5 Tips for Newbie Vegans

Saturday, 7 January 2017


It’s January, and that also means that thousands of people across the world are participating in Veganuary!  For those who don’t know, Veganuary is when folks pledge to go vegan for the month of January and, maybe, decide to stick with it at the end of the month.  Given that last time I checked, there were a whopping 40,000 people already signed up to take part, there are going to be quite a few newbie vegans running around this month.  In the spirit of things, I thought I would devote most of this month’s posts to veganism and try my best to act as a resource for everyone.

Today’s post is all about, well, tips for new vegans!  I’ve been vegan for over a year now, and while that doesn’t seem very long in the grand scheme of things, it feels like it’s been forever for me and I’m slowly becoming a fountain of knowledge with plenty of wisdom to share.  I could go on and on in terms of helpful hints and my own personal recommendations, but I’ve cut it down to just five that I consider to be some of the most important, whether it’s to do with what you’re actually eating or just your overall mentality when taking the plunge.

Now, on to the tips...

THERE ARE NO PERFECT VEGANS, AND WE CERTAINLY DON’T BECOME ONE OVERNIGHT.
This is a point that I cannot reiterate enough – there are no perfect vegans.  There’s not really a ‘vegan police’, and while there may be other vegans that criticise you and your choices, it’s important to be open to educating yourself where appropriate, and to also learn to ignore those people for whom there is always some other thing you have to be doing to be a ‘worthy’ vegan.

Committing yourself to trying out veganism is already a huge step towards protecting the planet and helping hundreds of animals, and you need to remember to go at your own pace and to allow yourself to make mistakes.  Particularly once you learn about the realities of what goes on in the animal agriculture industry, it can be easy to feel like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders and that there are horrifying consequences to your mistakes, but that simply isn’t true.  Accidentally eating something containing whey powder or being forced to settle for something non-vegan at a relative’s house is not the end of the world and doesn’t negate all of the good you are doing 99.999% of the time.  Hell, you don’t even have to go 100% vegan to make a huge, positive impact in the world (but that’s a post for another time).

We all make mistakes, and most of us took a long time to get to the stage we’re at now.  I didn’t flick a switch and suddenly wake up an infallible, all-knowing vegan – I took a couple of months to transition, even further to use up old non-vegan products, and even now I still accidentally buy things assuming that they must be vegan when they aren’t!  You’re on a journey – cut yourself some slack.

REMEMBER TO PUT COST INTO PERSPECTIVE.
One of the most common arguments that many people have against going vegan is the idea that it’s super expensive compared to being non-vegan.  In certain areas and for certain people, that’s 100% true (and a fact that you should always be aware of when arguing the ease of going vegan).  In food deserts and for low income people, families living in poverty and in many more situations, going vegan while still eating a healthy and nutritious diet may not be financially possible.  However, for the average person with access to gas and electricity, a decent kitchen, good local supermarkets, a steady income, time to prepare meals and so on, cost is not nearly as much of an issue as we’re led to believe.

Foods like beans and lentils are healthy, packed with protein and far cheaper than meat.  Most supermarkets now have their own often vegan ranges of meat-free frozen foods that are cheaper than meat, too.  Fibre-filled wholefoods like pulses and legumes also fill you up much more effectively than meat and dairy, meaning that the money you do spend goes further.

Even long after I became vegan, I was extremely wary of the cost and still believed that I was ultimately spending more on my food.  I would spend ages mulling over whether or not to buy a certain veggie/vegan item, only to decide against it, citing the supposed extra, extortionate expense as reason to omit it from my shop.  But, once I thought about it, I realised that this isn’t necessarily the case.  For example, I used to feel really antsy about buying tofu because ‘it’s so expensive’, but where I shop at the moment it’s cheaper than buying decent quality meat and feeds my other half and I for just as long.  £1.50 for 4, maybe 5 portions isn’t ‘so expensive’, and other meals we cook like soups, chillis, curries and pasta sauces are actually a fraction of the price now that we don’t use meat.

So, when you are doing your weekly shops and worrying about the cost of your vegan lifestyle, remember to put that into perspective.  Most of us wouldn’t have had the same money anxiety about purchasing meat, eggs or cheese as we do with tofu, meat-free alternatives, non-dairy cheese etc. - we just accepted the cost of animal products as normal and a necessity in our weekly shops when they really didn’t need to be.

DON’T RELY ON ALTERNATIVES.
I did mention vegan alternatives above, but I think it’s also important to remember not to rely on them.  Depending on where you live and where you shop, vegan versions of meats, cheeses and so on are likely available and there’s a plethora of things out there to try if you know where to look.  That said, if you don’t know where to look or live in a veggie-unfriendly area, they can be difficult to find.  Plus, although they aren’t all astronomically priced, they won’t be as cheap as, well, not insisting on having an ‘alternative’ to meat or cheese as the star of every meal.

I could make stir fries using faux-duck or chicken strips, but I just use tofu and veggies.  I could make all of my chillis and pasta sauces with faux-mince, but I often just use beans, lentils and tomato.  I could make mac-n-cheese using legit vegan cheese, but I usually use home-made concoctions instead.  The latter options are usually more affordable, healthier and consist of easier to find ingredients, rather than relying on hunting down specific fake meats at your local health food store.  Vegan diets are traditionally plant-based, and it’s a shame to not make the most of plants at their purest!

TRY NEW FOODS AND LEARN TO APPRECIATE DIFFERENT FLAVOURS.
I have been a lucky vegan in that I’ve never really been a fussy eater, so throughout my transition from eating meat, to fish, to being vegetarian and now vegan, I’ve never had a problem with trying new foods.  I am privileged in that respect, because I know there are plenty of vegans and non-vegans alike who don’t like or simply can’t always stomach all of the same things that I eat.  I get that, and you should never force yourself to eat something you hate or that makes you sick just because you’re vegan!

Having said that though, if you commit to going vegan you should also commit to opening yourself up to new culinary experiences.  There is a big, wide world of vegan food out there and it’s foolish to restrict yourself because you might not like something, but haven’t even tried it.  Branch out and try other nations’ cuisine (Indian and South Asian are some of my favourites), dip your toes into the waters of other seasonings and spices, try types of pulses and legumes and vegetables that you might not have tried before you were vegan.

In the same vein, you should learn to not expect vegan versions of your old favourites to be exactly the same as when you used to eat non-vegan versions.  One of the mistakes that a lot of people seem to make and that puts many non-vegan people off even trying vegan options, is the fact that they will taste something expecting it to be exactly like they remembered it and be horribly disappointed when it’s not.  Of course it won’t be identical; it doesn’t have meat or dairy or eggs etc. in it!  But that doesn’t mean that, if you keep an open mind, you can’t appreciate the flavours for what they are instead of constantly comparing them to what you knew before.  I used to hate vegan cheeses, but once I got over the fact that, no, they’re never going to be identical to dairy cheese, I learned to actually enjoy them.  (Well, some of them, others are still rancid…)

BE OPEN TO DIALOGUE AND CHANGING THE WAY THAT YOU THINK.
I mentioned earlier that veganism is a journey, and on that long, winding journey you may encounter new ideas, people or experiences that change your world view.  Thoughts and opinions you might have with regard to veganism now may evolve, and you should be receptive to conversations with other vegans (and non-vegans) and always be open to educating yourself and absorbing new information.

When I first went vegan, I did so for purely environmental reasons and still believed that there was nothing inherently wrong with eating animals and animal products.  Nowadays, I tend to question that belief and lean more towards the idea that consumption of animal products can never be ethical as long as animal agriculture continues on an industrial scale.  It may be that one day I believe that consumption of animal products can never be ethical full stop, even in an ‘ideal world’ consisting only of small, family farms, and I try to remain aware of the fact that my beliefs could change as I learn new things and speak to other people.

Be aware of the necessity of intersectionality when it comes to veganism.  We aren’t all born equal, and we don’t all have the same experiences, so remember to listen to others when they share their thoughts and experiences with you and be mindful that your lived experiences may not be theirs.  Do not simply close yourself off when discussing aspects of veganism with others, whether they are vegan or non-vegan.  At the same time, though, remember to share your own thoughts and knowledge (where appropriate) and offer others the same opportunity to help educate themselves.  Once upon a time, you weren’t vegan for the reasons you are now and you have the power to change someone else’s mind too!

I hope these tips were at all helpful, whether you’re newly vegan, a veteran or even just a curious non-vegan.  If you have any questions or need any other resources, always feel free to ask!  You can catch me on Twitter or Instagram (@thezombiesaid) any time and I’ll also be doing vegan content for the rest of January, so keep an eye out.

Peace out and may your snacks contain no whey powder!

14 comments

  1. Some great tips here! I found trying Veganuary expensive last year and my circumstances have changed between now and then, so I struggled to think whether to try it again this year. I'm glad I did, but now, I spend a lot more time thinking about how to make food last longer and how to save money x

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    1. Circumstances can make such a big difference! I don't think I could've done it when I was a student living off £10 per week on groceries. :l Best of luck this year!

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  2. I've been working on reducing my consumption of meat and dairy - the latter as my lactose intolerance gets even worse - and plan to eat veg or vegan most of my meals this year. I'm still struggling with access to produce and a good variety of it in my small, rural Canadian area, but we've had a major demographic change with more immigrants to the area this year and I hope that our variety of foods will continue to grow, making it easier for people who have even the slightest of alternative diets here (me included!) to cook.

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    1. Getting a hold of good produce can be such a challenge when you're not in a city, it's such a shame! I hope it starts to get better there for you (and everyone else with a less common diet) soon!

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  3. I first did veganuary three years ago so it makes me so happy to think of all the people giving it a go this month! I totally agree with you about not relying too much on meat substitutes - I also cook with veggies, grains and pulses rather than substitutes and I find it cheaper and healthier. I also think it's interesting how much my relationship to food has changed since going vegan - I've tried so many new things I'm more excited about food than ever! Your tips are really useful, I hope everyone's veganuary goes well xx

    Jessthetics

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    1. I'm glad you liked the tips! Yeah, I'm definitely not in the 'healthy vegan' camp but I do prefer to stick to more basic ingredients rather than using subs since the ingredient lists on fake meats, cheeses etc. are always a bit long and chemically for me to want to have them for every meal. :l & I agree, it's made me so much more appreciative of and enthusiastic about food!

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  4. This is such a good post Steph, with such well-thought out and helpful tips. I think relying on meat-alternatives can be really attractive when you're first getting into veganism, but I totally agree that once you open yourself up to other options you find that you can substitute most of those alternatives in meals with even better results. I thought I would really struggle without Quorn chicken pieces when I went vegan (before they brought out the vegan ones, which I've eaten once!) but soon enough I didn't feel the need for any alternatives and mainly just use tofu instead now xx

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    1. Thanks so much! Me too, Quorn used to be such a regular rotation in my diet when I was pescatarian and vegetarian but I tend to only use subs for junk food-y treats (like the Linda McCartney sausage rolls etc.) nowadays! The alternatives are nice to try out every now and again, and were a great way to ease me into it while I was finding my feet but I never felt the need to keep using them regularly once I got to grips with cooking again.

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  5. This is such an interesting, informative post, Steph! I've only just stopped eating fish so I'm not doing Veganuary this year, but there's plenty of advice here I can use. I've been cooking a lot of vegan meals lately and really enjoying it - I made your fennel and butterbean stew yesterday and it was so good, my mum loved it! xx

    Toasty

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    1. Thank you, I hope you get some use out of it! :) And omg that has made my day, I'm really glad you both liked it!

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  6. These are some really great tips, I'm low-key trying to do veganuary. I don't know if I'll be able to stay vegan straight away, so it's good to find some tips I can come back to.

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  7. When I first went Vegan I started using a lot of faux meats but several months later I have started using beans and lentils first and have faux meats once a blue moon. I feel fuller, it's not as costly and I feel a lot "healthier".

    fab post -

    www.hayleyloves.uk

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  8. This is such a helpful post and I wish it had been around when I tried (and failed) Veganuary last year. I've been vegan since June and honestly I've found it pretty easy this time round - especially as I live in a big city - but I agree that it's so hard not to beat yourself up when you make mistakes or have to settle for non-vegan food at relatives' houses. When I went home for Christmas my parents had bought me a Quorn roast as well as veggie sausages to go with Christmas dinner and I didn't have the heart to tell them they weren't vegan after they'd gone to such an effort. It's all about finding a kind of veganism that works for you and aligns with what you're comfortable with :)

    - Sarah
    www.moonandforest.co.uk

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  9. When I first went Vegan in 2006 I did it all wrong and eventually gave up. I did come from the middle of no where and internet shopping hadn't quiet become all the rage up there. Also, I was a fussy eater. I didn't like many things and struggled to find anything I liked. Now ten years late I am vegan and doing it right. Learning to cook and I have evolved in my tastes in food. I also have a better income and can afford to replace old favourites with alternatives and can afford to waste food when I get a recipe wrong, it happens a lot!

    - Rachel

    www.theracheldays.com

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