One of the ironies of veganism is that many people won’t try it for fear their diets would become too limited, and yet when you meet most long-term vegans you quickly realize that their diets are way more varied, delicious, and healthful than a typical omnivore’s. Perhaps that’s only to be expected because the process of becoming vegan requires that you start paying more attention to food—and this extra attention quickly pays big dividends.
Just as it’s worthwhile to become a minor authority on food, there are things you can learn about beverages that will deliver big payoffs.
Noted alcoholic W.C. Fields once said, “Say anything that you like about me except that I drink water.”
Like W.C. Fields, most Americans have a curious and counterproductive relationship with water. We know the stuff coming out of the tap often tastes nasty, so many people respond by paying exorbitant prices for bottled water. Obviously, we should all be drinking the purest water we can get. But there’s no reason why this water must come at great expense, or that it needs to waste large amounts of plastic.
I think the best way to get water is through a reverse osmosis system. In my opinion, carbon-based filters just aren’t effective enough at removing contaminants and delivering optimum taste.
A reverse osmosis filter contains a special kind of membrane that permits almost nothing but water molecules to go through. These systems include pre-filtering components so that the membrane doesn’t immediately get clogged. Reverse osmosis filtered water is about as pure as water can be; it’s nearly as pure as distilled—but much cheaper and much less wasteful of energy. It tastes as good as the best spring water.
You’ve got three options for obtaining reverse osmosis water: you can purchase the water from stores, you can install a unit in your home, or you can buy a portable unit. Let’s look at each of these options.
Many supermarkets and natural food stores have machines that dispense reverse osmosis water into jugs that you bring to refill, at a cost of 25 to 50 cents a gallon. In warmer climates these machines are often located outside in front of supermarkets and drug stores. Check the information printed on the machine to be sure the system includes a reverse osmosis filter. The cost of buying water from a machine is dirt cheap compared to bottled water, but it’s still much more expensive than owning a reverse osmosis unit, where the cost works out to only pennies a gallon. Plus, buying your own reverse osmosis system means you’ll have one less regular errand to make, and you won’t have to be lugging water jugs in and out of your house.
If you own your home, you can buy an under-the-sink reverse osmosis unit. These units once cost close to $500, but now you can get a good one for under $150. A plumber should require about two hours to install your unit, so you’re probably looking at another $250 or so for labor. After that, your only expense will be changing the filters, which you can do yourself, and which should only cost another $50 a year, or possibly $100 if you’ve got a large and thirsty family.
Finally, even if you’re renting, you’re not out of luck. You can purchase a countertop reverse osmosis unit that hooks up to your kitchen faucet. You might have some trouble if your faucet is older or has a non-standard design, but if you’ve got a modern kitchen sink setup, a countertop unit can be a fantastic choice. And since these units have a simpler design than under-the-sink models, they’re really cheap: about $100. Whether countertop or under-the-sink, you can buy reverse osmosis units at any home improvement center, from Amazon.com, or through eBay.
My only warning about reverse osmosis systems is that these units may not be able to handle well-water. Some well-water is too hard for a reverse osmosis unit to handle, and many well pumps don’t deliver adequate water pressure to drive a reverse osmosis unit. But if your house gets city water you should be in great shape.
Now that we’ve gotten water out of the way, let’s move on to non-dairy milks, You can get these made from soy, rice, almonds, and even hempseeds. They’re all pretty good. Rice milk is a little too thin for my taste, and it’s not as nutritious as other vegan milks. You might think think hempseed milk would taste nasty, but it’s surprisingly delicious, and it also packs omega-3s, which the others don’t.
Soymilk has been around for centuries, and you can buy traditional soymilk in gallon jugs at any Asian grocery. Don’t. The traditional stuff is unsweetened and has a weird taste. It turns out that when you boil down soybeans to make soymilk, the soy protein denatures, which produces a bizarre flavor. All the national brands use some sort of high-tech method to get rid of this denatured protein, and taste much better as a result. I’ve got some Asian friends who grew up drinking the traditional stuff and who therefore think it tastes fine. But for everyone else, I strongly recommend sticking with the national brands.
By the way, the dairy interests hate it when companies use the word milk in conjunction with a vegan product. They’ve even tried to make doing so illegal. So I go out of my way to use the word milk at every opportunity when talking about these vegan beverages and I encourage you to do the same.
Whether you buy soy, almond, rice, or hempseed milk, these products are usually available in plain, chocolate, and vanilla flavors. Try to find a brand that’s fortified with Vitamin B-12, as it’s always good to take in a little extra B-12 here and there in addition to your daily supplement. You are taking B-12 in your daily multivitamin, plus a sublingual B-12 tablet a couple times a week, aren’t you?
I’ve got one final tip regarding soymilk. If you’ve got a Costco membership, you can buy a three-pack of half-gallon containers for about the same price as two half-gallons would cost anywhere else. The product, sold under Costco’s Kirkwood label, is organic and there’s no better soymilk on the market. I always favor refrigerated soymilk in paper milk cartons over the stuff in aseptic juice boxes, as it’s far less wasteful of resources.
Now let’s move on to some info for everyone who is 21 and over, or who has a good fake ID. It’s time for me to offer a vegan take on beer, wine, and distilled spirits.
The first thing you need to know is that many beers and wines are made with tiny amounts of animal ingredients. Note that I wrote, “made with,” and not, “contain.” Here’s the deal with my choice of words. When you make beer or wine you’ve got a fermenting liquid in which tiny grain pieces or grape particles are floating around. You can let the mixture stand for a week or so and everything will settle to the bottom, and you could then decant the liquid free of any insoluble particles. But that means letting your product occupy your fermentation vat for extra time, and many brewmasters and winemakers want to hurry things along. So they’ll often throw in some fish gelatin, which is called isinglass, or they’ll add some egg whites to the mix. This non-vegan nastiness will clump up with all the undissolved stuff in the vat, at which point everything—fish or egg gunk and sediments alike—can quickly be strained from the mix using a fine screen.
So there are two things to keep in mind. Number one is that there’s no fish gelatin or animal products to speak of that remain in the wine or beer you drink, since it’s all filtered off. And number two, the amount of fish gel or egg whites used is tiny, and fish gel is a byproduct of the fishing industry that provides them with next to nothing in the way of profits. Also, some people are allergic to even minute amounts of egg whites, so winemakers are under constant pressure to discontinue their use of egg products.
Still, I admit, it’s a gross-out that the stuff may be used in the first place. It’s really just a way for beer and winemakers to boost output by dedicating their vats solely to fermenting. Luckily, most brewers and many winemakers produce a totally vegan product, and it’s easy to find out which brands are vegan. You can just visit my buddy Jason’s site, barnivore.com, to check out his comprehensive vegan beer and wine lists. Additionally, Appendix C features a short selection of the most popular vegan beers.
Now, I admit, the thought of looking up the vegan status of beers and wines may drive you to drink the hard stuff. But that’s cool, because nearly every brand of distilled spirit is vegan. To paraphrase George Thorogood: our friends Jimmy Beam, Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker, and even our dear Old Grand-Dad are vegan. Oddly enough, you can even drink all the Wild Turkey you want and not a single bird will be harmed, only your liver. In fact, as long as you’re not drinking some sort of floofy sweet creamy liqueur, which is for sissies anyway, any rotgut you’re imbibing is vegan-friendly.
This chapter’s coverage of beer and wine has forced me onto the subject of hidden animal ingredients, a topic that unfortunately extends far beyond alcoholic beverages. So in the next chapter we’ll look much more closely at hidden animal ingredients, and I’ll give you the inside scoop.
Next Chapter: Animal Ingredients
Return to: Table of Contents
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