Great article by Sophie Heawood in yesterday’s Guardian weekend magazine.
Have you resolved to go vegan for New Year and already having doubts? Are you dreading the first meal out with friends or dinner party invite? If you are then fear not as I have been there and it is doable I promise you – if I can do it then anyone can as I am someone who can’t stick to anything! I’ve tried giving up sugar in my tea a million times and I still smoke socially no matter how much I abhor myself for it!
The buggar with veganism is that the first few weeks are by far the hardest but if you can get through January you will feel like an entirely new person and won’t look back. You’ve just got to get through these next few weeks. Here are a few tips from the fantastic website One Green Planet to keep you on the vegan straight and narrow!
1. Find Your Motivation
Ask yourself why you want to become a vegan. It isn’t a test; it helps to be able to identify your motivation. There are many paths to veganism and the one you take should match your wants and needs. People are more likely to stick with something if the actions they take are congruent with their goals. Is your main interest in improving your health or losing a few pounds? If so, then maybe what you want is to eat a more, or fully, whole foods, plant-based diet. Is your motivation helping animals or the planet? Then you may want to eliminate all animal products from all aspects of life including food, clothes, make-up, toiletries, furniture and more. Check out 5 Amazing Health Benefits of Embracing a Plant-Based Diet to see what great things could be in store for you.
Many people start out switching to a plant-based diet for their health and later get more involved in other aspects of veganism when they learn about its other benefits to the animals and the planet. Others begin by focusing on being compassionate towards animals and then embrace the healthy aspects. So long as you know why you are exploring the vegan world, you will be less likely to put unrealistic goals or expectations on yourself. And then, you can put more energy into enjoying the experience.
2. Do It in Your Own Time
An important part to becoming vegan is to do it in your own time. There is no rule that says you have to wake up tomorrow and be 100% vegan and animal product-free. That’s nearly impossible for most people! Don’t let other people pressure you or rush you. It’s sad to say but there can be a lot of judgment out there in the vegan world. It’s bad enough that vegans get judged by non-vegans but then, vegans get judged by other vegans for not being vegan the “right” way, or for the “right” reasons, or fast enough, etc. There are some vegans who were raised vegetarian or vegan, which is awesome. They didn’t eat much, if any, animal products and therefore, probably don’t miss those foods or understand why anyone would want to eat them. But most vegans saw the light later and the later in life it happened, the more years of consuming animal products they experienced. Going vegan at age 40 or 50 is not the same experience as going vegan as a teenager or in your 20′s.
Some people become vegetarian and stay there for years before they transition to veganism. Some people go directly to vegan. The important thing is getting there no matter what path a person takes. Maybe you would be more likely to stick with a plant-based diet if you ate vegan 3 days or week or did the “vegan until 6” regimen. Maybe you want to start out eating plant-based a few times and week and slowly increase the number of days over time. Maybe you just want to take a 30-day challenge and see if it works for you. Take time to learn and figure out the best transition plan for you! Check out this Step by Step Guide: How to Transition to a Vegan Diet.
3. Educate Yourself
While you certainly learn a lot by living vegan, being prepared can make things a whole lot easier. You don’t have to study and take tests but you should know a bit about what you’re getting yourself into. A quick Internet search can score you easy lists of what vegans do and do not eat. I know it sounds like it should be easy, right? If it comes from an animal, don’t eat it. If it doesn’t come from an animal, go for it. But animal products and by-products are hidden in so many things and under so many sneaky names, they get by the best of us. You read a label and look for milk, butter, cheese and honey. You don’t see those ingredients so you think you’re in the clear but look again. Is there casein, lactose or whey? What about carmine, gelatin, or albumin? Those are all animal-based ingredients and not vegan. But fear not. You don’t need a biochemistry degree, just some good sources with some handy lists of which foods are and are not vegan. Check out For the Newbie Plant-Based Eater: Your Vegan Starter Shopping List and 15 Sneaky Foods that Might Be Hiding Animal Ingredients. For many helpful guides, check out this array of vegan guides on One Green Planet.
The minute you tell anyone you’re even considering a vegan diet, they will ask you “Where will you get your protein?” Most people think all our protein comes from meat and all our calcium comes from dairy, along with believing dozens of other nutritional half-truths. You might think this yourself. I know I used to think this way. You don’t have to become a dietitian, but getting to know a little bit about nutrition can help you navigate the waters of both choosing what to eat and how to answer the questions you know you’re going to be asked. Learn more by reading How to Tell if You are Getting Enough Protein and 10 Vegan Foods Packed with Protein.
4. Explore Your Options
Maybe one of the biggest mistakes I made at the beginning was to not find out just how many non-animal food products exist in the world. In my pre-vegan days, vegetables meant peas, corn, potatoes and salad. After I made an eggplant dish, I thought, “Now what?” It wasn’t that there wasn’t food out there to eat, I just wasn’t aware of it. There are so many vegetables, fruits, grains and other foods to eat, I can go weeks without eating the same thing twice. It’s amazing how many foods there are to try! And try you must. I used to swear I hated at least a dozen vegetables even though I hadn’t tried them or maybe I had tasted them once. Now, I have a rule that I’m not allowed to say I don’t like something unless I’ve tried it several times and prepared it in different ways. Palates change or maybe you have only had Brussels sprouts boiled. Yuck! If you think you don’t like a vegetable, try it roasted or fried. Roasting brings out the rich nuttiness of vegetables and frying, well, frying just makes everything taste better, doesn’t it? And now, I will fight my husband for the last Brussels sprout. Read my 5 Rules to Start Enjoying New and Unfamiliar Foods to see how I learned to experiment and explore with food.
Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean just piling a bunch of greens and vegetables on a plate and grazing through them. You can put as much care and preparation into making vegan dishes as you do any other dish. Make a list of fruits, vegetables, grains and other foods you would like to try and think about how you would like them prepared. You might want to even take the time to write out a few meal plans for a week or two and then buy the ingredients you need to make those dishes. Having a plan definitely beats having a confused meltdown in the middle of the supermarket (like I did). For the best tips, read The Smart Shopper: A Beginner Vegan’s Pantry List for Winter.
5. Use Resources
Thanks to the internet and web sites like One Green Planet, we have 24-hour access to millions of recipes as well as web sites about veganism and any other issues you may be interested in. There’s no need to toss your hands up and say you don’t know how to press tofu when in less than a minute, you can find how-to articles and even instructional videos online. The web is also your place to find cruelty-free clothes, make-up and other products, learn about health and nutrition, and find out which restaurants near you have vegan options. There are also more vegan cookbooks than ever and you can choose whether you want a print version in your hands or an e-version on your phone. Read reviews and get a couple of vegan cookbooks that other new vegans recommend.
6. Don’t Sacrifice, Substitute
Maybe the idea of eating all new foods is too overwhelming for you. That’s fine. You don’t have to. No one wants to give up their favorite foods. It took me as long as it did to go vegan because I thought I couldn’t live without chicken. Then I had a hard time letting go of eggs. But I did it and not because I just learned to live without those foods but because I learned how to substitute for them. There is a vegan substitute for almost everything and if there’s something missing, I can guarantee you someone is working hard to develop it. There are vegan meats, vegan chicken, vegan fish, vegan hot dogs and sausages, vegan milks, cheeses and ice creams, vegan butter, and even vegan eggs. That means you don’t have to experiment with all new recipes and foods. You can eat all your usual favorites, just in vegan versions. Eating the foods you usually eat with just that one change can make it much easier to transition to plant-based eating. What most people come to find is that with the right textures and flavors, vegan food tastes pretty close to the original and many times, even better. Learn more in 10 Food Substitutions Every Plant-Based Eater Should Know, 10 Vegetables that Can Substitute for Meat and How to Veganize Your Favorite Familiar Dishes.
7. Be a Healthy Vegan
It’s easy to buy lots of packaged, vegan, convenience food but it’s not the optimal choice for your health. Technically, you could eat nothing but French fries and potato chips and be vegan but if you don’t get all your vitamins and minerals, you won’t feel well and you will probably give up on the idea of eating a plant-based diet. Do some research and make sure you are getting enough protein, calcium and other nutrients. If you are unsure, take a vitamin supplement. Try to eat mostly whole foods such as whole grains, fresh fruit and lots of fresh vegetables. Yes, even some vegans have to be told to eat their vegetables. Read how to Avoid These 5 Unhealthy Vegan Eating Transition Mistakes.
8. Get Support
It always helps to do things with a partner. See if any of your friends or relatives want to take this vegan journey with you. When I became vegan, my husband did it with me but the two of us often felt alone. We reached out to local vegan groups and went to many pot lucks and vegan functions. Joining a meet-up group or even chatting with some vegans online can provide a wealth of information and support. The majority of vegans we know are online. The vegan community can be very helpful and someone is always willing to answer any questions you might have. Read Finding Community as a New Vegan for more tips.
9. Dealing with Cravings
Cravings are normal. I will say it again. Cravings are normal. I didn’t give up meat because I didn’t like it and it disgusted me. I loved the taste of meat but morally and ethically, I could no longer engage in the cruelty that brought those tastes to me. But becoming vegetarian and/or vegan doesn’t automatically wipe the slate of one’s brain clean. There is a difference between what the brain/mouth/stomach wants and what the conscience will allow. Of course, I now look at meat, dairy, and eggs differently. There are strong emotions that I didn’t have before. But in all honesty, sometimes when I see cooked food on TV or in real life, I have cravings. When I smell certain foods, I have cravings. When I am in certain places or moods that have food associations for me, I have cravings. There are foods I loved that I still miss. There’s a part of me that still wants Buffalo wings, fried chicken, steak, and pizza with extra cheese. The point is that I will not eat them. I will not put my cravings above the suffering and lives of other beings. For me, there is no going back.
Over time, the cravings lessen but I still get them and that does not make me a bad vegan. It makes me NORMAL. Having cravings is not what is important. What matters is what I do about them. I remind myself about the reasons I went vegan in the first place and then it’s simple because no matter what foods I crave, I love the taste of compassion more. And if you do give in to a craving, don’t beat yourself up over it and give up. You’re human. Just get back on track and look forward. For more on cravings, read A Guide to Understanding and Managing Your Food Cravings and 5 Ways to Battle Those Cheese Cravings After You Go Vegan. Also check out Why Eating Vegan is Not About Being Perfect, But About Being Aware.
10. Review and Reassess
After a few weeks of vegan eating, sit back with a green smoothie and look back over your experience. How did it go? Was it easy, was it hard? Was it something you could easily see yourself doing for a longer time? Or, was it something you can see yourself learning and enjoying as it gets easier? How do you feel? Healthier? Lighter? Happier? Many people talk about not only feeling better physically but emotionally. They say their consciences feel lighter, they feel more at ease in the world and happier. If it was difficult for you, can you pinpoint what was hard about it? Was it something that could be easier with more preparedness, more support, or more practice? And if so, is it something you want to invest your time and energy in?
If the answer is no, then maybe it’s just not the right time for you and that’s ok. You can always revisit veganism later and in the meantime, you can still cut back on meat and other animal foods. If the answer is yes, then it sounds like you are ready to dip your toes a bit deeper into the vegan water. Time to jump in and enjoy!
Here’s a great article by the wonderfully eloquent and engaging George Monbiot which was published in The Guardian on the 16th Dec 2014.
If you must eat meat, save it for Christmas
What can you say about a society whose food production must be hidden from public view? In which the factory farms and slaughterhouses supplying much of our diet must be guarded like arsenals to prevent us from seeing what happens there? We conspire in this concealment: we don’t want to know. We deceive ourselves so effectively that much of the time we barely notice that we are eating animals, even during once-rare feasts, such as Christmas, which are now scarcely distinguished from the rest of the year.
It begins with the stories we tell. Many of the books written for very young children are about farms, but these jolly places in which animals wander freely, as if they belong to the farmer’s family, bear no relationship to the realities of production. The petting farms to which we take our children are reifications of these fantasies. This is just one instance of the sanitisation of childhood, in which none of the three little pigs gets eaten and Jack makes peace with the giant, but in this case it has consequences.
Labelling reinforces the deception. As Philip Lymbery points out in his book Farmageddon, while the production method must be marked on egg boxes in the EU, there are no such conditions on meat and milk. Meaningless labels such as “natural” and “farm fresh”, and worthless symbols such as the little red tractor, distract us from the realities of broiler units and intensive piggeries. Perhaps the most blatant diversion is “corn-fed”. Most chickens and turkeys eat corn, and it’s a bad thing, not a good one.
The growth rate of broiler chickens has quadrupled in 50 years: they are now killed at seven weeks. By then they are often crippled by their own weight. Animals selected for obesity cause obesity. Bred to bulge, scarcely able to move, overfed, factory-farmed chickens now contain almost three times as much fat as chickens did in 1970, and just two thirds of the protein. Stalled pigs and feedlot cattle have undergone a similar transformation. Meat production? No, this is fat production.
Sustaining unhealthy animals in crowded sheds requires lashings of antibiotics. These drugs also promote growth, a use that remains legal in the United States and widespread in the European Union, under the guise of disease control. In 1953, Lymbery notes, some MPs warned in the House of Commons that this could cause the emergence of disease-resistant pathogens. They were drowned out by laughter. But they were right.
This system is also devastating the land and the sea. Farm animals consume one third of global cereal production, 90% of soya meal and 30% of the fish caught. Were the grain now used to fatten animals reserved instead for people, an extra 1.3 billion could be fed. Meat for the rich means hunger for the poor.
What comes out is as bad as what goes in. The manure from factory farms is spread ostensibly as fertiliser, but often in greater volumes than crops can absorb: arable land is used as a dump. It sluices into rivers and the sea, creating dead zones sometimes hundreds of miles wide. Lymbery reports that beaches in Brittany, where there are 14 million pigs, have been smothered by so much seaweed, whose growth is promoted by manure, that they have had to be closed as a lethal hazard: one worker scraping it off the shore apparently died of hydrogen sulphide poisoning, caused by the weed’s decay.
It is madness, and there is no anticipated end to it: the world’s livestock population is expected to rise by 70% by 2050.
Four years ago, I softened my position on meat-eating after reading Simon Fairlie’s book Meat: A Benign Extravagance. Fairlie pointed out that around half the current global meat supply causes no loss to human nutrition. In fact it delivers a net gain, as it comes from animals eating grass and crop residues that people can’t consume.
Since then, two things have persuaded me that I was wrong to have changed my mind. The first is that my article was used by factory farmers as a vindication of their monstrous practices. The subtle distinctions Fairlie and I were trying to make turn out to be vulnerable to misrepresentation.
The second is that while researching my book Feral, I came to see that our perception of free-range meat has also been sanitised. The hills of Britain have been sheepwrecked – stripped of their vegetation, emptied of wildlife, shorn of their capacity to hold water and carbon – all in the cause of minuscule productivity. It is hard to think of any other industry, except scallop dredging, with a higher ratio of destruction to production. As wasteful and destructive as feeding grain to livestock is, ranching could be even worse. Meat is bad news, in almost all circumstances.
So why don’t we stop? Because we don’t know the facts, and because we find it difficult even if we do. A survey by the US Humane Research Council discovered that only 2% of Americans are vegetarians or vegans, and more than half give up within a year. Eventually, 84% lapse. One of the main reasons, the survey found, is that people want to fit in. We might know it’s wrong, but we block our ears and carry on.
I believe that one day artificial meat will become commercially viable, and that it will change social norms. When it becomes possible to eat meat without keeping and slaughtering livestock, live production will soon be perceived as unacceptable. But this is a long way off. Until then, perhaps the best strategy is to encourage people to eat as our ancestors did. Rather than mindlessly consuming meat at every meal, we should think of it as an extraordinary gift: a privilege, not a right. We could reserve meat for a few special occasions, such as Christmas, and otherwise eat it no more than once a month.
All children should be taken by their schools to visit a factory pig or chicken farm, and to an abattoir, where they should be able to witness every stage of slaughter and butchery. Does this suggestion outrage you? If so, ask yourself what you are objecting to: informed choice, or what it reveals? If we cannot bear to see what we eat, it is not the seeing that’s wrong, it’s the eating.