Vegan - Where Do I Start?
So, you’ve decided to go vegan for good! Let me tell you: you will soon discover this is one of the best decisions of your life. Which doesn’t mean that it’s the easiest one, particularly at the beginning. So here are a few pointers to help you get started the right way. I followed these exact steps and quitting has not crossed my mind ever since.
Get Clear on your motivation
Being vegan is neither a punishment nor a sacrifice, but it does require motivation. If somebody were to ask you “why are you vegan?”, the reasoning behind your initial choice should be strong enough to make you answer “how could I not be vegan?”. Once you have reached a point where this can be your go-to answer, then you’ll know there truly is no going back for you. But how does one become so sure, so assertive, when the world is full of people who will find arguments to try and make you question the validity of your choice?
For me, the initial argument in favour of this new lifestyle was the animals. Once I realised using them for eggs and milk was just as wrong as eating their flesh was, being vegetarian no longer felt like it aligned with my true beliefs, it felt hypocritical.
For you, it might be the clear and un-debatable fact that animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to the environmental disasters we are now facing.
Others choose to integrate more plant-based meals into their diet because of the undeniable health issues that come with the consumption of animal products.
It may also be that you are already aware of all these factors and more, and that your decision comes from a combination of these elements, or it could have nothing to do with the above at all. So long as your starting point makes sense to you, it is all that matters. The one thing I would warn against, at least at first, is letting it come from a sense of guilt. On the contrary, love should be the strong foundation on which to build your actions. The past is the past, and the actions committed due to a lack of knowledge, to having been misled or misinformed, or even due to an initial lack of care do not take anything away from your decision to change and to embrace a kinder way of life. It is never too late.
It can be very hard to find a new routine around completely new foods. Eating is definitely an enormous part of our lives and trying to flip everything upside down overnight can be daunting.
Fortunately, many people have done it before you and inspiration is now everywhere. One of the best ways to get used to the food side of veganism is to just look around for inspiration. Blogs, YouTube channels, Instagram accounts… there are so many people out there who can give you interesting ideas for your next meal!
And this goes for all aspects of the vegan lifestyle as you can find people who have decided to focus on one aspect rather than another, or, as it is the case here, to touch on all aspects of it.
Seeing that there are others out there who have been through the same process and who are now an inspiration to others is very motivating, and subjecting yourself to vegan-centric information on a daily basis reinforces your actions. For example, if you’ve just watched a YouTube video featuring a wonderful looking hummus recipe, you are far more likely to reach for hummus for your next meal. The more veganism is present in your mind, the more you will be reminded to stick with it without fail.
Find some Go-To recipes you love
And speaking of hummus and YouTube, the key is also in identifying early on a number of recipes that you absolutely love.
You could base yourself on what you already know and like: think about all your favourite foods, aren’t there any that may already be accidentally vegan or very easily veganised? For instance guacamole, hummus, chips (or fries), bread, salads, soups, pasta dishes, sandwiches, chocolate, breakfast cereals, baked beans, falafel, mochis… are things that can be vegan in and of themselves. As for chili, pizza, sushi, curries, pies, cakes and pretty much any other food you could think of, there’s a vegan version of it somewhere.
Don’t hesitate to rely on pre-created meal plans, at least in the beginning, as it will take some thinking out of the equation and you’ll be sure to eat balanced meals that will keep you full. By following such a meal plan, you’ll probably come across a number of options that you will be more than happy to have again and again.
And there is absolutely no shame in keeping it simple! Being a great cook or even liking to cook is not a prerequisite to become vegan at all. Neither is being particularly health conscious or wanting to only consume plant-based whole foods. Of course, this would be the best for your health, but we now live in a world where we can find endless vegan options that should not require you to change your habits at all. Plant-based mylks are everywhere, vegan burgers and sausages come in all shapes and flavours, cheese alternatives are worlds ahead of where they used to be and most brands now offer a vegan version of their products, be it yogurts, ice creams, pizzas or anything else under the sun.
Keep Your Pantry Stocked-Up
One of the perks of veganism, however, is perhaps to no longer have to rely of industrial foods. Don’t hesitate to use meat and dairy replacements if you like them, of course, but you might very quickly realise that you don’t even really need them.
By being in the know when it comes to nutrition, you can create a pantry that is not only ethical but also the healthiest you’ve ever had, as well as particularly cheap and low in waste. Alternatives to animal products come with a lot of packaging and can get pretty pricey, whereas whole plant foods are some of the most inexpensive food items you could find.
Oats, rice, pasta, beans, lentils, flours, couscous, quinoa, etc. are only some of the most well-known pantry items that you can base a whole meal around. And if you always keep a few tins of chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce, coconut milk, some seeds and nuts, onions, garlic, potatoes and a few herbs and spices, you’re pretty much all set for dry goods.
Learn to know your farmers’ markets and organic shops. Organic shops often have some really great bulk sections where you can purchase unpackaged dry goods, while farmers’ markets will probably be your cheapest option for quality fruit and vegetables. The latter are the other pillar of a vegan diet and you should aim to consume as much of these as possible, in as wide a variety as you can, both raw and cooked.
A great tip to never get bored is to embrace their seasonality. If you don’t eat strawberries until they are in full season where you live, you will have been looking forward to them for a while! Sames goes for any fruit or veggie you normally like. In the northern hemisphere, it makes more sense to enjoy leeks and squashes in winter and to save fresh tomatoes and peaches for the summer.
The only vitamin you really cannot find in a modern-day vegan diet is B12, which is absolutely essential. In fact, a large proportion of the population - vegan or not - is B12 deficient and you should add it to your diet in the form of a daily supplement.
Another tip that can help you transition is to not think about what you need to take out, but rather about what you can add in!
I know, this sounds very inaccurate, since we’re talking about basically removing what often constitutes over half of our food intake. But trust me when I say that I have never had as varied a diet as I do now that I’m vegan. And this is simply because when we think that all our needs are met eating a certain way for years we tend to not really look much further, we just swap around the meats and the cheeses, and it feels like we’re never eating the same thing. When we switch to a plant-based diet, however, jazzing things up a bit becomes part of the experience. Not that I’ve ever found vegan food boring because I’m really easy to please (to me steamed broccoli or a salad without any dressing sounds mouth-watering), but for some plant-based food can sound a little boring.
Where plant foods truly begin to shine is when we start to try the endless combinations that they have to offer. The same basic dish made using different spices results in such wonderful creations as chili (basically beans - a type of legume- tomatoes and spices), curry (basically chickpeas or lentils - other types of legumes - coconut milk and some different spices) or baked beans (basically beans, tomatoes and a few spices)! And the same goes for many basic dishes that different cultures around the world have adapted to their local tastes and available ingredients.
This is to say that if you think you don’t like a certain grain, legume or vegetable, it might just be that you don’t like it cooked in a certain way. If you think about the difference between roasted vegetables and boiled vegetable, or even simply between chips (or fries) and mashed potatoes, you’ll see how much of a difference there can be between two dishes made using the exact same ingredients but prepared in a different way. For years I thought I didn’t like Brussels sprouts, until I got the chance to taste them roasted instead of boiled: a game changer!
Never hesitate to try out new things because this is how you’ll find your favourite! Additionally, all plant foods have something interesting to offer nutritionally speaking and it would be a shame not to take advantage of that too.
And perhaps most important of all, keep asking questions. This may sound cliché but there are no stupid questions. We’ve all been there, and if you ever feel like you need further information, you should always reach out! So feel free to contact us if you feel like we can help or put you in touch with someone else who can!
Connect with other vegans
And on that note, don’t hesitate to say Hi to us on Instagram or to comment on the articles you find inspiring!
This might be another cliché, but knowing that you are not alone in this can be a huge help, particularly at the very beginning, or when - as it sometimes does - it starts to feel like your efforts are pointless or like you receive nothing but disdain from others.
The beauty of modern-day veganism is that it is based on a community that is growing stronger by the minute, and most of us are here to help and support one another. If you ever feel low or overwhelmed by the current state of the world, know that there will always be someone to turn to. Becoming vegan can be a particularly tough wake-up call, often accompanied by a sense of guilt or despair, but seeing how far we’ve all come should give you hope for a better future.
There will be slip-ups and these can hit you pretty hard, particularly the accidental ones. We’ve all had them and once again, talking about it can be the best cure. Reading the labels, asking all the questions at the restaurant, navigating your way around family members who may not be understanding… Keeping these things to yourself could lead you to feel isolated and “not good enough” when in fact these difficulties are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of! Talking with other vegans will allow you to realize none of this is about being perfect, it’s about doing the best that we can. And one day, you will be the one who will help another person on their path towards veganism and you will feel proud of all the efforts you’ve made, but also grateful for all the people who inspired you, guided you and supported you to get to where you are now.
Don’t stop There
Once you have fully integrated veganism into your way of life, you will soon find yourself wondering what more you can do, for two reasons.
One because your own mind will have become used to questioning so many things about your lifestyle that the habit never quite goes away even once we are 100% vegan. Wanting to do good by the planet, the animals and the people is at the core of veganism, which means people who embrace it will tend to continue to find new ways they can improve themselves and the world around them.
And two because you will look up to and surround yourself with people who are further than you are on this path and have already furthered their efforts to incorporate new habits such as lowering their general waste or their plastic consumption, paying close attention to their purchasing habits. Fast fashion is a particularly horrible industry, for instance, so a number of people decide to buy mostly second-hand or to support sustainable brands. Meanwhile, consuming only organic products seems like a logical next step for those who care about their health and the health of the planet… The options are truly endless!
And if becoming vegan was a revelation for you, you may also want to spread the word and add your own contribution. Never hesitate to do so! Just because the picture of your green smoothie may not look particularly original, it doesn’t mean it is not immensely special because it represents the efforts you’ve made to get there. It can be an inspiration for others who are still undecided and it proves to the world that the number of people who care about the Earth and all the creatures who call her their dwelling is continuously growing! As a vegan individual, you are indispensable, you are the future of our world…