5 Things I Learned About Being Vegan in Brooklyn During my Visit

Holy guacamole — where have I been! When things get busy, my blog tends to fall to the back of my to-do list, and then it gets shuffled to my, “Eh, I’ll get around to it” list. Not only have I been busy packing for my year teaching in Seoul (I leave in just a few weeks!) but also I took a little trip to New York. There, I spent most of my time, and money, in Brooklyn. I fell head over heels — gah, Brooklyn, my love. If I weren’t going to Seoul soon, I don’t think I would’ve ever come back to Florida. Here’s a vegan insider’s scoop from being an outsider in Brooklyn:

1. You’re Vegan? So Is the Barista’s Cousin.

Not everyone in Brooklyn is vegan, but dear glob, everyone knows someone who is. You won’t get any funny looks when you ask for something without cheese or request “no honey” in your tea. What’s even better is that, because being vegan is pretty popular here, most menus have at least one option with “vegan” — and not just vegetarian — in the title or description to make it obvious what you can eat. And, because awesome food in New York is just generally ultra-accessible, your only problem will be choosing from the many options that surround you. If it weren’t for all the walking I did, I would’ve had to buy an extra plane seat home.

2. Grocery Shops Are Safe Spaces.

As a vegan, I know that I can find veg ingredients at any grocery shop I visit. But, for faux meats and vegan alternatives, I usually have to scope out a pricey Whole Foods or other health-foods shop. In Brooklyn, I noticed that most of the smaller shops had a great variety of regular and vegan options. All of the grocers I found had veggie burgers and faux meats, and sometimes faux cheeses. Even though the stores were horizontally challenged, they just seemed to carry more of a variety. For example, though both are vegan, never did I think I’d see the day where Peter Pan peanut butter and a locally made, organic version would share shelf space.

3. Some Places, You Still Have to Ask Questions.

If I’m painting Brooklyn out to seem like some kind of vegan paradise, that’s because it is — compared to Tampa, at least. However, there are still some places you have to be careful about. For instance, I ordered a tofu banh mi from a local shop. I asked to make sure it didn’t have any dairy on it because I was “allergic” (often saying this is much easier than explaining your ethical beliefs). However, when I got it, I noticed there was mayonnaise and butter, and I had to ask them to remake it. They were happy to, but if I hadn’t checked first, I would’ve gotten a mouthful of mayo. Don’t assume that just because something says “vegetables” or “tofu” that it’s always vegan.

4. Junk-Food Vegans May Rejoice.

I love vegan health food and raw-food restaurants. But, I equally love vegan junk food, and there seems to be a lack of vegan junk-food options in the Tampa area. Sure, I can get a cold-pressed green juice with a raw cashew-cheese this or that, but what if I want a donut?  WHAT IF I JUST WANT A DONUT? Or a lavender-strawberry muffin? Brooklyn offered all this and more. At one of my favorite places, Champ’s Diner, I found mac ‘n cheese, tempeh buffalo wings, and a BLT. Yaaaaas.

5. 100% Vegan Places Say ‘Screw the Quotation Marks’

This often confused the friends I took to 100 percent vegan places. “Wait, so the Philly cheese steak is vegan, too?” Yep. “And the mac ‘n cheese with bacon?” Yaaaap. Some completely vegan restaurants and cafes not only don’t advertise being vegan on their signs, but also don’t advertise it on the menu. I totally get this because I write things like “milk” and “burgers” on my shopping lists, knowing I obviously mean the vegan versions of them. But, for someone who just discovered the cafe, it can be confusing. If you don’t see anything vegan on the menu, ask one of the waiters or baristas if they have any vegan options. If you’re lucky, you may’ve walked into a completely vegan place without even knowing it.

Brooklyn, I’ll come back for you, baby. I promise. :cries: