Ahimsa; a Sanskrit word meaning dynamic harmlessness
Howdy friend! I am so happy you are joining the vegan community. Welcome. We don’t have a secret handshake – how cool would that be?! – but I would like to give you a giant cyber hug. Deciding to adopt a vegan lifestyle is a brave and compassionate thing to do. In unity with the Sanskrit word “ahimsa,” following a vegan path is one of dynamic harmlessness or non-violence. Does that mean we never get angry? Geez no! My inner sailor comes out whenever someone cuts me off in traffic just like everyone else. However, as a vegan I do try to live a compassionate life where I actively seek to do no harm to others, particularly animals.
So what does becoming vegan mean?
“Veganism is a philosophy that promotes reverence for life and promotes compassion for all living things…a vegan lifestyle excludes as far as possible all forms of animal exploitation.” (Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina).
You might hear the terms “plant-based” and “vegan” used interchangeably but they are different. Plant-based refers to an animal-free diet while being vegan means to omit, as much as practicable, all animal products including food, clothing, toiletries and cleaning products.
Either is an amazing and positive choice.
Is being vegan hard?
I’m not going to lie, being vegan can be hard. Not just on a practical level but also an emotional one. Becoming a vegan means forgoing some of your own comforts for the benefit of another creature; a creature you will most likely never meet. It also means taking a stand on some deeply rooted customs and traditions many of which, your loved ones still practice. It can sometimes feel pretty isolating and while I wish it wasn’t true, many of the people you love will not understand your choice. Some may mock it, judge you or feel that you are judging them.
Having said that, most people get over the initial shock pretty quickly and move on. Veganism is becoming increasingly demystified through social media and non-vegans are more open to trying vegan meals occasionally. My gorgeous friend Michelle from The Last Food Blog calls it being “v-curious.” I love that.
Here’s the good news. It has never been easier to be a vegan than it is right now. The vegan community is growing and as such, the demand and supply of vegan products is growing too. According to The Vegan Society, demand for meat-free food increased by 987% in 2017. Meanwhile, 5 % more Americans identified as vegan in 2017 (6%) compared to 2014 (1%). Between 2014 and 2016, the number of food products launched in Australia carrying a vegan claim rose by 92 per cent, according to The Food Revolution Network (SBS News).
Besides being awesome for our bellies, this growth means that you have more support from a larger vegan community than ever before. Look at me, sitting in my home writing to you. You don’t know me and I don’t know you but I know something of your journey and I want to help you. I want to tell you something…
My friend, you got this…
and here are my 10 top tips to help get you started and stay the course.
10 Tips to becoming vegan and staying vegan
Experiment First : Start experimenting with vegan dishes and vegan ingredients BEFORE you make the transition and make note of those you like. Knowing which plant-based foods you enjoy means you can stock your fridge and pantry with those foods making the first few week easier. I also keep a list of iron-packed foods on my fridge to remind me to add them to my rotation. There are a tonne of vegan food recipe resources online so you can experiment with all your favourite foods, veganised. You can still eat pancakes, burgers, pizzas, curries and more on a vegan diet. Start experimenting!
Don’t Get Gassy: Legumes play a big role in a vegan diet being rich in fibre, plant protein, carbohydrates, iron, folate and other goodies. However, legumes also contain unabsorbed short-chain carbohydrates called galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS) and fructans. These sugars are poorly absorbed and are rapidly fermented by gut bacteria in the large bowel, resulting in gas (Huffington Post Australia). Some of us are affected more than others. Legumes are best introduced slowly to avoid any “unpleasantness” and bloating. Legumes also contain phytic acid which prevents the absorption of vitamins and minerals in to the body. Soaking or sprouting legumes before cooking means all the goodies are free to do you good.
Embrace Transitional Foods: With veganism on the rise, marketers and food producers are investing heavily in creating plant-based versions of our favourite non-vegan foods to stock supermarket shelves. Think burgers, nuggets, pizzas, cheese…while you are finding your own vegan footing use these products every once in a while to support your transition. Yes, they are processed and like all processed foods they are best enjoyed in moderation. However, if you need a little help staying your course by all means visit your friendly freezer aisle. Over time you will build up your own vegan food recipe game and won’t need to rely on packaged foods…wait, I’ve got vegan game and I still demolished three Impossible Burgers on my holiday Stateside. No judgment.
Ditch the Haters: Ironically, I am not talking about vegan haters here, I am talking about haters within the vegan community. Perhaps “haters” is too strong a term – we’ll call them somewhat judgemental holier-than-thou-types. For every truckload of kind and supportive vegans, there is a single, angry one. While I would encourage you to join online vegan communities if you feel you need support, don’t be discouraged by the single voice judging your vegan choices. There isn’t a prize for being the “most vegan.” Like all communities, the vegan one is not immune to militant members. Do vegan your way and if you find yourself needing support, the internet is filled with vegan bloggers to help you on your path.
Be Curious: Vegan cooking is full of weird and wonderful ingredients – don’t be afraid to jump in to the proverbial melting pot and try them. Aquafaba – the brine from cooked chickpeas – has completely revolutionised plant-based cooking and it took someone playing with their food to discover it. We can now enjoy meringues and other egg-white creations like the rest of the world. Be curious. Be positive. Before you turn your nose up at an ingredient remember this…you used to eggs that come right out of a chicken’s arse*. Enough said.
Supplements: Many nutritionists recommend supplementing a vegan diet with B12, iron and calcium. Chat to your doctor about which you might need and why. As you get better at balancing your plant-based diet your need for supplements will decrease. While vegans often rely on B12 supplements, it can be found in B12 fortified foods including some plant milks, soy products, cereals and nutritional yeast – check the label to make sure it’s fortified (The Vegan Society). Iron is in abundance in the plant-based world and over time you will find your favourite sources. Try lentils, chickpeas, cashews, tofu, hemp seeds, spinach, dried apricots, raisins, quinoa…combining iron with a vitamin C source will aid absorption. Calcium can be found in leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds and calcium fortified dairy-free milks and tofu.
Be a Cup Half Full Person: When the doubts set in and you begin to think about all the foods you can’t have, sit down, get out a pen and paper and write a list of all the foods you can have. It is a pretty long and compelling list. If that doesn’t work, go on a virtual food porn tour of all the wonderful plant-based blogs available to you. The internet is filled with decadent chocolate desserts, meatless but meaty homemade burgers and an abundance of plant-based, drool worthy recipes.
Return to your Why: Why are you vegan? I am vegan because I love animals and could not go another day knowing that I was contributing to their pain. Whenever I waiver – and it happens – I return to my “why.” I mentally look in to the eyes of a cow and my resolve returns. When in doubt, return to your why.
Keep it Simple: My very clever and wise friend Gena Hamshaw at The Full Helping is wonderful at taking the guess work and mystery out of vegan cooking. In her latest book Power Plates Gena says, “The next time you sit down to eat, ask yourself whether you have a source of protein, a good source of healthful fat, and some high quality, complex carbohydrates. If the answer is yes, then you’re working with a strong foundation.” It really can be that simple. If you are unsure jump online and visit the 1000’s of vegan recipe blogs and nutritional resources at your fingertips. You are not alone in this journey. Keep it simple, slow and steady. Remember, the Hare never did win that race.
Give Yourself a Break: Confession time…when I started out, I was a terrible vegan. I didn’t set out to cheat but I hadn’t prepared for the change and my body simply couldn’t adjust. I was tired, bloated (See Tip No. 2) and pretty hangry. Add to that I also made small concessions to make other people feel more comfortable with my choice. “Oh, I’m so sorry I put egg in that…is that OK?” “Ah, sure, it’s fine.” Fast forward 6 years and after cutting all animals products from my lifestyle slowly, over time, I am a fully functioning vegan. It took a little time for me to find my vegan groove but I got there. Forgive yourself the fails. Return to your why. Keep going.
So, that’s it. My top 10 tips to beginning and/or maintaining a plantful life. Some will resonate with you; some won’t. Being vegan doesn’t come with a roadmap – this is your journey. Embrace it and know that you are not alone. x
* Ok, so it’s technically a “vent” but “arse” just worked so much better in my sentence.
BECOMING VEGAN COMPREHENSIVE EDITION: THE COMPLETE REFERENCE TO PLANT-BASED NUTRITION, Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina, Book Publishing Company, 2014.
ELSA’S WHOLESOME LIFE, Ellie Bulleen, Plum. Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018.
POWER PLATES, Gena Hamshaw, Ten Speed Press and imprint of Penguin Random House, 2018.