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StyleBlueprint writer and Birmingham resident Javacia Harris Bowser has been flirting with the notion of veganism for quite some time. This year, she decided to make it a priority. Here’s how Birmingham residents have inspired and informed her journey — and where she finds delicious vegan food in BHAM.

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I first attempted to go vegan back in January of 2021. Because God created cheese and Chick-fil-A, I failed miserably. Temptations aside, I also convinced myself that it’s impossible to go vegan in Birmingham and still have a social life due to limited vegan restaurant options in the area. But many Magic City residents are proving me wrong. They’ve learned that being vegan in Birmingham is not only possible, but it can be life-changing.

Bree Latner, a biologist and science teacher based in Birmingham, adopted a vegan lifestyle long before it became the cool thing to do. She started her vegan journey in February 2010. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” Bree says, “and at that time, no one really thought I’d stick with it.” But for her, this wasn’t about trying out a fad diet. She was trying to save her life.

“I was 430 pounds and about to be diabetic, and I began following people online who reversed diabetes with veganism,” Bree says. “I’ve stuck with it because I wholeheartedly believe, given my family genetics, that vegan food and exercise are the only things keeping me alive. Without them, I would have diabetes and high cholesterol, [and] who knows what else.”

Salad surrounded by vegetables

Biologist and vegan Bree Latner says the term ‘vegan’ itself has become antiquated. “We use ‘plant-based’ now. It is a more inclusive term that allows for many differences and nuances in eating plants versus animals.”

Vegan food blogger Maya Spivey went vegan in December 2018 after attending a workshop on how to improve your health through natural eating. “I was always tired,” she says.

The leader of the seminar challenged attendees to cut all animal products from their diets. Eager for a change, Maya took the challenge and convinced her husband to join her. Though finding vegan foods she and her husband enjoyed was tough, Maya stayed committed to the challenge because she felt such a huge difference in her health. “I feel like a new person,” she says.

Dr. Lori Croom Bush, a Birmingham-based optometrist and author, went vegan in November of 2018. “I had young children at the time and needed more energy,” she says. “Once I got over the initial transition, I felt energy like I hadn’t felt in so many years. I also began to lose weight.”

For Bree Latner, sticking with a plant-based diet is about more than health. “I began following more vegans and learning more about the exploitation of animals and how broken our relationship with the Earth is, as far as the food chain goes,” she says. “As a biologist, I knew it, but I didn’t feel it, until I ended my exploitative relationship with animals. I became a hiker and a diver, and now animals are my primary reason for staying vegan.”

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How to Start Your Vegan Journey

So, you’re interested in a more plant-based lifestyle? Here’s how to get started.

“Start small,” advises Bree, who ate an entirely raw vegan diet for one year when she started her plant-based journey. “You don’t have to go drastic like I did.”

Thyme Randle, head chef at the new vegan restaurant Juniper, has been vegan his entire life. But for those new to veganism, he recommends a slow and well-informed transition. “Don’t just jump into it without getting general knowledge of what you’re doing,” he says. Start by simply increasing the servings of vegetables you eat each day and decreasing the amount of animal protein you consume, he suggests. Add smoothies and fresh juices, too. Next, learn more about plant-based sources of protein such as beans, nuts, and mushrooms, and add more of those to your diet. You can try meat substitutes to satisfy cravings, but don’t go overboard, as many of these options are high in fat. And if you feel more comfortable calling your new diet “plant-based” instead of “vegan,” that’s OK, too.

Woman cutting vegetables

Seek support in your plant-based journey by following vegan bloggers and influencers, or joining vegan Facebook groups.

“[The word] ‘vegan’ itself has become an antiquated term because it is inherently classist,” Bree says, noting that not everyone has access to all vegan foods. “We use ‘plant-based’ now. It is a more inclusive term that allows for many differences and nuances in eating plants versus animals.”

For Maya Spivey, going cold turkey (cold tofurkey?) was what worked best for her. When you transition slowly, she says, “It’s easier to fall off the wagon.”

Regardless of which path you choose, you should talk to your doctor before making any major changes to your diet and you may need help from a nutritionist who specializes in plant-based diets.

Also, don’t go it alone. “Get someone to do it with you,” Maya says, adding that having her husband go vegan with her made all the difference. She also got help from vegan blogs like Minimalist Baker, Sweet Potato Soul and It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken. Bree recommends following vegan influencers and joining plant-based eating communities on social media for both information and support. Birmingham Vegans on Facebook is a great place to start.

Where to Find Vegan Food in Birmingham

Maya’s first three months of vegan eating were miserable. “The food was horrible,” she says. All the faux meats and cheeses she tried were gross, she says, so she knew it was time to get creative in the kitchen. That’s when she started making innovative dishes like carrot hot dogs. Her plant-based creations were such a hit with friends she eventually launched Croix Street Vegan.

Going vegan pushed Bree to cook more, too. “I was raised on McDonald’s and food that comes from a box” she says. “So, I had to learn how to actually cook and prepare actual food.”

Lori agrees that getting in the kitchen is key. “Your best meals will be the ones you prepare at home,” she says. “You may think you don’t have enough energy to cook so often, but guess what — when you’re vegan, you do!”

Woman making vegan meal

Be sure to consult with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet. Depending on your dietary needs, you may also benefit from the help of a nutritionist.

RELATED: 3 Easy Recipes for the New Vegan

For years Golden Temple has been one of the only spots vegans in Birmingham could frequent. “Birmingham is doing much better than it was a few years ago, but it is still somewhat limited in terms of vegan options when compared to other cities,” Lori says. “Most social gatherings in the South revolve around food. Be mentally prepared to go places where there will be absolutely nothing for you to eat. You must eat before you go or have a plan to eat as soon as you leave. Don’t be pressured into eating just because everyone else is.”

Does that mean that once you go vegan, you can never dine out again? Of course not! “Don’t let your vegan journey kill your social life,” Bree says. Bree and Lori both point to Underground Vegan as their favorite local vegan restaurant, and Bree is also a fan of the RendezVous Kitchen.

You can find vegan-friendly options at many restaurants and even fast food chains. “At most Mexican restaurants, you can order a meal like a taco salad and substitute beef for beans and substitute sour cream for guacamole,” says Lori, who’s a fan of Los Amigos. At Wasabi Juan’s she opts for the Hippy Burrito with peanut sauce. If she’s pressed for time, she might grab a bean burrito with no cheese from Taco Bell, an Impossible Whopper with no mayo from Burger King, or a burrito bowl with no meat from Chipotle.

Bree is a fan of the hummus, salads, lentils, and falafel at Makarios. Shu Shop is another one of her favorites. “Their Brussels sprouts are amazing, and they have vegan gyoza and vegan miso ramen,” she says.

You can find vegan Mongolian “beef” at New China Town and vegan sushi at Okinawa. “The sweet potato tempura roll is to die for,” Bree says.

When he’s not eating the vegan crab cakes he serves at Juniper, Thyme Randle likes the falafel at Purple Onion and the vegan options at Avondale Common House.

Here’s a list of  vegan restaurants, vegan food trucks, and vegan-friendly spots in the Birmingham area to help you on your plant-based journey:

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