Vegan Life Hacks

By Ashley Rodriguez

Vegetarians or vegans may find it challenging to access food items and other products that suit their needs.

Veganism can be especially complicated if for those looking to live a vegan lifestyle rather than just following a vegan diet. To differentiate, a vegetarian diet means no meat, while a vegan diet requires refraining from any food or beverage that contains ingredients derived from animals. A vegan lifestyle takes matters to another level by avoiding anything tested on animals or made using animal products or byproducts–such as clothing, shoes, body care items, and accessories.

Animal ingredients are hidden everywhere, and without attention to detail, a person may think they’re living completely vegan–when in fact that caramel macchiato with soy milk they just drank actually had dairy in it. With a few helpful tips and DIY ethic, consumers can hack their life practices and become truly vegan.

One of the most important steps toward veganism is becoming well versed in what ingredients are actually derived from animals. Some common knowledge and the help of websites like PETA make it easy by providing lists of ingredients, brands, and companies that are vegan and cruelty-free. Cruelty-free and vegan certification logos are also helpful. Watch out for bunny icons, like the hopping one or the one with pink ears shaped into a heart.

Many foods contain animal ingredients that are difficult to identify. Carmine, for instance, is a red pigment that’s created from crushed cochineal beetles. The pigment is used as coloring in many yogurts and candies.

In addition, whey and casein can be misleading if consumers don’t know what they are: milk-derived ingredients. Even common sugary snacks like Jell-O and marshmallows contain gelatin, which is made by grinding together the skin, bones, hooves, and connective tissues of animals. Most sugars are whitened using bone char, but keep in mind that USDA certified organic sugar is not.

A vegan version of almost anything can be found or created. In terms of food, Daiya non-dairy cheese, Earth Balance non-dairy butter, non-dairy milks, soy-based meats, and vegan mayonnaises come in handy. Tofu mixed with mayonnaise and other seasonings makes a great “egg” salad while mac & cheese can be cooked using pasta and Daiya’s cheddar version.

When going out to eat, it helps to be prepared by checking the menu before hand and having an idea of what to order, or what modifications to make to a dish. Apps like HappyCow can also direct you to restaurants in your area that specialize in vegan cuisine.

Coffee drinkers who frequent chain establishments like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts should know that vegan options are available. Dunkin Donuts offers almond milk while Starbucks offers soy milk. The latter recently added coconut milk to their menu.

Nevertheless, ordering specialty drinks at Starbucks gets tricky with all of the add-ons, which is where some research comes in handy. Anything with whipped cream on top has dairy in it. Caramel drizzle and anything with java chips also contain dairy.

When ordering flavored coffee beverages, don’t be afraid to ask the baristas if a particular syrup contains dairy. They will usually read customers the ingredients on the bottle, or even let them check labels themselves. Instead of adding honey in tea (which isn’t vegan because it’s derived from bees), there’s plant-based agave, which is readily available at any Whole Foods coffee station, along with a variety of alternative milks.

Lushes beware! Alcohol can derail attempts at vegan living. Some liquor contains (or has traces of) dairy, honey, gelatin, egg whites, or gets filtered through isinglass, which is derived from fish bladder. The online database, Barnivore, helps make it easy to determine which alcohols are vegan so you can party guilt-free.

Apart from maintaining the appropriate diet, there are lots of other lifestyle changes to engage in for becoming truly vegan. For one, vegan fashion is on the rise in recent years with specializing companies popping up everywhere. Bamboo fabric is also being used to manufacture clothing and other textiles due to the softness of the plant-based product.

Materials like wool, cashmere, leather, and suede may be considered fashionable to some, but there are lots of other options to stay stylish without involving animals. MooShoes is a cruelty-free shoe and accessory store on the Lower East Side of New York that offers items like the vegan version of Dr. Martens 8-eye boot. LA-based designer, Stephanie Nicora, offers a line of eco-friendly, vegan, and cruelty-free shoes. Each pair is handcrafted out of locally sourced materials. Some of her shoes are available at MooShoes.

Vegan personal care products are sometimes pricey, but reasonable items can be found in places like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and even Walgreens. Urban Decay manufactures some vegan makeup and none of the company’s products get tested on animals.

Beautylish maintains an online list showing whether or not makeup products are truly vegan. Concerned consumers can also search vegan and cruelty-free companies online and shop directly through their websites, or use the Cruelty-Free or PETA apps to help navigate their shopping. The Cruelty-Free app provides a list of companies that meet the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ requirements for cruelty-free labeling. Vegan versions of everything from lip balms to nail polish is available on the market.

Even if you’re not a DIYer, making personal care products is an option. While it’s usually necessary to go out and purchase the ingredients, the finished products will last a while, and crafters can control everything that go into them.

For vegan knitters, soy and corn based yarn is available. Castile soap can be used to craft DIY soap, laundry detergent, and shampoo. Toothpaste can be made at home by mixing together baking soda, peppermint extract, and a bit of coconut oil.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to engage in vegan life hacks. is a great to use as a go-to site that covers all aspects of the lifestyle. Whether people are just getting started, are longtime vegans, or are curious about adapting to elements of the lifestyle, there are plenty of existing shortcuts to help navigate the way.

All photos by Ashley Rodriguez.

For more advice on the vegan diet, read Veggie Protein Hacks.