During the Coronavirus lockdown, many of us thought about food. All the time! And had time to explore new dishes and recipes and, possibly an entirely different style of living. 

I switched to a plant-based diet in October. It was the only way to manage my high cholesterol without medication, and my commitment to my heart health supercharged my motivation. The holiday meals came and went without incident.

 Going vegan was easy peasy until the coronavirus crisis emerged.
Suddenly, I faced an unknown number of weeks or months of social distancing with a strong urge to drown my feelings in ice cream, butter, and cheese.
 I steeled myself for a challenge that threatened to break my resolve. But as time passed, I was surprised to learn it isn’t harder to stick to my vegan diet during the lockdown. It’s easier.
As people freaked out over egg shortages, my 10-pound stash of Morganics oatmeal made me feel great about months of breakfasts. I didn’t need to take increasingly perilous trips to the market for more milk — soy milk in cartons is almost indefinitely shelf-stable, and I had enough to last me two months.
As the meat-eaters in my life fretted over exactly how many days ground beef or chicken thighs can keep in the refrigerator, I counted up my roughly six-week supply of tofu and tempeh and concluded, “I’m good!” Now, on the heels of meat production plants closing or cutting production due to COVID-19 outbreaks, industry experts predict a meat shortage may be upon the nation, adding more stress about keeping it on hand.
In light of all this, I am not in the bad food mood I had anticipated at all, but experienced vegans knew all along this would be the case.
“I didn’t even have to go shopping when all of this started because I had so much stuff in my pantry that wasn’t going bad anytime soon. It was a relief, like this one silver lining,” says Tami Lynn Andrew, of South Philadelphia. She’s been vegan for seven years and helps coordinate the vegan pledge program, a free 30-day online guide with recipes and support for omnivores who want to try a plant-based diet. So if you’ve ever toyed with the idea of trying out a vegan diet or a flexitarian approach to food, now might actually be a good opportunity to try. I talked to a few local vegan experts, including a cooking instructor and registered dietitian, and here are some reasons why now is the best time to go vegan.

Save money

Financial worries are keeping many of us awake at night, with a record number of people filing for unemployment. “You get more value for your buck when you shop plant-based,” says Char Nolan, a plant-based chef and cooking instructor based in Drexel Hill. “Just look at the price of beans compared to the price of meat!” As long as you stick to whole foods — not pricey packaged vegan convenience food — you’ll definitely see your grocery bills go down. In fact, one pound of chicken breast runs $5.99 and yields four servings ($1.50 a serving). A pound of dried chickpeas, on the other hand, costs $2.18 and yields 10 servings (22 cents per serving).

No peer pressure

One of the biggest advantages you have right now is you can explore a plant-based diet without having to tackle social situations at the same time. “It can be awkward to go out with friends, attend events, or have dinner at your mom’s and then have to walk everyone through what you’re not eating and why,” says Andrew. “None of those things are an issue right now.”

Time to learn

If current events have you homebound, you are likely spending more time in the kitchen. “This is the perfect opportunity to try new recipes. There can be a little bit of a learning curve with vegan cooking, so this could be the ideal time to jump in,” says Andrew.
Look for approachable recipes, says Simone Wilson, a registered dietitian in the Fishtown neighborhood who specializes in plant-based nutrition. “ChefChloe.com and ForksOverKnives.com are great resources with tons of recipes,” she says.

Fewer shopping trips

With a well-stocked vegan pantry and freezer, you can easily plan two to four weeks of well-balanced vegan meals without going back to the store. “I bought a lot of frozen vegetables,” says Nolan, who recommends the Hanover brand. She likes a mixed bag of kale and garbanzo beans, as well as cauliflower rice.
Wilson says when you do get groceries, choose the fresh vegetables that last longer, including cabbage, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes. All of these can stay good for a month if kept dry in the coldest part of your refrigerator. (Don’t forget to store veggies, once chopped, in a sealed container or storage bag.) Mix and match your fresh and frozen veggies with beans, whole grains, pasta, and tofu or tempeh for weeks of dinners without repeating yourself.

More interesting meals

Food and cooking can be a much-needed form of entertainment and activity right now. And you might love the new challenge of a different way of cooking. You might see some of your favorite ingredients in a new way as they move from the sidelines to the center of the plate, according to Andrew. A fresh approach can bust cooking ruts and bring new life to your kitchen.

Feel better

Another perk of a plant-based diet is you might start feeling better — fast. “Right away, clients tell me they feel more energetic. You don’t have to wait months to see a difference,” says Wilson. According to Andrew, vegan pledge participants report better skin and improved digestive health. “A plant-based diet doesn’t magically protect you from coronavirus, but a well-balanced vegan diet does support better immune functioning,” says Wilson.

Plenty of takeout options

When you need a break from cooking, there are plenty of local vegan options for pick up or delivery. Nolan has ordered salads from Honeygrow recently. And Andrew has made a point of ordering food once a week to support the restaurants she loves. “The last three have been Triangle Tavern, Soy Cafe, and 20th Street Pizza,” she says. These meals won’t be as healthy as your home-cooked food, but if you’re going to move your diet in a plant-based direction longer term, you’ll definitely need some treats.  (Check in your own city for vegan restaurants or those with vegan options).

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