In celebration of being 3 years vegan today, I thought I would reflect a little and make a list of things I wish I knew at the beginning of my vegan journey, in hopes that it may ease some of the newer vegans through the sometimes emotionally overwhelming, initial first 6 – 12 months after becoming vegan. So here they are:
1. Don’t attempt to become a raw vegan overnight… or ever
It can be tempting to be overly ambitious about changing your diet, since becoming vegan is a big change in itself, so you think why not become a fruitarian and start getting magic powers right? But sticking to a super healthy restrictive diet is just as hard as if you were doing it as a non vegan. It is not sustainable unless you are already a willpower master.
I don’t necessarily think everyone needs to eat Tofurkey and vegan cheese all day everyday while they transition but those foods can be really helpful when you are still working out your way around a vegan kitchen or have cravings from your old diet. Stick to something delicious and satisfying in the beginning, if later you feel like getting healthy, take small steps towards that.
2. Learn to read labels
This one sounds easy because you can probably already read, but it’s good to know that allergens are always printed in bold so you will quickly be able to scan for eggs and dairy. From there just keep an eye out for other bits like honey, Carmine or E120 (beetles) and sometimes fish ends up in some strange places. Tons of packaged foods have “suitable for vegans and vegetarians” on them these days, which is really helpful, it is also good to know just because it says vegetarians and not vegans, that doesn’t always mean it’s not vegan, they have just grouped us in the same category so check the ingredients.
3. Find vegan friends
This is easier said than done. When I went vegan I didn’t know any other vegans. I’m not even sure that I had ever met one before. I would have loved to have a vegan friend to try all the new vegan spots with and talk about all this new information I was learning, but I did have my now husband (also now vegan) who was very open to to trying all the vegan restaurants with me, which worked great as well. If you don’t have any veg curious friends, the internet is full of vegans! I really feel like starting my blog and Instagram account made such a huge difference in feeling less alone in a non vegan world. I’ve somehow managed to find a great community of people who all share ideas, struggles and recipes and who support each other even though few actually know each other in real life.
4. Go out to eat!
Don’t get me wrong, experimenting with cooking new vegan recipes is fun and all but it is also fun to get out there and try some new restaurants! Also its important to not shut down your social life because of the change or you will get sad real quick. If you live in London or any other major city, you will probably be surprised with how many vegetarian and vegan restaurants are out there. The best way to find a veggie spot where you live or when travelling is happycow.com. I have yet to be somewhere that doesn’t have options on there.
5. Be knowledgeable
No matter if you are starting a plant based diet for health or environmental reasons or going vegan for animal rights, I really recommend knowing at least a little about all the ways it is beneficial. Friends, family and internet strangers will all question your choices because it goes against the status quo (for now). Be ready to answer these questions in a way that they can come away from the interaction with a bit more understanding. I recommend watching as many documentaries as you can (Earthlings , Cowspiracy, What the Health, Forks over Knives, Vegucated) but also try and discuss these things with likeminded people, that way when the questions inevitably come you will have spoken on the subject before.
6. Be kind to non vegans – even if they are being dicks
This is just as important as my last point. I believe keeping calm and trusting your decision to go vegan can be just as powerful as your words. In my first year as a vegan I definitely had a few heated discussions that I don’t enjoy looking back on. Since then I have taken more of an example-setting stance and a happy to answer any questions approach rather than getting myself into confrontational debates. I applaud and appreciate the activists that are out there changing peoples mind through the power of debate. Though I quickly learned I’m not well suited for that type of activism and for the good of the movement and my mental health, I stick to positivity and example setting.
7. Forgive yourself if you mess up
This is a lifestyle, for me that means for life. If you accidentally eat a slice of bread that has milk powder in it, don’t beat yourself up about it (also F off to whoever makes bread with milk powder) make a mental note to never buy that brand again and to make sure you double check the package next time. I also really like the idea of donating a few pounds to an animal charity of you feel like you need penance. An example of when I thought this worked for me was when I purchased a hat at a Hockey game (Canucks obv.) without checking the label, and later found out that it was partially made of wool. I would have never thought a baseball style hat would have wool but I learned a little lesson that day and made a little donation. I couldn’t take the hat back because I had already been running in it. I do still wear it and will do so until it is time too replace it with a vegan one. Which brings me to my next point…
8. Replace your non vegan things with vegan things as they run out
My opinion on this FAQ is that I chose to use up any non vegan make up, toiletries or cleaning products and find a good alternative as they need replacing. I also feel that this is a good option for shoes and clothing. This way you’re not spending loads of money all at once and you can take time to find the best alternatives. If you just can’t wear the leather boots anymore because it makes you sad, I feel you and you should do whatever makes you feel better about it. When it comes to food I believe in the same principals, but once I opened my eyes to veganism, I didn’t see it as food anymore and chose to not eat it.
9. Plan meals and do a big grocery shop
I find it is so much easier to spend 10 minutes on Sunday thinking about what meals I am going to make through the week, put in an order online to get it all delivered so it’s ready to go. I think this is a general life tip, it helps with money saving and eating healthy as well. I do also like to make big batches of things like soup or lasagne and stick it in the freezer for when I don’t feel like cooking or don’t have time. I also keep some vegan junk like Quorn nugs in the freezer for when you get home from the pub or just had a bad day or whatever.
10. Be creative and try new things
Even if you don’t normally cook, try. There are thousands of vegan recipes online that you can recreate step by step. Start easy and move onto more intricate stuff later on, if you want. I Think the key is being open to trying new things, there are so many incredible plant foods out there that you may not have tried yet. Last year I tried ackee fruit for the first time in a mac and cheeze sauce and it blew my mind. I had never even heard of the fruit before!
Alright well this turned out quite a bit longer than I was going for but I hope someone finds it helpful! I have learned so much in the last 3 years being vegan and can’t wait to continue learning.