Starting Out Vegan

It’s been just over a year since I switched to a 100% vegan diet. It’s something that I wanted to do for a long time, before I even became a vegetarian. But I never thought that I, an ex-cheesecake-and-sausage-roll-loving-carnivore, would ever make the full transition. It still feels slightly surreal to call myself vegan. 2 years ago I honestly never believed that I could do it. But it’s so much easier than I thought it would be, and it has opened my eyes and heart more than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. Some people perceive it as an alien thing that differentiates you from most other ‘normal’ people; yet it seems so normal to me now.

Going vegan presents different personal challenges for different people. I used to comfort eat far too much and had an unhealthy relationship with food. So for me it was the ultimate test of self-discipline and perseverance. Like any difficult challenge, it may seem insurmountable at the beginning, but it gets easier the more you work at it. I hope that I can provide you with some helpful tips and make you realise that veganism is easier and more accessible than you think.

  1. Take small steps

I would personally advise against going straight from carnivore to vegan. It’s certainly an admirable thing to want to do, but you may burn out quickly if you try to give up everything at once.

The first step for me was cutting out meat. I was a pescetarian for about two weeks before I realised that it didn’t make ethical sense to still eat fish, so I became certified veggie. Then, over four months, I cut out animal products one by one: eggs, milk, cheese, gelatine, and honey.

You might find yourself in a situation where you want to make the leap to vegan but you can’t due to health reasons or resources etc. I understand how frustrating that can be. I was staying in catered accommodation during my transition to a plant-based diet so it was impossible to avoid dairy in main meals. I felt guilty because I desperately wanted to be 100% vegan. One of my vegan friends reassured me that it’s not that important to be vegan all the time, it’s more about doing as much as you can, whenever you can. Remember: any effort is better than no effort!

We offer a range of support mechanisms if you are interested in making the change or finding out more – our transitions mentor would be more than happy to talk things through with you, although feel free to approach any member of the society if you feel more comfortable, and we have a number of socials at which you can meet other like-minded individuals.

  1. Get inspired

Inspiration is the key to filling yourself with positive energy to keep you going throughout your vegan journey. You will find veganism far more fun and exciting if you immerse yourself in the vegan/plant-based community and see it as embracing a new lifestyle, rather than being torn away from your old one. Even if you are a part-time vegan, or just trying it out, it’s important to remain inspired so you can see how amazing it is to be vegan and not feel like it’s a chore that you have to do every Friday night.

Watching documentaries is an excellent way to get inspired. You can find more info here.

Social media is my main source of inspiration. I started following vegan blogs before I became vegan; that’s what opened my eyes to the cruelty of animal agriculture. I also follow a lot of Instagram accounts. Whatever your motivation for trying vegan or veggie – health, animal welfare, the environment – there’s something for everyone. There are also 1000s of free recipes at your fingertips so there’s no need to go out and buy the latest recipe books.

A few of my favourites:

  • Facebook
    The Humane League
  1. Have patience

DO NOT GIVE UP. Don’t think ‘Omg I can’t do this for the rest of my life – I may as well quit’. Instead, take each day at a time. Before you know it a week will have passed, then a month, then a year!

Be patient with yourself when you make mistakes. I didn’t realise for ages that marshmallows contained gelatine and I forgot that whey was derived from milk. It’s OK to make mistakes.

Most importantly, have patience with other people. Not everyone will understand what you’re doing and why. Often they will make rude/stupid comments out of ignorance. Just keep doing your thing.

  1. Be confident

Changing your diet to a plant-based one is a wonderful thing to do for your health/animals/the environment and it requires a lot of compassion and commitment. Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior because of it.

It can help to have a stash of ‘key phrases’ to use every time someone challenges you.

‘HOW DO YOU LIVE?’         I am literally alive and breathing right now.
‘WHAT DO YOU EAT?’        A lot of things, actually.
‘BACON’                                  Pigs are my favourite animals.
‘YOU’LL WASTE AWAY’     I’m feeling pretty good thanks.

Sometimes people will say such bizarre and irrational things that words escape you; in these cases an eye roll is usually sufficient.

  1. Involve friends and family

I’m the only vegan in my family and I don’t have many vegan friends. Sharing food with friends and family is one of the best ways to bring people together and get people excited about vegan food. I love inviting friends round for dinner, cooking for my family, and having vegan baking sessions. Although cooking/baking is inevitably hit and miss, it’s still a fun experience to share and I almost always get asked for the recipe even if it doesn’t turn out 100% perfect.

I appreciate that this can be tricky. I have a few fussy eaters in my family, including those who dislike nuts, beans, peas, and lentils – which is basically the basis of anything I cook or bake! I’ve found that presenting food to the table without telling people what the ingredients are works most of the time. Most people won’t be able to tell that you’ve used ground almonds in your brownies, or avocado in your chocolate cake icing. My little brother still can’t tell that houmous is made out of chickpeas!

When your nearest and dearest suggest grabbing a coffee or going out for lunch, seize the opportunity to take them to a vegan café or restaurant. That way you can try something new and explore the world of vegan together. Chances are they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how great vegan food can taste. Admittedly, some cities have more vegan eateries than others. Londoners – I would definitely recommend going for dinner at Mildreds! Alara and Planet Organic are both amazing health food stores where it’s easy to find vegan snacks, and they offer student discount. Pret also offer loads of tasty vegan options now, too.

When speaking to others about veganism, I’ve found that the thing most people fear is being restricted. I can empathise with that as it wasn’t so long ago that I dreaded the thought of life without cheese. But throughout the course of my vegan journey, I’ve discovered so many delicious foods that nourish my body and don’t adversely affect the environment or harm animals. I don’t feel restricted in any way. In fact, I feel the exact opposite. Since being vegan, I’ve had more energy, broadened my diet, starting exercising more, and felt happier and more at peace with myself.

 

Ultimately, I could go on forever listing tips for starting out vegan. But these are my top five and I’m certain that you’ll be off to a brilliant start if you apply them in your every-day life. If I was to give one last piece of advice, it would be to always remember why you first turned towards a plant-based lifestyle and never lose that initial spark of inspiration.

Wishing you all the best in your plant-powered endeavors,

MM x

By Mei-Mei Peberdy, third-year Linguistics student at UCL. If you’d like to write an article for us, just send us a message!

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