopping for products for home and beauty, learn the vegan labels to help save you time. Some products are labeled “Finished product not tested on animals,” which means that some of the components of the product might have been tested on animals by whoever developed them (a second party) before they were added to the final product by the company listed on the label. When you’re on the prowl for cruelty-free cosmetics, look for the Leaping Bunny. This symbol indicates products that are not tested on animals.
Vegan Hack 4: When Traveling, Start at HappyCow.net.
The first step to any trip (whether in the United States or abroad) for a vegan should be to visit the website HappyCow.net, which lists all the vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants in every city in the world, along with health food stores and other local resources. It is an absolute must for planning. This site will hack your trip, saving a ton of time you would otherwise use scouring for vegan dining options while on the road.
Vegan Hack 5: Manners 101: How to Behave When You are a Guest.
Step one here is the same as anywhere else: be nice! Call your host ahead of time and offer to bring a dish. A good friend will likely already know what you do and don’t eat. For new friends, let them know that you’re super happy to contribute something to the meal, and if vegan cooking is completely new to your host, and he or she wants to make something just for you, offer resources and recipes. No matter what the host says, show up with a bottle of wine or bubbly. This will save you the conversations and time while at the dinner, meaning you have more time to enjoy!
Now that we’ve covered a few great ways to hack the vegan lifestyle, check out a sample recipe from my new book
Black and Red Bean Chili
Dollop this spicy chili with vegan sour cream, garnish with scallions, and serve with your favorite corn bread or biscuits. If you prefer less heat, leave out the chipotle chile and use a mild chili powder.
- 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 red or green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbs. tomato paste
- 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
- 2 Tbs. chili powder
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- One 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
- One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
- One 15-ounce can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ cup water, or more as needed
- Choice of toppings: vegan sour cream, diced avocado, sliced black olives, chopped scallions
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic. Cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in the tomato paste and chipotle chile. Then stir in the chili powder, cumin, tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, salt, and pepper.
- Add the water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the flavors are blended. If you prefer a soupier texture, add more water. If you prefer the chili thicker, turn up the heat for a few minutes to evaporate some of the liquid. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.
- Serve hot with your choice of toppings. Store leftovers in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for 3 to 4 weeks.
You can find Elizabeth’s new book, How to Be Vegan, here.
Image source: Sonny Abesamis / Flickr