Vegan Resources for Beginners + Oprah's Vegan Challenge

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certified veganOprah did a pretty big thing for the vegan community last week. She had a Vegan Challenge where she and 378 Harpo staffers went vegan for a week, followed by a show on veganism, American eating habits, factory farming, and industrial agriculture. Guests Kathy Freston, Michael Pollan, and Lisa Ling joined. There have been mixed emotions about the show: Was it sugar-coated? Should Michael Pollan have even been there? Did the footage of a Cargill slaughterhouse correctly represent the true horror of animal agriculture (Hint: No. But a new and concise video called Farm to Fridge by Mercy for Animals does. So does Earthlings.)? There was a sense of tip-toeing around the issues, which I’m sure was at least in part due to the infamous Texas Cattlemen vs. Oprah Winfrey and Howard Lyman lawsuit of 1998. Lisa Ling mentioned that they were not allowed to shoot everything at the slaughterhouse, and Oprah even says in one segment “Let’s try not to get sued.”

Oprah Goes Vegan

That’s not to say that good things didn’t come out of the show. One thing most vegans can probably agree upon is that it was huge exposure for the vegan lifestyle. Ten—hell, five—years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. Ellen is awesome, Martha has been great—but really, you can’t get bigger than Oprah in terms of reaching an audience. She opened a dialogue which few media personalities have dared to open.

Not only did Oprah convince her staff to go vegan with her (who collectively lost 444 pounds and gained 84 pounds), but she also instituted Meatless Mondays at the Harpo café and created a Vegan Starter Kit that now lives on her website. It features a grocery list, a 3-week meal plan, a list of simple substitutions, a vegan FAQ, and some Vegan 101 from Kathy Freston (whose new book, The Veganist, was the number one best-selling book on Amazon after the show aired).

Kathy Freston on Being a Veganist


While the kit is pretty good for basic info, it does include a lot of processed foods, and TONS of Kashi (who seems to be a sponsor, owned by Kellogg Company). PETA has had a Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit on their site for years. Believe it or not, not all vegans agree with all of PETA’s tactics, but for all the controversial things they’ve done, they’ve also done a lot of good. One of those good things is their kit. It’s interactive and approachable, with traveler tips, recipes, and a shopping guide of what’s vegan at your regular, everyday supermarket (note: They are not all healthy—just vegan!). The shopping list is very handy for vegans just starting out or living in areas that are not vegan-friendly.

I referenced kits like these when I first became vegan, but as the years have gone by, I’ve grown a lot in my knowledge of what makes my life easier, healthier, and tastier and I’ve naturally moved beyond the basics. With the help of blogs, cookbooks, videos, and yes, even celebrities, I’ve compiled, not only a great pantry and fridge, but also a strong library of resources. What better way to append the efforts of Oprah’s starter kit and online “resource center,” than to add what I know? New and exciting vegan information, products and places pop up everyday, so please feel free to comment and add resources that should be included. For those either committed to or just flirting with the idea of going vegan, I hope that this list proves useful.

In My Vegan Pantry/Fridge:
These are not your standard tofu/veggie dog/beans suggestions that most beginner vegan guides list. But they are essential for me and for most vegans I know. There is a whole world beyond what most people consider "typical vegan ingredients."

  1. Cashews: For nut cheeses, milks, sour cream, cream cheese, pumpkin pies, cream soups, the list goes on...
  2. Nutritional Yeast: To create cheesy sauces, add savory flavors, and as an alternative to parmesan. It's also a source of B-12.
  3. So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer: For coffee and to add something creamier to dessert recipes than your standard soy/coconut/hemp/almond/rice milk.
  4. Seitenbacher Vegetable Broth and Seasoning: It doesn't have crap for ingredients and adds tons of savory flavor to sauces and broths. You can get it at Whole Foods.
  5. Wine: Get a vegan variety and use to deglaze pans, pump up sauces, or add more flavor to veggies.
  6. EatPastry cookies: I always have tubs of this dough in the fridge to eat raw (you can do that when it's vegan!) or baked. The gluten-free variety is amazing.
  7. Coconut Oil: For frosting. Extra virgin if you don't mind the scent or prefer something unrefined. Otherwise you can get unscented.
  8. Ener-G Egg Replacer, flax seeds, and/or applesauce: All can be used as egg replacements in baked goods.
  9. Vegenaise: As good as non-vegan mayo. Stay away from Nayonaise.
  10. Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread: A great butter replacement for cooking, baking, and just on toast. I prefer the soy-free variety.

Best Local Places to Shop for Unique and Standard Vegan Groceries:
Rainbow Grocery (San Francisco)
Berkeley Bowl Marketplace (Berkeley)
Whole Foods (Everywhere)
Farmer Joe's Marketplace (Oakland)
The Food Mill (Oakland)
New Leaf Community Markets (Santa Cruz area)
Veg Food Finder for Stores in the Bay Area

Vegan videos and cooking shows (because Food Network STILL refuses to produce a vegetarian cooking show):
Miyoko’s Kitchen (with Bay Area native and vegan cheese aficionado, Miyoko Schinner)
The Post Punk Kitchen with Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

Vegan Blogs/Websites:
The Kind Life: Alicia Silverstone’s blog is just as approachable, smart, and, well, kind, as her book, The Kind Diet.
The Spunky Coconut: A cooking blog that often features gluten-free, casein-free, and sugar-free vegan recipes.
Vegan Good Things
Crazy Sexy Life
My Face is on Fire
What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyways?
I Eat Trees Check out their Ultimate Vegan Guide.
VegWeb : They have over 13,000 recipes and anyone can submit one!

Bay Area Vegan Resources:
The San Francisco Vegetarian Society
SF Vegan Drinks
Bay Area Vegetarians: Veg Food Finder
The Vegan Restaurant Guide to San Francisco & The Bay Area (pdf) by Friends of Animals

Cookbooks (Oh my goodness, there are SO many, but here’s a good variety):
Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero
The Urban Vegan: 250 Simple, Sumptuous Recipes from Street Cart Favorites to Haute Cuisine by Dynise Balcavage
The Gluten-Free Vegan: 150 Delicious Gluten-Free, Animal-Free Recipes by Susan O'Brien
Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine by Bryant Terry
The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat by Tal Ronnen

For Parents:
Vegan Lunchbox
Vegan Dad
That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things (children’s book)

Meet the Animals:
Farm Sanctuary in Orland, CA
Animal Place Sanctuary in Grass Valley, CA near Vacaville

iPhone apps:
VegOut (powered by the HappyCow Compassionate Eating Guide)
VegWeb Recipe Finder
Vegan is Easy (based on Barnivore’s database)
Animal Free


Worth the Splurge:
It’s not just for smoothies. It’s a must for nut-based cheeses, sour cream and milks, as well as homemade vegan ice cream, pureed soups, and sauces. This is seriously the best purchase I have made in years and it has opened up doors for me in my culinary adventures at home.