How To Go Vegan : Top Tips

“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!

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  • Reply Laura Torninoja

    Such a great and well thought out post – I’m sure this would be a super helpful read for anyone thinking about giving veganism a go. I’m vegetarian myself, trying to eat vegan food as much as I can, and after starting looking into the dairy/meat industry my eyes have definitely opened up so much! I can’t believe all of that isn’t talked about more! x

    Laura // Middle of Adventure

    March 21, 2017 at 1:53 pm
  • Reply Cherie

    Laila! Just caught up with all your posts in one go – I was so concentrated on it someone had to tap me on the shoulder hahaha. Veganism is something that’s always so fascinating for me but something I’ve always found internal conflict with… I don’t eat dairy purely because of my intolerance but your posts in a higher level always reminds me that I need to do good for the environment!

    Really enjoyed the ‘What it’s Like to be a Woman’ post too – so eye-opening and stirring.

    March 22, 2017 at 2:19 pm
    • Reply Laila

      Yay thanks for having a read Cherie! Do you mind if I ask what you mean by internal conflict? X

      March 22, 2017 at 9:20 pm
  • Reply Natasha

    Another really great and useful post for me so thanks for this Laila. I’m not vegan or even veggie at the moment, but I have been in the past, and it’s something I want to aspire to or at least reduce down my own meat and dairy consumption and I love vegan food anyway, so it just seems like a no brainer, so this is really useful, thanks for the advice! – Tasha

    March 22, 2017 at 3:27 pm
  • Reply Denise

    I am a vegetarian since I was 9, the only one in my family and it was really a hard time dealing with questions for my whole life and also, criticism. I meant, my whole life… some years ago it changed a bit and I felt it. More and more people are turning to be vegetarians now. So I am sure it will happen to vegans as well. At a certain point, it will be something that people will stop asking about. I do have lack of all nutrients and vitamins, anaemia since I was 9. I told you that I now only buy some few products from friends who only give or sell to friends – because they are used to have animals in a bit “hippie environment”, just a few of them. It’s because I am, unfortunately, a fussy eater – and don’t eat the majority of what other people eat, to care for nutrients. I really loved your post, as usual; hope people stop annoying you with questions!

    March 22, 2017 at 4:11 pm
  • Reply Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

    It wasn’t until the last few years that I knew about the difference between vegetarian and vegan. I’m not sure that I want to go vegan, but I do want to be conscious about what I’m consuming! -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

    March 22, 2017 at 4:57 pm
  • Reply Lynne Steen

    You have given a great post about changing to vegan , I’ve struggled as a vegetarian , with diet this post has made me really think again in a positive way.

    March 23, 2017 at 11:43 am
    • Reply Laila

      Yay! So glad it’s helpful 🙂 c

      March 23, 2017 at 4:37 pm
  • Reply architaxb

    ahh thank you! i found this so helpful, as I’m currently trying to transition into veganism!

    March 23, 2017 at 4:33 pm
    • Reply Laila

      Yay! I’m glad it’s helpful! Good luck 🙂 x

      March 23, 2017 at 4:37 pm
  • Reply Bas Raad

    This is great!

    I grew up vegetarian (by my own choice: as a kid no one understood why I had a problem eating meat and my own family made fun of my “sensitivity” towards eating animals for years). I’ve been vegan for one year now and going vegan was the first time I found this community of people who validated that not wanting to eat animals is OK/normal/great. I am really shocked how people bully kids into thinking that it’s totally normal.

    Now, when I work with kids (au pair job) and a five year old tells me “milk comes from a cow” I say “yes, but also from a coconut, or from plants”. It’s so strange to see how people really drum that information into kids. It’s also strange how kids watch a movie like 101 Dalmations and tell me “that bad woman will turn the poor puppies into coats, oh no” whilst munching on their sausages. I’m trying not to impose my views on other people’s kids but also trying to be gentle about it and just make them see the world in a wider way.

    It’s really interesting to read other people’s vegan experiences, especially with how you deal with friends and people questioning you. What makes a huge difference in my life is having a best friend who’s also vegan to get excited about amazing vegan food with.

    Please write more like this, I love your articles Laila! And I love feeling like there are more people who understand me and this way of life.

    Bas 🙂

    March 26, 2017 at 8:10 am
  • Reply notesoflifeuk

    A very interesting post. I don’t think I could go totally vegan… With food allergies and intolerances, there’s so little I find I can eat to start off with without food being totally bland (herbs & spices set me off too). I can’t each dairy anyway (and don’t think human’s were ever designed to have milk other than our own). Thankfully, there are a lot of “free-from” products being produced these days, but when you look at the ingredients they are generally high in salt and/or sugar and aren’t that good for you anyway. Cooking from scratch is the best idea.

    Do you ever get people saying “Oh, you could could have a little bit!” when it comes to non-vegan food? I always get it and I’ve got allergies, so having “just a little bit” would actually make me ill. Very annoying.

    Anyway, a great, informative post 🙂

    March 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm
  • Reply VVC: Top Easy Vegan Meal Ideas - TAPEPARADE

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    May 13, 2017 at 11:06 am
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