A year ago, I couldn’t do anything in the kitchen beyond stir frying vegetables and pouring cereal. My family looked upon my Thanksgiving Tofurkey with pity. I was the lone vegan in my circle of family and friends.
But a lot’s changed in a year. Before, it was like I was vegan by default. I would never think of not being vegan, because I knew that veganism was the best thing I could do for animals, the environment, and myself. I liked that every day, I was doing something good. But I didn’t really talk about it or think about it that often. And the food I ate, while vegan, wasn’t really food I was excited about; it was processed, quick, and often involved a box of Swedish Fish in front of the TV.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a little vegan candy. But in the past year I’ve learned that when you really let the values and joy of veganism into your life, and your kitchen, the effects can be astounding. I’m not sure how it started. Maybe I just got tired of broccoli and rice every night; maybe I wanted to take advantage of having a real, kitchen, rather than the dollhouse-sized one in my college apartment. Regardless, last summer, I started to cook. Like, really cook. I made everything myself, from fruit tarts to spaghetti sauce, to my own homemade bread, to an aioli mayonnaise. And though it took a lot more time in the kitchen than I’d ever spent there, it deepened my relationship with food, and got me back in touch with what I was putting into my body. Along the way, I found a real fondness for the culinary arts and even, I hope, gained some skill.
Now I make a big vegan meal at least once a week at my parents’ house. They still have a nicer kitchen and more cooking equipment than me; plus, I could never handle all those leftovers myself. Cooking healthy, interesting vegan meals and getting knee-deep in as many vegan cookbooks and recipes as I can get my hands on, like stuffed acorn squash from The Vegan Table or marinated tofu skewers with coconut peanut sauce from The Candle Café Cookbook, has coincided with an all-around vegan makeover. Not only am I more educated about vegan cooking and nutrition, I’m more in touch with my vegan self and more apt to share my vegan experiences and enthusiasm, including my food creations, with the people around me. My boyfriend, who I never thought would join me down the vegan path, became vegan. This was probably from a variety of factors—like learning about factory farms, the fucked-up way people treat animals in general, and how the meat industry is wreaking havoc on our environment—but I like to think my cooking also had something to do with it. Because hey! being vegan DOESN’T mean you’re stuck with raw tofu and salads all time.
After I casually let my mom know about the PCRM’s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program, she decided to give it a try. After all, she’s always looking for ways to stay young, stay healthy, and not have a stomachache—I suggested many a time that veganism might be the answer. It’s been over a month and mom’s going strong. Her new vegan chef daughter is helping her with meal ideas and recipes. Even my dad, a personal trainer, is asking me for non-meat protein ideas he can tell his clients about. My aunt, a definite non-vegan, will sneak into my freezer to steal one of Alicia Silverstone’s vegan chocolate peanut butter cups.
I’m not saying that your cooking will magically turn everyone you know into fellow vegans. But I do think the joy you exude, in and out of the kitchen, rubs off on others and shows them that vegans can get excited about food, and that being vegan is a joyful, exciting way to live. Food is so often the centerpiece of an event, and the kitchen is often the most-used room in the house: if you inject a little vegan-ness into your food and your kitchens, you might see a ripple effect into other areas, and other people, in your life. I’ve toned down my cooking-from-scratch habits a bit. I still make my own bread, but I buy my aioli from the store. And every once in a while I’ll still make a Tofurkey sandwich. But getting down and dirty in the kitchen is one habit I’ll be keeping, and I hope, with love and some more culinary mastery, I can help veganism find its way into more people’s hearts, and their stomachs.
This is Kayla Coleman’s second post for Vegansaurus! Kayla is a freelance artist and writer in the Bay Area. When she’s not baking vegan goods or spoiling her pets, she is working on her up and coming blog, Babe in Soy Land — look for it!