It’s that time of the year again when we come together to express our gratitude for family and friends over a scrumptious, hearty dinner. Thanksgiving is a comforting holiday in so many ways, especially as it relates to food. With all of the delectable options available for Thanksgiving, it is often a struggle to keep the pounds off. Film professionals know all too well how important it is to maintain a healthy body weight especially for the camera. This Thanksgiving holiday, Reel Focus will help you to celebrate Thanksgiving with healthier food alternatives that will keep you looking good while eating good. In order to do this, I have asked the self-taught vegan chef Stacey Dougan to share with us what she knows about veganism and to provide some food items appropriate for this holiday.
Stacey, I applaud you for your vegan lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy diet is very difficult for most but with the delicious looking meat-free meals that you prepare, you make it seem easy. First, tell our readers how you became a vegan yourself.
I became a vegan when I was very young. I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan and when I was a youth, I attended an African school called Nataki Talibah and it was there that I was regularly exposed to a vegetarian diet. This was back in the 1980s, well before vegetarianism and veganism became as popular as it is today. I preferred this way of eating ever since. I didn’t actually remain loyal to this diet until I was about 23 years old; however. By this time, I decided to eat like this not only because I was exposed to it as a youth but also because I had health issues such as excema. Once I switched to a vegan diet, these health issues ceased.
I know several people who are vegans and I myself have attempted to be vegan as well. Tell us about the challenges involved in being a vegan and how to overcome those challenges so that becoming a vegan won’t be a life trend but instead a lifestyle.
Please know that I’m speaking specifically for myself and not for all vegans when I say this but I took my time to become vegan. I encounter many people who decide to become vegan and its almost like an overnight decision but for me it simply didn’t work that way. I gave myself time to become a vegan and what this did is it allowed me to find substitutes for the food items that I eliminated from my diet. As I said, I had been exposed to vegetarian diet early in my life but I did eat beef and chicken and fish occasionally. When I made the decision to become fully vegan, I gradually eliminated one meat at a time. After eliminating meat, I began to eliminate dairy products such as cheese and milk. This was a major challenge for me and I’m sure that this is a challenge that most who want to become vegan will experience.
Another thing that you may not anticipate but presents a challenge is attending family gatherings while being vegan. Family doesn’t always know or even understand how to prepare vegan meals. In that case, I would suggest that you either make dishes yourself to bring to the family function, try to locate a vegan restaurant in the local area and order take out from them, or ask the host to set aside a portion of the food that contains no meat. Another challenge to being vegan is raising vegan children and that is such a complex topic that I won’t get into the details of it here. I have a two year old son that I am raising as vegan and as he grows older, I’m going to instill in him what I know about veganism but I will allow him to make his own decisions about what he wants to eat because this is not something that I want to force upon him.
Simply Pure is your vegan restaurant located in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tell us how you founded this restaurant.
Well my career as a restaurateur all started about 15 years ago. I had recently graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta and I started a restaurant in Atlanta with a few business partners called Everlasting Life Raw Restaurant. For those familiar with the area, it was located in the West End across from a restaurant called Soul Vegetarian. Raw food is a little different from vegan because you can consume nothing over 120 degrees. I eventually got out of this business deal and I started working exclusively for a Ghanan ambassador in Chicago providing vegan meals for him. I did this for about two years but while traveling back and forth between Ghana and America, my father got sick so I wanted to be close to them in Las Vegas, Nevada. When I got back home, I briefly worked for the Wynn hotel as a chef and this is basically how I learned hands-on skills related to restaurant ownership. I already knew how to cook but working for the hotel helped me to perfect my presentation skills. Eventually, I started working for Zappos doing some catering for them and a gentleman by the name of Tony Hsieh heard about me and approached me about opening a vegan restaurant in the heart of Container Park as a part of the downtown project to revitalize Las Vegas. And I’m still here today.
Stacey, many of us are guilty of gorging around the holiday. Can you share with us some healthy vegan alternatives to typical holiday foods that will keep us from feeling guilty about our calorie intake?
Like I said before, it would be ideal to contact a local vegan restaurant and obtain a full holiday meal from them because a lot of vegan restaurants usually provide this service around this time of the year. However, if you want to attempt to cook on your own then here are a few things that I suggest.
As a meat substitute, the most popular on the market are Tofurky or Field Roast but I personally am not a fan of alternative meat substitutes because as a vegan chef, I simply make my own using tofu and a bit of sage. But these are good choices if you are not too familiar with how to prepare tofu.
Dressing is primarily a vegan dish. You would just leave out the items that are meat or meat based (gizzards, eggs, etc.) and in place of beef or chicken stock, use vegetable stock. This will make your dressing vegan.
Again greens is a vegan dish too. You just leave the meat out and if you want that smokey flavor that the meat provides, simply use liquid smoke in the greens to flavor them.
Macaroni and cheese is a difficult vegan dish to tackle because vegan cheese doesn’t melt the same way as regular cheese. But I make a mean vegan macaroni and cheese dish. This one I would advise either purchasing from the store from a popular vendor or if you want to try it yourself, just google vegan macaroni and cheese recipes. Or, of course, you can always come by and sample mine.
When it comes to sweets and pastries, I will admit that this is not my strong point. I’m more of a vegan food chef not a pastry chef so I usually solicit the help of other vegan chefs who specialize in the pastry side of things. So I don’t have any advice to share regarding preparing baked items. I would suggest either finding a vegan baker or simply buying what’s on the market. Or, again if you are adventurous, google search will yield a lot of recipes for baked vegan goods.