I’ve been vegan for about two and a half years; I started transitioning in January 2016. Since then, my interest in, and relationship to cooking has evolved. Since changing my diet, I’ve endeavoured to shift my values in other areas of my life, from the way I grocery shop, to what clothes and makeup I purchase. Going vegan has been a catalyst in my life in many ways, but obviously, the biggest change has centered around my relationship to food and cooking. Here are four ways that going vegan has made me a better cook.
- Limitations: While the idea of limitations in our life can often feel oppressive or daunting, I found that the limitations that veganism necessitated were a creative launchpad for me. Going vegan meant I had to put more thought into what I was eating (or not eating) in so many ways; from conversations I had with friends and family, to deciding what I would eat for dinner, to finding new restaurants I could eat at. In the realms of cooking, I couldn’t simply rely on what I’d always eaten; in most cases, I had to either come up with a substitute for an animal product, or come up with an entirely new recipe. The other limitation that ended up is that I had fewer places that I could just go out to eat. It became a lot harder to just grab take-out when I didn’t want to cook. Suddenly I had to cook more at home, and make my own lunches, bring snacks, etc. This alone made me a better cook, simply because I was doing it a lot more (practice makes perfect) and because I had to plan ahead. I still wanted food to taste just as good, so I put the time in to ensure that I wouldn’t feel deprived. The limitations, while at time they felt frustrating, ultimately made me a lot more conscious of what I was eating and curious about what I could do in the kitchen.
- I’ve tried a lot of new (to me) recipes and read more cookbooks. Before I went vegan, I often relied on what I already knew how to make and I was not all that adventurous in the kitchen. I pretty much wanted to get in and get out. Cooking was a means to an end. When I went vegan, I had to start from scratch in many ways to discover new recipes that would become staple meals. I had a lot of fun trying out new recipes, and creating dishes I’d never eaten before. My first cookbook (along with every other Canadian Vegan, haha) was Oh She Glows by Angela Liddon. I loved making her Enchiladas and Yolos, just to name a few. Aside from Oh She Glows, I found a lot of inspiration from both the Hot For Food Youtube Channel, and more recently have really enjoyed Lauren Toyota’s cookbook Vegan Comfort Classics. I love taking out vegan cookbooks from the library to try for a few weeks, or even just to peruse through. I continue to get inspiration and to be introduced to different flavour profiles and ingredient combinations.
- Cooking became a creative outlet. Since I was spending more time reading and working through cookbooks, discovering new flavours, and using different ingredients, eventually I felt inspired to go off-book and start creating my own dishes and recipes. From Split Pea and Barley Stew to Matcha Mochi Pancakes (V/GF), experimenting in the kitchen became a respite from my daily routine of going to University and teaching. I found that studying music and teaching voice lessons was so demanding that I wasn’t inspired to compose music. It was while I was going through a creative block musically that I created this blog! I felt so much comfort in pouring my creative energy into not only just cooking, but also creating the site, taking photos and writing. I honestly don’t feel like myself if I am not doing something creative and I tend to feel frustrated and depressed when I don’t have some kind of project going on. Cooking (and blogging) helped me to keep my creative muscles in tact while I was working through my musical drought. Even though I wasn’t composing, I knew I was still putting my creative energy to good use, which helped me feel like I was being productive and making progress in one way or another.
- It changed my relationship to produce. Now, going vegan doesn’t automatically mean you suddenly love and subsist off of only fresh organic produce. You can do veganism so many different ways: from junk-food vegan to wholefood plant-based and everything in between. I don’t mean to suggest that omnivores don’t care about the quality of their produce, but I know that when I was eating animal products, I personally wasn’t as connected to the food that I was eating. The animal products often dominated whatever the meal was, and my palette wasn’t as sensitive to all of the flavours in a meal. Again, this is my personal experience, and of course it is different for everyone. As I’ve transitioned my diet, my intake and relationship to vegetables has definitely changed. The more whole plants I consume on a regular basis, the more I crave them. I also notice when I haven’t had enough veggies, based on my skin and my digestion. Because I really enjoy eating them now, I do care more about the quality and where they come from. Going to the farmer’s market every weekend has become my favourite parts of the weekly routine (besides band practise!). My boyfriend and I love knowing the farmers who grow our food. The taste is so much better! I feel good that the money I would otherwise be spending at the grocery store is going straight to the producers who are contributing so greatly to my well-being. This is not to say that I only care about the quality of my food because I’m vegan, or to suggest that people who are not vegan don’t care about the quality of their produce, it’s just to say that as I’ve changed what is on my plate, it’s truly changed my palette, along with my values.