Hello New Vegan,
What an exciting and life affirming trip you have ahead of you! There’s so much joy in the days ahead, but I also know that changing the way we eat and live can seem daunting at first. I remember a time when no one I knew was vegetarian or vegan, and I felt very much like I was forging this path alone. Now that I have new habits, new traditions, and new favorite foods, it can be easy to forget that there was a time when change seemed overwhelming. Take heart. With the growing pains of creating new habits comes the peace that is living a life in line with your own values and in a way that honors your health, well being, and respect for other living beings. To you, New Vegan, I offer these insights and tips from my own experience.
Consider what are the most compelling reasons to you to go vegan and keep learning. It keeps us inspired and empowered.
Read Food Revolution by John Robbins and China Study by T. Colin Campbell. Stay abreast of news and research that is continually coming out about the healthfulness of a plant based diet and stay aware of the abuse that continues to exist within animal agriculture.
Visit animal sanctuaries in your area or plan a vacation to visit one. The first time I held a chicken in my arms at Animal Acres, I felt overwhelmed with both grief and relief. Her body was so small and fragile. I was acutely aware of how vulnerable she was and how much lighter her body felt than my own companion animals at home. I also thought of how many chickens I had eaten in my life and how freeing it was to appreciate her beauty while knowing I was no longer contributing to the slaughter of others like her. Like the story of the person walking up the sandy beach throwing starfish back into the water, all the while knowing he couldn’t save all of them, when I look into the faces of the sheep, goats, cows, and pigs I remember, “It makes a difference to that one.”
2. Identify Your Cravings
Sometimes I’ll hear people say that their body knows what it needs because they had a particular craving. Studies have shown that these cravings generally aren’t based on nutritional deficiencies, no matter how much we’d like believe that our body really needs a bar of chocolate. Research points to the idea that cravings are based more on our emotional state than nutritional needs. We crave foods that are familiar. We crave sugar, salt, and fat. If these cravings were accurate pictures of nutritional deficiencies, we’d all be craving antioxidant rich leafy greens; however, which is more common in your life—hearing about someone craving a cookie or someone craving kale?
When cravings hit, identify the craving. Do you want something fried? Savory? Salty? Sweet? If it’s a toothsome texture you’re wanting, try out a plant based meat. I recommend Field Roast or Tofurky brands. Although I advocate a diet based on whole foods, I think having a processed food on occasion is an acceptable indulgence. I like those two brands the best, because their ingredients are largely whole foods based and not a hodgepodge of chemicals. Top the sausages with all of your favorite condiments like stone ground mustard, organic ketchup, Vegenaise mixed with prepared horseradish, pickles, or sauerkraut.
If you have a hankering for barbecue, try pressing and frying tofu and then baking it with barbecue sauce. If you’re jonesing for a hearty Italian feast, try noodles with lots of sautéed vegetables in pasta sauce and a side of homemade beanballs from Veganomicon.
After new habits and traditions have been created, you too may forget that there was a time when eating healthful plant based meals wasn’t second nature. Take heart in the knowledge that your palate will change. Keep introducing delicious whole foods into your diet, and you’ll begin to crave and desire them. Just relax and give yourself time to adjust.
In the meantime, introduce yourself to some new cuisines and foods. Check out Happy Cow or Yelp and find some vegan, vegetarian, or vegan-friendly restaurants in your area. Discover the deliciousness of Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Ethiopian, Mexican, Cuban, and Indian cuisines. Many times if we leave our standard American fare, we see that there are lots of naturally vegan foods in the cuisines of other cultures that are vibrant and satisfying.
Think about your favorite foods and consider ways to veganize them. Enjoy burritos? How about a bean burrito with salsa and avocado in a whole wheat tortilla? Buy a new vegan cookbook or two. Plan to make at least one new recipe a week.
In this non-vegan world it can be easy to feel barraged by ads, images, and ideas that are antithetical to your goal of living more compassionately. Just as people who are looking to adopt healthier behaviors like exercising and eating right are encouraged to surround themselves with others who support them rather than sabotage them, so would I encourage you to surround yourself with people who understand and respect your goal to live a fully compassionate life. Find a few like-minded people and feed those friendships.
Good places to look include vegetarian forums and websites like Meetup.com. See if there’s a Meetup group in your area for others with vegetarian interests. In LA there are vegetarian and vegan Meetup groups for those who want to go to vegan restaurants, out for drinks, hiking, and more.
Attend functions like vegetarian pride parades, vegan cooking classes, animal rights conferences, health fairs, and animal sanctuary gatherings.
Best of luck on your journey, New Vegan.
Be kind with yourself. I know it can feel like a struggle when we do something out of the ordinary, but where has ordinary gotten us anyway? Ordinary factory farming? Ordinary heart disease? Ordinary diabetes? Ordinary cancer? We deserve extraordinary. Small decisions in our day to day existence can have a big impact in our lives, in our hearts, and in our world.
Just as a firefighter may not be able to save every person in a burning building, isn’t it still worth it to do the work? Isn’t it worth it if you can save just one? I wish you peace and perseverance as you enact change in your own life. We can let the world decide what is right or we can choose for ourselves. One thing is for certain, change is inevitable. We can be the change we wish to see in the world, or we can let the world change us. The choice is ours.
All the best,
For more ideas on transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, continue with Open Letter to a New Vegan: Part II.