I come across people every day who are interested in becoming vegan, and I’ve been asked to provide the bare basics. Most of what I’m about to tell you has been said before. There’s great advice for new vegans all over the web as well as in the book “Vegan in 30 Days,” which I’ll gladly lend you. As with any life change, you’ll have to figure out what method works best for you, but here’s a list of the basic suggestions that would have been helpful to me, back when veganism seemed like an unattainable goal.
- Know why you’re going vegan. By this I mean that you should understand animal cruelty as it exists within our world right now, not just the philosophical assertion that we have no right to use other beings as objects. Your empathy with non-humans will help you go vegan and stay vegan more than anything else. For one thing, you’ll be able to recognize bacon for what it is: the body of a tortured and brutally killed creature; not breakfast. If you are motivated by health, or by environmental concern, both of which are hugely tied to veganism, please also consider The Big Reason, animal rights, enough to educate yourself about it. After all, when people learn you’re now vegan, they’ll be asking you a lot of questions, and you’ll want to be informed. You may think you’re not an animal person, or that you’d ever be an advocate for animal rights, but before you decide you don’t care about them, read about or watch footage of animal confinement and killing. Yes, the truth is horrible and disturbing and it may haunt you for years, or forever. That’s precisely why so many people choose to avoid ALL animal products, not just the edible ones. I make a point of not posting graphic images or video on my website, but I will give you a link to a film that explores human treatment and “use” of other creatures. It’s called Earthlings, and it’s a documentary every human should watch.
- Start with the biggest things first. Trying to change too much, too fast, can often lead to discouragement and failure. If you’ve ever joined a gym and used your membership fewer than a dozen times, you know what I mean. The pace at which you’re going to stick with it is the right pace! I first dropped meat, then eggs, milk, other dairy items, and eventually pre-made foods with eggs or dairy. If you have the knowledge, means, and support system to become vegan overnight, I applaud you! But if you don’t, there’s no shame in taking it step-by-step. You may want to phase out your items and replace them with vegan foods as you use them up. One easy thing you can replace is milk. Experiment with various kinds of soy milk, rice milk, almond, oat, or hemp milk until you find one you really like. When you’re comfortable with a change you’ve made, make another.
- Identify your potential weaknesses. There will be certain foods, certain times of day, certain situations or occasions or even the company of particular people that will challenge your resolve. If your workplace is a wasteland of animal products, or your family celebrates get-togethers by grilling ribs, plan in advance what you’ll eat and how you’ll handle the worst-case-scenario. Identify the vegan-friendly restaurants in your area. Know how you’ll respond when your uncle says, “For every animal you don’t eat, I’ll eat three!” If you’re a chocolate addict, keep vegan chocolate on hand. Whatever your potential downfall is, prepare yourself, because you will have to face it sooner or later.
- Know not only what you “can’t” eat, but what you can eat!* At first, veganism sounds like a list of everything you know, now off-limits. But once you’ve eliminated flesh, dairy, eggs, and other byproducts from your diet, there are literally thousands of edible plants out there to choose from! Imagine how many recipes can be made using thousands of ingredients. Speaking of recipes, you don’t have to run out and buy a vegan cookbook, although there are a bunch of great ones these days. You can find some wonderful recipes online at The Post-Punk Kitchen, Happy Herbivore, Fatfree Vegan, or The Blissful Chef, just for starters. Think of this as an opportunity to expand your diet, not as a restriction. Which ties in to the next step…
- Stock up on basics & emergency/snack foods, and EAT! Veganism is not a “diet” in which you’re being forced to eat things you dislike, or even to eat less. Eat lots of good food, and keep your fridge, freezer & cupboards full of plant foods. Fruits, vegetables, bread, rice, pasta, oats, and beans will be the least expensive foods for your money. (They’ll also help you lose weight, if you emphasize fruits and veggies over starches and flours.) Add to that list slightly more costly seeds and nuts of all kinds, tofu, if you know what you’re going to do with it, and maybe some other meat alternatives. Eat whenever you’re hungry. Your body digests plants a little differently than animal products, so you’ll have to get used to different cycles of hunger and eating than you’re used to. Speaking of unplanned hunger, carry snacks with you, like apples, Clif bars, or a simple mix of almonds, chocolate chips & dried cherries. At home, keep fresh fruit on hand ready to eat. Vegan food can be as simple as a peanut butter sandwich, or heating up a can of vegetarian baked beans. You don’t have to go hungry!
Well, there you have what I see as the five basics of becoming vegan. These will get you off to a good start. As you go along, you’ll learn more about nutritional topics like protein, calcium, and B12. You’ll become aware of unusual ingredients vegans tend to use, and why they do. You may even learn how to bake some incredible vegan cookies or brownies that amaze all your friends. But for now, jump right in and go vegan!!
*There is no monarch, deity, or legislature of veganism. Thus, there is nothing you “can’t” or “aren’t allowed” to eat. You’re a free being who is choosing not to eat anything that comes from the body of another. I like to make this distinction when people ask what I’m “allowed” to eat.