3 Things They Won’t Tell You About Giving Up Cheese

Whoever invented the expression “cold turkey” got it totally wrong. Cold turkey? Pfffft. More like “cold cheese.” Giving up turkey when you go vegan is nothing compared to the difficulty in abandoning that six-letter word that plagues vegans like five-years old in a psych lab are tempted by marshmallows. Maybe I speak only for myself, but when you’re recently vegan and it’s 1:00am on a vodka-fueled Saturday night, you’re not craving a burger. Or steak. Or even spaghetti and meatballs. You’re thinking about gooey mac and cheese. Salivating over the thought of an extra-cheesy slice of pizza. And then salvation arrives in the form of a crispy grilled cheese with thick slabs of tomato wedged between its oozing slices of American and a takeout container of cheese fries and overly-sweetened ketchup.

Then you wake up the next day, feeling a tinge of guilt and flip open a copy of Rachael Ray to distract you, only to have it open to a riff of two favorite cheesy delights: eggplant Parmesan and grilled cheese.

 1. Replicate “cheesiness” with umami.
This savory taste, now known as the “fifth flavor,” is found naturally in a variety of foods. Try adding briny olives, tomato paste, mushrooms or soy sauce to dishes that the old you would have doused in cheese to get that similar fix. It’s amazing what a smudge of hummus (I’m obssessed with Tribe‘s Cocktail Time limited edition horseradishy delicious flavor) on a sandwich can also do. Also, I put umami-rich balsamic vinegar on everything. EVERYTHING (everything bagel with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil? Sure! Rice cakes with balsamic vinegar? Sign me up! Pasta spirals tossed with balsamic and tomatoes? Yes, please).

2.  Put nutritional yeast on everything.
No, it won’t replace cheese, but it will make you miss it less. I swear by my “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Parm Sauce” (here’s my super simple recipe). If I’m making pasta and in a pinch, I sprinkle a combination of nutritional yeast and GO Veggie! vegan parm with tomato sauce and merrily continue on my cheese-free but still indulgent way.

3. You’d be surprised what restaurants can do for you.
…And how good your former go-to dishes still taste. See a cheese-reliant item on the menu you’d love to have? Just ask to hold the cheese and if they can load up on extra veggies or whatever else you like in its place. You’d be amazed how good wood-fired pizza with fresh tomato sauce, basil and mushrooms (or whatever your favorite toppings are) tastes. Don’t be afraid to asks! Any awesome chef will view your requests as a fun culinary challenge, and not a “goddamn this nitpicky crazy vegan eater.” And if they do? Tweet up a storm to let them know you’re ticked. (Mario Batali himself responded to me on Twitter once when I was upset by my service at Otto’s, true story).

P.S. The Vegan Buffalo Bites (made from cauliflower!) with “Blue Cheese” Dressing on 86Lemons beats that crummy bottled stuff any day.

The 3 Things That Surprised Me Most About Going Vegan

Nope, it wasn’t my boyfriend rolling his eyes at me. Or having to explain for the billionth time to someone that getting protein is easy (Coulda predicted that one too). Or that, yes, I know, I’m taking a B12 supplement, so don’t worry. So maybe I couldn’t have told you that I’d be eating a lot more of 86 Lemons’ Chickpea Ratatouille. But read on for the three real whammies that I discovered after making the plunge.

1. “Vegetarian” options at Chinese restaurants aren’t safe.

By now, I’m well versed in all the junk that gets thrown into seemingly innocuous dishes. But pre-vegan days, I thought, “Hey! Cheese and dairy are nowhere to be found on the menus of Asian restaurants. As long as I order veggies/tofu dishes, I’m totally safe. Hello Takeout!” Wrong. Turns out, a lot of sauces use fish or meat products and even items listed on a “Buddha’s delight” or “Vegetarian” section of a menu aren’t safe even if animal products aren’t named in the description. I’ve searched the internet high and low to try and figure out what exactly the standard recipe is for “brown sauce,” only to discover that it varies tremendously. After doing some informal surveys on my own at my go-to takeout joints, I discovered one uses chicken stock as the base for it’s brown sauce (and it’s white sauce too!), another is “vegetarian!” until you pry a bit and learn their definition of vegetarian means no pork and it actually contains oyster sauce, and a third is corn starch and water based, and totally vegetarian friendly. So ask, ask, ask away. And when in doubt. Order no sauce and get extra soy sauce on the side. P.S. Half the fun of take out/delivery is eating pre-made food in the comfort of your own home, so surely you could splurge for a $4 bottle of vegan teriyaki or other condiment of choice and just order your dishes sauce free and BYOS to the dinner table.

2. I have to worry about Blood Mary’s.

If you know me, you know that there’s one drink I crave breakfast, noon and nightcap: that savory blend of tomato juice, spice, enough olives to justify having to add it to your weight watchers point list and a (few) splash (es) of vodka. Sadly, Worcestershire sauce is typically made with anchovies, so it’s not on the “safe list” (I’ll trade accidentally vegan Oreos or Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili Flavored Tortilla Chips to get Worcestershire sauce on that list any day). So what’s a BM-aficionado to do? Sling a bottle of Annie’s Organic Vegan Worcestershire Sauce in your purse to have on call for a brunch spot near you.

3. …But I don’t have to worry about everything.

Okay, so confession: I don’t actually walk around with Worcestershire Sauce in my purse (Though Annie’s is darn good). And I don’t even double check with my waiter at buzzy Manhattan liquor dens to ensure they’re using the vegan kind (A little voice in my head likes to cajole me by whispering “C’mon Perri, this is Manhattan, of course this trendy spot knows to pick one without anchovies. I mean, they’re charging me $1112 a glass, they must be splurging for the organic vegan version…”) And I’m okay with that. I used to think going vegan was an all or nothing type thing. No animal products. None. Ever. But the more you learn, the more you realize how that’s pretty much impossible. And striving for a compassionate lifestyle that mitigates as much animal suffering as possible is better than driving yourself insane and spending all day obsessing over your food choices. Get worked up all you want about your veggie stir fry being tossed in the same wok as a pork dish that came before it and is left unwashed (trust me, it happens), but at the end of the day, the .000000003%  animal contamination it’s resulted in on your meal is probably better than the additional animal suffering that would result from washing that wok with a tallow-laced soap that led to more demand for cattle slaughter.