People who choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle do it for a wide variety of reasons. Some watch a slaughterhouse video and go vegan overnight. Some people begin their journey to reduce their environmental impact and others for the health benefits. Being vegan isn’t hard to do, but some people fail to stick to it because they don’t have the tools or know-how.
Here are some practical and actionable tips to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Don’t stress about “trace” ingredients. Start by eliminating all labeled animal products (including gelatin, of course). You can find “hidden” animal products in lots of things, and you will drive yourself bonkers trying to be perfect. For example, worrying about whether the vitamin fortifications in your cereal are derived from animal sources might be taking it a step too far – especially if you’re new to the lifestyle. If you’re at a restaurant, don’t worry about whether there was cross contamination when ordering a vegan dish.
Read up on the definition of veganism and know that it’s not a perfect moral system. Don’t strive to be a “morally pure” – just do the best you possibly can, and know that your choices make a difference.
Know Your Reasons Why and Know Them Well
Whether you wanted to become vegan for ethics, environment and/or health it’s important to have a good understanding of each. People will challenge you and think your choices are strange, including your family and friends.
Here are some common questions you might get (along with some brief answers):
- Where do you get your protein?
- Plants have protein and even have all the essential amino acids you need. Plants grow the cows and chickens that we eat so there’s no reason they can’t sustain us!
- Plants feel pain too.
- Plants do respond to certain stimuli in the environment and are without a doubt intelligent in their own way. However, they do not have a central nervous system. Plus, we need to kill plants to feed to animals anyway, so even if they do feel pain, we’re creating twice the pain by feeding them to animals to be killed for their meat.
- Farming plants kills more sentient beings than eating animals.
- While it’s true that farming plant-based ingredients does result the deaths of certain critters and disrupts some habitats, the fact is that most of the crops that we grow are fed to livestock which we slaughter and eat. If everyone went vegan we’d be able to use much less land and farm fewer crops!
Although I’ve answered them in a short and sweet fashion above, it’s good to research them fully and understand all the nuances.
Buy Frozen Vegetables and Fruits
You don’t always have to buy fresh produce, frozen is just as good. In fact, sometimes it can be better since it is picked once it’s ripe and not transported at ambient temperatures across long distances. The three main reasons why you should focus on frozen produce are price, convenience and spoilage. The frozen variety tends to be a lot cheaper, and you could stock your freezer full without worrying about them going bad. Also, because most frozen products are already cut, you don’t have to worry about getting out a knife/cutting board and making a big mess.
My grandmother used to say…
The most expensive foods you can buy are the ones that go bad. You’ll just have to buy them again!
Don’t be a Full-Time Junk Food Vegan
It’s easy to be a junk-food vegan and eat lots of processed food. French fries, vegan donuts, tons of mock meats – you get the idea. Many people go down this road, assuming it’s healthier than their previous habits just because they aren’t eating any animal products. Then, they give up being vegan because it made them feel terrible.
Veganism per se isn’t a “healthier” lifestyle than not being vegan if you don’t eat the right things. The best way to reap the health benefits is by eating a whole food, plant-based diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Keep your fridge and pantry well-stocked so you don’t run off and eat junk food in a panic. But, do enjoy vegan junk food in moderation!
There’s so much new stuff coming out, and trying the latest vegan food products is exciting! The latest creations like the Beyond Burger will absolutely blow you away and might even trick your non-vegan friends.
Supplement B12 or Eat Fortified Foods
Vitamin B12 isn’t a magical thing that comes from animal products, it’s made from microbes and is found in things like soil. In our food supply, the only three sources of B12 are animal products, fortified foods and supplements. This is because we tend to clean off our fruit and vegetables and not eat them directly from the ground. You should know that the farm animals are supplemented with B12 which is what gets passed down to consumers who eat them. Regardless, B12 is an important nutrient that many new vegans fail to consider, so just be sure you’re getting it from somewhere, as being deficient can cause you serious problems in the long run.
Master & Embrace Tofu
Mastering tofu certainly isn’t a requirement for being vegan, but it’s one of those foods that makes it a whole lot more enjoyable! The great thing about tofu is that it can take on so many different textures and flavours. You can use it for common things like miso soups and stir fry, but it can also be used for things like jerky and mock feta cheese!
Learn all the tips and tricks to cooking with it, such as freezing and thawing to create texture or using a device to remove the water so that the tofu better absorbs marinades. It’s one of the cheapest vegan foods available that can add that texture where plain old fruits, vegetables and whole grains are lacking. And it’s regularly enjoyed by some of the longest living populations, such as the Okinawans so you don’t have to feel guilty about eating it.
Get Some Nooch!
You’ll notice the next tip mentions “nutritional yeast”. What the heck is that you might ask? Well, nutritional yeast – which is commonly referred to as “nooch” for short, is a vegan’s best friend.
They’re basically just flakes of yeast that taste super savory and cheesy. They can be used on pretty much anything, but are especially good if you’re missing the sharp flavor profile of cheese. As a bonus, most nutritional yeasts are supplemented with B12! Be wary when buying nooch in health food stores, though. It’s usually greatly overpriced and one of the things that new vegans waste a ton of money on. Instead, buying it in bulk online will save you a ton of money. It lasts for a long time, so you don’t have to worry about it going bad.
Learn How to Make Vegan Sauces and Dips
One of the first things that is stressed to students in culinary school is the importance of sauces. Having the right sauce can make or break a meal and it can turn a plate of bland food into something memorable. By knowing how to make simple sauces and dips, you can transform seemingly boring ingredients into something great.
Here’s a practical example…
Towards the end of the week, I’ll often find myself with nothing but non-perishable foods like beans and whole-wheat pasta. To make something quick and delicious I’ll use a Magic Bullet blender to make a cheesy sauce with cannellini beans, nutritional yeast and lemon juice. I’ll pour that over the whole-wheat pasta – sometimes with some microwaved frozen broccoli – and have a quick & satisfying meal. There’s so many different types of sauces, salsas, hummuses and dressings you can make with just a few ingredients.
Experiment and find something you can make repeatedly!
Put Something in Meat’s Place
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when starting their vegan journey is simply removing the meat and just eating sides. For example, instead of pasta with meatballs and marinara sauce, they might just have pasta with marinara sauce. This is a sure-fire way to feel hungry and unsatisfied. Replace meat with other satiating foods like beans or loads and loads of veggies. In this example, consider having something like this Pasta Fagioli which is loaded with canneli beans and vegan parmesan (made from cashews). It’s far more exciting and filling than just plain pasta with sauce.
Quick Tip: For a quick lunch, you can swap your Tuna salad for a Chickpea salad made with tahini rather than mayo. It’s filled with protein and fiber!
Master “Nice Cream”
Nice cream isn’t something that’s exclusive to vegans, but I find it to be a fantastic way to get a ton of nutrients while quelling any cravings I might have for a dairy-based ice cream. If you’re not sure what it is, it’s basically an extremely thick smoothie that you can eat with a spoon. It’s typically made of frozen fruit like bananas and can be flavored with things like vanilla beans (or extract), pumpkin spice and even cocoa powder. If you’ve got a powerful blender, you can even hide veggies like kale in there without people noticing!
My go-to nice cream usually contains 1-2 frozen bananas, 1-2 cups of frozen cherries, a handful of kale and cocoa powder. It doesn’t taste like any of the above ingredients, but rather like a rich & chocolatey ice cream! Since it’s all whole ingredients, it can even be eaten for breakfast guilt-free.
Don’t Be Afraid of Eating Out & Leverage Your Smartphone!
If you’re the only vegan among your friends, don’t panic if everyone wants to go eat out. It’s easy to find vegan options almost anywhere, if you take the time to look.
For example, a quick and ironic google search for “What’s Vegan at Chick-Fil-A” reveals that the chain indeed has some vegan options. Even smaller restaurants are extremely accommodating if you ask politely. Again, don’t stress about things like your meal touching other things, that’s a quick way to annoy people and turn them off from veganism. The more “normal” vegans seem, the more people will want to try it out.
Bonus Hint: Carry a small bag of nutritional yeast around with you and you’ll find that you can create a delicious vegan meal in the most unlikely of scenarios.
Transition at Your Own Pace
Some people can transition to veganism overnight, but some cannot. Much of it depends on your food preferences, ability to cook and restaurant options around you. Don’t feel guilty if it seems too overwhelming to take on all at once.
Set a smart goal and take little steps towards it, taking into consideration how plant-based your diet already is. Use the time you’ve set for yourself to cultivate the needed knowledge and skills to lay the foundation for the full transition. And don’t forget to try some new and exciting foods!
As a final word of advice: Have fun on your vegan journey!
Embrace it as an opportunity to learn and try new things rather than a burden or something that makes you feel out of place among your friends and family. Approaching it this way will make it more attractive to others and something that you’ll want to keep doing.