More and more people are slowly becoming more aware of the benefits of a plant-based (also known as vegan) lifestyle. The newly released documentary on Netflix “What the Health” has highlighted the impacts of the health implications of consuming an animal product heavy diet.
Another film, Cowspiracy (also available on Netflix) discusses the environmental catastrophe caused by animal agriculture and through social media. Thanks to those films and many others, many people are becoming more aware of what animals go through to become the bacon or burgers and they are deciding to take actions to make their values align with their values of compassion and nonviolence.
Discovering this information for the first time and wanting to take action might feel overwhelming to think about, especially as an expat in Thailand, a place where at first glance it might feel that eating vegan is impossible. Indeed animal products seem to be in nearly every single dish! If only there were vegan meats to help the transition!
Happily, Thailand is one of the best places in the world to inch (or sprint) towards a vegan lifestyle. Here are seven tips and tricks to help you and your family make more plant-based choices:
Tip Number 1: Keep it simple! If you have lived in Thailand for any length of time, you will know that Thailand has so many incredible locally available fruits, vegetables, tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices that are good value. These items really are the keystones of a healthy plant-based diet and are available in every supermarket. Eating these do wonders for your health, carbon footprint and of course animals.
Tip number 2: Find your ingredients. As you start poking around all the vegan recipe websites you find something that looks so good and you’re desperate to make it. You check the ingredients and there are many of them that you’ve never heard of let alone know if they are available in Thailand.
They certainly aren’t available in the local supermarket. What to do? Well, the good news is that there are a number of places in Bangkok where you can buy those vegan cooking essentials like nutritional yeast (aka nooch) or tempeh (a fermented soybean product, high in protein with a nutty flavour)! Radiance Wholefoods has a ton of products that will help you stock your pantry.
Sunshine Market also has vegan protein powders, snacks, cruelty-free toiletries and snacks. The best part? They have online shops and they deliver for a small fee! For the few items that these shops don’t stock, consider using iherb.com which is similar to Amazon but for health foods. Their product line has 35,000 products and if you keep your order under $70 you won’t get hit for import taxes. iherb also ships at a reasonable price if you keep your order below 4lbs.
Tip number 3: Replacing your stables: What about milk for my coffee or tea, yogurt for my cereal or cheese for entertaining!?! What about (gasp) ice cream? Finding the right milk for coffee in Thailand can be difficult. Thai produced alternative milks are often very sweet and they
can curdle with the acidity of the coffee. Many of the imported brands work much better in coffee and replace dairy milks more convincingly. A word of warning, avoid the non-sweetened varieties. Cow’s milk contains lactose, a type of sugar, so buying unsweetened non-dairy milks will usually certainly not make a convincing substitute at first. If you don’t like the first one you try, try one of the many other brands on the market and stick it out for several days. You’d be surprised how quickly you will get used to it.
For yoghurt and ice cream, there is a new brand Rivon (which you can find in every 7-11) and Cocomuch’s coconut yoghurt. Cocomuch also makes a delicious coconut based ice cream and yoghurt which is available in many locations throughout the city. www.spa-foods.com has a wide range of vegan meats from sausages to chicken wings that can be great on the BBQ. Finally, cheese. There’s good news here too! Bangkok Vegan Cheese by Barefood has a range of wonderful fermented nut cheeses that they deliver to many locations around the city. You can find them on Facebook. They are amazing!
Tip Number 4: Eating out and social situations: The Happy Cow website and App is the largest database of vegan, vegetarian, veg friendly and health food stores in the world and Bangkok has 184 listings on there, with 81 of them 100% vegan. When heading out with friends and family, think about the cuisine and which might be already vegan or ways you can easily ‘veganise’ them.
Ask for Pad Thai without the egg or fish sauce, Penne Arrabbiata without the parmesan cheese. If you’re worried about communicating with your server, learn a few phrases that will help you or keep a copy of this language sheet in your pocket. If you are not able to choose the restaurant or you have a function to attend look at their menu online to see what they might have available or call ahead (or just use their social media) to see if they can accommodate you. You might be surprised what they will do if they have time to prepare. I have found most restaurants and venues very happy to accommodate vegans.
Tip Number 5: Cooking at home: If you are cooking for your family or even just yourself, cooking vegan can certainly entail a steep learning curve.
When we cook vegan food we are relearning a lot of what we had already learnt. This can feel like a lot of work at first. Happily, there are plenty of people and services available in Thailand that can help through these more challenging times. Vegan coaching is available online and in person.
These personalised programmes, usually 3-6 months long, include oodles of resources, meal plans, help and support from vegan experts to address each person’s or family’s needs. Special meal plans and programmes can also be designed for those who want to treat or reverse serious health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. There are several people in Bangkok who offer personal or group vegan cooking classes including May Kai Dee over in Khao San Road.
If you really want home cooked meals but don’t have the time to do it yourself, Maricel’s Vegan Crush has a personal chef service. She buys what she needs, comes over to your house, cooks meals for your family based on what’s in the refrigerator and washes up afterwards. An anniversary, birthday or dinner party? She can also cook for you in your house. For those days when cooking is simply too much, then consider ordering delivery. Chef XP offers food delivery from May’s Veggie Home (one of Bangkok’s favourite vegan restaurants) and Food Panda has a whole category of vegetarian food and you can add comments like ‘leave off the cheese’ as needed.
Tip Number 6: Travelling: Thailand has many tourist attractions that involve animal exploitation like elephant riding, poorly-run zoos, crocodile and snake farms and even tiger temples. Vegans prefer not to support these establishments but if we like animals or want to see them, we can feel stuck. Living in urban areas makes it even harder to interact with animals and develop a love and appreciation of them especially as so many condo buildings forbid companion animals. So how can we instil a love and appreciation of animals in ourselves and children without exploiting them? To begin with, documentaries can once again come to the rescue!
The Planet Earth series, for example, show remarkable animal behaviour in their natural habitat. It’s beautifully filmed and really instils a sense of wonder and awe when you watch it. Next, there are lots of domestic animal shelters in Thailand (like Soi Dog and Paws) which really need help from volunteers to help socialise the animals and get them ready for adoption. If you have some time at the weekend, you can go over and enjoy some petting and playtime with the animals. It’s extremely rewarding and the animals gets something out of it too! Elephant Nature Park, which now has several sanctuaries around Thailand rescuing elephants from terrible situations, hosts a myriad of volunteering possibilities.
Boon Loot Elephant Sanctuary in Sukhothai allows stays as a volunteer or just to spend time with the animals in one of their three cottages. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project based in Phuket in one of the national parks can be visited by the public and they accept volunteers too. Seeing animals in the wild is also one of the best ways to see them. You can have a number of wildlife encounters by visiting some of Thailand’s national parks.
Our Jungle House based just outside Khao Sok National Park even has had sun bears on its grounds. Also, take pleasure and joy from watching even the most commonly seen animals. Mindfully observing and appreciating ants, pigeons and sparrows can give wonderful insights in to them as individuals and we can learn much about their behaviours.
Tip 7: Community: Vegans or people who follow a plant-based diet will definitely find themselves in the minority more often than not. Many new vegans don’t know a single other vegan. It can be hard to be “the only one”. Therefore, it’s really important to find community. Online community is pretty easy to find and there are a plethora of opportunities but there are certainly real benefits to meeting other vegans in real life.
Happily Bangkok has a thriving vegan scene. The Bangkok Vegan Meet-Up has social events with potlucks or at restaurants, as well as opportunities to volunteer, be an activist and even get educated through cooking classes, watching films, book clubs or talks from experts. You don’t even have to be vegan to attend, indeed, the atmosphere is very welcoming and is intended to be a very safe space. Veg curious people can ask questions of other members, swap tricks and tips, share stories and receive support and make friends.
Finally, and this is probably an eighth tip in itself: be kind to yourself. Without a doubt, transitioning to a vegan diet is not easy for everyone. It’s easy to make mistakes at first. Indeed, even long term vegans make mistakes from time to time. The important thing is to be kind to yourself. If you mess up, whether inadvertently or you have moments of weakness, don’t be too hard on yourself. Stand back up, dust yourself off and get back on that vegan bike and continue your journey. You might very well find it is the best decision you ever made.