Thinking of going vegan? Any number of reasons could lead someone to the leafy green side of compassion. Some ditch animal products overnight while others slowly evolve their dietary lifestyle. I decided to slowly wade into veganism, and it subsequently took several months for me to transition from a dairy-free omnivore to fully vegan. Initially I thought this would be the most difficult change of my life, but I am excited to say it was far easier than expected.
Below is a list of tips for new vegans and resources that helped make this transition painless, easy, and delicious.
Find Your Reason
One of the first tips for new vegans is to find a reason you can stand behind. We all have different reasons for wanting to drop animal products. Most people note the exploitation of animals for both food and clothing. Many cite the inhumane and atrocious conditions of factory farms, while others believe that using animals for any purpose, whether as companions, entertainment, food, or transportation, is immoral. Another growing concern is our reliance on the mass production of meat, especially beef, as it is a leading cause of green house gas emission, and therefore a major contributor to human-made climate change. Yet an even smaller portion of individuals claim that eating plants alone is the best for their health. Even athletes like defensive lineman David Carter claim to perform better on plant protein than when they were primarily consuming animal protein. Whatever your reason may be, find it and stick to it. You will most likely be challenged on your beliefs, so it’s generally a good idea to be educated on why you believe the things you do. This is one of the most important tips for new vegans.
As with going vegetarian, the first few months were the most difficult for me. This is normal, and it is important to cut yourself some slack. Invariably, you are going to discover that your favorite donuts may be “dairy free,” but not egg free. It’s also possible that you won’t realize this until you have inhaled half the box at 9 p.m. We all make mistakes. You are human and if you don’t give yourself some wiggle room you may become too discouraged to continue.
If I refused to conduct any research, I would not be true to myself. The best job I ever had was in academic research, and I think it is a part of my psyche at this point. As I was deciding to go vegan, I began researching online, and like any good researcher, I did not focus on one side. I read articles, blog posts, and watched videos that were both pro or con veganism. It was important for me to get both sides of the story in order to understand why people variously thought veganism was healthy or was a terrible idea. Doctors, professional athletes, actors, and even world leaders have made the decision to go vegan, and I wanted to know why. My reasons were clear to me, but why was everyone else doing this? So another one of the most important tips for new vegans is to do your research...on both sides of the argument.
In addition to understanding reasons to be vegan, I found just as if not more important to research on how to be nutritionally healthy as a vegan. If you have never considered your nutrition before, now is a good time to start. While vitamin deficiencies are rare here in American, for both omnivores and vegetarians, vegans are at higher risk for developing iron, B-12, and calcium deficiencies. Educating yourself on how and why this happens is key. While plant-based iron is less bioavailable than animal iron, it does not mean you cannot get all the iron you need from plants and supplements. Iron is crucial to the structure of red blood cells (RBC), as it holds oxygen in place so the RBC can deliver it to your tissues. Your body replenishes its RBC supply every 140 days, so proper nutrition is critical to avoid anemic issues. If you plan on going vegan, visit your primary care physician to get blood work done. Have your calcium, iron, and B-12 markers checked. If your diet does not offer the proper nutrients, or if your body is not great at storing these vitamins or minerals, your doctor may suggest higher potency supplements or recommend consulting a dietician for more in-depth meal planning.
Search Your Favorite Restaurant Menus Online
This is one of the most fun tips for new vegans. I love going out to eat on fancy dates. But doing this and upholding my values can be a little tricky. Before I made the full plunge into veganism, I kept an eye out each time we went out to eat for a few weeks. This helped me spot which restaurants would be easy to continue eating at and which would prove more difficult. Searching the Internet and asking vegan friends also helped here. While Knoxville may be a little behind the times as far as progressivism goes, we still have several vegan friendly restaurants which openly advertise “vegan options.” Just because it's not plastered on the door, however, does not mean there aren't plant-based friendly options on the menu. Don’t be afraid to check out menus online and call to make an inquiry about possible vegan friendly meals.
In March, I went to a chain Italian restaurant for my mother’s birthday that I was certain was not vegan-friendly. Resigned to sipping on cocktails for the evening, I casually asked our waitress if anyone ever asked for vegan dishes. Her eyes lit up and she explained that her roommate was vegan and gluten free, so the kitchen already knew how to make a lovely vegan pasta dish. The dish turned out to be a bow tie pasta with every sautéed vegetable known to humankind. They even added balsamic reduction and spices! It warmed my heart that she went out of her way to ask the kitchen to prepare special food for me. If enough people go to that chain restaurant and ask for vegan dishes, eventually they will add real vegan dishes on the menu.
Find a YouTuber, Blogger, or Social Media Personality you Enjoy
This was my favorite part of gathering all the information humanly possible about veganism. And you'll soon learn this is one of the easiest tips for new vegans because you'll find so many vegans. The internet plays host to a hodgepodge of vegan enthusiasts. While they all have different focuses, such as cooking or humor, they all share the common desire to spread information. While some take an unorthodox approach, others employ a down-to-earth take on how we can avoid harming others. The vegan bloggers I enjoy reading are usually dietitians, like Jack Norris. His blog seeks to educate new vegans about medically sound nutrition and help them navigate a world without animal protein. YouTube vloggers like Raw Alignment, Cheap Lazy Vegan, and Unnatural Vegan, share anecdotes about their lives, recipes, and their reasons for leading cruelty-free lives. Most of the vegans I follow online are not the kind that protest and scream into the masses “meat is murder!” I enjoy seeing people come together for the same cause, even if they have vastly different approaches.
Following vegan cooks, athletes, and health coaches can been super beneficial to your social media accounts. They provide daily encouragement in the form of brightly colored salads, smoothies, and desserts, or heart wrenching photos of the very animals vegans vow not to exploit.
For even more, check out our list of vegan resources:
- Planning a Vegan Thanksgiving
- 10 Ways to Survive (and Thrive) as a Vegan During the Holiday Season
- Top 10 Health Benefits of Brown Rice
- 8 Amazing Vegan Cheese Recipes
- 5 Great On-the-Go Snacks That are Vegan
- 5 Ingredients Every Vegan Should Have Around the House
- Check out all of the vegan recipes on OhMyVeggies
- Check out all of the vegan recipes on Potluck at OhMyVeggies
Determine What Grocery Stores Near You Sell Good Vegan Food
Some of the best tips for new vegans are to find what stores are reliable, and which brands and products are best. Health food stores are usually everyone’s go-to when they are looking for vegan specialty items. In your quest for the perfect cashew cream cheese, don’t forget to check ethnic markets as well. Chinese and Indian supermarkets will also likely sell specialty vegan products that are unavailable in larger chain stores. When buying specialty vegan products, like cheese and meat alternatives, make sure you know the return policy of your grocery store. While experimenting for these products myself, I have come across phenomenal companies such as Kite Hill, Diaya, and Follow Your Heart. But not all vegan cheeses are created equal. I’ve had to return my fair share of nasty, cardboard like cheese alternative, but for every mediocre sludge I’ve found, there’s two fantastic ones.
With the increased demand for vegan and vegetarian alternative products, large chain supermarkets have also been there to meet the needs of consumers. Hampton Creek recently made headlines when the mayonnaise lobbying groups (yes, you read that correctly) tried to sue them for false advertising, prompting the FDA to get involved. Hampton Creek makes Just Mayo, Just Ranch, and a slew of other delectable treats.
In my city, a handful of health food stores sell my favorite vegan products, including our local co-op. A few larger chain supermarkets sell a limited array of vegan treats. Every week, I vote with my dollar and buy my groceries from a store I support on an ethical level.
Brush up on Your Cooking Skills
This is one of those avoidable tips for new vegans. Unless you have unlimited financial resources, you’re probably going to want to brush up on your cooking skills. The cheapest vegan foods, like rice, dried beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and grains, usually take preparation. This will hone your cooking skills and save you money. Eating a plant-based diet can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. You can live off pre-made smoothies, frozen dinners, and packaged hummus, but making your own will usually be cheaper and more sustainable. The internet is full of poor college kids who want cheap, easy, and healthy plant fare. Bloggers like Vegan Stoner and the Minimalist Baker keep their recipe’s short and simple, while boasting hilarious crayon-like art or micro close up pictures of their scrumptious creations. Any cooking novice can find solace on their sites.
Let Your Friends and Family Know You’re (Thinking of) Going Vegan
When I decided I wanted to go vegan, I told my husband about my aspirations and we discussed how our lives might change. While deciding whether or not to go vegan is entirely a personal choice, it will still affect your loved ones in some manner. For my husband and I, we can no longer cook all of the dishes we used to. Now, we try to prepare the vegetables and grains separate from the protein. On an average night, we’ll have chicken and tofu (separately) roasting in the oven while we sauté vegetables in a sauce pan and cook rice.
Other members of my family had questions about my protein intake, hypothetical hunger levels, and plans involving children. Through my research, I quickly dispelled most nutritional concerns and politely informed everyone that I have zero interest in growing a tiny person at this moment, thank you very much.
Join Your Local Vegan Meet-Up Group, if you Don’t Already Have Vegan Friends
Google meet-ups, craigslist, and Facebook all boast opportunities to meet other vegans in your area. This can help cultivate a sense of community, support, and foster new ideas. And you’ll have someone to go to your local vegfest with!
If you already have vegan friends, take them out for a nice coconut milk latte and ask them all of your burning questions. Was it difficult to stop eating meat and cheese? What about pizza? Where do you eat when you go out with friends? Is it weird dating someone who eats meat? What about pizza?!
I have yet to meet a vegan who hates talking about being vegan, so don’t hold your questions back. If you are too introverted, try online vegan communities like Reddit. There, you can pose questions, peruse recipes, look at funny comic strips, and read about other people’s experiences. Get all the sense of being in a community of like-minded people without ever putting on pants.
Visit an Animal Sanctuary
Animal sanctuaries are a great place to remind yourself why. You can help or support the animals by visiting, donating, or volunteering. Caring for cattle and giving belly rubs to pigs can give new meaning to the life you have chosen to lead. Volunteering at your local animal shelter can also be beneficial to your professional life. Need to beef up your resume? Volunteer and keep a log of your hours of community service. You can meet amazing animals and beautiful people while showing future employers you’re a compassionate person without being boastful.
At the end of the day, remember that you're not alone. There are people out there who want you to succeed and feel good about yourself and the way you're living your life. Nothing is more beautiful than being at peace with yourself.