Monday, February 25, 2019

25 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Went Vegan


Every year I am overjoyed to find more and more people choosing the compassionate lifestyle by going vegan! And 2019 has already been declared the "Year of the Vegan" according to The Economist and veganism has been pegged as one of the fastest growing food "trends" (though we all know veganism isn't a trend or a fad, but a lifestyle change). In January, the UK-based charity Veganuary, which encourages and helps people go vegan in January and beyond, reported that they had over 250,000 participants sign up! This number of pledges exceeds those of the four previous years combined, which shows how many more people are interested in living more compassionately by going vegan.

This year alone I've already experienced many people reaching out and expressing their desire to go vegan and live more compassionately, which is so exciting to see! Since so many people were reaching out and I want to do everything possible to help and encourage them to go vegan, I thought I would offer some tips and tricks for going (and staying) vegan. These are things I wish someone had told me when I went vegan over 11 years ago. When I went vegan, I didn't know any other vegans and just kinda relied on the internet, books, documentaries and so on to inform myself and keep me dedicated to being vegan. Nowadays, there are so many resources out there, but I wanted to share some personal advice with you in hopes that it encourages those that want to explore veganism but maybe don't know where to start.

I have a lot of tips below, so at first it may seem overwhelming if you are just starting out, but I promise it gets easier! And it will be exciting as you start on your journey, even though you will go through many emotions and challenges. Just know there are so many others out there going through or who have been through the same feelings, discoveries, and challenges and you aren't alone! I am always here if you need any support, and there are so many great resources out there now for those going vegan. I'll cover more of this below, but I sincerely hope that these tips I'm sharing with you will assist in your own journey.


1.) How to start – If you're not sure where to start but want to go vegan, you can start slow, gradually adding new vegan foods to try before replacing non-vegan items. When you find alternatives you like, you can then stop buying the non-vegan counterparts. Or you could go with the week-by-week approach, where you replace one non-vegan item (dairy, eggs, meat, etc.) with vegan options. The key is to try a lot of different vegan options so you learn what you like. Alternatively, you can go vegan "cold Tofurky" (hehe). There is no right or wrong way, just be sure you have somewhat of a plan so you are getting the proper nutrients.

2.) Get excited to explore new foods – Ok, this is kind of a no-brainer, but don’t be afraid to try vegan food you've never had before. Seitan, quinoa, nutritional yeast (aka nooch), jackfruit were all foods I had never tried before going vegan (along with sooooo many more!). I feel like as vegans we get an array of incredible new foods we wouldn't have tried before going vegan. You'll be trying new grains, beans, seeds, fruits, and veggies and hopefully developing a broader and more compassionate palate. Plus, there is a vegan alternative to everything out there, from meat (my fave vegan meat companies include Upton's NaturalsBeyond Meat, Gardein, Tofurky, Field Roast, Good Catch Foods, but there are so many more) to cheese (vegan cheeses are exploding - try different ones until you find one you like! My faves include Miyoko's, Field Roast's Chao, Parmela's, Follow Your Heart) to yogurt (I like So Delicious, Daiya, Silk) to milk (there are so many non-dairy options, from oat to almond to soy to coconut to hazelnut to rice and beyond - try some out and find your favorite) to butter (I use Earth Balance and Miyoko's butter) to ice cream (my faves are So Delicious, NadaMoo! and Vixen Kitchen, along with the non-dairy vegan flavors launched by Target's brand as well as Ben and Jerry's vegan offerings!) to many more!

Accidentally vegan Halloween Oreos!

3.) You're probably already eating "accidentally" vegan foods – There are so many foods that you are already eating now that are accidentally vegan, like beans, rice, veggies, fruit, even Oreos! Check out these lists of "accidentally" vegan foods https://www.peta.org/living/food/accidentally-vegan/ and https://vegnews.com/2018/7/25-accidentally-vegan-snacks-that-you-can-find-at-a-convenience-store to get an idea of what you may already enjoy that are already vegan.

4.) Frequent vegan restaurants in your area – Find vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants near you using Yelp or HappyCow. If you're traveling, try to visit the local vegan restaurants (this is one of my favorite things to do while traveling!). No vegan restaurants in your area? No problem – just start going to your regular restaurants and ask if they have anything vegan or if they can make something special for you – sometimes this can lead them to add a permanent vegan dish to their menu!

5.) When dining out, don't be afraid to ask if something is vegan - Most places are familiar with the term, but if they look confused, clarify that this means no dairy (dairy-based milk, butter, cream, etc.), no eggs, no meat, no honey. Most places are always happy to check with the chef if they are unsure, and you can also ask to see ingredient lists. It may seem embarrassing at first, but trust me, it's worth it for peace of mind (and tummy). There is nothing worse than realizing your beans were cooked in lard or that the non-dairy creamer you just put in your coffee actually contains casein (more on this ingredient below).


6.) Watch out for sneaky non-vegan ingredients – There are some sneaky non-vegan ingredients that can slip into food, so educate yourself on these lesser-known animal-based ingredients. It can see overwhelming at first, but you will get the hang of avoiding animal ingredients and by-products in no time. Some sneaky animal ingredients include but aren't limited to: carmine/cochineal/carminic acid (crushed up bugs, used for red color,  usually in makeup but also in candy and some foods), L-cysteine (duck feathers, used as a dough conditioner in bagels), confectioner's glaze/shellac (crushed up bugs, usually in candy or sweets that give them a shiny appearance), albumin (egg whites, usually used in sweets), lanolin (from sheep's wool,  usually used in lotion or beauty products, but can sometimes be found in food), beeswax/bee pollen, casein/caseinate (milk protein, some "non-dairy" cheeses, creamers, etc. contain this), chitosan (from crustacean shells, used in skin-care products mainly), down (goose or duck feathers, usually used in pillows, comforters, jackets, etc.), gelatin, isinglass (from fish bladders, used in clarification of certain wines), lard, pepsin/rennet (from pigs and calves, used in cheeses and vitamins), ambergris/squalene/pristane (from sharks/whales, used in cosmetics), propolis (gathered by bees, used in toothpaste and cosmetics), royal jelly (from bees, used in cosmetics), silk (made by silkworms, which are boiled in their cocoons to get the silk), vitamin D3 (may come from animal sources, typically added to cereals, orange juice, etc.), whey (milk by-product, usually in protein powders, baked goods), omega-3 fatty acids (some come from fish, though others can be plant-based). The best way is to familiarize yourself with these ingredients and also download apps that you can use to scan products to tell you whether or not the ingredients are vegan.

7.) What those pesky allergen warnings mean – When reading labels, you'll encounter a lot of warnings on package that read: "May contain traces of egg, milk, etc." or "Processed on the same equipment as milk, eggs, shellfish, etc." DO NOT worry about these – it does not mean the food itself contains any non-vegan products, and if they do, they are in minuscule amounts. Most times it just means the product was made in the same building as non-vegan products. These warnings on food are mainly there to protect the companies’ butts in case anyone has an allergic reaction. So, unless you are highly allergic to the ingredients listed, you can brush off these statements. On the other hand, labels that state "contains milk, cheese, etc." are ones you should pay attention to.

8.) Don't get discouraged if you slip up and eat non-vegan food - This happens to all of us! You don't need to give up - just try again! Sometimes we make mistakes, and that is ok - no one is perfect. If you ate something with an ingredient you didn't know wasn't vegan, familiarize yourself with it so you can avoid it next time. If you got pressured into eating something non-vegan by family or friends (I've been there), just resolve to be stronger next time. And of course, the vegan's worst nightmare is eating a bite of non-vegan food that was served to you in a restaurant (this has happened to me and it is the worst!) - not much can be done about that, you can let the manager know if you're comfortable doing so, or just shrug it off and move on. It does happen, and it sucks (and is gross), but it's not the end of the world.


9.) Take a B12 supplement – If you eat a balanced vegan diet, this is the only supplement you still need to take, since B12 can no longer be found naturally in plant-based foods. You may want to research other vitamins as well to fit your lifestyle. I currently take Deva's B12 (I take this one), a multivitamin (this one), vitamin D (this one), and biotin (they have a vegan option at Trader Joe's I like, or try this one!).

10.) Use your local library as a resource to check out vegan cookbooks – Not sure which vegan cookbooks to get? Your local library is a treasure trove of vegan cookbooks! Check them out and think of it as a try-before-you-buy test drive. If you find some favorites you think you will use a lot, buy them from your local bookstore or Amazon. If you need some suggestions, here is my list for 13 Cookbooks for the Strange and Unusual! Some libraries even offer ebooks and other resources like vegan documentaries, too!

11.) Watch vegan documentaries, read vegan books, visit vegan blogs, listen to vegan podcasts – You can find many vegan documentaries online to watch for free (Dominion, Earthlings [warning: this is a really hard but important watch - you will bawl your eyes out], Called to Rescue, and so many others) and even streaming on Netflix or available on Amazon (Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, What the Health, Blackfish, and so many more - LiveKindly has a great list!) and these are also great because you can watch them with friends and family (and perhaps give them a nudge in the right direction). There are a wide-variety of vegan books from different voices, from global studies showing how beneficial a vegan diet can be to personal stories of how a former cowboy went vegan, to how vegan athletes train, to stories from animal rescuers and sanctuaries, and many more. You can find many of these at your local library, local bookstore, or on Amazon. Also vegan blogs are amazing free resources for learning more about veganism and trying new recipes as are vegan podcasts. 

12.) Be patient with yourself – You'll make mistakes, and that is okay. There is a lot of learning to do, so continue to educate yourself, don't get burnt out, take small steps if needed, and don't give up. You will get there!


13.) Be patient with other people - You'll likely get a ton of questions about where you get your protein, why you decided to go vegan, etc., etc. You may not have all the answers (especially if you are newly vegan), and you can always let them know you are still learning if you don't know the answers. If they ask something you don't know the answer to, you might want to look it up for future knowledge. People will seem really pesky with their questions, and then may make a big show of saying how they could never go vegan because this or that...and while annoying, sometimes you just have to grin and bear it. People don't respond well to lectures, no matter how well-intentioned they are, and sometimes the best way to educate people about veganism is feeding them some delicious vegan food to show them that it IS enjoyable! 

14.) Ignore the haters... – You just posted a beautiful photo of your dinner when a troll comes along and comments "bacon." Yup, we've all been there, and it can seem that the world is full of vegan-haters. You may even encounter some hostility towards your vegan lifestyle from friends and family. Yes, it is frustrating, but stay the course and stay true to yourself and what you believe in. You made the choice to go vegan for a reason, you don't owe an explanation to anyone (unless they are genuinely curious), and it is your life and you can be vegan if you want to!

15.) ...especially the vegans who are haters - With that said, there are also a lot of misguided vegans out there that like to attack other vegans. Yes, I know it seems weird, but it happens. Some vegans will call you out for eating Oreos because the sugar used to make them may have been processed with bone char (ah yes, all the fun facts you’ll learn as a vegan, like how some white sugar is processed with bone char to give it that bleached white color – this is becoming more uncommon, and to many isn’t that big of a deal, but there are some vegans that still avoid processed sugar), others will shame you for eating anything with palm oil (due to the deforestation some palm oil harvesting creates). It can all be very overwhelming, but these types of people can usually be ignored (unless they bring up a valid point – like when I ate Oreo Birthday Cake cookies until someone nicely pointed out that the sprinkles contain confectioner’s sugar, i.e. crushed up bugs). Again, be patient. We are all learning, we are all on different journeys, but we are all in it for the animals.


16.) Be a light - Being vegan can sometimes make you feel alone, isolated, and like the rest of the world doesn't understand. You may get upset, angry, and sad. It's important to remember how much good you are doing in the world by choosing compassion, how many lives you are saving, how much you are helping the environment and your own health. Be a shining light and be positive about veganism. Share with people how easy it is and how delicious it can be! People are attracted to positive attitudes and delicious food rather than being shamed about what they eat, so be a bright, guiding light so you can show people that veganism is the future.

17.) Veganism is not about perfection – When I first went vegan, I was really freaking out about avoiding anything that could contain bone-char processed sugar, palm oil, and a zillion other things, until someone pointed out that veganism is not about perfection or personal purity. We don’t live in a vegan world, and it is impossible to be 100% vegan (I mean, our car tires have animal by-products in them). The important thing is to do all that is reasonably possible to be vegan. We don’t have to drive ourselves crazy avoiding every little ingredient that may have been processed with animal products or may contain trace amounts of something or other. It all boils down to doing it for the animals, and the animals really aren’t gonna care if you eat an Oreo! Bottom line, don’t focus on personal purity or perfection, but should be about living our lives to avoid exploiting or harming animals.


18.) Veganism is more than just food – Once you reach a comfortable place with eating vegan food, you can begin veganizing other aspects of your life. Switch to vegan skin care, beauty, cosmetics and healthcare products. Swap out your house cleaners/soap/laundry detergent with more eco-friendly products from Method or Mrs. Meyers. Make sure your cosmetics and skin care products are vegan (Logical Harmony is a great resource for makeup and skin care recommendations and reviews, with extensive lists of vegan and cruelty-free brands). Swap out your shampoo, conditioner, and shower soap for vegan brands. Start using vegan toothpaste and vegan floss. You don’t have to replace everything at once, but slowly start to educate yourself on vegan brands so you can try new things and find new favorites! You can also decide if you want to get rid of any non-vegan (i.e. wool, silk, leather, fur, down, etc.) clothing/coats/shoes/belts/bags you may have or if you want to continue using them until they are worn out (both are perfectly fine options). If you decide to get rid of stuff, donate gently used items to secondhand shops, shelters, homeless outreach centers, etc. If you have non-vegan bedding like down blankets, down pillows, wool blankets, or fur coats or lambskin blankets, they can be donated to animal shelters.

19.) Stop frequenting zoos, aquariums, rodeos, petting zoos, circuses, or other animal prisons – I used to love zoos and aquariums, but ever since going vegan I realized these were prisons for animals taken against their will or bred in captivity for entertainment or exploitation. They are sad places where animals are confined to small, artificial environments that are no place for animals to live. While many claim that they actually "help" animals, this is all BS and a smokescreen they use to hide behind. The exception would be legit animal sanctuaries or rescues that care for injured, abandoned, or rescued animals (see below).

Brushing Linus the pig at my first visit to The Gentle Barn in 
2013 (see more from this visit to the animal sanctuary HERE)!

20.) Visit an animal sanctuary – Visiting an animal sanctuary that has rescued farm animals from slaughter is one of the most rewarding and joyous experiences you'll have as a vegan, allowing you to connect with animals and see up close how amazing they really are. Do your research, some "sanctuaries" are shady AF, while others do so much selfless work for the animals. I love The Gentle Barn, Farm Sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, check out more on this list: https://www.vegan.com/sanctuaries/

21.) Subscribe to a vegan magazine – I adore VegNews, which is a beautiful magazine that features spreads on vegan issues, seasonal recipes, vegan advice columns, vegan travel, vegan products, and so many more fun features. They always have the best scoop on stuff! The magazine is available in print or digitally, and their website is also updated daily with vegan news! There are also several other publications you can check out - some you can even find at your local health food store in the check-out lanes.

22.) Try monthly vegan subscription boxes - If you want to try out vegan products but don't know where to start, a monthly vegan subscription box can be just the ticket! I like Vegan Cuts, who have snack boxes, makeup boxes, wellness boxes and more!

Art by Chiara Meloni of Chiaralascura

23.) Vegans come in all shapes and sizes – Veganism is for everyone and there isn't just one stereotypical vegan "look." You can be any age, any size, any shape, any race, any gender, etc. and be vegan. Basically anyone can be vegan, which is important to remember so we don't judge people on their vegan journey and definitely should not shame people for what they eat, how they look, etc. Everyone is different, but vegans have one common trait – compassion! And we should celebrate both our differences as well as our one big unifier.

24.) Surround yourself with like-minded people - It may help to join a vegan group on Facebook (I recommend Power to the Veg! - it's a closed group, so you'll have to request to be added, but it is a very safe, welcoming space for new vegans!), follow fellow vegans in your area (maybe even join a vegan meetup nearby - or start one!), pick some fun vegan Instagram accounts or Facebook pages to follow. It will help immensely to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who will inspire and encourage you! Of course, you can also follow more serious or educational accounts as well that will keep you informed on important issues.

25.) You’re not alone! – Veganism has exploded in the last few years, and that growth isn't going to stop anytime soon! With so many people going vegan, vegan options have improved immensely and are becoming more and more available every day. That means there are a ton of veg-curious people out there! So, if you ever have questions or need support, there are so many resources available online. You are never alone, and there are many people that have faced the same emotions, frustrations, fun discoveries, and challenges as you are. So hang in there, and if you face challenges, reach out online. I’m always happy to help, as is the global vegan community out there!


If you are looking for more valuable advice, check out more tips from Mercy for Animals, The Tree Kisser, VegNews, The Thriving Vegan, Serious Eats (though this article is from 2013 and is a little outdated, it still has some great advice), Choose Veg, and The Vegan RD!

If you have questions, need advice, or even are just looking to vent, I am always here to answer questions, or you can reach out to me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook! If there is anything I can do to encourage you to try veganism, just let me know.

I hope these tips help you go vegan and stay vegan, and make your vegan journey a little easier!

Stay spooky and go vegan!

3 comments:

  1. Have you ever watched the Fairly Local Vegan on YouTube? She's one of my favorite Youtubers right now. She's vegan AND zero/low waste. I'm not vegan (although I cook a lot of vegan meals), but, like vegans, I'm intentional about the products I consume and desire to be a good steward of our planet. I love a lot of vegan products on the market. However, they all seem to come in plastic packaging! It's frustrating, so lately I've been sticking to bulk beans and grains, bulk nuts and seeds, fresh produce, local honey and eggs from my neighbor who has a group of pampered chickens on his property. I did get to try a vegan restaurant last week though, and it was such a treat. It's called Fox & Fig in Savannah, GA. I got to try Miyoko's cheese for the first time, and it was splendid!

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  2. I'm vegetarian and have been for eighteen years. Not that it would have stopped me, but I'm still surprised at the vitriol I encounter over it. People who tell me it's unhealthy while they're chugging a soda. People who are amazed that I eat more than rice, todu, and broccoli. People who tell me, that mark their words, I will starve to death!

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    1. Exactly!! I can brush it off now, but when I first went vegan I remember being taken so aback by some of the comments I received, from so-called "friends" no less! I'm glad I stuck with it and didn't let others' comments get to me. :)

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