Making the switch to a vegan lifestyle can be both exciting and overwhelming all at once. Perhaps you’ve been persuaded to go vegan for the animals, or your health is suffering, and you heard a vegan diet could alleviate your symptoms. Whatever your reason for embracing a vegan lifestyle, the shift can take a lot of time, research and dedication. To be clear, while changing your diet and your lifestyle requires focus and determination, the investment is worth it! Going vegan saves thousands of animals from slaughter, reduces your carbon footprint, and can make you feel both physically and mentally vibrant and clear. So where exactly does one start making changes to switch over to a vegan lifestyle? We’ve created the ultimate guide to help you transform your life completely and thoroughly with as much ease and information necessary to equip you with the tools to make the change truly enjoyable and sustainable.
What is Veganism?
Perhaps the best place to start when embarking on the journey of living a vegan lifestyle is simply understanding what exactly veganism is. The Vegan Society defines veganism as:
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
Simplified, vegans do not participate in, purchase, eat or use any products that are from animals or have been made through exploiting animals as far as it is practical or possible. What is meant by “as far as it is practical or possible” is that it is absolutely possible and easy to avoid eating animal products, but less practical for most people in industrialized nations to avoid using a car or bike in which the tires could contain animal products. Another example of an instance in which it may not be practical to abstain from animal exploitation is using pharmaceutical medication, as it is all tested on animals but can be lifesaving. Veganism is a way for humans to do better for all animals and the planet, but it is not always a lifestyle that can be followed perfectly and that’s okay.
1. Research and Educate Yourself
Most vegans are fairly well educated on a variety of animal rights, health and environmental issues. Whether you stumbled on a vegan lifestyle or sought it out, education is crucial to making long-term lifestyle changes. When you choose to educate yourself thoroughly and have a complete understanding of why you’re going vegan, it will make the transition much easier and help you stay committed to making this positive change. Having a comprehensive understanding of veganism will help you stay confident in your choice when family and friends question you and it will give you the opportunity to help educate others. The following resources cover health, environmental issues and animal exploitation and are invaluable learning tools to further your knowledge of why veganism matters and how it impacts the world.
Watch Documentaries, Read Books, Check out YouTube
Documentaries that showcase animal cruelty or the impacts of a plant-based diet that you may consider watching are:
- Forks Over Knives
- What the Health
Books that examine why we treat animals the way we do and implore us to reevaluate our relationships to them:
- Animal Liberation by Peter Singer
- The China Study by T.Colin Campbell
- Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy
- The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle
- Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus
Inspiring and impactful speeches to inspire you and any curious family or friends available on Youtube:
- The Most Important Speech You Will Ever Hear by Gary Yourofsky
- This Speech is Your Wake Up Call!! By James Aspey
- 101 Reasons to Go Vegan By James Wildman
Preparing yourself for questions and remember to practice patience with yourself and others. Supplementation and nutrition questions are extremely common and worthwhile to prepare yourself on. Many vegans have heard where do you get your protein, calcium, B12, vitamin D, and iron, and having food sources of these or simple statistics to share can help put to rest others worries as well as make you feel confident in your choice.
The book Becoming Vegan is an excellent resource to have on hand that addresses all aspects of vegan nutrition including the nutrients people are most often misinformed about. Having a solid understanding of standard animal agricultural practices such as how animals are raised and slaughtered can be extremely eye-opening for those who genuinely want to know why you think animals are being exploited. Understanding how farms and slaughterhouses negatively affect the environment can be a useful piece of information when discussing your choice with others. Being prepared is not about validating your choices to others but simply having easy to recall facts to share with those that are genuinely curious. Information helps to draw back the curtains on animal exploitation as well as leave you feeling satisfied and assured in your choice.
2. Stock Up!
When transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, it’s important to be prepared and have food on hand at all times to ensure your satisfaction and success. Stocking up your cabinets and fridge with your favorite plant-based foods will make going vegan easy. To cultivate a vegan-friendly kitchen, it’s important to know what products you’ll no longer be eating, what products you intend to swap these out with, and what new items you will be incorporating. While you most likely know that meat, dairy, and eggs aren’t vegan, it may be harder to know exactly what to buy. Starting with a pantry of whole foods and peppering in vegan meat and dairy alternatives is a good place to start. The following list is general, feel free to tailor it to your tastes and preferences.
Staple pantry items:
- Brown Rice
- Rolled Oats
- Whole Grain Pasta
- Canned Chickpeas
- Canned Black Beans
- Chia Seeds
- Flax Seeds
- Nut butter such as peanut butter, almond butter, tahini
- Dried fruit such as dates, figs, mulberries, mango
- Canned Diced Tomatoes
- Pasta Sauce
- Canned coconut milk
- Milk alternatives such as Milkadamia macadamia milk, Oatley oat milk, Tempt hemp milk
Staple refrigerated and freezer items:
- Leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, spinach, curly kale
- Fresh fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, apples, oranges, lemons
- Fresh vegetables such broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, carrots, eggplant, zucchini
- Butter such as Miyoko’s or Earth Balance
- Milk such as So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk, Califia Almond Milk, Malk Cashew Milk
- Cheese such as Daiya Shreds, Treeline Cheese, Miyoko’s Kitchen, Kite Hill Cheese
- Yogurt such as Coyo, Forager Project, Daiya, Cocoyo, Ripple
- Coffee creamer such as So Delicious, Califia, or Milkadamia
- Sour cream such as Tofutti or Daiya
- Cream Cheese such as Kite Hill or Tofutti
- Tempeh, either soy based or hemp is available
- Tofu, either soy based or hemp is available
- Meat alternatives from companies such as Tofurkey, Field Roast, Gardein and Beyond Meat
- Frozen vegetables such as broccoli, corn, peas, cauliflower, spinach
- Frozen fruit such as strawberries, wild blueberries, pineapple
Staple countertop items and seasonings:
- Fruit such as avocados, bananas, tomatoes, mangoes
- Vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash
- Onions and garlic
- Nutritional Yeast
- Apple cider vinegar
- Tamari or Coconut Aminos
- Coconut Sugar
Superfoods and Extras:
(Not necessary but these foods are high in nutrients and great for experimenting!)
- Raw cacao powder
- Raw cacao nibs
- Goji berries
- Hemp Seeds
- Green powder mix
- Protein powder from pea, rice, hemp, or a blend
Availability of Snacks is Key to Success
It’s true that roasted sunflower seeds are vegan. However, if relying on buying them out of vending machines doesn’t excite you or leave you feeling nourished, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Making sure to have snack foods on hand that are readily available and can be taken when on the go is essential for success. Vegan bars, cookies, chips, trail mixes, nut butter packs, and smoothies are all great options to have on hand when you need something fast and easy to satisfy your hunger.
Is Your Kitchen Equipped for the Vegan Lifestyle?
Another important thing to consider when creating a vegan-friendly kitchen is what tools or appliances you may want or need. To be successful you truly only need a few things such as a cutting board, a good knife, a skillet, a large pot and some baking trays along with an oven. Being vegan doesn’t have to be extremely time intensive or require a huge investment on your part, so don’t let that hold you back! On the flip side, if you truly enjoy spending time in the kitchen and intend to make most of your food from scratch or have an inclination to drink a lot of juice or smoothies, some appliances may be worthwhile to consider. The following are simply suggestions that can take your food prep to the next level.
- Food processor by Cuisinart – Great for making energy balls, sausage or taco “meat”, cauliflower rice and even nut butters.
- High-speed blender by Vitamix – If you drink smoothies daily, this blender can handle anything and pulverize it. Kale is blended until silky smooth and you can even make your own flours and nut butters in this blender.
- Spiralizer – The ultimate veggie noodle maker! There is a wide variety on the market with different settings and sizes depending on what you want to make.
- Juicer – If you drink a lot of juice or want to replace your coffee with a healthier habit, a juicer is a great option to save money and get healthy. Two great juicers to invest in are the Hurom Slow Juicer or the Omega 8006 model.
3. Learn How to Veganize Your Favorite Foods
This tip is so simple but can really be a game changer. Those who successfully transition to a vegan diet and lifestyle are those who enjoy what they’re doing! While veganism can be as simple as smoothies, salad and quinoa, it doesn’t have to be just that.
Think of your favorite meals and find recipes online or in cookbooks that appeal to you that can satisfy your cravings. Often times with our favorite comfort foods it tends to be spices or textures we are craving, not the actual meat or dairy. If nothing hits the spot quite like mac and cheese, there are so many vegan variations it would take you months to make them all! Whole grain elbow pasta with a creamy cashew cheese sauce is so delicious you’ll never miss the dairy. Vegan pizza, burgers, cakes and cookies, if you can think of it you can find a vegan recipe for it. Finding a few of your favorite foods to veganize and learning the recipes can make the transition delicious and fulfilling.
4. Surround Yourself with Like-minded People
Surround yourself with supportive, like-minded people with similar goals. While going vegan is fulfilling in and of itself, it can feel isolating if you are doing it alone and know no one else who eats similarly or has a similar life perspective. If you don’t know anyone that is vegan, don’t fret! There are a few easy ways to seek out other vegans:
- Local vegan restaurants – If you are lucky enough to have a vegan restaurant in your town, jackpot! Vegan restaurants are a great place for the brave to start up a conversation with others who are dining. Ask the staff if they ever have special events or know of any local meetups.
- Vegan Potlucks – Potlucks are a great place to try new foods and make new friends! Google search your town or check your local health food stores for even flyers.
- Health food stores – Many small health food stores feature community boards with flyers for events such as dinners, potlucks and support groups.
- Vegfest – Vegfests take place all over the United States and are a vegan’s dream. Great food, lectures, local vegan companies and tons of vegans and veg curious people. Check out http://www.americanvegan.org/vegfests.htm for Vegfests near you.
- Facebook – Check Facebook for local vegan meetup groups in your county or in neighboring counties.
If you’ve exhausted this list and can’t find anything local, start your own meetup group for picnics, potlucks or dining at vegan-friendly establishments. If not starting your own, find a few YouTube channels of families or individuals that inspire you and watch those daily to draw inspiration and motivation to stay committed on your vegan journey.
5. Be the change you Wish to See
It isn’t always easy to buck against societal norms. However, it is incredibly rewarding knowing that you are doing your part to alleviate suffering on this planet while elevating your health. You may find you receive unlimited support from those you love or you may find that you receive doubt, criticism or simply questions and curiosity.
Doubts and Criticisms are Opportunities to Teach
Whenever you are challenged about your lifestyle or questioned about it, use it as an opportunity to teach. We can lead by compassion and help to educate our family and friends; not criticize their habits or share information they aren’t asking for. (Most people don’t want to know how tortured the pig on their plate was when they ask you where you get your protein from!) These moments can give us the opportunity to engage in heartfelt conversations and plant seeds. These moments are when being educated comes in handy and can help us to recommend resources for those who want to learn more about veganism. Sharing veganism with others through heartfelt conversations with patience and understanding is one of the best ways to practice compassion outside of our dietary choices.
The Transition Is About Progress, Not Perfection
Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle can happen in a variety of ways. Perhaps you’re inspired by a movie or documentary and go vegan overnight in a whirlwind of excitement. That’s great! However, if going vegan is a process that takes a week, a month, or a year, that’s great too! It’s important to keep your goal in mind and remember it’s about progress, not perfection. If going vegan overnight isn’t appealing or your goal, it’s important to set attainable daily goals for yourself as well as long-term goals to keep yourself on track. This could look like going vegetarian for a month before going vegan. Or it could look like going vegan all day until dinner for few weeks and then cutting back to only eating meat on the weekends for a month. Whatever timeframe you decide, remember it’s not a race and it’s important you feel like your goal is achievable. Veganism is an extremely rewarding endeavor for yourself, the animals and the planet and simply shifting towards a plant-based diet no matter what the pace is admirable.