"If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud." ~ Emile Zola

15 July 2009

Vegan Out Loud: Making the Transition to Vegan (or Vegetarian) Easy

I've been vegan for over 11 years now, and it's an ever-evolving process. Having talked to plenty of newer vegans and vegetarians or those thinking about making the switch, folks who express having a hard time with the process express many of the same concerns/issues. Here are a few happy tips to make the journey a little easier, based on my own experiences. :)

I. Make it a fun culinary adventure.

Lots of times new vegans/veggies simply cut out foods that aren’t vegan/veg-friendly without finding nutritious subs, or they view being vegan/veg as ‘cutting out’ foods rather than opening themselves up to a whole new world of culinary delights. There are bunches of ideas that can help it feel like an adventure instead of a sentence!

Take your time to find healthy replacements for the foods you are choosing not to eat. Be open-minded and experiment. Variety is key- the most well-rounded diet is one that incorporates lots of whole foods and lots of color! Making sure to eat all sorts of different foods is a great way to get all your nutrients. Try different brands/types of cheese/milk/protein substitutes sold in stores before deciding it all sucks. Ask other veggies about brands/products to try. Buy/borrow cookbooks and be adventurous. Set the goal to try one new food every week. Find delicious replacements for your favorite non-vegan/veg dishes. Have fun with vegan baking (including finding healthful ways to reduce fat and sugar without sacrificing taste and texture). Make eating exciting by trying new foods, new markets, and new restaurants that are a good fit for your veg lifestyle.

I find it really helpful to a) to stock up on frozen/processed food options for whenever I don’t feel up to or have the time for cooking; b) find a small collection of easy vegan/veg recipe favorites that I use again and again; and c) making larger amounts of favorite recipes and freezing some for meals in a pinch. Sticking with what works is always good advice.

Two of my favorite cookbooks in the fab Vegan With a Vengeance series by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Also check out her site, PPK!

III. Becoming vegan/veg doesn't have to happen overnight. Take it Slow.

Making the switch to being vegetarian or to being vegan doesn't have to be cut and dry or cold turkey, which can be hugely overwhelming to the point of making it seem impossible! Start by reducing/eliminating one non-vegan/veg food a week or month, perhaps. Or start by eating one all-vegan/veg meal a day/week and move toward two and then three and then all, over time. Making small goals makes the switch feel manageable, and accomplishing each little goal is encouraging and empowering, keeping us moving toward the larger goal!

Be patient with yourselves! I promise eating veg will become second nature and you won't think about how to eat healthy at all after a while. In the meantime, give yourself time to adjust. Some people feel energetic and inspired and awesome when they first make the switch. Some feel sluggish or get stomach/digestive issues, or get discouraged because they don't feel amazing right away or it's not as easy as they'd expected. Usually all it takes it is some playing around with foods and nutrients (i.e., more or less protein or carbs, different amounts of soy or sugar or wheat) or getting used to suddenly eating lots more fiber. :P ;)

I also suggest these same steps if you are trying to make broader lifestyle changes in becoming vegan/veg, like not wearing animal fibers/leather in clothing or eliminating use of products that tested on animal. Take your time. Make small changes. Take baby steps. Allow each change to take hold and settle before adding another.

IV. Educate yourself.

Success really is more likely when starting the journey loaded with knowledge, prepared for challenges, and with eyes wide open. Do your research, and take notes on things like what a well-balanced vegan/veg diet looks like, common challenges you may encounter, and tips on making the transition easier. Learn about all the reasons people have for going veg. Read. Read more. And keep reading (check out the resources on the EtsyVeg and Vegan Etsy blogs). Subscribe to magazines or newsletters that keep being vegan/veg relevant and new (my favorite is VegNews).

Joining up with other vegans/vegetarians is a super way to find support, ideas, and guidance. Even after being vegan for 11 years, I continue to learn so much from other veggies- there's so much knowledge and wisdom that we collectively have to share. Connect with local or online groups that provide resources and info to support a healthy vegan lifestyle. Find a community, whether virtual (check out this one) or locally, that supports one another on the vegan journey. Be open with your struggles- chances are very likely that someone else has been there or has known someone who has. Ask questions. Ask more questions. Stop by local natural foods stores or co-ops and browse their book selection, peruse food options and supplements, and use employees as a resource. And keep reading. And keep asking questions. And keep reaching out.

I. Let go of the "Shoulds".

You will likely hear lots of them along the way. Vegans/vegetarians shouldn't eat this/wear that/use this/say that/do this/be that way. Those voices are hard to get rid of sometimes, but try to let them go and find your own answers. Using another person's standards for whether or not you are "measuring up" to being a *true* vegan (whatever that is) is a sure way to sabotage your own accomplishments, your own voice, your heart and what you find meaningful, and finding your own identity as a vegan/vegetarian. Likewise, being another persons "should"er is not helpful to either of you.

Don't judge yourself. Going vegan/vegetarian doesn't have to be forever if you don't feel healthy or "right" after you've had some time to adjust. Having a 'slip' and indulging in something with eggs or dairy doesn't make you a 'bad vegan'. It doesn't have to be an all or nothing thing.

Veganism/vegetarianism is a different journey for everyone. We each fall along a spectrum of lifestyle choices and have a unique and complex set of reasons for traveling on the path. And that often changes as time goes on and life unfolds. Along the way, especially when meeting others on the path, you're bound to encounter a bazillion judgments about what being vegan/veg should/shouldn't look like and be about. Those judgments are not helpful, and have a tendency to create inside of us all sorts of pressures and "shoulds" and "should nots" about our own vegan/veg journey, including a harsh inner critic. This can be a controversial view, but forget about what others are saying that living a vegan/veg lifestyle is and is not, and find within your Self what it means for *you*.

V. Return to whatever motivated you to become vegan in the first place.

Stay in touch with the reasons you became/are becoming vegan/vegetarian to stay focused. Whether it's for health, weight maintenance, ethics, spiritual or religious reasons, compassion for animals and the planet, or any combination of these, connecting again and again with that motivation is a great way to refocus, re-energize, and re-center to make the path ahead a little easier. Get active with an animal or health- related veg cause in some capacity, whether online or local; follow the blogs and websites of like-minded individuals and organizations; and check out animal rights and veg websites for links to articles and other resources.

For me, staying focused means doing things like staying informed about animal rights and the negative impact non-veg lifestyles perpetuate on the environment. A friend of mine keeps a picture of a sweet baby cow with her to look at when she feels tempted to indulge in ice cream at her favorite shop. Reflecting on the enormous positive impact being vegan/veg has on oneself, the planet, etc. makes the difficulties seem more surmountable. It's so worth it! And it gets easier all the time... :)

Note: Another difficulty mentioned about the switch to being veg is the notion that it's more expensive than eating a non-veg diet. Check out this great little article on eating Vegan on the Cheap on the Hungry Hungry Veganos blog!


Lo Christine said...

Great tips!!!

panda with cookie said...

Make that chickpea hijiki salad from VwaV. One of my favorites. Then come visit and we will picnic and eat sandwiches.

silentlotus creations said...

Awww... would LOVE to! :)

Thanks, Lo and Lisa!

Rahzh said...

We have definitely experimented a lot more with food since becoming Vegan. Trying all sorts of new foods has definitely been helpful.

Thanks for mentioning us and linking to our article written by Woz (Hungry Hungry Veganos).