So, you've decided to go vegan or have considered it and you don't know where to start? You are in the right place!
I transitioned to a vegan diet in 2009 when I learned about factory farming. I was horrified and immediately decided that I would not participate in that nonsense. I couldn't do it with a clear conscience. I was vegetarian for one month, until I realized that the dairy cows and hens didn't have it much better. I went vegan the next month and haven't looked back.
Yes, there have been times when I wanted to taste certain flavors and textures, but I either tried to recreate them or just moved on. Even though, 2009 wasn't that long ago, the vegan food industry has come a long way and there are vegan substitutes for almost everything! Lucky you!
Here are 7 steps to go vegan...
- Decide why you want to go vegan & realize that going vegan isn't the only option
- Decide if you want to quit all at once or take small steps
- Learn about animal products and how to find them on food labels
- Learn about your options for replacing meat in your meal
- Remove and replace non-vegan food in your home
- Pick 3 vegan go-to meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner
- Stay encouraged and continue to learn
Step 1: Decide why you want to go vegan & realize that going vegan isn't the only option
Each person has his/her own personal reason for going vegan. Maybe you...
- Have learned about factory farming and want to make changes to save animals,
- Know about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and want to make changes to save the earth, or
- You want to eat less meat to improve your health
Congratulations on your decision to make a difference!
A quick Twitter search reveals that many people feel compelled to go vegan, but don't feel like they can.
They say things like, "I want to go vegan but...
- chicken is so f$%in good. I can go without the rest of that sh*!
- the concept of giving up egg noodle is terrifying but the treatment of chickens is also terrifying whelp
- I love hamburgers
- idk where to start on giving up eggs and bacon, which are two of my favorite things
- I can't! Meat is sooo good! But I still love animals."
- i love pasta with cheese so much send me to hell
- I like hot wings and bacon too much
- I want to eat steak too
My personal vegan godmother (she actually doesn't know this, but I gave her this title) Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says,
Don't do nothing, because you can't do everything. Do something. Anything.
You don't have to go vegan to save animals, the earth or improve your health. Any change you make matters, and makes a difference. Your goal should be to do something.
You don't have to be vegan, but you should exercise your decision-making power to make a difference.
Maybe you are like some of the people on Twitter and you don't want to take the leap because you don't want to give up certain foods - eggs, bacon, hamburgers, cheese.
What if you ate those foods once a week, but the rest of the time you didn't? What if you ate them once a month?
Do you think that would make a difference? It absolutely would.
Whatever your why is - the animals, the earth, or your health. Just eating less makes a difference and is a worthwhile, admirable thing to do.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Just eating less makes a difference.
What you eat and what you don't eat is your personal decision and should feel right to you, not anyone else.
Step 2: Decide if you want to quit all at once or take small steps
Let's say you've decided you want to go vegan and go "all in" right away and remove all animal products from your diet. Depending on your personality and desire, you can either stop eating all animal products at one time, or stop eating one at a time over a longer period of time.
This is your personal journey. Do it in a way that feels right to you.
A Warning about Sharing Your Journey
Something weird happens when you tell people "I'm going vegan." Sometimes they become very defensive and say things that feel antagonistic and even downright mean. In the beginning, I wanted to tell people because I was excited and still in shock with what I had learned about factory farming. But I quickly learned that sharing wasn't worth the rude comments that I heard, particularly from those closest to me. I encourage you to seek out like minded people in your town by using Meetup.com or online through all of the many online forums and groups.
A Warning about the Vegan Police
There is an unofficial group of vegans that some of us refer to as “the vegan police.” These vegans often have good intentions when they point out people's missteps along their vegan journey. However, to the person who is just trying to figure everything out, they can actually be discouraging and frustrating. If you encounter "the vegan police" along the way, don't engage with them or let them steal your excitement and desire to live a more compassionate and healthy life.
Step 3: Learn about animal products and how to find them on food labels
The easiest way to go vegan and limit the amount of label reading you have to do is to make the bulk of your diet whole foods. These include fruits and vegetables in the produce department. They also include foods that have may have a label, but that label only has one or two ingredients like, nuts, seeds and grains.
The primary ingredients you want to look for on labels of prepared food are eggs and milk.
Lucky for you, these ingredients are common allergens and in 2006 the FDA required all food manufacturers who produced foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to comply with comply with FALCPA's food allergen labeling requirements. This is shown on labels as a "contains statement" and it's typically in bold at the end of the ingredients list.
However, there are times when eggs or milk isn't listed in the "contains statement," so you'll want to scan the ingredients list and look for things like:
- casein/calcium caceinate
- egg whites
- milk fat
- nonfat milk
- skim milk
Don't assume an item is vegan just because the front of the package says: veggie, non-dairy, or vegetarian. Always read the ingredient list.
Get in the habit of reading labels and work toward buying fewer foods that come in packages with a long list of ingredients. It gets easier.
- Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-282, Title II)
- Guidance for Industry: Questions and Answers Regarding Food Allergens, including the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (Edition 4); Final Guidance
Step 4: Learn about your options for replacing meat in your meals
Following are 7 ways you can replace meat in your meals.
- Commercial meat replacements
Before we get into the list, let's manage expectations. There are instances where replacing meat will be less noticeable when you are going vegan. But in many instances, don't expect the replacement to taste like meat or give you the same feeling when you eat it. Remember, that's not always the goal.
The goal is to do less harm - to the animals, to the earth, to your body. That's it. Remember - Do something. That's our goal here.
Get your mind right :) and let's go through this list.
Vegetables can be used to replace meat. Think about dishes like portobello mushroom burgers where the burger replaces the meat. Chunky vegetables, particularly starchy vegetables can replace meat in stews. Smaller bite-sized vegetables can be a great substitute for meat in marinara sauce for a pasta dish.
Beans get the worst rap ever. They really do and it's a shame because they are so good for you. The health benefits are amazing and they are super cheap, whether you buy them in a can or cook them from scratch. They are the main reason why the "cost excuse" doesn't fly.
Many chili recipes already include beans, so you can just leave out the meat and you've got a meat-free meal. Black bean burgers can fill in on the days that you aren't eating meat too. Beans are also a great replacement for meat on salads.
Tofu is tricky. I'm not going to lie. But once you know how to prepare it, you're in business.
Here are 2 of the easiest ways to cook it:
Press, Dry Fry & Add Sauce
- Press the tofu to get the water out so you can later get the flavor in. Use a tofu press or use this method. I prefer to press my tofu for at least one hour, so this requires advance preparation.
- Cut the tofu into bite-size pieces. (Watch me cut it in this video)
- Dry fry the tofu. This means that you are heating a nonstick pan over medium heat, without oil and browning the tofu on each side. You may have to do this in batches. The tofu should be in a single layer in the pan.
- Put all of the tofu back in the pan, pour in a thick sauce, toss to coat and heat through and serve with rice and vegetables. A thick sauce that you buy in a bottle will work best, like an Asian sauce or barbecue sauce.
Press, Marinate & Sauté
- Press the tofu (see above).
- Cut the tofu into bite-size pieces and place in a container. Cover the tofu with your marinade. One of the bottled marinades will work perfectly. Marinate your tofu for 30 minutes or an hour.
- Sauté the tofu in a pan, in a single layer with a little oil. Once it's brown on the bottom, turn it over and brown the other side.
Tempeh is fermented soybeans. It looks strange (and honestly somewhat unappetizing) in its uncooked form. It was one of my favorite foods to eat when I became vegan, because it gave me something to chew.
To prepare tempeh, cut it so it fits into your steamer basket and steam it for 15 minutes to remove the bitterness.
Then you have several options:
- Bake it with a thick sauce
- Marinate it and brown it in a skillet or bake it
- Braise it
- Brown it in a skillet and toss with sauce
Seitan, pronounced say-ten, is made with vital wheat gluten flour. It has the meatiest texture of all. Making your own takes some skill and knowledge, but several companies sell it and Asian restaurants often use it for faux meat in dishes. Many upscale vegan restaurants will also have it on their menus.
TVP is textured/texturized vegetable protein, also known as textured soy protein (TSP), soy meat, or soya chunks (read more on Wikipedia). It comes in different forms, like crumbles, chunks and strips. It's the simplest to prepare. All you have to do is rehydrate it in boiling water.
Food science and technological advances have been amazing for vegans. Companies like Gardein, Beyond Meat and Field Roast have done an amazing job of mimicking the texture of meat with vegan chicken, beef, pork and fish.
Click below to get recipes highlighting these ingredients!
Step 5: Remove and replace non-vegan food in your home
This is a critical step once you've made the decision to change your diet and go vegan. Depending on what you decided for step 1, you may want to do this all at once, or a little at a time. You may want to eat what you have and not replace it or you may want to give it away or throw it in the trash.
Here is a list of foods that you'll want to remove from your...
- Meat (including fish)
- Sour Cream
- Cream Cheese
- Coffee creamer
- Salad dressings with milk or eggs in the ingredients list
- Frozen dinners with milk and cheese in the ingredients list
- Frozen desserts with milk in the ingredients list
- Chicken/Beef broth or stock
- Canned soups with animal products
- Box food mixes with animal products in the ingredients list
When it comes to replacing these items, I recommend only replacing some of these right away, if you eat them several times a week.
- Coffee Creamer
- Cream Cheese
- Salad dressing
Check out this master list of vegan substitutes for brands that you should look for in your local grocery store. You'll typically find non-dairy milk near the dairy milk. However, the other items are typically in the organic/natural section of the grocery store.
Go to a few stores and look around. Find the organic/natural section and see what they have. Make a mental note of who has what.
I do not recommend replacing the eggs right away, because different egg replacers work for different recipes. Ener-G powdered egg replacer is nice to have on hand, if you bake. Follow Your Heart recently released a VeganEgg that you can scramble, but it's in high demand and currently out of stock in many online stores.
Step 6: Pick 3 vegan go-to meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Start by making a list of the meals you eat over and over again. Think about how they could be easily veganized.
Let’s look at some examples.
- Cold cereal // Veganize it: Use non-dairy milk
- Oatmeal // Veganize it: Use non-dairy milk or water
- Yogurt + Fruit + Granola // Veganize it: Buy vegan yogurt
Lunch (made at home)
- Salad with Grilled Chicken // Veganize it: Buy vegan chicken or swap chicken for black beans
Lunch (bought at a restaurant)
- Pizza: Hold the cheese
- Sub: All veggies, hold the cheese
- Asian: Sub tofu for the meat
- Pasta with Meat Sauce and a Salad // Veganize it: Swap meat with vegan crumbles or TVP and use a milk/egg-free vinaigrette for salad dressing
- Meat + Vegetables + Baked Potato // Veganize it: Swap meat for tofu, tempeh or a commercial meat substitute and use vegan margarine on your potato and vegetables
After you have veganized your regular meals, browse the internet and check out a few vegan cookbooks from the library and try a few new recipes.
Step 7: Stay encouraged and continue to learn
You’re not going to be perfect and that's okay. Perfection isn't the goal. Making a difference is. There are several books that you can read and documentaries that you can watch to learn more about the benefits of a vegan diet.