I’ve been interested in eating less meat, and possibly becoming vegetarian or vegan, for 15+ years. I reviewed some vegan substitutes a few years ago. I am not 100% vegan yet, but I’ve made a ton of progress in the last few months.

At home I now cook nearly exclusively plant-based meals. My fridge has only plant-based things in it except for cheese (which I still eat fairly often). When I go out for a nice dinner, I will order plant-based options unless I’d be sacrificing too much nutritionally. When options are limited, or when it would be difficult/awkward to express a preference, I just eat whatever is available. And when I’m feeling down or grumpy and need some food, I’ll also eat whatever is quick and convenient. Overall I think about 3/4 of my meals are vegan.

I got to this point through motivation, availability of options, and cooking/eating practice. Maybe eventually I can be 100% plant-based – but I can imagine that the last bit is hard, and it doesn’t seem strictly necessary for most of my goals, so I don’t focus on it.

On motivation: I feel like I have strong reasons to eat fewer animal products. I discovered that I was slightly lactose intolerant; milk in larger quantities gives me gas. I buy into ethical arguments that animals can suffer, and wish to reduce such suffering. I buy into climate arguments that animal products are much more costly for the environment. Also, I spend lots of time with people who are vegetarian/vegan, or just don’t eat much meat or are trying to reduce, especially my partner, who is vegan – I want to be able to cook and eat together.

One of my biggest motives, though, is that plant-based food is the future and I want to live in that future and help bring it about. It seems really weird to me that 100 years from now, cow milk or chicken eggs will be anything but an absurd, slightly disturbing delicacy (like balut (content warning: dead animals) is viewed in the US). Plant based food is so obviously the future that I am a bit surprised we aren’t there yet; the current equilibrium seems somewhat fragile and I’d guess we could reach a tipping point where roughly everybody eats mostly vegan not too far into the future.

In terms of actually eating vegan, though, all that motivation wasn’t enough; I also needed it to be easy. I have been interested in vegetarianism since I was 18, but I have only lasted a few weeks each time I’ve tried. Now, the recent availability of options has been incredibly impactful, such that my current “3/4 vegan” seems doable indefinitely.

I like eating good food and I care about the taste and the nutrient profiles of my food quite a lot. I saw a lot of vegan people who didn’t seem to care about whether food tasted good, or vegans who seemed like they didn’t get enough protein; and on the flip side, I had many examples of omnivorous “foodies” who couldn’t imagine skipping meat because they cared too much about eating good food. But in the past few years, tons of new plant-based products have emerged: Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Just Egg, and an amazing selection of new non-dairy milks, which are great on both taste and protein axes. I expect we’ll continue to see this pace of innovation for years yet.

Lastly, I got a lot better at planning meals and cooking. 5 years ago, I had trouble planning a main dish that didn’t involve meat, but friends and cookbooks helped get me on the path of how to cook tasty vegetarian food. The core things are pretty much what you’d expect: better produce selection and finding tasty high-protein recipes. I’ll give a few examples:

  • I love sandwiches, but my favorite sandwiches have a lot of meat and cheese. Plant-based sandwiches have always been unsatisfying. Fortunately, I was able to get into a meatless rhythm with cheese, hummus and avocado sandwiches. These don’t quite meet my protein desires, but they do have some protein, and sandwiches are enough of a habit for me that I couldn’t easily cut them out entirely. I eat a lot fewer sandwiches than I used to – I never have time to cook a time-intensive lunch but I do often have dinner leftovers and prefer those when they’re available. And it feels great that I have completely stopped eating meat for lunch at home.
  • For dinners, I have started curating recipes that I think are both delicious and have decent-to-good macronutrient balance (which usually means they have some kind of protein front-and-center). Here are a few of my favorites:

Ideally once each day, I design and cook a meal around my protein. There are now a decent selection of proteins to choose from:

  • Tofu – I still need to figure out how to do tofu better. I have a few recipes I like it in, and it seems quite versatile, but I guess it can be labor-intensive since you usually have to marinate it or otherwise get it some flavor. Tofu is made from soy.
  • Tempeh – so far, I have only liked tempeh when I make Lemongrass Tempeh Crumbles (above). Tempeh is made from soy also.
  • Canned beans – carb-heavy, but tasty!
  • Beyond Meat or Impossible Meat – great for burgers, meatballs and “meat” sauces. Beyond Meat is pea protein, I think, and Impossible is some kind of soy.
  • Field Roast plant-based sausages. These are made from vital wheat gluten and are quite tasty, and come in several flavors.
  • Just Egg – I have only used this for scrambles. I want to experiment with it more. This is made from mung beans.
  • High-protein pasta – Barilla makes wheat pasta that’s protein-enriched, but you can also find legume pasta, e.g., Banza chickpea pasta.

(You can get lots of protein from other sources too! I’m not going to get too deep into these, but I have been using flaxseed, chia seed, nuts, protein powder, soymilk especially Silk Ultra, and some high-protein breads and cereals to augment my protein intake.)

Substitution skills are also relevant. I’ve learned a few tricks:

  • when a recipe calls for milk, plant milk (soy, oat, etc) is almost always an ok substitute! Soymilk has the most protein, but oatmilk is tastier.
  • when a recipe calls for cream, think about using coconut milk or coconut cream. These will tend to add a noticeable coconutty flavor, but I find that’s often welcome. If that’s not appropriate, substitute plant milk, preferably a thicker one.
    • I’ve been interested in plant milk/cauliflower blends since finding the Creamy Vegan Saag Paneer recipe! Haven’t gotten to experiment too much with it yet though.
  • when a recipe calls for eggs as a binder (meaning the eggs are going to stick everything together), use flax eggs as I do in Lisa’s BBBs. This also works surprisingly well in baking!
  • cheese is interesting. I really dislike vegan cheese substitutes (Daiya, etc); I find they have a really noticeable off flavor and artificial gooiness that just grosses me out. So instead I either omit the cheese, or try and replace it with something; but this depends heavily on what exactly cheese is doing; for fat and mouthfeel, try replacing it with another fat — olive oil, coconut oil, avocado. For saltiness you can just add some salt :). I recommend a flaky finishing salt (like Maldon salt) for some additional gustatory interest. And for umami, see below.
  • “Umami” refers to a hard-to-describe flavor component, different from saltiness, which tends to make food seem subtly flat when it’s lacking. A lot of umami comes from meat, but of course we’re not using meat, so instead:
    • Nutritional yeast adds a vaguely “cheesy” aroma and a good amount of umami. Uninspiring, but not objectionable either. I have blended nutriyeast with cashews and salt to make a cheesy thing you can sprinkle on pasta and meatballs.
    • Mushrooms: I use both fresh and dried but it’s very convenient having dried mushrooms around; they’re versatile because after you rehydrate them you also have mushroom liquid, which can add lots of flavor to sauces and such!
    • Other vegan umami bombs: Soy sauce, liquid aminos, tomato paste, seaweed, miso paste.

If you’re interested in this path, I highly recommend learning to cook. It’s still super hard to be vegan if you can’t cook, unless you also don’t care about variety or taste and just eat e.g. Amy’s frozen burritos for every meal. I like frozen burritos ok, but they’re a once-a-week thing at most. Fortunately, there are lots of great ways to learn to cook better.

I recommend not doing everything at once since big changes can be unsustainable. Instead, learn to cook first. Follow whatever cooking instruction excites you and don’t worry about being vegan or plant-based at first. Then, once you have some wins and trust yourself to be able to modify recipes, start playing around with substitutions.