- Illustration: Anna Shilling
Q: How do you tell if someones vegan?
A: Oh, dont worry; theyll tell you.
Frankly, vegans get a bad rap. If you did something as difficult as cut all animal products out of your diet, youd want to talk about it, too.
Do you think the fourth man to walk on the moon (astronaut Alan Bean) goes a single conversation without talking about space? Youd walk into every room yelling, Im one of only 12 people who ever walked on the moon! and pointing at your T-shirt that says, Please ask me about the moon.
And anyone who thinks going vegan is easy is someone who has never tried to be a vegan. Saying goodbye to products containing eggs, milk, gelatin or butter is difficult at best, but we should at least start by eating a vegetable.
Oklahoma ranks 44th in the nation for vegetable consumption and 50th for fruit consumption.
2014 State of the States Health Report is full of sobering statistics about how poor the average Oklahomans diet is.
More than half the men in Oklahoma did not eat at least one vegetable a day.
Half of Oklahoma adults dont eat even one piece of fruit a day.
Forty percent or more of Oklahoma youth said they dont eat a fruit or a vegetable daily.
Oklahoma is the sixth most obese state in the nation.
Whatever issues one might have with veganism, those statistics are startling. Vegan personal chef Nicole Diaz said theyre easy to fix. People are wary of the price of vegan diets and the ability of the food to satisfy them, but thats largely a perception problem.
They think vegan food is only vegetables, but theres a whole slew of things you can eat that arent vegetables, she said. As a cook, my job is getting people to be open to new foods and make it approachable.
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- Buffalo cauliflower wings, cashew ranch
- Vanilla bean cheesecake with persimmon filling
- Nacho salad
When she helps people interested in vegan eating get started, she focuses on what you can have versus whats off-limits.
I make them pumpkin pie or burgers anything they can relate to, she said. But if you name some crazy foreign dish, theyll be too scared to try it.
Diaz said Oklahoma City is on the cusp of being ready for a change. Residents poor health has moved from gene
rality into fact. As study after study ranks the state at or near the bottom, people realize things have to change.
People are sick and tired, and they dont know why, she said. Theyre questioning things.
But Diaz isnt a vegan evangelist. Shes just hoping to move the needle a little farther into the green.
Veganism isnt a quick fix, she said. I want people to add things into their diets and see how they feel.
To run a marathon, one must train. Switching to an all-vegan diet is the same youre not going to prepare for that marathon in one day. And when you slip up and eat some cheese or have a steak, Diaz said, thats okay.
It really is about feeling better, she said.
- Garett Fisbeck
- Caren Yust
Good luck being a vegan Thunder fan, said Oklahoma City nurse Caren Yust. Finding a bite to eat at sporting events is nearly impossible; Yust said venues rarely consider dietary restrictions. Still, its easier now than when she started. At 22, Yust was driven by animal rights to give up meat and animal byproducts.
I was living on french fries and bean burritos, she said. As I got older, I realized you have to plan it out. Youve always got to be a little more conscious of what youre eating.
And while she still believes in animal rights, the last 15 years also have shown her the health benefits to her lifestyle.
Red meat is also linked to heart disease, cancer and diabetes, she said.
All are major threats to mortality.
In fact, obesity is a risk factor for all causes of death, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And even if youre living, its no fun. Obesity is associated with arthritis, trouble sleeping and mental illness.
Diaz said meat is also hard on the gut. Digestion isnt something most of us think about, but its a difficult process made even more difficult by red meat.
For Diaz, the change in diet brought some welcome body changes. Her skin cleared up. Her brain is not so foggy.
But getting away from meat, eggs and dairy isnt easy in a city whose history seems to be branded on the side of a cow.
- Garett Fisbeck
- Tra Coffey makes quinoa tacos at Picasso Cafe.
- Garett Fisbeck
- Picasso Cafes quinoa tacos
Its easy to be a vegan at home, Yust said, but going out is still a challenge.
Most restaurants, all they have for you is a salad or something super-heavy, like pasta, she said. Its hard to find a nice in-between meal.
Diaz said vegan culture in Oklahoma City is virtually nonexistent.
After the close of 105 Degrees/Matthew Kenney OKC/Tamazul, the strictly vegan restaurant disappeared from the city. Vegetarian mainstay The Red Cup has continued, though its no longer open for dinner.
Food is an integral part of how we relate to one another, Diaz said. Thats why restaurants serving food that appeals to everybody is so important.
At Picasso Cafe, 3009 Paseo St., chef Ryan Parrott came into a kitchen that was already well-established in the vegan and vegetarian world. The menu still has beef and chicken and cheese, but it has long featured dishes like quinoa tacos and chicken fried portobello as well.
With the latest menu change, we put a lot more focus on it, he said. Theres always been a vegetarian section, but now the vegetarian options outweigh the rest of the menu.
He said almost anything thats vegetarian can be made vegan.
Parrott is not a vegetarian, but thats what makes his meatless dishes so good he concentrates on whats there rather than what isnt.
I still approach it the same way. I cook food that I want to eat, he said. Sometimes its as easy as saying, If we take the meat out, its still good. Whether youre a vegetarian or a vegan or a meat eater, the food needs to be satisfying enough that you want more.
The restaurant also is fortunate because it built trust with that community.
They know they can come here and well be cognizant of cross-contamination issues, Parrott said. Were not going to cook your food right where we just finished a hamburger on the flat-top.
Maybe the best feature, he said, is its a place where vegans dont have to worry that they wont find something to eat.
Thats why Picasso is, by far, Yusts favorite restaurant.
They have eight or nine vegan options every day, she said.
And her options always are expanding. More restaurants are making room for at least one or two entrees that cater to vegans. Guernsey Park and Panang 2 have Asian vegan options. Smokeys BBQ has vegetarian sides. And Yust said Wests vegan nachos with red peppers and black beans are great comfort food.
Better still, as OKC chefs grow more comfortable cooking vegan foods, its becoming easier to make special requests.
Good meat isnt cheap, but neither are good vegetables.
If you go into an organic plant-based diet, its more expensive, Diaz said. Organic produce is how it should be, not sprayed with pesticides.
Its hard to convince people to buy more expensive apples over a bag of chips, but its a cost savings in the long run.
You actually eat less because the foods are more nutrient-dense, Diaz said. A bowl of kale will fill you up.
And if that doesnt sound satisfying, she said people should remember all the heavier foods that are vegan: grains, beans, brown rice, tofu.
Seasoning and cooking them correctly is the true art of the vegan diet, but with the right spices, almost anything tastes good. The more restaurants that embrace that kind of food, the more people will eat it and the less expensive its going to be over time.
Parrott said thats the fun of Picassos monthly vegetarian dinners finding ways to transform the ingredients.
Its the third Tuesday of every month, and we have several vegans come in, he said. Theres a different theme every month. Sometimes its a cuisine. This month, its Hungarian food. In March, were going to do Oscar-nominated food.
Thats how you can tell if someone is a vegan at Picasso Cafe look for the person with the big smile on his face.
Print headline: Giving up; Its not easy being green in a red meat state, but its not as hard as it used to be.