It seems like everyone is going vegan. The biggest objection meat-eaters have is the perceived lack of protein. The biggest pain for vegans is explaining that protein is not a problem and that there’s plenty of it in a well-balanced, plant-based diet. So, if protein isn’t an issue, and you would like to protect animals, save the environment and turn your health around, what are you waiting for?
It’s exactly a year ago since I watched the documentary Food, Inc., and decided I had to stop eating meat. Knowing that I work best approaching things in stages, I decided to start by going Pescatarian (still eating fish). It was six months later that another documentary convinced me I had to go vegan. But, the very next day I found myself in a popular high-street coffee shop, starving and in need of something to eat, only to find there was nothing at-all for vegans. I realised that taking the plunge, based solely on the decision to do it, wasn’t enough, and I would need to research this vegan thing, much more thoroughly if I was ever to eat again.
Despite it being such a topical subject right now, I found it hard to get any real step-by-step advice on how to approach it. I had several vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, but the recipes weren’t necessarily that healthy and certainly didn’t account for people who wanted to be mostly gluten-free.
Right now, I would class myself as vegetarian. I still occasionally eat eggs and cheese, and very occasionally eat meat substitute foods, which often contain egg. Right now, that’s enough for me. I listen to my body and it isn’t ready to cut those foods out, just yet. Maybe it never will, and that’s ok. I believe that moving towards a more plant-based diet will be good for everyone, but you don’t have to go all the way. Listen to your body and give it what you intuitively know it needs. But, if you are interested in cutting down or cutting out meat and products derived from animals, then here are the practical steps that I took to getting to where I am today, and will push you onto a full vegan diet, if that’s where you want to go:
1. Understand the foods you’re going to be eating
As someone who rarely cooked with grains or beans, realising that these foods were about to be a big part of my diet, it’s fair to say I went into a bit of a tailspin. Recipes called for them, and I didn’t understand which beans needed to be soaked, or for that matter, why? I took to the internet, with a list of vegan-acceptable foods, and researched them all. I looked at the nutritional value, what sort of recipes they worked best in, how to prepare them, and the portions I should be eating every day. This exercise immediately unlocked the block in my head, and I felt a lot more confident that there would be food for me to eat.
2. Get clear on your motivation
Are you cutting out meat for animal rights issues, for your health or both? If your priority is your health, you need to consider becoming a ‘healthy’ non-meat eater. By that I mean, don’t start adding chips to your meals because they’re vegan, or eating crisps as your snack, or loading up on pasta, or going for the meat substitutes, which let’s face it, are very processed foods. I often found myself with a bag of McCoy’s Salt and Vinegar crisps. Now, I have fresh vegetables, chopped and in the fridge, along with some hummus, for those snack-attack moments. I also make my own energy balls from a few simple, healthy ingredients, and always have almonds and walnuts in the cupboard, all of which kills the hunger pang instantly.
3. Start slowly
Going all-in is admirable, but if like me you find yourself hungry in a coffee shop with nothing to eat, you may want to ease into it gently. Find some recipe books that you like, or search the internet for recipe ideas, and commit to cooking two plant-based meals a week. This may help your family to come around to the idea too, if they enjoy the occasional tasty plant-based meal, rather than being forced into something which they may consider to be your ‘latest craze’.
When you find a recipe you like, add it your repertoire. I like to store all of my recipes (those that I want to try and those that I’ve enjoyed) on Evernote. I can access it from my laptop, phone and tablet, so I always have access in the kitchen, and in the supermarket. After a few weeks of two meals a week, increase it to three and so on. Aim to get to 80% plant-based and then you can go wild on your favourite burger at the weekend. This will take you to what’s known as a Flexitarian, and you may find that’s enough for you, or it may be enough for other family members. If you want to go all-in, it’ll just be a short hop.
4. Add a few new foods to your shop every week
Get yourself a list of all the key foods. The Nutriciously website has a great, downloadable list, which you can access here.
Don’t try to buy them all at once. It will cost you a small fortune (even though in the long-run plant-based foods are generally more cost-effective) and your cupboards will be stuffed with foods that you’re not comfortable using. Instead, buy a few new things each week, those for the recipes you’ve selected for the week, plus a few extra pantry items; and try to experiment with them. If they work for you, then they may become a recurring item on your shopping list.
5. Meat replacement foods are good for the transitional phase
Meat replacement foods, such as the ranges from Quorn and Linda McCartney are, in my opinion, handy for the occasional meal, but not something you’d want to do all of the time. However, I did find them very useful during the first few months, when I knew I didn’t want to eat meat, but hadn’t quite found my way with a healthy, plant-based diet. As I said above, they are highly processed foods, and if you want to be healthy, that’s probably not the route to go.
6. Tell people, but don’t go ‘on’ about it
I expected to get a lot of backlash from friends and especially family. But, actually everyone has been really good, understanding and adaptable. I think every single person I’ve told has asked me why I made the change, so prepare yourself for that. But I did find myself talking about it a lot until I heard a vegan joke, which goes: How do you know when someone is vegan? They’ll tell you! Since then I stopped talking about it, and just get on with it.
Bonus 1: I have found the books from the Deliciously Ella brand absolutely invaluable. The recipes are completely plant-based and gluten-free. I have the complete range of Ella’s books and know that I can pick any of her recipes and be doing something good for myself. You can find all of her books here, and follow her blog here.
Bonus 2: You may like to sign up for Veganuary here. You can get their starter pack, recipes and lots of information on going vegan.