In August 2017 I was a full-on meat-eater. I ordered steak rare, planned meals around what meat I had in the fridge and was 100% fooled by product packaging. After all, the contented looking hens, roaming around in lush grass was how all Happy Eggs hens lived, right?! But I always felt I was a hypocrite and firmly believed ‘ignorance is bliss’. In September I told myself that I would try giving up meat and go vegetarian for two weeks as a challenge, to prove to myself I could… muttering the words ‘but I could never be vegan, that’s too extreme and I love cheese too much’. Fast forward nine months and now I have been vegan for six months (since the start of 2018) and have never looked back.
If you’re interested in taking the plunge to go plant-based, trust me, it really is easier than you think. Here are my tips for making the transition from being omnivore or vegetarian to vegan.
Invest in some recipe books
I have consciously put this point first as this will be THE most important thing in helping you! I spent almost 30 years cooking and eating the same meals that I had learnt from my mum (with the odd dinner party trick piece I had picked up and perfected along the way) day in, day out. I knew exactly what I needed to buy to make the meal and had a store cupboard full of essentials.
Of course, changing your meals will be daunting at first and you don’t want to fall into the trap of simply removing the animal-based product from your everyday meals. Trust me, roasted red pepper and onion fajitas are soooo dull. Invest in a couple of recipe books, look through the meal ideas and see which recipes take your fancy – be prepared to be amazed at how exciting and tasty vegan food really can be.
Plan your meals
To begin with, you will need to be a little more organised with meal planning than you may have been before. Once you’ve decided which recipes look tasty to you, pop some sticky tabs in the pages and make a list of what meals you want to have and on what day you want to have them.
On another sheet of paper (or on the right-hand page if you’re a loser cool person like me who has a notebook for my meals and shopping list!) go through the recipes and make a list of everything you need. Yes, it may take 15 minutes on a Sunday evening when it’s probably raining outside anyway, but you will love yourself for it come Thursday when your brain is no longer functioning and you can’t be bothered to think of food.
Physical stores are restricted by the amount of shelf space they have, so sometimes it can be difficult to find specific ingredients you need (cue memories of a recent #middleclassproblem shopping in Waitrose for flaxseed with my 7-year-old niece, not being able to find said product and substituting for chia seeds. She now recounts this tale as if it was the worst thing to have happened since Zayne left One Direction) or you find yourself wandering up and down the aisles looking for the mysterious nutritional yeast. Although stores are now making it a lot easier for us vegans; Tesco has introduced the Wicked Kitchen range and Waitrose stores now have a dedicated vegan section, I still find online shopping so much easier. It helps to resist temptation and you can add products to your favourites for those weeks when you just want to re-order a previous order and not have to worry about planning ahead!
If you haven’t shopped online before, supermarkets often have discount vouchers for newbie customers – a great excuse to try out some new vegan options!
Ask a friend or join the community
I found it absolutely invaluable to know someone who was vegan already. I had so many questions I needed to ask, I had so many opinions I wanted on new discoveries I was making, and above all, I needed the support.
If you don’t know anyone else who’s vegan or aren’t in the position to ask advice someone’s advice, fear not! There are plenty of people, groups and communities you can reach out to – all of whom will welcome those choosing a life of compassion with open arms. If you’re on Facebook, follow Veganuary or join groups such as Bad Vegans™.
And don’t forget that I am here for you too! Just head to my contact page to send me your questions, comments, thoughts or general anger venting about people who are still in denial about the animal farming industry.
Don’t do too much at once
When you start looking in to what you can and cannot have as a vegan, it will astound you just how many products are either tested on animals or contain animal by-products. Veganism isn’t just about leaving animals off your plate, it’s about being as compassionate and as conscientious as possible about animals’ welfare, and that extends to more than food.
Many beauty products, toiletries and make up often use either animal by-products, such as beeswax and honey, or are tested on animals. The first week I went vegan, I wanted to change everything… not just my food, but my make-up, shampoo, dishwashing tablets etc. It would have been expensive for me to switch everything in one go, so instead of trying to do it all at once, each time I ran out of something, I made sure my replacement was vegan friendly.
Over time, I amassed brimming cruelty free make-up and toiletries bags (thank you Kat Von D, Lush and Superdrug).
If you’re the kind of person who knows you will struggle to give up everything you are used to eating or using, this same point applies. Ween yourself off your favourite cheese snack slowly – you are contributing a hell of a lot more to the welfare of animals even with that one a week snack than you were before.
Let mistakes go
On the odd occasion, you probably will find yourself in a situation where it’s either starve or eat something that’s not plant-based, you’ve given in to a craving you’ve sat on for SO long, or you’ve accidentally eaten something veggie friendly but not vegan. Do not beat yourself up over it!
Mistakes happen and we learn from them… I always carry a couple of vegan friendly protein bars with me for those times where there is literally nothing other than a lettuce leaf to eat (I am fully referring to catering at meetings here!)
Be conversation ready
“No, I will no longer wear leather but yes I realise some part of my car are made from leather”, “Yes, my protein levels are fine, thank you”, “I eat a wide range of foods, and I am actually finding my meals are more creative and more nutritionally balanced.” I know these phrases well. They are my answers to the questions you will also be asked, on average, one hundred and sixty-two times a day* when people first find out you’re vegan. They do stop or become less frequent eventually!
My advice is to have these answers ready (unless you want to go with the tact of “piss off, it’s my decision and my life”, which I very almost did at times), be prepared for people asking questions or wanting to understand your views. I have found that a lot of people are genuinely interested in my views, but some just think I am stupid (they are the ones who believe cows roam lovely green fields because the McDonalds advert shows this, and yet we are the ones who are stupid?!!) and want to almost catch me out.
*Not factually correct, obviously. But this is what it felt like.
Watch the videos – both good and bad
If you are ever finding yourself struggling to stick to a plant-based lifestyle, follow activists and not-for-profits on social media such as The Humane League, PETA and Earthling Ed. The videos and content they publish, with the aim of bringing the truth to light, is tough to watch but will remind you of why you’re making these life changes… for both yours and the animals’ lives.
Don’t just watch the bad stuff though, it will make you sad or angry :(, watch the happy stories, too. The video of hens exploring outside for the first time after being rescued from a battery farm, or a rescued sheep being brought up with a family’s pet dog.
Take care of yourself and your emotions
Finally, as you make these lifestyle changes listen to your body. A few months in to my switch, I discovered my mood, energy and concentration often took a dive, which was very out of character for me. I referred to Dr Google and read that plant-based diets can lack in vitamin B12, the side effects of which can cause these symptoms. I now take a B12 supplement and the symptoms have gone.
By becoming vegan, you are taking care of the animals so don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.