Our fifth Real Vegans interview comes from blogger Jennifer Chiu! Jenn loves traveling and created her own lifestyle blog where she talks about all things traveling and health. Jenn's inspiration for going vegan started with health but has evolved into something much greater. Learn all about Jenn's road to veganism, her favorite restaurants and more below!
Why did you become vegan and how long ago did you become vegan?
In 2010 I started to do some research on my health after gaining some weight. I educated myself and soon decided to cut meat out of my diet completely. So, I was mostly vegan/vegetarian for 8 years. 2017 is when I decided to go vegan, so it's been a little over a year ago now since I've been fully vegan!
Was it difficult transitioning? Were your family and friends supportive?
It was mostly easy for me but a bit challenging because of my friends and family. They're not vegetarian at all so they would look at me a little odd when we would go out to eat and I'd have to ask the waiter, "what do you have that I can eat?". Back in 2010, veganism wasn't very common - especially in Napa. Napa is all about fine wines and cheeses and even now it's still pretty uncommon to be vegan. At least now though a lot more chefs in Napa get really excited when they hear there's a vegan in the restaurant. It's a challenge for them and I love it when chefs are excited to cook a vegan meal.
Was it difficult finding vegan foods and groceries or did you know what to eat?
Honestly, in the beginning I did a lot of frozen foods. So a lot of those Amy's frozen meals or burritos. I started with those and then would have salads and soups! My family owns a Chinese restaurant in Napa Valley so they have a ton of vegan options. I worked there and would eat all the veggies + rice while I was working then when I would go home I would have the frozen stuff.
Now when I go grocery shopping it's mainly all whole foods! I get lots of fruits and vegetables because I know the benefits of a plant-based diet now.
Do you have any tips for new vegans or anything you wish you would have known?
I wish I would have started sooner. It's really easy, I tell all my friends how easy it is. Even if you mess up and have something with milk in it, it's not the end of the world. Everyone makes mistakes but you do the best you can. Just keep going, you'll feel better in the end.
Do you mostly cook or go out to eat?
A little bit of both. When I'm home in the city, my boyfriend and I cook all the time. We both went vegan together about a year ago. When we're traveling, we try to go to 100% vegan restaurants because we love supporting restaurants that support us.
When we're not traveling we try to be as healthy as we can. Some days though, like last night, we had spaghetti and meatballs. It was delicious, but we try to balance out our meals so we're getting all of our nutrients.
What is your go-to meal?
My favorite thing is a Buddha bowl! I love roasting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes, then making quinoa and finally adding lots of sriracha.
What is the one item always on your grocery list?
Broccoli for sure! I think I'm slightly addicted to it. You wouldn't think you'd crave these really healthy things but you do and it's shocking.
Favorite guilty vegan food pleasure?
I have two things: I really love the Alternative Baking Company cookies, their colossal chocolate chip cookies are so good! I also really love spaghetti and meatballs. I'll make pasta with Beyond Meat crumbles and the Gardein meatballs with a sprinkle of Follow Your Heart parmesan cheese. Those are all so good as well!
What are some of your favorite Mylk Guys items?
Is there any food you miss that you can't find now that you're vegan?
Because I was a huge Taco Bell addict and I miss their nacho cheese, I would say nacho cheese. But I did recently try the Siete Nacho Cheese Dip and it tastes exactly the same. So, now I'm really not missing anything!
What is your favorite restaurant with vegan options?
My favorite would be Shizen and my number 2 would be Golden Era. Golden Era is amazing, I love their steamed buns. They're these giant white steamed buns with veggies in the middle, so good!
Favorite vegan brands or businesses?
Stella Mccartney! I love that she is a high-end fashion designer who produces all vegan fashion. She is a real inspiration because she has a voice and she uses it by creating beautiful vegan fashion designs.
Has being vegan impacted your social life in any way?
I think it definitely has impacted my social life. My boyfriend and I are more homebodies now. But we have met a couple who are both vegan that are actually in Napa, and one of my girlfriends was diagnosed with ovarian cancer went plant-based and overcame cancer. She's very inspirational and she also has celiacs. Her and I have been friends for a very long time and we have even more of a connection now that we can talk about how being plant-based is very important for your health.
We have another couple that we hang out with that aren't vegan but they try to be. It's fun to hangout with them because they're like "we tried to do it this week". They understand it and try, so that's fun.
What can the vegan community be doing to make it easier for others to transition to a vegan diet?
Honestly, I think all of the food companies that are developing foods that are pretty much the same as the meat products are making it easier to transition and that's great.
As vegans, we can show others how healthy and happy we are. And also show how being vegan can help avoid different diseases like heart disease just by eating healthier and making smarter choices.
Also we can show that when you go vegan you're helping animals from suffering and dying!
What gives you hope as a vegan?
That the world can eventually stop killing animals. I hope that everyone can learn and educate themselves on being healthy. Everyone should think of being vegan for either themselves, friends/family or animals. Whatever you feel the most passionate about, do it for that reason. If people just slowly make changes it'll be a huge impact.
That's all for this week's Real Vegans! You can check out Jennifer's blog here to learn all about her life traveling and staying healthy!