Veganuary is nearly over and if you have a wish to carry on living a vegan life, this blog has some tips to help, whether you have been making a big lifestyle change or just a few tweaks.
According to some research from Oxford University, becoming vegan is the ‘single biggest way to reduce your impact on the planet’. A huge statement in itself and that’s not even starting to consider the animal welfare aspect of cutting out animal products. Now some people will dispute the extent of this claim but it’s widely agreed that veganism has a positive impact on the environment, and bearing this in mind can help make any little transitions or extra thought that is needed while making the change absolutely worth it. Of course, as well as changing our diet we also need to consider buying ethical household goods and clothing whenever we can, to live our best vegan life.
It’s best to take a long-term view if you want to be a long-term vegan and it’s good to keep that in mind when making decisions about how to go about transitioning to a vegan life. Different approaches work for different people. Some vegans swear by going cold turkey (pardon the pun), others say a gentle transition worked for them, swapping dairy for non-dairy alternatives one at a time. For example:
First swap out milk for non-dairy milk, until the swap comes naturally
Then swap out yoghurt
1 Fast food
Some parts of becoming vegan have become much easier recently. In the old days, when I was younger, there were little or no vegan-ready meals, few snacks, and no fast food (unless you counted chips, but then you had to check what fat they were cooked in). Now there is a vegan substitute for almost everything you might want to eat. We had delicious vegan tempura ‘prawns’ this week made from jackfruit and oyster mushrooms. I simply couldn’t have even imagined that twenty years ago!
Fast food outlets, big chain pizza places, and supermarkets now stock a huge variety of vegan fast food, including vegan burgers, cheese, pepperoni, and chicken nuggets. So there’s no need to go anywhere near a mung bean – unless you want to!
There are two obvious downsides to this, firstly eating mostly fast food can be expensive, and secondly is likely to be unhealthy – even if it’s vegan. Processed vegan food, just like processed non-vegan food, can be high in salt and fat, and low in fibre. These days it is much easier to be an unhealthy vegan.
The answer for most of us, just like non-vegans, comes down to moderation. Having the occasional vegan ‘dirty burger’ but on the whole sticking to good, simple fresh food. I love this quote from Benjamin Zephaniah who has been vegan for decades,
“Basically, we want fruit, vegetables, and lentils of various kinds. Forget about all the posh cuisines and all that stuff. That’s alright if you’ve got the money for it. But veganism, in principle, should be really cheap.”
2 Fortified foods
A traditional concern for people turning vegan is about becoming deficient in some area of their new diet. It’s important to view veganism not as omitting things from the diet but replacing them. This way we are much more likely to stay healthy. When I became vegetarian as a young teenager I sometimes had the same meal as my meat-eating friends but simply omitted the meat. This is ok once or twice but I soon realised that I needed to actually replace the meat, not just leave it out. There are hundreds of resources online and many books with great advice about healthy replacements for meat, fish, and dairy, ensuring you will never feel deprived. There are good sources of protein in many plant foods such as beans, pulses, seeds, nuts (including nut butters), and so on. And the crucially important vitamin B12 can be found in fortified foods such as cereals (always check the labelling), and in yeast extracts like Marmite and Nutritional Yeast, or in daily supplements.
This will happen! Whether it’s bacon, cheese, chocolate, or something else, be prepared. Maybe these will be the times to delve into a bit of that fast food I was talking about above! With luck, we will find a vegan replacement for the thing we are craving. If not, and we kind of mess up and scoff that chocolate/cheese then don’t despair, put it down to experience and carry on. There’s no point giving up being a vegan because of a few slip-ups, it’s a journey and some days will be easier than others.
A good way to counteract the feeling of craving something you can’t have is to focus on appreciating what you can have instead. I preferred the taste of milk chocolate biscuits to plain (vegan) chocolate biscuits but I have learned to love the vegan versions and appreciate them, it just takes a change of focus. To help with the motivation to change focus, think about why you wanted to become vegan in the first place, this makes it a natural change.
If you live with people who are not vegan or vegetarian, there are extra little adjustments that need to be made if you decide to move over to veganism yourself. If you are not the one who does the weekly shop it can be trickier, especially regarding buying shared household items such as cleaning products. With food, there is very little point trying to convert someone to veganism, it just annoys people and makes them push against you. Definitely avoid being judgemental for the same reason.
If someone in your family is interested in veganism, that’s different, you can cook for them and explain the motive behind your change.
Generally speaking, the easiest way to live in a vegan/non-vegan household is a bit of mix and match, you can eat vegan meals together, or eat separately sometimes when they want to eat non-vegan. We do it in our household and it’s not so difficult, and everyone gets what they want. Remember, veganism is based on compassion, and this includes compassion for the people we live with as well!
To end with, here is a bit more advice and inspiration from the wonderful Benjamin Zephaniah, who sums it all up brilliantly:
“Vegans aren’t perfect; we just think it’s worth it. We’re trying to do the most good and the least harm. And that’s the best you can do. So keep trying”