Monday, January 21, 2013

My Quick Guide to Going Vegan (Or Vegetarian)

Actually, I'm not. Please don't throw things at me.
  Last January, I went vegan after watching the documentary Forks Over Knives. I switched over pretty fast because I'm sort of impulsive and very impatient, and gradual shifts just aren't my style. I made the change for health reasons, but switched back about seven months later, wondering if the evidence for going entirely vegan was strong enough. Honestly, I'm still not 100% sure what to make of the evidence that both sides so ferociously present. But I have been able to draw the conclusion that eating significantly less meat than the average American eats is a good, healthy thing. I now eat meat occasionally, but most of the food I fix at home is either vegetarian or vegan. Flexitarian, anyone? There's a label for everything, isn't there? Anyway, I thought I'd share what I thought would be the most helpful tips to someone switching to a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. Whether it's because of your feelings about animals, or because you think it may benefit your health, I hope these tips help out a little in the transition.

Repeat after me: veggies and legumes. 

If you've never been a particularly adventurous eater, particularly within the world of veggies, now's the time to start. Find lots of recipes with different veggies and various kinds of legumes. These things will be very important to you now. I didn't realize this, and so I basically lived off of pasta and salad for like three months. Not. Good. First off, salad isn't very filling and you'll find yourself feeling like you're being starved and that there must be some fundamental flaw in this vegan thing, when, in actuality, it's your insane version of the vegan thing that is the problem. Second, eating pasta all the time to make up for the lack of sustenance salad provides ain't healthy.

Get cookin.'

If you can't afford to live off of ready-made vegan or vegetarian meals from Whole Foods, you're going to have to cook. This can be tricky if you're not used to doing much cooking, but it's definitely doable. You'll just need to do some planning and keep at it. I like to plan out dinner recipes for a week at a time and then go grocery shopping for that week over the weekend. This keeps things pretty simple. When searching through recipes, if you're fairly new to extensive cooking, need to stay on a budget, or both, look for recipes that don't have too many ingredients. That's a big one for me because I don't have the time or money to be making recipes with twenty ingredients every night. Especially watch out for recipes with four or five fresh spices, as those tend to be pretty pricey(unless you grow them yourself!). I like to browse through Finding Vegan and Pinterest for recipes.

Don't be caught empty-handed.

Carry edible things with you, especially snacks. You're gonna be out and you're gonna get hungry, and there isn't going to be one single thing you can have. So make sure you have some tasty goodness on you so you won't be either starved or tempted. This especially goes for potluck style dinners and events. Bring a veggie-based main dish, and you'll be good to go if there's nothing else there. You may also have to start packing a lunch for school or work if you usually buy from the cafeteria and they don't have meatless options.

They just don't understand!

First, don't be a dick to the people around you. You don't need to convert your hostile Uncle Jimmy to the cause. It's not going to work, and he has as much right to an opinion as you do. Second, don't let other people be dicks to you. If your mother-in-law delights in serving nothing but meat and cheese, it's up to you whether you can make an exception to keep the peace. If not, there's nothing wrong with that. Try to be respectful and explain as nicely as possible, but don't let other people make you feel bad for keeping your commitments.

Find your eating-out hot spots.

Depending on where you live, there may be quite a few vegan/veg-friendly restaurants, or there may be hardly any. Once you figure out the places with veggie options, you'll know what to suggest when going out with friends or family. The best places are places that make it obvious which things are which. You can also get online and do some research on the ingredients of menu items from fast food chains.

Supplement B12.

You'll hear a lot about protein when people find out about your switch. "How do you get enough protein?"  Blah blah blah. Plant foods, including legumes and greens, have protein. B12 is the real concern because you can't get it from plant foods. Luckily, it's easy to find. Just browse the supplement aisle at your local drug store or Walmart. Kris Karr's book Crazy Sexy Diet is a great resource if you're interested in learning more about how to maximize your health on a vegan diet.

Keep an eye on the subs.

You know all those nifty-looking vegan substitutes at your health food store? Vegan mayonnaise, soy cheeses, and soy meats can be intriguing options, but they're not necessarily the best choices when it comes to health, as many of them are highly processed. Try making your own instead, or use them sparingly. Some people recommend using them as a transition tool, and cutting down on them eventually. Nutritional yeast is a completely healthy alternative to Parmesan cheese, though. (I know, I know. My husband says we really need to work on naming things. Doesn't sound all that appealing, huh? Sort of like textured vegetable protein...oh well.)

Don't give vegan cookies a bad name.

One last thing. You'll happen upon some "vegan cookies." They'll taste like someone barfed up beans and then added some mashed banana and rolled it all out into sticky little balls. It'll make you think you're never gonna be able to eat a decent dessert again, but it's all LIES. I honestly don't know why these exist when fluffy, amazing vegan cookies exist in the same world. Check out Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. Non-vegans think they're awesome and have no clue they're vegan. Honest. You'll thank me for that tip.

   Those are the main things I think you deserve/need to know as you head off into this exciting new world, and I know you guys can figure out the rest and make it from there.

  Happy Veggin'!

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