This post was written by Annalaura Maranville, a member of your Co-op Cafe Team and a plant-based eating enthusiast.
Eight years ago, I stumbled upon a brochure about veganism. I’d been in an on-again-off-again relationship with vegetarianism for years, but on this particular day, I was struck with an unavoidable conviction to go fully vegan.
After reading about the environmental impact of an animal-based diet, the ethical concerns within factory farming, and the health benefits of plant-based eating, it was an easy decision for me. Eight years later, I can proudly say that I have maintained the same conviction I felt that day almost entirely—besides a specific rough patch that included a break-up and some Flavor Blasted Goldfish.
Most of the time when I tell people I’ve been vegan for eight years, they express astonishment in the form of “I could never do that!” Honestly, that’s not a surprising reaction! It’s definitely not for everyone and I can only speak for myself when I share my reasons for taking the plunge. I’m not here to food-shame anyone; I just know what works for me.
Most of us grow up eating meat and drinking milk and we see it as an integral part of our diet. If you do decide to eliminate animal products from your diet, you can be left feeling disoriented, unsatisfied, and overwhelmed. Here are some suggestions for new vegans or vegans-to-be that will hopefully make your transition easier!
1. Avoid Expensive Meat Alternatives
People often tell me that veganism is “too expensive” and this can be true! One of the most convenient things about veganism in 2019 is that they’ve veganized almost everything: corndog bites, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, fish sticks, pizza rolls (no bagel bites, yet—I’m still waiting on that one). You name it, you can probably find a vegan version of it. But this convenience comes at a high price—literally.
It’s easy to get excited and load your freezer up with imitation meatballs, crab cakes, and chicken strips but this is definitely not the best way to do plant-based eating on a budget.
Since going vegan, I’ve actually found I spend less money on food because my staple foods are extremely affordable and can be stretched out across more meals! Foods like beans are super cheap—especially if you buy in bulk at Good Foods—and are extremely versatile. Combine them with some veggies, canned coconut milk (another affordable staple of mine), curry paste, and spices and you’ve got a healthy and filling vegan curry!
Tofu is another versatile ingredient that I use often for tofu scrambles, stir-fries, and even fun treats like chocolate mousse. There are so many fun recipes out there using affordable vegetables like potatoes, spinach, green beans, and bell peppers. Don’t use meat alternatives as the backbone of your diet—use it to supplement all the tasty grains, legumes, and vegetables that are less expensive! I recommend The Stingy Vegan for loads of cheap recipes!
2. Try These Top Cheese Choices
Perhaps the most common response I get when talking about veganism is “I could never give up cheese!”—and it makes sense! There are a ton of things to love about cheese. However, if you’ve decided to go vegan, there are ways to satisfy your cheese craving without eating dairy!
There are quite a few great vegan cheese brands on the market, like VioLife, Daiya, and Follow Your Heart. These taste delicious and make dishes like pasta or pizza fast and worry-free. However, I use the same rule for cheese alternatives as I do about meat alternatives—they’re a supplement, not the backbone.
There are cheaper ways to make foods that will satisfy your queso cravings at home. You won’t believe the things you can do with nuts these days! Soaked cashews make a great base for vegan cheese. Try this recipe for Vegan Green Chile Queso. If you’re feeling ambitious, try this cultured vegan cheese with rejuvelac—a nonalcoholic fermented liquid made from grains.
3. When In Doubt, Take it Slow
If you’re feeling as convicted about going vegan as I was when I stumbled upon that brochure, you’re going to want to jump right in and eliminate all animal products immediately! The truth is, though, that going cold Tofurky may not be the best route for everybody. I was lucky to be living at home with my parents who were extremely supportive and excited to help me transition.
If you’ve been eating meat your entire life, going vegan could be a big change for you! If you cut everything out overnight, you run the risk of not getting all the nutrients your body needs or simply eating the same boring food that you don’t really like day after day. Neither of these is conducive to maintaining plant-based eating and you’ll likely end up either sick or extremely burnt out.
Instead, try making slow changes to your ordinary eating habits. For example, substitute alternatives like tofu or tempeh for meat in dishes like tacos, stir-fries, and so on. Challenge yourself once or twice a week to find a vegan recipe that sounds good until you have a whole arsenal of tasty vegan dinner options.
It takes some time to find out which foods can take the place of the animal products you currently eat. There’s no shame in taking it slowly and you’re more likely to maintain veganism if you spend the time figuring out what kind of changes to make to suit your diet best!
Since going vegan I’ve improved my physical health, reduced my impact on the planet, developed a greater sense of compassion for all creatures, and learned to enjoy food more! I’ve discovered so many new recipes and foods that I like that I’d never have taken the time to learn about before. I love cooking new vegan recipes and I’ve made so many like-minded friends through the vegan community.
Starting plant-based eating can be a big change, but if you view it as an exciting opportunity to discover new foods that are cruelty-free, environmentally friendly, and nutritious, you’re more likely to stick with it! If you’d like any more advice on transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, check out these articles: