“I think the only thing that’s keeping me from being vegan is not knowing how!” Somebody said this to me (Michael) recently and I am sure I said something like that when I first committed myself to an animal-free lifestyle and diet.
After being vegan for nearly two decades now, I can offer five simple tips to help you get started (or help you help someone else get started), and make it stick. Here are five things that worked for me…
1. You do not have to go vegan all at once. It’s not an all or nothing game when you start. Just replace one thing at a time. For example, olive oil can replace butter, no matter how you use it—even on toast (it’s actually better-tasting!). So one night, put olive oil on your corn cob instead of butter. You’ll find you can totally survive it. When it’s time to replace one pair of your shoes, choose a new pair with no leather uppers. Baby steps.
2. EVERY meal is already vegan—if you just take out one or two things. The irony of being vegan is that people think vegans eat nothing but salad. “I could never go vegan!” they exclaim, but they are already vegan. Everybody already eats what vegans eat (we would of malnutrition if we didn’t eat vegan foods). Vegans eat salad, sure, but it is more appropriate to say vegans eat an extra helping of salad–not “just” salad. If your dinner is steak with a side of green beans and a side salad, all you have to do is have an extra helping of salad or green beans instead of the steak. Congratulations, you’re vegan.
3. Find the stuff you don’t have to give up that is already “accidentally” vegan. Oreo cookies, Fritos chips, Cracker Jack, Pepsi, Spaghetti Marinara, Black Bean Soup, most bagels, and a bunch of other stuff is vegan by default so you don’t have to give it up! Being vegan does not mean “never eating anything you love”. It means finding new things you love to eat on top of the vegan things you already eat!
4. Don’t beat yourself up. I tried to go vegan three times before it finally stuck. The best advice I heard when that helped me finally break through my meat and cheese coma was this: “It’s okay to miss the food you love.” I felt so much guilt when I would drive by an Outback Steak House and secretly enjoy the smell. I would hate myself for wanting a hot dog at a family cookout, trying to admonish thoughts of enjoying the smell or taste of charred animal flesh. When I realized, “It’s okay to miss the food you love,” I also realized my helpful vegan friend used the present tense: “love”, not “loved”. It hit me, then, that it’s okay to pine after the smell of barbecue or pizza. But sometimes you have to give up food you love even if you are not vegan. Diabetics, for example, have to give up certain things, but we don’t even have to go to medical choices. Sometimes you don’t have room for dessert or you don’t want your breath to stink before a date so you pass on your mom’s lasagna. Being vegan is similar. You don’t have to feel guilty about everything you are missing—and it’s okay to miss it. After all, being vegan is simply a choice you make at each meal.
5. It’s your choice. The real trick to how I have stayed vegan for 20 years is simple. I don’t look at it like something I have doomed myself to for the rest of my life. It is just a decision I make when I eat. “I think I’m going to skip the cheesecake this time,” is probably something I say to myself at least once a week! Being vegan is not a prison sentence. It is just a decision you get to make at every meal. Maybe one day in the future I will decide not to be vegan, but so far, it is a decision that feels pretty good, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Plus, if it did, we would have to change the name of our blog!
If you are struggling with being (or becoming) vegan, hope those five tips help. If you are a long-time pro vegan and you have a tip or two to add to first-timers, let us know in the comments. If you find value in our little blog, be sure to share it. Thanks!