From the food editor: Going vegan for a week

Vegans can enjoy tasty burgers too. This one is made with sweet potatoes and cannellini beans and topped with avocado and onion.
Vegans can enjoy tasty burgers too. This one is made with sweet potatoes and cannellini beans and topped with avocado and onion.
Published May 26, 2015

When I, a meat-eater whose love affair with cheese is well documented, think of some of the best vegan meals I've had, I think of dishes that showcased real, non-animal products. Things like fruit, vegetables and nuts — not things like vegan cream cheese. Processed vegan products can contain artificial ingredients and soy fillers to make them taste like their meat or dairy counterparts. To me, that defeats the purpose of a plant-based diet, which can be wonderfully diverse and sustaining.

Welcome to our vegan issue. This week, we're showcasing the diet and lifestyle that more and more Americans are adopting, as evidenced by those vegan grocery store products and an increased vegan presence on restaurant menus. In 2015, veganism is more prevalent than it has ever been, with celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Alicia Silverstone popularizing plant-based and even raw (usually nothing cooked over 115 degrees) diets.

Veganism is generally defined as the practice of avoiding animal products found in food, and sometimes in clothing. Food-wise, that means no dairy, no eggs, no honey. It differs from vegetarianism in that most vegetarians consume dairy and eggs.

Throughout, we hear from a wellness expert on the do's and don'ts of a vegan diet, from longtime vegans about maintaining their practice, and from a relative newcomer to veganism with tips about transitioning to the lifestyle. We have vegan recipes from breakfast to dinner, plus tips for how to bake without using animal products. And we tell you how you can get involved in vegan meetups.

This week's #CookClub recipe is vegan, too. I chose a burger made with mashed sweet potato and white beans, because why should carnivores get to have all the fun this summer cookout season? You can make the burgers vegetarian with the addition of a thick slice of melted cheese atop each burger and a schmear of Greek yogurt flavored with garlic. Or add vegan-friendly toppings such as creamy avocado and crunchy red onion.

There are a few mainstays we came across when we delved deeper into the workings of a vegan diet. First, you must embrace the variety and flavor of fresh, vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables. Beans and sweet potatoes are full of fiber and therefore ideal for bulking up vegan meals; almost every vegan we talked to for this issue touted the magic (and affordability) of beans. Nuts and nut butter are super versatile, whether in milks like almond or cashew, or butters like peanut or almond. When cooking, spices are important to impart flavor that vegan dishes may lack without fat.

Overall, though, the main thing I learned from working on this issue is that veganism is a lot more accessible than I once thought. It does take work and commitment — processed foods are loaded with hidden dairy — but it's becoming easier as veganism grows in popularity to avoid animal products while dining out or shopping at the grocery store. The food featured in this issue is hearty, healthy and in some cases (I can't quit the carnivore in me just yet) good enough to forget about what's missing.

Contact Michelle Stark at or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17 on Twitter.