I was invited by my friend, Whitney English, on her quarantine edition of The WERD and I talked about myths about men and vegan diets, barriers for dudes going plant-based, kitchen hacks for busy dudes, and meal planning and prep tips. In this episode, I discussed how to get the men in your life to eat more plant-based or be more okay with your plant-based diet. And I also answered questions from men who are wondering how they can go plant-based when they don’t have any kitchen skills.
How I Started My Plant-Based Journey
When I started my plant-based journey 12 years ago, around 2008, it was initially about health. I had been working in the entertainment industry for awhile, not eating well, and thought I needed to make a change. I decided to go vegetarian for the time that I was on this project which was about three months. After that, I felt better and started to learn more about it and so decided to continue for a year. Then that year turned into many years. Over that 12 years though, there were transitions from vegetarian to pescatarian, back to vegetarian, and then to fully vegan, for the last four years or so.
Some Common Stereotypes I Hear About Guys Who Eat Plant-Based
My wife and I met online and on my profile, I said that I was vegetarian. Her first image was Berkeley, hippie, sandals, stinky, and I think that’s part of it. Another thing that comes up first is always protein. I always get things like “How are you going to get enough protein?”, “You can’t get enough protein.”, and “The protein is not complete.” There’s also just a masculinity thing that doesn’t even have to do with health, that you’re not a real man unless you eat meat. It’s really tied into the masculine idea that’s connected to meat. That’s a big disconnect when you go plant-based as the guy.
There were also people making fun of me and people questioning my masculinity. There was a lot of “Oh, don’t you want to try this? Don’t you miss this?” Or, “Oh, can’t you just do it this one time?” And especially when you think about family and friends you’ve had for a really long time where there’s traditions that you have together or things that contain meat. It was definitely a transition and coming to terms with, “No, I am comfortable doing this.” It’s taken a long time because at first, I didn’t even want to bring it up or just kind of try to, “Okay, can I order something without people necessarily noticing that that’s what I’m doing?”
Even when I started Vegetarian Dude, which was about six years ago, initially it was just a personal project. It was really like, “I’m just going to do this to kind of have something for me to work on developing recipes over the span of a year.” And then it’s continued to evolve and grow from there. But it was totally a private project that then started to grow and got more and more passionate about it.
Think of going plant-based as a journey. I’m not judging anybody for wherever they might be in this journey and whatever things they might still eat. For me, cheese was the holdout. Giving up dairy milk and cows milk was easy. Cheese took a much longer period of time. But today, there’s nothing really that I can say that I miss. I think what struck me as I started cooking more and more that it was really about the flavors and textures and less about, “Oh, this isn’t an animal.” I used to love chicken wings, but buffalo cauliflower satisfies me in the same way. So there are all of those things that I’ve found out what those substitutions are. It’s rare that there’s something that I miss or feel like I’m missing out on now.
For cheese specifically, it’s very easy to replace spreadable cheeses. Things like cream cheese or any kind of spreadable cheese like that, even goat’s cheese, that kind of vibe is pretty easy and I think the products are on the market are really good. And then for cheese sauce, you can get a really good creamy sauce for mac and cheese or Alfredo sauce or even nacho cheese. All of that I think is doable. I think the hardest is the sliced cheeses and melted cheese on a sandwich. For me now, I like the substitutes that are out there, but it’s a hard thing to go to initially. And so I’d say if you’re just starting out, think about other things that will satisfy what that texture, flavor, and nutrition. You can use avocado instead of cheese because it’s creamy, it’s fatty, it’s savory, and it’s delicious. And so have those kinds of substitutions that still gets you satisfied in the same way.
The last thing is to manage expectations. If somebody says, “Oh, this is a great substitute for X,” go in knowing that it’s a substitute or think about it as its own flavor. It’s like, “Oh, this is going to be tofu ricotta and that it’s its own thing. It’s not necessarily going to be exactly like the ricotta.”
Some Ways You Can Help Ease The Man In Your Life Into A Plant-Based Diet
I constantly get women asking either maybe their man is sort of interested or maybe they’re just not on board at all and they’re having some serious issues deciding where to go eat. With guys especially, I think it’s about leading with taste and not leading with, “This is healthy. This is better for the environment. This is better for animals.” That can all come later, but really start with taste. What’s something that tastes good?
So say his favorite meal is baby back ribs. Don’t try to recreate that plant-based as the first thing you do. Start from where they are. Think about what are some meals that maybe you already eat. It could be pasta and red sauce and usually, you put cheese or put Parmesan on it or something like that. And just do that without the Parmesan. Or maybe try it with nutritional yeast. Things that where there’s an easy substitute or even baked goods that you might normally cook with butter and eggs, you can swap that out with a flax egg and using a plant-based butter. You can also do that for some sauces too, for example Mayo-based sauces since vegan mayonnaise is a super easy swap.
Leading with tastes is super important. There’s all the plant-based burgers that are out there now like Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger. That’s a very, very easy swap. The initial thing is to open their mind that this is possible and change the point of view that going predominantly plant-based means just eating kale, right? You can still have your comfort food and then once that’s open, it’s like, “Oh, okay. I’m down to explore some of these other options that might be out there.”
My vegan tuna salad recipe is made with jackfruit, which is a great substitute for any kind of pulled meat texture. One of my most popular posts is a vegan pulled pork that is made with oyster mushrooms. I’ve had women say that feeding this to the guy in their life that they loved it and they thought that it tasted delicious and didn’t really miss meat. Mushrooms really help lend both that texture and then also kind of that umami flavor that a lot of people are looking for from meat-based dishes.
People tend to have associations with different vegetables from throughout their life. Trying to come back with if they hate mushrooms, it’s like, “Well, why don’t we try it in a different format? Let’s take your favorite barbecue sauce, put it all over a mushroom, and grill it. Portobello mushroom.” And it’s like, “Okay, cool. Now you have that flavor that you already know you love for the barbecue sauce and it’s just grilled into the mushroom,” and try to ease back in if there are those aversions to certain veggies.
Meal Planning And Prep Tips
Start small and make these small steps a habit. Pick a meal and depending on what that meal is of the day, let’s say it’s breakfast during the week and swapping in a smoothie and just start with that. You could have the same base of a smoothie and then swap in different fruits to make it have different flavors and keep that fresh every day. And it’s just a really easy thing to make because you throw it all in the blender, you blend it up and then you have a breakfast.
For meal prep planning, try to have a day of the week, which is usually Sunday in my case, for prepping a bunch of stuff. Think about different ingredients to cook with throughout the week. I’m don’t make a meal that I’m going to have 10 of that meal for the week. I’m chopping up carrots, I’m making a salad dressing, I’m washing greens, I’m making beans and grains. And then throughout the week, that can turn into tacos, into a bowl, into sandwiches. Whatever the kind of mix and match of that looks like.
Another thing is just making more than you need for a meal so then you have those leftovers for multiple days. On the day, whether it’s the weekend or a night of the week when you have more time, rather than making that pasta dish just for the night, just make a lot more and then make your bowl that you’re going to eat it out of it and put the rest away and then you’ll have that to continue to eat for the rest of the week.
I also remix my leftovers. If I just cooked the pasta and marinara sauce, I might take the leftovers, put it into a pan, and then bake it. Then I have a slightly different baked pasta or maybe I put some other veggies on it. And so just thinking about, “Okay, how could I have the same base and maybe do something slightly different with it?”
Even if you’re just adding elements to meals that you already have that are plant-based or making the small substitutions, it’s like a turkey sandwich, it’s literally going for vegan mayo instead of regular mayo. It’s like, “Oh, well, if I can do that substitution, then it again, starts to kind of open up these pieces.”
Also, think of the volume that you might need to eat to be full. Especially as a guy and if you’re active, you think about, “Oh, I’m going to go and get a salad,” and you’re going to want to double the size of that salad. Maybe 2.5 times the size of it. And sometimes I’m having a giant bowl and it’s like, “Yeah, I eat a salad for lunch. And it’s huge because that’s what I need to be full and satisfied.” Rethink what you’re making so that you are full in the volume and then also the component parts of it. Think about having whole grains and legumes and these things that have protein and fiber that’s going to keep you full and satisfied.
Learn about mixing things together that actually creates a satisfying meal. I have rice and beans in many forms, as well as quinoa and beans. Any legume and grains mixed and have that in tacos, burritos, bowls, salads. Having a big salad and always adding grains to that makes a big difference.
In America or Western cultures, meat is at the center of the plate. So everything is like, “Here’s my meat. And then what else is around it?” So change your mindset that the meal as a whole is giving you everything that you need. It’s not instead of this meat in the middle of my plate, it’s going to be a block of tofu. That’s not necessarily true. It can be, but not thinking about like, “Oh, well, what’s my meat in this?” And people will ask that. Or, “What’s the protein?”
Even just looking at a plate and not seeing a big piece of meat, some people psychologically might feel like they’re not going to be full. So it’s sort of that psychological part. Plants, specifically fruits and vegetables, are lower in calories and lower in fat and they do not fill you up calorically as much as cheese or eggs or meat, which are very fat and calorically dense. And so it’s really important that you mix and match those components. Otherwise, you will fall into that trap that lots of people do when they go plant-based and they say, “Oh, I’m just not satisfied.” Well, you’re not doing right basically.
If you’re sitting around and eating kale salads that don’t have some beans, some whole grains, then yeah, of course, you’re not going to be full. So I think that’s really important to remind guys to increase their portion size and make sure they’re having those components that are really going to provide the satiety.
Stereotypical Dude Food Swaps
For chicken wings, the buffalo cauliflower is a great substitute. You can have dips with that too, have your vegan ranch or vegan blue cheese.
For grilling, grilling portobello mushrooms is a great option. Charring vegetables, using barbecue sauce, or other kinds of existing flavors that might be applied to meat as a part of it can be a really good idea. I do like the fake meats on occasion though I wouldn’t think about it as healthy necessarily, I would think about it as a substitution like the Beyond Meat sausages or the Impossible Burger.
If you want to get a little more advanced, you can get into cauliflower steak or butternut squash steak. Cauliflower is basically a big chunk and I would do it in a mushroom kind of wine sauce and then sear it at the end. It has that infusion of the savoriness and the umami from the mushrooms and the wine that just gives it that rich vibe. I finish it by searing it ideally in a cast-iron skillet that gets you that crusty kind of burnt flavor. Those things combined and then having sauteed mushrooms on top of it makes it just a great dish.
You can also check out my recipe for barbecue mushroom tacos. It’s a similar approach in pulling the mushrooms, but with a barbecue sauce and you cook it over the stove. I have a homemade barbecue sauce mix, but you can do it with your own favorite barbecue sauce. If you have a barbecue sauce you like, making sure it’s plant-based, which most of them are, and then it’s really just pulling the mushrooms and mixing them in that and then cooking them in a pan. That’s all that it is. And then you can put that into a taco or on a bun as a sandwich.
Plant-Based Kitchen Hacks
When it comes to greens, a lot of people get a head of lettuce and it just sits and wilts in the fridge. When you get that, wash it, clean it, put it into a container and store it so it’s already ready to go. Or just by pre-washed at the store. And then that way it’s super easy to make a salad or just add those greens to whatever dish that you’re making. Then you’re adding the nutrients and just the benefits of having leafy greens. That’s one.
For storage, always keep things fresh. When you’re going to buy something from the store, for example, when you get whole carrots, a great hack is to soak them in water if they get limp. Just get a bowl of water and just put the carrots in that. Then they’ll actually firm back up.
Another tip is to have cooked grains and beans ready to go. Canned is obviously a super-easy way to do this but it tends to have more sodium and they don’t really taste as good. Make a large batch of say, brown rice at home, then you can take that and it stores really well in the freezer, and it’s also great to keep that on hand in the fridge. It makes it super easy to just add that to whatever you’re making. It also makes your meal more satisfying, keeps you more full, and adds the nutrients that you need on a plant-based diet.
Even within the plant-based space, there are gurus out there who are spreading non-evidence-based information, and while it’s at least closer to what I believe in, it’s very important to always get your information from the science. One person I really like is Dr. Michael Greger of nutritionfacts.org. He does a really great job of summing up nutrition trends and various nutrition topics into really easy to digest videos and articles. He has two books out. One’s called How Not to Die, and one’s called How Not to Diet, and both are really great. Both for people who’ve been plant-based for a while and want to learn more and for people who maybe are interested in a plant-based diet, but not ready to make the leap or not sure how to make the leap. I can’t say enough good things about him. I also do a lot of nutrition myth-busting over on my YouTube channel, Whitney E. RD. I actually have a three-part series on soy and myths about soy. The second video is about moobs, one of my other topics.
Do you have any other tips for dudes planning to go plant-based? Let me know in the comments below!