We all love to flip through a brand new cookbook, ogling the photos and drooling over recipe titles, imagining ourselves effortlessly whipping up dish after dish with the flair and ease of Julia Child. The unfortunate truth is that sometimes we need a little extra push to make our culinary magic happen, a third-party motivational force to help chef-us be all that we can be. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to connect with other vegan foodies across the country and take your enjoyment of plant-based cuisine to the next level. With cookbook clubs, food swaps, and pen-pal clubs, you’ll be discovering all kinds of cruelty-free treats in no time.
School may be out, but a little bit of homework from time to time never hurt anybody. If you love trying new recipes but haven’t found the occasion (or confidence) to make it happen regularly, consider joining a cookbook club. Gather your vegan, vegetarian, and veg-curious friends via blog post, email, or even an old-fashioned phone call, and set up periodical meetings to share dishes from a chosen cookbook. For example, choose a specific dish and trade tips about ways to excel in or improve upon its recipe, or meet up to share different items for a more comprehensive taste test. Not sure where to start? A lone vegan in an omni world? Consider joining an online group, such as VegCookbook Club, founded by blogger and podcast-host Britt Bravo. Each month, Bravo selects a vegetarian or vegan cookbook, and each Monday, she shares her experience in trying its recipes. The key is participation—members are encouraged to comment about their own attempts, discuss what worked (or didn’t), and promote their own recipe blogs. In addition to forming a community with other vegans and improving your cooking skills, you can share your creations with not-yet-veg friends to show them the wonders of plant-based dining! Plus, the group has a Pinterest page, a Flickr group, and an Instagram hashtag for sharing mouthwatering photos of its collective smorgasbord. Here are a few good books to start with:
Big Vegan (Robin Asbell, 2011)
Chloe’s Kitchen (Chloe Coscarelli, 2012)
Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook (Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, 2007)
Longing to taste, and not just talk about, others’ cooking? Vegan food swaps multiply your noshing opportunities in a format similar to a potluck. There are numerous ways to organize your food swap event; some choose to have everyone bring dishes from a specific cookbook (similar to the aforementioned cookbook clubs, but in three dimensions!), while others, such as San Francisco’s Vegan Hacker, opt for a cooking-class environment. At Vegan Hacker’s monthly events, attendees gather with an assortment of ingredients to create original recipes with a little bit of help from expert overseers. For example, a March event provided guests with all of the ingredients and instructions for making vegan ravioli, but attendees brought their own fillings, which could be anything from veggies to dairy-free cheese to jam. Vegan Hacker has also tackled fondue, burgers, gourmet French fries, and even Twinkies! Similarly, the St. Pete Vegan Food Swap in St. Petersburg, FL, has themed swaps where attendees can share and sample all different kinds of vegan foods, cruelty-free crafts, and produce. Typically, each person brings six servings of a dish, and the group uses a drawn-number system to let every guest try six different items. As a result, everyone gets maximum bang for his or her theoretical buck (participation is free!). There are even specialty swaps, such as soup swaps, which have gained popularity due to soup’s ease of preparation and freeze-friendliness. Try websites like Facebook, swap.com, and Meetup to find vegan groups in your area that could be interested in hosting food swaps—you may even find that they’re already happening in your ‘hood.
Finally, if you live discovering new vegan store-bought products from all over the country, a foodie pen pal might be your new best friend. Food blog The Lean Green Bean hosts the popular Foodie Pen Pal program to allow snack enthusiasts nationwide to share their edible discoveries. Columbus, OH-based LGB creator Lindsay Livingston designed the system to accommodate vegetarians and vegans by matching them with a similarly dieted pen pal from a database of more than 1,000 participants, which also takes into consideration allergies and overall food preferences. Once a month, participants will receive the email address of their new foodie pen pal, and will have about 10 days to compile a box of goodies for their new long-distance buddy. Finally, on the last day of the month, pen pals will post about all of their gorge-worthy gifts. There’s a monetary cap on each box’s value, so don’t worry about busting your bank account. While it works the best for bloggers (so that you can show off your bounties), it’s open to everyone in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Glance at pen-pal posts from bloggers The Veggie Next Door and Raised By Culture, and their enviable rewards will make you want to sign up, stat.
Although you might not be a maestro with your mixer, cookbook clubs, vegan food swaps, and foodie pen pals can help you discover delicious new ways to enjoy a plant-based diet. But the biggest bonus of these groups is connecting with fellow vegans who share your appetite for healthy, compassionate—and most of all, tasty—living.