Sounds simple enough, right? I guess not so much. It brings to mind that scene in “Everything is Illuminated” where Elijah Wood’s character tries to explain that he’s vegetarian so all he gets for dinner is a plain potato. People ask me all the time what exactly it means to be vegan and what the difference is between a vegan and a vegetarian. Most amusing of all, people ask me, “So, what do you eat then?” For someone who has already been through the transition, this is immensely entertaining as I once pondered these same questions myself. To keep it simple, a vegetarian is stage 1 and a vegan is stage 2. Vegetarians eat eggs, milk and cheese. Although I disagree with this, some people call themselves vegetarians even if they eat fish. I guess it’s easy for me to say this isn’t accurate because I never liked fish. But hey, a move to cut out meat is a good one and if they want to say they are vegetarian (but sometimes eat fish) then that’s fine with me. When you hear about “ovo-lacto” vegetarians, those are regular vegetarians. They eat eggs (ovo) and dairy (lacto).
I call vegans stage 2 because they take another step and eliminate all animal protein. That means no meat, no fish, no eggs, no diary, no cheese and no animal proteins. We find these sneaky animal proteins in things like chicken/fish broth, fake cheeses that have casein, and a whole slew of foods that have animal stuff in them. For instance, kimchi is made with shrimp, soups that have cream, caesar salad that is made with anchovies/anchovy paste, meat substitutes that have egg whites in them and then the ultimate sneak: Asian sauces. I was eating veggie tempura rolls at my favorite Japanese restaurant in Koreatown (yeah, I know but there is Japanese food all over LA, in Little Tokyo too) and they told me that the sauce on my sushi was eel sauce!! So, sometimes it’s hard to find out just what you are eating. When eating out at a restaurant, you can feel like a huge pain when asking the waiter, “is there chicken stock in that? You don’t know? Um, yes, please ask the chef.” However, some places here in LA – especially in West Hollywood, are used to that. My waiter gets an extra tip if they are cool with my vegan requests.
If you’re starting to feel like being vegan is just too much of a pain, then let me say, just take it one step at a time. Start by cutting down on the red meat and chicken. When you start to cut back on meat and open your appetite to eating more veggie based dishes, then you start to realize how many there are. People have this misconception that vegans and vegetarians are limited in what they eat. Well, in response I have two things to say: 1. Don’t you get tired of endless hamburgers? 2. Whatever you can do with a meat dish, you can do with a vegan dish. So, give it a try. Have a vegetarian dish or if you are feeling especially giddy, try an extra special vegan dish. I really love restaurants that cater to us Veg Heads. If you’re in LA, then everyone knows about Real Food Daily – all vegan and all organic. I LOVE Japanese food and the restaurant in Little Tokyo – Shojin – is all vegan, all organic, and 100% amazing! If you’re making dinner yourself, buy veggie patties for your burgers or buy veggies for you pizza instead of meat. I guarantee that you’ll love the taste and you’ll be able to skip that heartburn medication. So, go ahead and veg out!