So, I’ve given you a few different vegan recipes recently, which is all useful stuff, but one thing I get asked a lot by followers, friends and family, is: how do you go vegan? I decided this week to give you my top tips to going vegan, drawing on my own and other people’s experiences. Let’s all get our vegan on.
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
I went from vegetarian to vegan over the course of a year, relaxing from fully vegan for some travels/experiences, and making sure I made changes gradually each time I transitioned. I have now been totally plant based for about a year and would not relax this for travelling, but it was necessary for me to be flexible at first due to my life situation. Everyone’s transition will take a different length of time, but going cold turkey (it’s funny because there’s no turkey) leads to burn out. Acknowledge that you will have to be flexible to make it sustainable, but keep the goal in mind.
Education comes in two strands: education on what to eat, and education on the negative effects of a non-plant-based diet.
Firstly, make sure you’re clued up on what your body needs and what foods provide it. Don’t go straight for the supplements but do consider a B12 or iron supplement for example if you feel extra tired after going vegan (unless it’s because you, like me, spend too much time looking up vegan food online, then you’re just tired).
A lot of people worry about protein intake as the major concern but plant-based protein can be tastier and is often much easier for your body to absorb (though watch out for bean farts, maybe build those into your diet over a gradual period, don’t just go straight in with all the lentils…).
I try to get a source of protein in every meal (which is more than I did when I was veggie), my staples are chickpeas, soy mince, tofu (side note: use firm tofu and marinate it or cook it in a sauce as it absorbs flavours well, but doesn’t taste as good on its own), edamame, nuts/seeds/nut butter, kidney beans in like chilis, hummus, falafel (I eat a LOT of falafel…) and lentils.
Educate yourself on what you can eat through Facebook groups, following vegan Instagram accounts (a great one for readers from the UK is this one), checking menus online if you are going out to eat, and looking up new recipes. Use it as an excuse to experiment with food!
Education on the meat and dairy industries is also really helpful for some people as it is a reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Have some articles or documentaries saved in your favourites to remind yourself if you feel unmotivated. This knowledge also helps the feeling of doing good on a daily basis, knowing your decision is reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I rant a lot about meal prepping on my Instagram, but that’s because it is a life saver. I carry snacks at all times (I like snacks) and, when possible, take my lunch in a Tupperware to work.
Meal prepping reduces the amount of time spent fretting about what you are going to cook, reduces cooking time, packaging as you are less likely to buy wrapped goods when out and about, and helps relieve temptation to buy non-vegan meals if you know you have a tasty curry waiting for you in the fridge.
I have already mentioned vegan social media, but communicating with other vegans is a really useful way to keep yourself motivated. Whether you talk in person or online, you can share recipes and vegan finds and keep each other motivated not to eat your housemate’s brie that’s been staring at you all week.
Equally, explain to others what you are doing and why. Explain that it is not just a phase and you are not just trying to be awkward. Help educate others by talking about what you’re doing, try not to get angry, and share your vegan goodies with others to help them realise that vegans don’t just eat salad.
DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP ABOUT MISTAKES
We all make mistakes, and that’s ok. Every vegan has accidentally eaten a non-vegan product with hidden milk powder or been fed something by someone that wasn’t vegan. Equally, we all had bad days in transition or in the early (sometimes even later, my past drunk self passes no comment here) days.
That is ok! It is all about learning and doing what is sustainable for us. Prioritise what is worth worrying about, because you can’t change the past so it is no help dwelling on it. Know yourself and know when you are struggling, or if you have intolerances that make veganism harder, and don’t stress over the minor details of what is an overall environmentally friendly lifestyle.
These can be quite controversial, but are very useful in the transition period. Fake meats, including Seitan, Tempeh, Soy, Quorn and Jackfruit can be a good way to fill the gap left by a hamburger.
However, it is very important to think of these things as ALTERNATIVES rather than substitutes. To quote one of my lovely Instagram followers, comparing vegan vs. normal cheese would be ‘like comparing chocolate spread with peanut butter’.
Find foods with strong flavours that you enjoy instead of the meat or dairy products, experiment with what works for you. Personally. I dislike hazelnut or cashew milk, but really love coconut, almond and oat milks. But that’s just my opinion.
These were my top tips to going vegan! Bonus tip; one friend suggested dating a vegan as good way to transition which might not be available to all but I can definitely recommend as a method. There are a few key things I was asked when reaching out to my audience and I thought I’d respond to them here.
BONUS: Q&A WITH A REAL-LIFE PLANT PERSON
Q: I live with my parents/housemates who aren’t vegan which means I can’t control what is cooked, or they can make me feel guilty about not accepting what they give me. What do you recommend?
A: Talking to the people around you when you are transitioning, explain that you are doing this for good reasons. As I said earlier in this article, give them vegan goodies and cook them vegan meals and baked goods. Also explain what you are and are not deciding to consume and be open about how their response to your decision is making you feel. It is true you know if there’s a vegan because they’ll tell you, but this is often to help other people understand their life choices and make sure they aren’t accidentally fed a product they want to abstain from and their body is not used to!
It may be impossible to be fully vegan when not in control of cooking, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t be plant-based at other times, such as if you take your own lunch to college or work, or when buying snacks. If they have reason to be concerned, such as a past history of an eating disorder, please examine this concern in yourself too and really work out your motivations and how sustainable a plant-based life style would be for you.
Q: How do I give up cheese?
A: Good question… In all honesty, I gave up cow’s cheese after finding out I was allergic to it so that part was slightly easier. Goat’s and sheep’s cheese were hard to give up. I made the process gradual, and had some vegan cheese on hand for emergencies (e.g. if I was craving pasta with cheese or felt I needed it on my pizza). It is a different process for everyone but what worked for me was gradually cutting down from having goat’s cheese or egg mayo sandwiches on a daily basis to having hummus and falafel or peanut butter, and experimenting with other lunches like pasta salad or rice dishes. I barely remember the taste of real cheese now…
Q: I feel like shopping as a vegan would be much harder, how do I know what to buy? Ditto with eating out, is it harder to socialise as a vegan?
A: In short, no. In long, sort of. It is getting easier and easier to be vegan with more and more options being added to shop aisles and restaurant menus every day, but that doesn’t mean the sneaky hidden ingredients won’t come for you. Do your research, check menus, suggest places you know cater for vegans when it comes to eating out. And with shopping, it quickly becomes habit to check the labels on everything you eat, which can be a faff, but is made easier as egg and milk are both allergens so will usually be highlighted on the ingredients list.
Over and out, Bea