But what do you eat?
People often ask what I eat. You know what I say? Food. Real food. No, not rabbit food; tasty, fresh, healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) food. People often don't realise how many meals and snacks are vegan. Tortilla chips and guacamole? Vegan. Oreos? Vegan. Pretzels? Vegan. Bagels, hummus, Nutter Butters, veggie spring rolls, Vegemite/Marmite, falafels, hash browns, Sara Lee frozen pies, pretty much everything in the produce section - the list is endless.
And that's just the ready-made stuff. If I feel like pasta, no problem. Rice? Easy. I can quickly whip up vegan sandwiches, dips, stir fries, curries, pizza, nachos, burritos, maki, burgers, noodles, soup, plus a whole host of not-so-healthy desserts/snacks. Almost every cuisine in the entire world is at my fingertips, ready to be created (or bought, for the less creative types).
The staples of most vegan diets include vegetables, fruits, grains, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds. From these six simple food groups, with some herbs and spices thrown in, it is possible to create millions of dishes that make you feel like you are never missing out.
Where do you get protein? Calcium? Iron?
The same answer as above: food. Real food. I know the meat and dairy industry will have you think differently, but you can get all the protein, calcium and iron you need from plant sources, without having to revert to supplements. Here's a quick guide:
Protein: vegetables (yes, vegetables have protein), beans/legumes, nuts and nut butters, seeds, pretty much all grains, soy (tofu and tempeh).
Calcium: dark green leafy vegetables (think broccoli and kale), sesame seeds and tahini, soy (tofu and tempeh), many beans/legumes, oranges, figs, almonds, oats. Many juices and plant-based milks are fortifed with calcium.
Iron: dark green leafy vegetables, beans/legumes, soy (tofu and tempeh), dried fruits, wholegrains, potatoes, nuts, seeds. Foods rich in vitamin C help your body to absorb the iron more efficiently. Tea, coffee and cola inhibit iron absorption.
Noticing a theme here? Those staples I mentioned in the above question are exactly the ones that are providing me with all the nutrients I need to stay healthy.
Is a vegan diet healthy?
Only as healthy as you want it to be. It is just as easy to live on junk food on a vegan diet as it is on a non-vegan diet. No matter what your food choices are, you still need to get in plenty of fruits and vegetables, and limit the processed, sugary, deep-fried foods.
Plants give us all the nutrients we need to be healthy. The only exceptions to this are vitamin B12, which can be obtained from supplements or foods fortified with this vitamin, and vitamin D, which we get from sunlight.
Doesn't it cost more?
It can cost a lot or it can be affordable, the same as any other way of eating. If you eat out a lot, you will pay a lot. You can buy the single serve prepackaged meal, or make it yourself for a quarter of the price. I cook most of my food at home, saving me a good chunk of money. Shopping for fruits and vegetables at the market reduces costs, as well as buying grains and legumes in bulk. Nuts and seeds can be more expensive, but they aren't ingredients that I'm eating in large quantities so they tend to last a while. In the past I found that meat and cheese were the big money items on my shopping bill, so not buying these products has helped me to keep my food costs low. At restaurants, vegetarian foods tend to be cheaper as they are not using the more expensive ingredients. If you want to keep it cheap, you will have no problems doing this on a vegan diet.
Why do people call it a "vegan lifestyle" rather than a diet?
For many, being vegan doesn't stop at food and drinks. Animal products are found in many other aspects of our lives, such as clothing, footwear, bags, belts, accessories, skin care, cosmetics, hair products, cleaning supplies, furniture - the list goes on. There are many alternatives out there now so it is possible to avoid the products that are not vegan. I do whatever I can to minimise my impact on animal suffering by buying these alternatives.
How did you give up bacon/cheese/ice cream, etc?
Everyone has a favourite food they couldn't possibly live without. I enjoyed bacon, cheese and ice cream, but they weren't things I was addicted to. When I first stopped eating bacon I would order the vegetarian breakfast at cafes, receiving toast, eggs, hash browns, mushrooms and tomatoes. I could smell the bacon cooking for others and it smelled great. I repeatedly told myself about a report I had read linking processed meats to cancer, and I knew I didn't need to eat it. Everything else on my plate tasted fantastic, I was satisfied at the end and I felt better knowing I hadn't put bacon into my body. Now there is vegan bacon everywhere, but I have gone so long without it that I don't feel any desire to purchase it.
Cheese was a little bit different, as it popped up in my diet more often than bacon did. I didn't eat it every day, but definitely a couple of times per week, plus the odd cheese plate at a cafe. At first I replaced it with soy cheese, which was partially successful. I hated the taste of it straight out of the fridge, but if I put it between some bread and cooked it in the sandwich toaster, the melted cheese would give me some satisfaction. I soon stopped buying soy cheese and instead found other substitutes. For example, soft avocado gives a creamy texture similar to cheese, blended cashews can make thick, cheese-like sauces and nutritional yeast provides a wonderful cheesy taste. Cashew cheese has become very popular, and will fulfill your cheese craving. I quickly realised I didn't need cheese in my life, and that there were an abundance of vegan products and dishes out there waiting to be explored. Even pizza tastes fine without cheese. Really.
I rarely ate ice cream, although it was a nice treat on a hot day (which is every day in Thailand). Now I have discovered coconut-based ice creams, in a variety of flavours. There is no need to live without ice cream.
How has turning vegan affected your running?
Only in a positive way. Since becoming vegan my endurance has increased and my times have decreased significantly. This may be due to my training, but it is clear that being vegan hasn't had a detrimental effect.
I believe the most important thing in relation to diet and running is to consume enough calories and make sure you eat primarily clean, healthy foods. I can do both of those things while being vegan, so I have no reason to think that eating solely plant-based foods hinders my performance in any way.
What do you eat before and during a run?
I run first thing in the morning, before the heat sets in, so I tend to run on an empty stomach. If I'm going for a long run I might eat some oats, a banana or toast 30-60 minutes before I head out.
During a run I usually stick with dried fruits (dried bananas and dates are my favourites), Runivore bars (a natural, superfood bar full of easy to digest energy) and maybe gels if I want to practise for race day. I don't often complete any training runs over four hours so I don't feel the need for more complex carbohydrates (such as bread, potatoes, rice or pretzels).
What do you eat on race day?
Breakfast on race day can be one of two meals, usually dependent on location and what I have available:
Two pieces of toast with jam.
Oatmeal, soaked overnight in water, topped with chia seeds, raisins and cinnamon, and a small banana.
During a race I will most likely consume gels and dates, eating something every 20 minutes. If the race is very long (6+ hours) I will probably get sick of the sugary foods and so I will move on to more starchy items, such as jam sandwiches, boiled potatoes and sticky rice.
How do you manage in a foreign country where you don't speak the language?
This was tough at first! Before arriving I looked up a translation for vegan, which in Thai is 'jay'. However this doesn't translate directly. For example, some Thai people believe jay food can include dairy ingredients, which I discovered while trying to figure out if the "jay" ice cream I was looking at was vegan. Jay also specifically prohibits the inclusion of strong smelling plants such as onion and garlic, so your meal might not taste as good as you were expecting.
Nearly all restaurants have a menu in English, but I still had to learn which items I could veganise. For example, Thais love their fish sauce - it's in 90% of their curries and stir fries. Knowing how to say "no fish sauce", as well as several other meat/dairy ingredients, has gone a long way to help me feel better about eating out.
There are a few restaurants who won't have any options for you except steamed rice. Dishes or sauces may be pre-made and contain animal products, and they don't have time to create a special dish just for you. I always check before entering a restaurant to see if there is anything I can eat there.
As soon as I arrived in Bangkok I found a vegan Meetup group. This has been fantastic to not only chat to other like-minded people, but also to get recommendations on places to eat and shop. I have discovered many new eateries that I have dragged my husband back to so I can sample more of the menu.
The HappyCow website is fantastic, and lists vegetarian/vegan friendly restaurants and stores all over the world. There are over 80 in Bangkok alone. Google searches can produce some great results too.
Making friends with bilingual Thai people is also beneficial. While walking down a street market they can point out foods that are safe for you to eat, or they can read labels on packets of foods. If they are unsure they can always speak to the stall holder for you.
The biggest challenge I have is in supermarkets. About 25% of the packaged foods only have ingredients listed in Thai (if you have ever seen the Thai alphabet, you will know it's not easy to learn). While I have learned to avoid some items such as bread (which always has milk powder and butter) and curry paste (fish sauce), sometimes it would be good to know if I can buy this sauce/packet of biscuits/frozen meal, etc.
How do you cope when your husband still eats animal products?
Quite well. We have very different work schedules so we hardly ever eat together anyway. If I cook at home it is always vegan, and Danny (being a chef) is so happy when someone else cooks for him that he devours whatever is put in front of him. When we go out he has no problems eating vegan food. If a restaurant does serve meat he will usually order the carnivorous option. I try not to look at his plate and pretend it's an amazing vegan meal he's gobbling down.
Where do you meet other vegans?
Meetup has been my main source of other vegans here in Bangkok. There are regular get-togethers, such as meals, exercise, movies, advocating, drinks and more. You get to know the regulars well and it's a great place to ask questions or learn about what's happening on the vegan scene here.
The running scene has also introduced me to several vegans - it is surprising just how many runners and athletes out there also eat a plant-based diet. Every now and then I will run into someone new and discover that too are vegan. I think it is becoming more and more common and now it isn't too hard to find others who eat the same way.
Social media is another great place to connect with others. I am part of several Facebook groups who share stories, news reports, humorous memes (usually directed at vegans), and ask questions when needed.