“How did you go vegan?” is one of the most common questions I get asked. Whilst I recognise and welcome people’s interest and curiosity, I still find it annoying. The answer is either a simple sentence “stopped using NOT vegan stuff”, OR a long impassioned discussion. I’ve yet to find a simple middle ground. Today I’m going to try and offer some friendly, easy and non-judgmental advice for would-be vegans.
Be Clear Why You’re Doing It
There are so many reasons to go vegan! Health, money, global economy, animal rights, morality, world hunger, feminism, environment! For me being vegan is one of the easiest and most intersectional forms of activism. It’s a good idea to have at least a couple of “primary” reasons when you’re starting out. That way you’ve got something to remind yourself when you feel overwhelmingly tempted by a KitKat.
For me it was initially a combination of environmental reasons, and a general confusion I’d had since I was a kid with two non-animal parents in a pet-free, meat-avoiding household. Other people had pet dogs, working horses and cow sandwiches. Say whaaaat? Going vegan involved following a lot of animal rights and environmental groups on social media. Infographics, stats and occasional graphic footage would pop up in my feed. I’d be reminded that live male chicks are ground up by a machine, or that 7 football fields of rainforest are bulldozed every minute to make way for cattle-farming. Re-reading these kinds of facts helped to reinforce my decision when in a quandry opposite a pint of Guinness.
Guinness now have a vegan recipe!
Appeal To Your Social Circles
Ok whoa for the boring point title, but hear me out. It’s not a pre-requisite, but I do think your switch to veganism will be easier with supportive and understanding friends. Find some vegan pals on twitter, or do a little announcement on Facebook and see who reveals themselves. You might be surprised! I knew just one vegan back in 2009 and these days it feels like I can hit up about half my friend group for smoked tofu recommendations.
On a similar tangent, beware of aggressive and patronising “friends”. Call me a judgmental vegan who can’t take a joke, but the friends who literally spat on the floor whilst I ordered vegan curry are people I no longer spend a lot of time with. Why would I? You don’t have to agree with all your friends choices, of course. However, if your friends are regularly shaming, questioning or belittling you, however minor the incident, then all I’m saying is reconsider if these are the people you want in your life. Side note: that goes for all issues and not just veganism!
Make It Convenient
People bang on about how inconvenient being vegan is all the time. When it comes to food at home, I find this a bit confusing. If you earn enough to shop at places like Tescos, Sainsburys, Morrisons and so on, then you should be alright. If you BUY vegan food instead of non-vegan food then it is convenient to cook a vegan dinner, because all the food you have in is vegan. If you buy chicken nuggets, then of course it’s going to be more convenient to cook them, rather than make a vegan meal. So, don’t buy the chicken nuggets.
If you’re relying on food donations, or can only afford very cheap food i.e. Poundland then you are limited. That’s a separate issue I won’t discuss today. However, high-street, supermarket and above shoppers (by “above” read “Waitrose”), you’re fine! All major supermarkets are now stocking vegan products; many are in fact trying to out-vegan each other. It feels like there’s a new free-from/vegan line announced daily! If there are no big supermarkets near you, order online. Or brave the “hippies” (oh no! Hemp! Etc) and try a health-food shop/Holland & Barrett.
Don’t throw out or buy loads of new stuff
Start with the food and move on to clothes, cleaning products, cosmetics and whatever else later. There’s no need to throw out everything you own and spend thousands of pounds buying new things. It’s wasteful and irresponsible to just chuck out items you already have, so wear them out and use them up. Then replace responsibly with cruelty-free vegan alternatives! True story: Ryan went vegan whilst still the owner of a pair of inherited leather sofas. Did it seem weird and ghoulish to sit on them? Yes. Could he afford to chuck them and buy new sofas? Obviously not.
It’s also wise to do some reading around the subject. For me, if it came from an animal or involved an animal at any point of the creation process, it’s not vegan. This includes stuff like: perfume that includes musk; real silk (and derivatives such as velvet); wool (and derivatives such as felt); gelatine, honey, all skin (leather, suede, snake). I can tell you now absolutely none of this stuff can, or is, harvested in a “humane” way. There’s some disparity between faux materials. Is faux leather a good vegan alternative, or does it promote the idea that real leather is good, therefore indirectly promoting real leather? Brains at the ready people.
Get Your Nutrients (…For A Bit)
TW: ED (scroll past next photo to avoid)
Like any diet you need to make sure you get all your nutrients and eat a varied range of food. I’d recommend either some solid research or tracking your food if you have a poor record of health or a poor understanding of food and nutrition in general (yep). Most people recommend tracking your eating habits when undergoing any kind of dietary change. Ideally you’d want to go in with a good understanding of what foods are healthy and how much should get. (Spoiler alert: it’s not “meat and two veg”).
This was not me. I was drinking a lot of alcohol and eating a fair amount of crap when I first tried veganism. Not exactly healthy! I had no idea what constituted a healthy diet and used a food tracker, followed by a frantic daily google, to make sure I was healthy. E.g. if I was low on vitamin E, I’d quickly google “sources of vitamin E” and make sure it got taken into account the next day (hello carrots). If, like me, you were utterly failed by Food Tech classes at school I’d recommend MyFitnessPal for a nutrition tracker (you can also use this app to track exercise).
Do It In Stages
The idea with going vegan in stages is that you can find replacements for animal based products as you go, and it’s not such a radical shift. For example, you might cut out pork and find some sausage and bacon alternatives, whilst still drinking dairy milk. The week after, having cut out pork successfully, you might move on to trying almond milk in tea but still using dairy milk in cooking. And so on. Most people find this helps them adjust and means they can continue to eat their favourite meals and whatnot without having to go complete overhaul.
OR… Don’t. Do It Overnight!
Woo yeah! This is what I did. Whilst I get the “stages” approach above, I do also have a few problems with it. Firstly, for me, I was so revolted when I read into the milk industry that for a few weeks even looking at a Dairy Milk made me feel guilty and ashamed. Why drag out that feeling for five weeks just because the first brand of soy milk I tried was a bit shit? If you feel similarly horrified then I’d recommend the “overnight vegan”, even if it seems a little impulsive. Stick to the tracker and google approach above!
Secondly, I don’t know very many people for whom the “stages” approach has worked. In practise, once they get to the final stages they linger in an “almost vegan” quagmire for ages: proud enough of their progress beyond most of the meat-eating public, but too scared to go Full Vegan and risk a life condemned to ketchup sandwiches and nettle soup. I most often hear “it’s so hard eating out” or “it’s tricky to buy food on the go” from the people who are already vegan 90% of the time. Come on people! Be better!
Make It Convenient Part Two: Debbie Does Dallas (The Chicken Shop)
If at any juncture of your life you feel you may be caught out by some wily meat-eaters, then get your advance research in. Arranging a meal out on the group chat? Get in with a vegan-friendly restaurant suggestion ASAP: Zizzi’s, Wetherspoon’s, All Bar One, Las Iguanas and Wagamama’s are my personal faves. Off out and need to grab lunch on the go? Head to a Pret, WHSmiths, Tescos or Sainsburys. Or, nip in any caff or sandwich place and ask for a vegan combination of ingredients made up of what they have out. Or get a falafel/chip/hummus wrap from your local kebab place (most use vegetable oil but check). Or, you know what Sandra, just make a bloody packed lunch at home. Cheaper too!
Use Reviews And Advice To Help
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the market for vegan-specific products is HUGE. There are SO many vegan companies and brands out there for food, home, clothing products etc. There is no way any one person could immediately go vegan and try them all to find new favourites without loads of time and money to spend. Reviews are your friend! Blogs, vlogs, magazines, vegan books – do a little bit of research to get the most out of it. I have a few reviews on here, and I regularly RT my favourite vegan blogs/videos/recipes on Vegan Vegan Club. Ask around, find a group, or locate a trusted vegan friend to hit with quick q’s (I’m right here!). If you near a city, go to festivals or food fayres and try what you can whilst there.
Quit The “NEVER AGAIN” Drama
“Well, tonight will be my last burger ever #sadtimes #distraught”
The food = emotion route is dangerous and unhelpful, although I do get it. Before I went vegan my Achilles Heel was Ben & Jerry’s. For a long time before going vegan I felt upset at the idea of a life without Cookie Dough. I imagined a tragic vegan me, walking morosely past the ice-cream section at the cinema and avoiding my parents freezer over Christmas. It sounds ridiculous but for a time this was a genuine concern! The more you build up this sense of “loss” around certain foods, the more you’re building up your anguish and making veganism seem like a punishment or state of depravation.
After I went vegan, I experienced no real longing for B&J. In fact I had no cravings at all after about a week. So then I just felt like a tit. It’s ice-cream. ICE-CREAM. Who cares? There are bigger things in the world, things like world hunger, mass extinction, corporate globalisation. Bigger things that in fact led me to veganism in the first place.
A lot of vegans find they stop craving a lot of food they ate before, even food they thought they’d miss. You’ll find as a vegan that you can find replacements or substitutes for most animal products, but equally, it probably won’t seem as much of a necessity as you previously imagined. So try not to give a eulogy for every sausage roll or Kinder Bueno. Keep things in perspective, and remember pretty soon you probably won’t even care.
6 years later and Ben & Jerry’s now have an entire range of vegan flavours
So, Yeah, There You Go
Hopefully some of these tips will be practical, useful, or at least vaguely interesting enough that you’re still reading. Feel free to add your own “how to go vegan” tips below, or ask if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!