Maybe you are environmentally aware, despise animal cruelty, or simply want to avoid premature heart attacks. Or maybe the idea of gnawing on a piece of flesh makes your stomach turn. Whatever your reason, vegan options abound in modern society. Fresh local produce is more readily available, substitution soy foods are very popular, and many cultures around the world center their cuisine on plant-based foods. From inexpensive and delicious low-fat meals to increased energy, mental clarity, and disease-fighting nutrition, more and more people are recognizing the amazing benefits of becoming a vegan.
Despite the SAD (Standard American Diet) upbringing most of us experienced, meat, cheese, and mass-produced genetically modified processed foodstuffs are not the center of the universe. According to the Humane Society an average of more than 222 pounds of meat is consumed annually per person in the US. For dairy consumption we’re looking at over 204 pounds of milk and cream, 5 pounds of butter, 32 pounds of cheese, and 243 eggs per person per year. That’s a whole lot of cardiovascular disease waiting to happen. And with all the chemicals, pollutants, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and toxins that saturate our waters, land, air, and everyday household items, now is THE time to take your health into your own hands.
Here are some tips to help you transition into a vegan diet:
1. Why do you want to become a vegan? What is the biggest motivating factor in your decision to consume only plant-based foods? Is it health related? Moral? Environmentally driven? Whatever your reason, write it down, make it look pretty, and put it somewhere you will see it everyday. Stick it on your refrigerator, tape it to your bathroom mirror, or slip it into your wallet. In times of doubt, this little piece of paper will provide you with the encouragement you need to continue along your animal-product-free journey.
2. Set your goals. Plan for a specific date to begin your transition, and make sure it’s a realistic one. Consider cleaning out your kitchen before making the switch to avoid unwanted temptation. You don’t want thoughts of that Havarti cheese sitting in your fridge waking you from your slumber for a nibble in the middle of the night. This also allows you time to mentally prepare for dedicating yourself to a vegan diet.
3. Choose your tactic. Do you prefer the immensity of a sudden conversion, or the comfort of a slow and gradual transition? Maybe you want to give up meat first, then dairy, then eggs. Trying vegan foods that resemble the taste of animal products, like soy cheese and sauteed seitan, help many omnivores ease into veganism. Another tactic is to simply replace meat, dairy and eggs with plant foods you are familiar with, such as tofu, almond milk, vegetable oil, or bananas depending on the dish. If you are bold and can hardly contain your excitement about no longer consuming decaying carcass, try experimenting with flavorful international dishes like my living foods Asian inspired spicy sexy broccoli, creamy Hawaiian kale salad, or Mexican style corn on the cob. No matter what route you choose, there is no shortage of delicious vegan meals.
4. Whet your appetite. Surf the web for vegan foodie blogs, peruse the bookstore or library for cookbooks, and ask friends for their favorite vegan recipes. Having a few meal ideas at hand before making the transition is definitely a good move. And for all you cheese addicts out there (I was one!), look into nut-based cheeses and spreads that will satisfy your cravings.
5. Go shopping!
- Make a list of a few staple foods to have on hand for a vegan diet.
- Learn about substitution foods (e.g. almond milk, soy cheese, tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc.). Personally, I do not recommend faux meat products, as most of them are genetically modified, not organic, contain nasty chemicals, and are over-processed, but if you believe they will make your transition easier, then go for it. Include them in your diet the first month, then try the second month without them and see how you feel. If you are serious about becoming a vegan you need to embrace your veggies; holding on to SAD attachments with meat is not mentally or physically healthy.
- Shop at farmers’ markets to get the freshest, ripest produce around while simultaneously supporting local business and reducing your carbon footprint. It’s a Win-Win-Win situation.
- For the first month of your transition especially, try to have a few pre-made vegan meals on hand. Think cucumber sushi rolls, Amy’s Organic Brown Rice & Vegetable Bowl or your favorite hummus with veggie crudites. Make a point to only reach for these meals in times of emergency (i.e. too tired to cook) and not rely upon them for your daily nutrition. Remember: fresh is always best.
- Don’t bulk up at first. Buy things in small quantities for the first two months of your transition so you can taste test and see what feels good for your body. This will help you avoid wasting food and money.
Here’s my Vegan Shopping List for your reference. I’ve included my top 4 choices for each category listed. I almost always have these items on hand, depending on the season, and can whip up tasty meals at the drop of a hat with them.
6. Know your local eateries. Familiarize yourself with the vegan-friendly restaurants in your area so you don’t tempt yourself by dining at establishments that can’t sub meat or dairy in their meals. And don’t be bashful- ask your server questions, such as if the food is normally cooked in butter or oil.
7. Get into a routine. Experimenting with different foods is definitely fun, but also time consuming. Play around with various vegan cuisines and exciting dishes for the first few months of your transition, gradually working your way into a standard weekly meal plan. My point here is to avoid having food take over your life (unless, of course, you really want it to). Getting into a comfortable routine will make your transition to a vegan lifestyle easier, and encourage you to stick with it.
8. Give yourself a hug. It can be extremely challenging to radically alter your way of eating from what you’ve been taught your whole life. Be patient and understanding with yourself. It’s OK to slip up once in a while. Maybe going out for a non-vegan dinner once a month for the first few months is your way of saying adieu to animal products for good. Whatever your tactic, love yourself even more for working towards a healthier life.
Before you know it, you won’t crave meat or cheese anymore. You will find yourself reaching for the greenest dishes at potlucks, ordering veggie wraps at restaurants, and savoring huge garden salads. Being a vegan will quickly become second nature, and you will immediately reap the benefits of a leaner, brighter, happier you!
Still have questions? Leave a comment below with tips/inquiries/opinions on the best way to transition to a vegan diet.