So you're thinking, "this vegan thing sounds cool, maybe it's time to give it a try?"
I say CONGRATS! You'll love your new compassionate lifestyle - because veganism is a lifestyle, not a diet. Being vegan is a philosophy that extends way beyond what you eat. Being vegan is about trying your best to avoid participating in anything that causes suffering to living beings - it's about respect and compassion for sentient beings and living in harmony with the planet. At least that's how I see it.
Approaching my one-year vegan anniversary, I wanted to share a little bit of what I've learned with those of you that are contemplating the plant-fuelled life. Here are my top five tips for transitioning into veganism:
1. Take it one step at a time.
Although I've heard lots of success stories about people who went vegan overnight and admire the heck out of them, for me personally a gradual transformation was crucial. If I had attempted cold turkey, I'm guessing I would have been emaciated, malnourished and constantly grumpy. In fact, I have a theory that says most people who tried going vegan and went back to an omnivore life were cold-turkey people. My first step was swapping the cow's milk for almond or rice milk. Then I bought only dark chocolate instead of the milk variety. Pretty soon I ate 100% vegan at home and vegetarian when going out or eating at my in-laws' house (I still lived in Italy, where the vegan life is far from easy!). When I left my full-time office job, I decided to try eating vegan every day - just to see how it went. And here I am one year later.
2. Don't be preachy.
I honestly don't know where people get the "preachy vegan" stereotype - I have yet to actually meet one. In my experience, omnivores are the preachy ones - as soon as you mention you're vegan, so many people feel entitled to jump down your throat about protein this, B12 that, "but they were made to be eaten" and the like. But STILL: don't take on a "holier than thou" attitude and respect people's right to eat whatever they want (as long as they respect yours). Vegans don't think we're better than anyone - in fact, that's why we are vegans. We don't think we're better than cows, pigs, fish or chickens. Also, please avoid laying into fellow vegans that slip up sometimes, still wear their old leather shoes and/or didn't know that mascara wasn't cruelty-free. Because, as it happens...
3. Don't beat yourself up and remember you're vegan even if you mess up.
I confess here and now: I CHEAT. That's right, I'm a big fat vegan cheater! This doesn't mean I order the cheese plate when I go out. It does mean that I have bought Quorn bits, later discovered they had eggs in them and didn't throw them out (I finished them and just didn't buy them again). It also does mean that I take the occasional bite out of my boyfriend's non-vegan ice cream or cake sometimes. I also use the non-cruelty free beauty products that are free with magazines: never ever will I ever stop buying magazines, and throwing the products away seems like a waste. I do, however, give them away sometimes. And you know what? This doesn't make me any less vegan. In my opinion, veganism is about the effort, the choice, the dedication. Not about the tiny percentage of times when you screw up.
4. Get online support and read the books.
I know quite few vegans IRL. Most of my vegan knowledge comes from blogs, Instagram (the @vegansofig account is beyond amazing - it's run by Amy Rebecca, founder of Fur Free LA, blogger at La Belle Nuage and my favourite vegan guru) and websites like The Kind Life. Speaking of The Kind Life - the book is absolutely amazing and I learned so much from it. I haven't watched the documentaries - they would truly break my heart and since I already know what's going on, I don't think I really need them. I have read Eating Animals and the horror of it completely destroyed me (I was already vegetarian contemplating veganism at the time). I'm thankful for books and films like that, but I personally prefer the "hey, let's live a happy and compassionate life with smoothies and kale chips" approach. But yes, knowing what actually goes on in slaughterhouses and "free range" factory farms is a must. Know your facts.
5. Watch your nutrition.
I can't stress this enough. I've never taken vitamins in my life and now Holland and Barrett's Vegan supplements are as much of a must in my handbag as my iPhone. I take one pill a day with a meal. Other tweaks I've made: I don't have any coffee or tea with lunch or dinner because caffeine hinders iron intake (I do need my almond macchiato with breakfast, though!) and have it a couple of hours later instead. I always make sure there's protein in every meal - almond milk and nuts at breakfast, soy mince in my pasta, avocado and beans in my salad and so on. I try to swap white pasta and rice for the wholegrain variety. Also, we've stopped buying bread - David likes to bake and makes delicious wholegrain buns and pizzas. I also love sea vegetables and try to eat as many as I can.
So there it is - the start to your new healthy vegan life! As I said, I'm far from an expert, but these five things have helped me on my journey. I love knowing that my actions are in line with my beliefs - nothing tastes as good as compassion feels!
If you have more tips, feel free to share them in the comments!
Picture from Pinterest