Are you thinking of becoming a vegan? Here are some tips from a vegan newbie:
- Understand your motivation for becoming a vegan. Is it for ethical reasons? Environmental reasons? Health reasons? Understanding your motivation will help you when the going gets tough. Your reasons are your own and you don’t need to share them, but if you decide to share, having a reason sure beats saying “I don’t know” when someone asks. People will be curious and want to know why you became a vegan.
- Establish a timeline. Do you want to jump into veganism right away, eliminate food groups over a period of a few weeks, or transition from vegetarianism to veganism over a period of a few months? I decided that I would become vegan right away because I thought it would be easier for me, but every person is different. Write down your timeline and stick to it.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Stock up for the week. Staples that I have found helpful: vegetable broth, lentils, beans, chickpeas, quinoa, nut butters, oatmeal, jam (you can always make a PB&J sandwich when in a rush), macaroni, rice, nuts, nut milks, and vegan bread. Try Trader Joe’s for these items. Aldi is a great place to stock up on some frozen items, including peas, edamame, corn, broccoli, peaches, and mixed berries. I found maple syrup, organic agave syrup, and vegan chips there, too. The most important items are fresh vegetables and fruits. I buy these from HarvesTime, one of the best markets in Chicago. It’s so good that when we moved, we made sure that we were walking distance from this market. I purchase kale, zucchini, carrots, oranges, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, ginger, peppers, arugula, fennel, extra-firm tofu, and other fresh favorites here. I reserve Whole Foods (a.k.a. Whole Paycheck) for items I cannot conveniently obtain anywhere else: fresh miso paste, nutritional yeast, and lesser-known bulk grains like wheatberries. I purchased supplements like iron (not all iron is vegan) and B12 before I became vegan and I got in the habit of taking them. Yes, our grocery bills are higher. But, we save money elsewhere. Now I always eat breakfast at home and I always pack myself a lunch. We have been ordering food delivery less frequently, too. Going out to eat? My vegan sister-in-law suggests that you check out the menu online, or if you are eating at a finer dining establishment, call ahead to see if the chef can make something special for you. Not every restaurant will accommodate your diet, so it may be helpful to have some go-to neighborhood places that will have items for vegans, omnivores and meatatrians alike.
- Hold yourself accountable. Tell your family and friends. I announced on Facebook that I was going vegan, and nearly everybody has been encouraging and supportive. I also joined a few Facebook groups, and now receive recipes and advice on my feed.
- Tell your healthcare provider. She may want to monitor your iron or B12 levels, ensure you are getting enough protein, or adjust your medications.
- Ignore the noise. While many people have been supportive, a few have made fun of me for my decision. I try not to take it personally. Some are also worried that I am not getting enough nutrients or protein. You may want to practice your own response so you are prepared.
- Check labels. I was disappointed to find that a lot of breads on the supermarket shelves contain dairy (this is my favorite vegan bread, by the way). Many veggie burgers are not vegan. I was also surprised to find out that Guinness beer is not vegan. Rule of thumb: if a food contains cholesterol, it is not vegan.
- If you are a vegan for health reasons, understand that just because it is vegan, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. I was bummed to find that many of the store-bought nut milks contain additives and sugar. After a serious mac & cheese craving, I purchased Daiya cheese. Not only did I find the smell and the taste vile, it also has 4.5 grams of fat per slice. (But, I hear that this version, made with cashews, it really tasty.) Some vegan items are prepared with fillers and fat; Oreos and Fritos are both vegan. While prepackaged vegan foods are always handy (Vegan Boca patties, for example), I try to avoid them. And as my sister-in-law said, “If you cannot pronounce the ingredients on the package, avoid it.”
- Forgive yourself when you stray. Nobody’s perfect. You are not a failure if you have a piece of cheese or indulge in some fish. The next meal is another opportunity to start fresh. If you decide that you want to be vegan only two out of three meals a day like Mark Bittman, you are still doing something great for your health and the environment. And if you try veganism and find out it’s not for you, that’s okay, too.
- Respect other’s dietary and lifestyle decisions. Nobody likes a self-righteous jerk. While I have been encouraging some of my family to adopt a more plant-based diet, I know that veganism isn’t right for everyone. Don’t assume all vegans are in it for ethical reasons, either. I feel great that I am no longer supporting animal factory farming. But, I disagree with PETA’s tactics, and believe that researchers, hunters, farmers, and butchers can be ethical in their use of animals and animal products.
- Try something new. Make new recipes. Eat at new restaurants. Get creative. Have fun with it.
I have found some useful sites and apps. Here are some of my favorite so far:
Chic Vegan has a great directory of vegan websites.
Apps for vegans and vegetarians from Appadvice.com
A guide to the Top 10 vegan apps that will make your life easier from The Vegan Woman
11 must have vegan iPhone apps from VegNews
Is it Vegan? On this app, you can enter an ingredient or a product and it will let you know if it is derived from a vegetable or animal source.
Neal Barnard, MD
Veg News Magazine
Not Your Average Vegan
Fat Free Vegan
Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (have heard great things about this book
and can’t wait to get it! Update: love this book!)
The VB6 Cookbook: 320 All-New Recipes That Help You Eat Healthy Vegan Meals All Day and Delicious Flexitarian Dinners at Night by Mark Bittman
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman
Vegetables, Revised: The Most Authoritative Guide to Buying, Preparing, and Cooking, with More than 300 Recipes by James Peterson
Ingredients by Peter Mirams, Loukie Werle, and Jill Cox (a great visual guide to help you identify vegetables at the supermarket)
The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet by Alicia Silverstone
Do you have suggestions or advice? Post your comments below!