Making the decision to switch to a vegan lifestyle can be daunting, especially when you realise just how many animal ingredients are out there. I hope anyone new to veganism, or anyone who just wants to reduce the animal-based products they buy, find these tips useful.
1. Take small steps if the big ones are too big
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you first become vegan, as there are a lot of changes to make. Making those changes slowly can help with that. I tried to stop buying anything non-vegan immediately, but it is incredibly hard to do that, as it takes time to learn which ingredients can come from animal sources.
2. Shop somewhere that is good at labelling their vegan products
*Edit 18/02/2016 Sainsbury’s appears to think chicken stock is a vegetarian “grey area” and provided deceptive responses when questioned about it via Twitter (see conversation here). I am therefore no longer comfortable recommending them. Unfortunately, this means there are no longer any mainstream UK supermarkets I would recommend for easy vegan shopping. The vegan symbol from The Vegan Society is a good mark to look for, but an item not having it does not necessarily mean it is not vegan.
Sainsbury’s is excellent for this in the UK (far better than any other supermarkets imho) and perhaps somewhere like Trader Joe’s or Wholefoods would be good options in the US. If you have to shop elsewhere, use your phone to look up ingredients that you’re unsure about and try not to worry if you don’t have time to look up every single thing – the longer you’re vegan, the more vegan items you’ll find that you can repurchase and the easier you’ll find label-checking.
3. Make a health-food shop your new friend
Unless you’re coming from a vegetarian or particularly health-conscious background, you probably haven’t used health shops very much. Many of them sell vegan foods and supplements, and they are often able to offer advice too. In the UK, Holland and Barrett have fridges and freezers in their stores, in which many of the contents are vegan.
4. Shop online
You are likely to find far more variety when it comes to vegan meat-equivalents, vegan cheeses etc. online than in physical shops. You can also buy vegan pet-foods online if you are planning to try your dogs or cats on a vegan diet (remember that they are naturally carnivores though and need certain nutrients that they usually get from meat).
5. Use the internet
There are so many excellent resources online for vegans. It is worth taking some time to read up on nutrition so you know which things you need to ensure you are getting in your diet (this is something we should all do really – vegan or not!). Don’t over-face yourself with information straight away if there seems to be a lot to take in. Just read a blog post or article or two, or watch a youtube video, each night or whatever you find manageable.
6. Try not to worry about the stigma that’s often associated with veganism
It was a very pleasant surprise to me that the majority of people I told I’d become vegan were accepting and, in fact, many were interested and asked me questions. When going to restaurants, it can be easy to worry that you’ll get funny looks or that there will be nothing to eat. I’ve found that this is not usually the case. Most restaurants I’ve visited have been excellent – something I’ll discuss in a later blog post about the different experiences I’ve had. Just remember – if you had an allergy, they would have to be accommodating (if you really feel uncomfortable telling them you’re vegan, tell them you’re allergic to all animal-based products!). On a final note, if they are dismissive or difficult about your dietary requirements, do you really want to give them your business anyway?
7. Don’t beat yourself up
If you slip-up try not to worry. Vegan guilt is something we all suffer from when we make the switch and discover things we’ve been eating or using whilst thinking we are vegan actually come from animals. I’m still finding non-vegan ingredient nasty surprises on a regular basis and imagine I will be for some time. I don’t throw away things I’ve already bought that aren’t vegan – that would mean the animal they came from would have suffered for no reason – I just don’t buy them again. Keep in mind that you are doing your best to help animals and that’s the most important thing – giving up completely because the task is difficult would be far worse than making the occasional mistake!