Tips for Going Vegetarian or Vegan
This article was written by Lauren Oujiri
I was a vegetarian for about thirteen years, then went vegan for a year or so, then decided to see if a return to animal products would make me die on the spot or not. (I didn’t.) Once I ate meat, fish and dairy products again, I did so in moderation, still ate a lot of vegetarian and vegan meals, and could not make myself eat some animal products again. They shall go unmentioned, except for head cheese. Okay, I actually never ate it, but remember seeing it in the fridge as a kid and being really scared. Could there be a grosser name or look to this stuff, and how can anyone eat it with their eyes open or without laughing or puking? I’m sure I’ve offended someone with that judgment – sorry, Dad -but that’s how I feel about it.
This head cheese image originally appeared here. Is the pig laughing or crying? Funny/gross story, too..
Okay, haggis is no doubt worse, sorry my Celtic relatives and friends, but I digress.
The tip about meat comes up in a moment. And, for the record, I returned to a vegan lifestyle about a year ago. (Read my other articles on things vegan on randomn3ss for more information.)
Tip number one is first to view adding more Veg meals into your life as a process. It will take time, some education, some experimenting, some frustration, and some contemplation about how you live your life, quite frankly. (I do know of people who just quit all animal products overnight, but it’s hard, it’s expensive, and wastes a lot of food. Your body may be a bit confused, too, and will tell you about it in a few ways that might not be pleasant.) If you come to the conclusion that you want at least to add more Veg meals into your life, and possibly to become either vegetarian or vegan, read on to get started.
If you aren’t familiar with the difference between vegetarianism and veganism, true vegans do not consume (eat, wear, buy, use) any animal products whatsoever – no meat/fish/poultry, dairy, honey, leather, wool, silk, anything of or from any non-plant-based organism. Most vegetarians eat animal milk and/or eggs, honey, and do wear leather and use other animal byproducts.
One reminder before embarking on change in your life: It takes at least twenty-one days to make or break a habit, and then six months to a year of consistently doing the new habits before it truly becomes a part of your lifestyle, second-nature. Be realistic, be patient, keep track of what you’re doing to help the process be successful.
Tip number two: Back to the meat, and for efficiency’s sake I’ll include fish in this, too. If you’re eating meat three times a day or more, start by cutting back to two times a day. If it’s a fairly easy transition for you, then go to meat one time per day, then eliminate it permanently, if that is your goal. If it’s tough for you – you eat out a lot, you work out a lot, your family owns a meat-packing plant – then go slower, shooting for three weeks as mentioned above, or longer until the adjustment is made. Some find it easier first to eliminate meats (two-or four-legged animals), and just eat fish, and then reduce their fish consumption using the same technique.
This is where some education comes in: We need protein, just like we need carbs and fat. Read up and replace meat with other healthy sources of protein. If you don’t get enough good protein, you will lose energy and your health can suffer.
Tip number three: If you’re eating cheese, dairy products and eggs daily, I would recommend first cutting back on cheese. This can be done by reducing the number of times you eat it per day or per week if it’s a lot, and/or by reducing the amount you are eating in a serving. Even if you decide not to be vegan, having less cheese is better for your health, and your budget. Good cheese is not cheap. Bad cheese, it’s barely cheese, really, and disgusting, at least to me.
A long time ago, pre-Veg for me, a housemate of mine left a box of Velveeta on a kitchen counter one night accidentally. Unfortunately, the counter was right above an old wrought-iron radiator that kicked out a lot of heat. I was the first one up the next morning to see that the cheese had melted out of the box and into a large orange semi-solid puddle around the box. When my housemate saw it, he just pushed it all back in the box, shrugged, and did proceed to eat it eventually, with no repercussions. You can’t do that with brie, to my knowledge.
Then do the same with eggs, and other dairy products, reducing the frequency and quantity you eat gradually. There is no real substitute for scrambled eggs or omelets, which is tough if you like diner food, and good news, it is not really necessary in baking – plenty of other substitutes will hold your vegan cookies and cakes together. There are plenty of other milk choices that taste great: Soy, oat, almond, rice (though it’s typically watery, so not a great choice for cereal), hazelnut, and even hemp. (Hemp is a magical plant, used in food, clothing and other products. I know there is great debate about growing it in the U.S. I hope it will happen. If you didn’t know, the most that would happen to you if you smoked it would be a headache and sore throat.) And there’s plenty of non-dairy ice cream, sour cream, butter, and yogurt products out there. You will need to try a few before you land on what tastes best to you; some aren’t so great but it’s all vastly better than it was even ten years ago.
“But what do you eat?” It’s a common question vegetarians and vegans get constantly: You will find a whole new world out there now that you’re choosing to eat different and new things. The number of grains, beans, legumes, vegetables and fruits out there are countless and the combinations in the bazillions, I’m sure. And it’s no harder to cook Veg than it is to cook animal products, just slightly different – and not as gross. (I still skeeve out thinking of handling raw poultry and other slimy bone-filled greasy stuff.) It can take more time sometimes, but not always. And, you can still eat your cereal with another kind of milk, you can still have favorite foods with just a few substitutions.
“But what about eating out?” Choose the vegetarian options at restaurants to start training your palate and learning what foods taste best to you. It’s super easy if you like ethnic restaurants, and not too hard if you prefer standard U.S. fare. You can ask them to take the meat or cheese out of nearly any item, and most ethnic cuisines celebrate vegetables and grains like the U.S. never has until recently. Experiment with tofu at Asian restaurants – and, I’m the first to say some of it is baaaad, so while it goes against nutritional recommendations, go with the fried or stir-fried tofu if you’re trying it for the first time. A big blob of white, fairly tasteless rubbery stuff in a soup is not very palatable, even for die-hards. (If you didn’t know, tofu is made from soybeans, and has a very mild flavor until you are accustomed to it and add spices to it. It’s an excellent source of protein and a major staple in most Vegs’ diets. Comes in a variety of forms to make it easy to cook and bake with.)
Tip number four: Go to a book store and get a couple vegetarian and/or vegan cookbooks, and subscribe to one of the many great Veg magazines out there. You can search online for recipes, but I find books and magazines are better as they nearly always have cooking tips, nutrition information, and you can compare recipes more easily. And again, as mentioned briefly, you have a learning curve going on with the whole nutritional side of shifting to a Veg diet, and books tend to be the most comprehensive source. (It’s also better to spill stuff on a book than it is a laptop when you’re making a new recipe in the kitchen.) You will learn how to cook a little differently, but all the basics are the same. Be prepared for flops. And that you just won’t like some things. That’s normal, and it just gets you closer to what you do like.
Tip number five: Pretty simple, eat more vegetables. Yes, eat more fruits, too, but vegetables, beans and grains are the core of the Veg diet. Fruit is full of sugar, so read up and stick to only a couple servings a day. Of course, starting out in the process, a lot of people do eat fruit more as snacks to replace the cheese and various meat snacks, which is okay, but shouldn’t be a permanent solution. The more vegetables you eat, the healthier you will be.
Tip number six: Read ingredient labels on “Healthy!” “Vegetarian!” “Low Fat!” foods carefully, especially if you are vegan. Lots of funny-named stuff in some products masquerade as health food and vegetarian. For example, there’s a frozen soy mac and cheese option out there but there is a not-obvious dairy product in the list of ingredients (caseinate, a milk product). Also read the nutrition information on the packaging. (If you don’t know what it all means, learn, as it’s pretty critical – it’s easy to have high cholesterol and high sugars on a Veg diet if you’re not careful, so just spend a little time until it’s second nature, too.) Some have a lot of salt, a lot of fat and/or a lot of sugars and carbs. A lot of newbie Vegs just get all that microwave stuff to make it easy, but it will take a toll on your health and budget. It has a place in the Veg diet, you need quick meals at times, and it’s a great way to try new things, but don’t let it be the only way you eat. Same with junk food. There’s plenty of cookies, chips, snacks, desserts out there that are Veg, so eat in small quantities. Choose organically and sustainably produced foods as well.
Last tip: Enjoy the process, and only do what feels right and works right in your life, although I do advocate strongly for being vegetarian at the least – for your health, for the animals, for the environment. If you choose to eat meat, fish and dairy, choose the best organic and humane sources you can find (do the research, as there’s many confusing and false claims out there), and eat less than you used to. Educate the people around you so they know what you’re doing, and so that you’re not surprising someone who’s invited you to dinner at their house, only to find you can’t eat anything. That’s not fair to them, they’ll feel bad, and you won’t have a good time. (I always eat at home before going to parties, knowing that meat and cheese tend to predominate. But, there’s always a veggie tray, and chips and salsa, it seems, so you can munch along without drawing attention to yourself.) Don’t be defensive if someone puts down what you’re doing, just shrug and say “you eat what you want to eat, and I’ll eat what I want to eat, and we’ll leave it at that.” Several of my close friends are animal-eaters, and this agreement works fine.
My process was fairly easy, I admit. There is a strong history of cancer and heart disease in my family, so that has always been a motivator. I also met the coolest vegetarians in Minneapolis, MN who showed me the way, both in introducing me to a variety of great ethnic restaurants and in how to cook Veg. I also seek out what is not mainstream, so this was a natural; it is surprising, though, how uncomfortable some people get about it, and I’m not (usually) trying to make people squirm (did you like that “animal-eater” comment above?) but I count it as a success for me and for them if they then think about it and ask me to discuss it later (and it’s victory for the animals and the environment if they go on to choose a Veg life). I can say I miss Parmesan cheese. There is no substitute (there are some products on the market, but it really has no resemblance to the true taste of Parm). I used to miss eggs, but that has long gone away. I sometimes think about wild salmon, as that was the last animal flesh I gave up. It’s very good for you, and was my favorite meat item. At times it is frustrating in restaurants, but overall I don’t feel compromised in any way by the choice to be vegan, in food or in other parts of the lifestyle. I don’t get preachy about it (because I would hate it if someone did that to me), but will explain if people ask. I have to check my shock when people say they rarely or never eat vegetables; I don’t want to be judged, so I must not judge them, but it’s still pretty unfathomable to me. (Like how do your bowels even work? I’ll stop there and please don’t tell me.) I also don’t get all weird if I realize I’ve eaten something animal accidentally (and I don’t go purge or anything), and I refuse to be completely rigid about it: On occasion I will eat a homemade chocolate chip cookie even if it’s not vegan. Comfort food and happy childhood memories are a welcome and necessary thing.
Write back and let me know how it goes, and if you’d like to know more.
Credit for this article goes to none other than Adrienne Saia, here at randomn3ss. Number one, she asked for it at the end of one of my articles on going greener and veganism being one way (remember?) and because of her post on her food pyramid. How you ate this, I have no idea…