It’s easy to fall into the trap of being a junkfood vegan, especially now that veganism is more widespread and mainstream. There are plenty of junk foods that are “accidentally vegan” (think: fritos, oreos, skittles…) and now, due to the popularity of the vegan diet, there are plenty of “knock-off” items specifically made vegan, such as frozen pizzas, macaroni and cheese, plenty of meat substitutes, sweets, marshmallows…the list can go on. If it exists, it’s probably been veganized by now. They even make vegan shrimp!
When I first tried the vegan diet, it was specifically to eat cleaner, so I avoided a lot of the processed convenience foods and focused my diet on beans, lentils, and other healthy sources of proteins. (I also didn’t live near enough to a Whole Foods-type store that is stocked with vegan treats, so I had to make due with what I could get my hands on locally.) This required me to be creative and inventive in the kitchen–and I had a lot of trials and tribulations with foods I wasn’t familiar with, like beets and squash. I really didn’t know how to cook before going vegan, and I had to learn out of necessity. In my midwestern town, it was very difficult to find vegan meals at restaurants, and so cooking for myself was my main source of sustenance. First I discovered foods that I call “lightly processed” because they are processed foods, but I deem them less bad–items like tofu and seitan.
When I discovered seitan, a world was opened. Vegan philly cheesesteaks, vegan stroganoff, and any meal that traditionally contained beef or chicken was suddenly veganizable. My favorite vegan recipe to this day, stroganoff, may have nutritional yeast (a wonderful plant-based source of B-12) as an ingredient, but it also has a cup of vegan sour cream–which has a lot of chemicals that should probably be eaten sparingly, like carrageenan (which deserves its own post.)
Seitan was kind of my gateway drug. I discovered that I could veganize many of my favorite childhood meals–so cooking became less about nutrition and more about taste. I love that there are products like vegan pizzas and vegan macaroni and cheese, because indulging in comfort foods, moderately, is not inherently bad. The problem is when those convenience foods become your sole diet, which is a trap I fell into. When you stop consuming actual vegetables, you’re probably doing veganism wrong.
A while ago, I came across this article on VegNews – How I Became a Healthy Vegan. It touts the idea that “just because something is vegan, doesn’t mean you have to eat it.” I will admit that when I am somewhere, anywhere, that unexpectedly serves a vegan treat, I feel compelled to buy it and eat it, just because it’s vegan. I am still in the mindset that it is a rare treat to be accommodated as a vegan, even though the tables are turning and more and more restaurants are becoming veg-conscious. Especially now that I live 4 minutes from a Whole Foods, there is no urgency in consuming a vegan treat. I am trying to adopt an “it’s there, it will be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day” mentality–in other words, I don’t have to eat that vegan chocolate chip cookie today.
In the end, what is important is this: that the food you eat makes you feel good, sustained, full, and well. I have decided that vegan junkfood does not make me feel those things. I know enough about myself that putting it on the “do not eat” list will only make me want it more–so I am okay with moderately splurging. For now, I am going to get back to my healthy vegan roots, and welcome lentils, beans, sweet potatoes, and quinoa back into my life. A recent spell of health issues indicates that I am probably not getting the nutrients my body needs to thrive, and while I do take a vegan multivitamin, I prefer that the foods I put into my body be my main source of the fuel it needs.
What are your thoughts on vegan convenience foods and “accidentally vegan” junkfood? Do you indulge? Where do you draw the line? Are you adamant about obtaining the nutrition you need through your food?