As a former meat-eater from a family of omnivores (meat and plant eaters) when I first went vegan I was clueless. I've written about the early stages of my switch in this post, 'I could never go vegan: a trial separation'. But in this piece I volunteer myself as your plant-based sensei. If you're thinking about going vegan or have done so recently, here are 10 helpful insights I wish I knew before I turned to the dark side...
1. You WILL mess up at first
Food labels are confusing. I spent my first month vegan using a lactose-free cheese and boasting about how similar my cheesey pizzas were to the real thing before realising that it had milk products in it... I told myself that it was a genuine mistake, it couldn't be helped now, and I resolved to not beat myself up over it. 'Whey' or 'whey powder' is cow's milk, so before you start jumping with excitement in Tesco clutching a box of would-be vegan biscuits - just double check that there's no whey hiding in there.
2. Vegan digestion is cray cray...
Without going into any details a plant-based diet does wonders for your insides, especially your digestive system. The fibre in your new diet keeps food moving smoothly through your system, avoiding constipation almost entirely. You'll notice a huge difference within the first couple of days.
3. Veganism can be alienating
Friends who were supportive of your lifestyle change at first, who may even have said, "if you stick to that vegan thing, I might have a go" are now wary of you because you don't eat things that they do and that makes them feel uncomfortable. Non-vegans, presumably defensive of their own diet, will become obsessed with the validity of yours and, most notably, where you get your protein from. Over time I learnt that in order to disarm a self-justifying meat-eater, the best way to respond is to keep it simple: You just don't want to eat animal products anymore. And if they still do, that's okay too.
4. You WILL get angry and upset
Maybe you've watched some documentaries about the food industry, (Vegucated (2010) and Food Inc (2008) being two of my favourites), or maybe you woke up one day and could no longer bear the thought of enslaving animals for your satisfaction or diet. You find yourself getting angry when non-vegans talk about their love of animals, whilst shovelling a bacon sandwich into their mouths... This is because as a new vegan, you feel like you 'woke up' - and you can't understand other people didn't. It's an emotional rollercoaster and a few months down the line, when you've settled into your new lifestyle, you'll regret the arguments you had with family members who didn't want to switch to soya milk and the friends who 'couldn't live without meat' *rolls eyes*.
5. You can still eat out!
Many people labour under the misapprehension that the food-life of a vegan is bland, boring and solitary. But they couldn't be more wrong. Since I've been vegan I've eaten more colourful, flavoursome food than before and I didn't stop eating out with friends and family. While many UK chain restaurants cater to vegans, I suggest letting restaurants know about your dietary requirements when booking to avoid disappointment. Plus, there's nothing like watching a sad vegan chewing dry brown bread in a restaurant to put other people off plant-based living.
6. Meat-eaters will feel sorry for you
If you were previously vegetarian then the change to veganism won't've been that drastic a transformation for you or the people around you to get used to. But if, like me, you went from full carnivore to vegan overnight then your friends simply won't believe you when you say you don't miss any of the foods you stopped consuming, even if the thought of them makes you nauseous now.
7. No two vegans are ever the same
On a vegan diet but not all of your beauty products are vegan? You could practically be lynched online by some vegans for admitting this. 'May contain traces of milk' is acceptable to some vegans and sacrilegious to others. But it's hard to agree 100% with anyone on anything and telling someone they're 'not doing veganism right' could put them off it altogether. Plus, vegan hair products and organic produce can be pricey. So just do what works for YOU.
8. Forums can be great and AWFUL
Online vegan forums can be great when you're just starting out with your new diet. Personally, I've found Liverpool's 'Scouseveg' Facebook group invaluable in terms of support and local restaurant tips. But some forums are a breeding ground for online trolls (vegan and otherwise!) that can be tiresome and annoying: so use them at your own peril.
9. You're not perfect and that's okay!
New vegans can feel pressured to conform to an eco-warrior stereotype that, along with not eating animal products, doesn't take baths, use central heating, drive a car or do anything else that could harm the environment. But why should you hold yourself tirelessly to these stringent standards when your nay-sayers don't bother? If you've made the decision to go vegan, even just diet-wise, you've made a really big and positive step to having less of a negative impact on the world and your own body!
10. Tofu scramble is a lie.
I could be letting myself in for a barrage of hate with this one but here goes.
Vegans: Stop trying to make tofu scramble happen, it's not going to happen.
(If any vegans reading this can honestly make a non-gag-inducing tofu scramble then please, please get in touch and prove me wrong).
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