My name’s Sean, co-founder of FABA Food - a vegan and plant-based home delivered meal plan business. We set up FABA to make eating a sustainable diet easy, tasty and nutritious. Now that FABA is off and running, here’s my story of how my change to a vegan diet is coming along.
Here’s everything I learnt as I tried to transition from being a ‘sloppy meat eater’ to a vegan legend. (If you want to know what I mean by a sloppy meat eater you can check it out at the bottom).
1. Vegan Food can be disgusting and that’s a great thing
On one of my first days around town bouncing from meeting to meeting I found myself near Love Handle, a vegan fast food shop that has amazing plant-based burgers. I know the perception of vegan sometimes leans into its healthy image, but it feels so good to eat something heavy and without having to revert to eating meat based dishes.
2. Vegan Food can be green, but also problematic
Just because Vegan food is directionally healthy because of the reduction in saturated fats and processed foods, it doesn’t mean everything you eat is nutritionally amazing.
A lot of newcomers like myself might over-index on the plant-based meats, and find themselves applying the alt-proteins as a one for one in their meat consumption. Burgers, everyday, even if they're vegan, are not that great.
3. I needed to rethink nutrition on a whole different level
In our modern, gym conscious world, we like to focus on protein. Almost above all other considerations. We think in protein alongside calories, and ahead of things like fibre or fat. If you’re on a normal meat eating diet, access to protein is simpler. Chicken, beef, eggs are all easy sources of protein.
Switching to a vegan diet isn’t just eating leaves and hoping everything will go well. We all need protein. Sure, now I know that there’s dahl and tofu and black beans and tempeh that are all great sources of protein, but I come from a food culture that describes a balanced meal as ‘meat and three veg’.
Let me give you an example of this problem.
The OG vegetarian supplement for a traditional hamburger is to use a portobello mushroom in lieu of the beef patty.
These are great and tasty changes to make, but the protein is wildly different.
150g of beef has 21g of protein. 150g of mushrooms (and that’s me being generous about how much mushroom you actually need to get a weight of 150g) is 4.6g!
That’s only one quarter the value!
4. Don’t assume restaurants, even the vegan ones, are fully meeting your protein requirements
There’s a few vegan restaurants or restaurants with vegan options around town that do not provide enough protein in their meals. We don’t have to be so specific in our thinking when we are meat eaters, but protein is so important and we’ve got to find more.
I’ve really enjoyed making a bee-line for vegan only restaurants, or going to some of my favourite salad bars to have a great vegan wrap. But don’t assume your protein is accounted for. You may need to top up on your tofu or supplement with some nuts throughout the day to hit a healthy daily requirement.
5. Failing to meal prep is prepping to fail
I’m a good home cook and I really enjoyed making all of the new dishes. I’ve learnt more new dishes needing to be vegan than when I would cook at home as a meat eater as I deferred a lot to the same dishes.
Because vegan options are not as available in a place like Singapore as they are back in Australia, and that I myself am not super tied into the vegan community, I really needed to have food on hand to avoid one of the biggest pitfalls I see new vegans make, which is…
6. It’s really easy to go carb heavy on a vegan diet and that’s bad
You’ve probably experienced how french fries are satisfying, without being satiating. Carbs are super tasty, but they are not necessarily great for making us feel full. Protein is something that our stomachs take longer to digest and therefore are way better to eat.
I see at some vegetarian hawker stalls in Singapore people eating a dish of mixed veg with rice. There’s so much rice on the plate, and a lot of the veg is low in protein. Cabbage, carrot, mushrooms. It’s a nutritional disaster.
7. The feeling of walking into a fully vegan restaurant when you’re vegan is amazing
As someone who has grown up eating meat, I don’t really know what it means to not have options. Eating meat is the dietary equivalent of being a straight, white man. You expect that everything on the menu is for you, and you haven’t felt the hardships of going out and realising that there’s literally nothing but salad to choose from.
When you find a place that is fully vegan, like the Kind Bowl, VeganBurg, or Pita Bakery, and you have the chance to eat whatever you want on the menu, it’s a pretty good feeling.
8. I Hate Vegan Tax
I’m lactose intolerant, so I am used to a level of vegan tax when I order coffee and I’m in the mood for a latte.
But, the extra cost of entry when you have the plant-based option is a real pain. There’s a great chain in Singapore that does wraps and bowls. The beef wrap is $6.70, and the Impossible Beef version is $8.70.
I know that there’s a level of scale that ‘big meat’ has which allows them to be super cost efficient. The challenge for plant-based options is how do they get price competitive as that extra $2 hurts.
The $1 to change from cow-milk to oat milk is annoying, but I get sick if I have cow milk so it’s an easier sell.
9. Animal-Free Ice cream still gives me the shits
One of the more interesting recent developments in the food industry is the growth of ‘animal-free’ products. Animal-free refers to products that are biological replications of animal products, like cell-based meat and fermented milk, but are labeled as ‘animal-free’ because animals are (hardly) required in the production of the ingredients.
BUT, that doesn't mean the lactose is gone from the product. Plant-based milks are still way better for me then lactose free milks, or animal-free milks.
I learnt that the hard way.
10. Eggs are a great example of why vegetarianism is ‘easier’ than veganism
I was out one night and I needed an emergency meal to tie me over in between meetups. An egg and cheese sandwich at 7/11 was the only non meat option available. It’s a better choice than a meat based sandwich, and the nutrition is good in a bind.
Though it’s a great emergency meal, not having a vegan option to fulfill the same purpose is a missed opportunity (for now).
11. Kimchi isn’t vegan
Admittedly, I learnt this lesson last year. But one worth sharing. Fish sauce is a key ingredient, and some also use shrimp paste.
12. Honey isn’t vegan
Lesson learnt. Maple Syrup is vegan, and if you’re looking for a non-refined sweetener, then apple sauce is the way to go.
13. Plant Based Meats provide great nutrition you might otherwise struggle to find
Plant-based meats are polarising amongst vegans and vegetarians and the justification makes sense. They’ve chosen not to eat meat, so why would they eat something that imitates it.
That said, Impossible has good protein per gram, and also has a lot of added B vitamins that one might struggle to incorporate into a vegan diet, especially if they’re new to being vegan. If you compare Impossible’s protein to portobello mushroom on a per gram basis, I know which one is better in my burger and it’s not even close.
We recently added an Impossible meat dish to our line up, you can read that here.
14. Omega 3 is hard to get in vegan diets.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids are available in both animal based and plant based sources. Here's some information on different types of Omega 3 and why only eating the vegan options (and not supplementing with omega 3 tablets) could be problematic for a vegan or vegetarians health.
Here's some info on Omega 3:
Omega-3s are nutrients you get from food (or supplements) that help build and maintain a healthy body. They’re key to the structure of every cell wall you have. They’re also an energy source and help keep your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system working the way they should. Two crucial ones -- EPA and DHA -- are primarily found in certain fish. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), another omega-3 fatty acid, is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. Blood fat (triglycerides). Fish Oil can lower elevated triglyceride levels. Having high levels of this blood fat puts you at risk of heart disease and stroke. Rheumatoid arthritis. Fish Oil supplements (EPA+DHA) may curb stiffness and joint pain. Omega-3 supplements also seem to boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
15. Most people don’t care that you’re vegan, and will be happy to change a restaurant booking to somewhere more suitable for you
16. FABA is damn convenient, really tasty, and is nutritionally balanced
I eat FABA as much as the next person. It's banging.
Extra: What do I mean by ‘sloppy meat eater’
I don’t mean that when I eat I’m messy. I’m a little messy but not that bad. What I mean is that in the last few years I have deferred to eating meat even when I don’t really want to or need to because of a lack of easy options nearby.
I’ve borrowed this phrase from the finance industry who uses ‘sloppy payer’ to describe anyone who misses their bill payment date not because of an inability to pay, they’re just careless with their dates.
A growing number of people can be defined as sloppy meat eaters. They are at salad bars and restaurants, or scrolling food delivery platforms, and ultimately they are overlooking the vegetarian or vegan option because they aren’t quite feeling it at the time.