Veganism used to be pretty niche, but these days, it’s getting more and more mainstream. An influx of great vegan restaurants in major cities (Temple of Seitan in London, Champs Diner in New York, and Flore in L.A.), and an increase in celebrities proudly owning their veganism (thanks, JME) is hinting at a change in how the average person thinks about plant-based diets. 2016 research found that there’s now half a million vegans in the U.K., 3.5 times more than there were in 2006. Similarly, in the U.S., the number of vegans doubled between 2009 and 2016.
Not everybody has the means or the time to go vegan, but if you’re interested, you might find it’s easier (and more fun) than you think. The FADER spoke to six cool vegans about how and why they made the change, and what they love to eat both outside and inside their homes.
“People think vegans are holier-than-thou; that we’re trying to convert everybody. It’s not really like that. I think there are people that live very long and healthily who eat meat — they’re just choosing the right kinds of meat, maybe grass-fed. As long as you understand what’s going into your body, you’re good. It’s about research and what works for you.
“I’m a New Orleans girl at heart, so I cook apple soy bacon or sausages; I do vegan gumbo, vegan pancakes, vegan cakes. We still get the Southern atmosphere that we love. A lot of people are afraid of veganism and afraid of losing that savory, country feel, especially people from the South. Please don’t feel like you won’t get that. Yesterday I made vegan buffalo wings for the first time.
“[In L.A.] we go to Doomies for our moments of 'we’ve gotta be fat.' Bulan Thai do everything vegan. If we want something a little lighter, we’ll do a place called Real Food Daily, it has the best vegan nachos, and a seitan club sandwich.”
What’s your signature dish? “I have a dish that my partner is really in love with, it’s orange ‘chicken’ with coconut rice. I mix freshly squeezed oranges, raw cane sugar, a little bit of salt, and a little bit of soy sauce together into a roux. Then I chop up seitan, put it in the skillet for about 10 minutes, then pour on the sauce, and it makes this really awesome natural orange ‘chicken.’ I serve it with my coconut rice, with natural coconut oil and chopped coconuts. It’s really yummy, it gives off this Jamaican, West Indian-Asian fusion.”
“I say I maintain a plant-based diet. I eat like a vegan, but I still wear Nikes...so I haven’t earnt the full title of vegan yet. It started as a three week cleanse, and I felt so good, I didn’t want to go back. There’s a lot of misconceptions that to be strong you have to eat meat; that’s not necessarily so. Silverback gorillas don’t eat meat.
“In New York, I love a place called Seasoned Vegan, which is in Harlem. I love Nyack Main Essentials. I like Organic Avenue on 40th Street. I try to visit a lot of places. With plants there’s always something new. I love avocados, shitake mushrooms, beans, peanut butter. I love a lot of shit.
“[If you want to be vegan] don’t be intimidated, or try to set your goals by the next man or woman’s standards. Just be yourself, and be the healthiest you can be, and take care of your family. When you work at that, one day at a time, that’s the easiest way.”
What’s your signature dish? “A super-duper simple one is an avocado split in half, a dash of olive oil, a dash of black pepper, a dash of lime. That’s it! Another simple one: you take cashew [nuts], mushrooms, kale, a dash of olive oil, put it in the pan and sauté it. You’ve got to experiment, find what you like.”
Chef, Cook Daily (London)
“I was cooking in the heavy meat industry. It was full-on, I didn’t really like the energy, so I gave up meat and got a job in a vegetarian kitchen in 2009. Then in 2014, I took a break, started to train, and became vegan. I was posting my meals at home [on Instagram], and people were like, ‘Where can I get this from?’ I thought, It’s time to disrupt the industry. I set up Cook Daily in 2015 with no publicity whatsoever, and within a week we were established, everyone passed through the doors, all the London music industry scene. People are like, ‘JME’s a vegan, JME’s going [to Cook Daily].’ It’s like, actually, it’s quite cool to be a vegan. You don’t have to have dreadlocks and be white.
“No one’s ever caught cancer from eating too much broccoli, and that’s a fact. As a professional chef, I advise people that a vegan whole food diet is one of the best diets you can have. I feel that living a vegan lifestyle has given me clarity; it makes me a much more loving chef, whereas before I was an angry chef. Now, I can’t be angry, because all I’m doing is dealing with broccoli and bananas.
“I’m from a south east Asian background, so Thai cooking is a big part of my culture, and it's heavy on fish sauce. [To substitute fish sauce] I thought, What tastes like the sea? Seaweed! I blend a mixture of seaweed and soy sauce, and there you go, I’ve got vegan fish sauce. No one would know, not even my mum. That’s my secret weapon.”
What’s your signature dish? “Our bestseller, and one of my favorite dishes, is the High Grade. It’s a smoky sweet and sour barbecue [flavor], with vegan chicken, chickpeas, and veg, topped with hemp seed crumble. We serve it with brown rice. It’s based on marijuana. It’s a real winner, especially with hemp seeds being 90% protein.”
Chef, Modern Love (New York)
“I went vegan when I was teenager, over 25 years ago. I first went vegetarian because I loved animals so much. Then I learned that [meat] and milk are all part of the same system. Babies being dragged away from their moms so that...humans can drink their milk? Hard pass.
“I’m not in it for personal benefits, but I guess people tell me I look younger than my age. I feel great, my bloodwork is amazing, and the food I eat usually makes me feel energized. (Except for the donuts.)”
What’s your signature dish? “In the warmer months I'm addicted to chickpea salad, which is like tuna salad but with chickpeas. You mash ‘em up, [add] celery, onion, carrot, a little dill, some mayo (I use homemade but there's plenty of stuff on supermarket shelves that tastes great) and voilà.”
“I went vegan for multiple reasons. The biggest reason was to live a more conscious lifestyle in general. Also, when you understand the ‘business’ behind manufactured foods, it's nauseating. Everything that we need can be found in organic foods like fruits, plants, and nuts. You can even start juicing for pure nutrients.
“The biggest misconception, from my experience, is that you cannot get all the nutrients you need [being vegan]. But people who tell you that are always getting colds and flu. And they only go to the bathroom maybe once a day!
“I love Gravité on Sunset [Boulevard]; they have the best vegan pancakes. I also love Veggie Grill because it's like fat boy vegan food. I love Cafe Gratitude because of the service; their vegan nachos and the dessert options are crazy!”
What’s your signature dish? “I don't cook much anymore, but if I did cook a vegan meal, it would be vegan lasagna with vegan Italian sausage inside. My guilty pleasure is without a doubt apple pie and ice cream!”
Video artist, poet, podcaster
“When I first went vegan, I read the book Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, which gave me more of a nutrition education than I ever had growing up as a meat-eater. More recently, I've learned the most from the book How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger. It really emphasizes the benefits of a whole food diet, rather than processed foods.
“Popcorn is my all-time favorite food, and while the corn itself is healthy enough (popcorn is a whole grain!), it's often prepared with a lot of oil and salt. At home I usually make popcorn in an air-popper to avoid the added oil. I also like Lara Bars; they're a simple fruit and nut bar, made primarily from dates and nuts, with no added sugars or oils.
“A lot of people think vegan diets are less healthy than omnivorous diets, or that vegan diets can only be healthy if you're super careful. The truth is that most people will achieve a healthy weight much easier on a plant-based diet, recover from exercise quicker, and have a stronger immune system. Sure, certain people will need to pay extra attention to certain nutrients — for example, people who menstruate may need to pay extra attention to iron, and vitamin B12 must be supplemented for long-term vegans. I also supplement with vitamin D, and I would recommend that to most people.”
What’s your signature dish? “Just eating garbanzo beans [chickpeas] directly from the can. My friend Tom and I actually came up with a name for it: ‘Slammin' the 'Banzos.’ You can just pour them directly into your mouth. It's delicious, and it has loads of fiber and protein!”