Welcome to our first Mylk Guys blog series: Real Vegans! This series is about getting to know and connect with real, everyday vegans like YOU! We'll learn about how and why our guests went vegan, the daily challenges (or not!) of living a vegan life, and what we all came here for – their favorite vegan foods.
Our series kicks off with an interview with Laura Albanese of San Jose, CA!
When did you become vegan and why?
I became vegan about two and a half years ago when I gave up meat for lent. I was already an "accidental pescatarian", and thought I'd give myself the challenge of a month of no animal products. Then I watched 'Cowspiracy', and was so horrified by the meat industry that I made a decision then and there to give it up for good! I had always known about the horrors of the industry at a high level, but watching that documentary and understanding the environmental impact really drove it home for me.
Was it difficult to transition to a vegan lifestyle?
My boyfriend became vegan at the same time I did, which really helped with the adjustment. I had some backlash from a couple of friends who were worried about how we'd hang out anymore, since we'd shared many a wine-and-cheese night previously! But mostly, friends have been super supportive and now we share dinners together that either are all vegan, or can easily be made vegan for me. I've even gotten one friend to eat vegan meals at least once a week! It really helps that I love to cook. Initially I had to learn how to cook with vegan mains (like tempeh) vs. the fish mains I made previously, but cookbooks and following vegan recipe creators really helped with that.
Do you have any tips for new vegans? Anything you wish you would have known when you were transitioning?
Just keep it really basic. A lot of the foods you probably eat are already vegan (rice, beans, fruits, veggies, etc.) And be careful of products that state no animal testing but are actually tested on animals in some countries. For example, any company that sells in China by law has to have their products tested on animals, whether they want to or not. I personally avoid products sold in China because of this. PETA is a great resource for fact-checking.
Do you mostly cook at home or go out to eat?
I try and cook at home as much as possible because I like it! Going out is more of a rare occasion especially now that I'm vegan because there aren't many vegan options in San Jose. Vegan Donut Gelato opened up recently, which is amazing, and sometimes I'll make a trip out of visiting The Butcher's Son in Oakland.
When you do go out to eat, where do you go?
If I go out to eat in San Jose, it's usually ethnic cuisine like Chinese, Indian, or Mexican because I can typically find vegan items on the menu. Veggie Grill is also great, as well as sushi (I get veggie rolls and miso soup!). Recently I went on a trip to Portland and it was like a crazy vegan mecca! I also went to this place in Eugene, Oregon called Cornbread Café. They serve comfort food that is SO good!
What's your go-to meal?
A western cheeseburger if I'm going out (or some other indulgent food that I wouldn't make for myself), and my go-to meal at home is any kind of bowl (usually a grain, roasted veggies, greens and a sauce). I love it because it's so versatile and you can make it taste completely different just by changing up the sauce!
What is the one item always on your grocery list?
Kale! I love kale, it's amazing. I like it raw, massaged with oil and lemon juice, and I like it steamed.
Favorite guilty vegan food pleasure?
Donuts, cream-filled with a chocolate glaze.
What are some of your favorite Mylk Guys items?
Are there any foods you miss that you can't find now that you're vegan?
It's becoming easier almost daily to be vegan! Anytime I search for a recipe to make something vegan, somebody out there has a post on it already. I do miss the ease of going out to eat with friends, but there's not any specific food I'm sad about because I can recreate anything from scratch. It's also a lot easier to buy substitutes now through Mylk Guys or Amazon!
What's your favorite restaurant with vegan options? Local? Non-Local?
Local: Luna Mexican Kitchen in San Jose - they have clearly marked vegan options. Also Dharma's Restaurant in Santa Cruz - everything on the menu is vegetarian and can all be made vegan, plus they have huge portions!
Non-Local: The Beer Plant in Austin. Bar Kindred in San Diego is a really cool bar and all their food is vegan! Also Modern Times brewery in San Diego. They usually have an amazing vegan truck outside their tasting room because the founder is vegan.
What are some of your favorite vegan brands or businesses?
What can the vegan community be doing to make it easier for others to transition to a vegan diet?
Right now is a great time to be vegan because it's kind of trendy! But all it really takes is for one person to poison the well or to put a bad taste in someone's mouth about veganism by being too judgmental about others, especially those transitioning. Why would you dis-include somebody making steps towards the right thing? I really like seeing influencers who make veganism accessible and approachable. I'm always happy to give people transitioning to a vegan diet pointers - I've been there, let me help you!
What gives you hope as a vegan?
Seeing veganism being more positively portrayed and seeing items on the ballot like the anti-animal cruelty proposition here in California - that's exciting! I like seeing these little steps forward. Even if they aren't good enough, at least it's something. I read an article recently about animal activists protesting animal testing in China. Seeing this kind of movement take more of a positive shape in the media vs. always showing really aggressive, half-naked people is refreshing. People championing in a positive way are really going to make the difference.