There are a few bits of advice I can advise for readers who have recently adopted, trying to sustain or thinking about a plant-based/vegan diet. These are the secrets that no one tells you about and I’m writing from a UK perspective specifically.
1 Firstly, veganism is not a diet. Plant-based diets are basically what vegans eat; it is, by the Vegan Society definition:
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. There are many ways to embrace vegan living.
There are many ways and this can include avoiding certain cleaning products and even companies that produce products that utilise animal products, even if they also make vegan ones. It is a personal and ethical choice as to how you would want to embrace veganism and for this reason, some vegans get preachy and shouty and get a bad press. The bottom line though is trying to avoid harm to animals.
2 Being vegan is a lifestyle and therefore open to interpretation. Ecologically speaking, it is wasteful to discard items of clothing for instance that contain animal ingredients. I know of vegans who buy second hand leather shoes in order to avoid the use of new leather. Likewise on that favourite woolly jumper. However, many vegans won’t use new animal products.
3 You probably won’t lose weight either if that was an incentive to go plant-based in your eating. Depends what you eat and what you burn through exercise, as with any other diet. Chips and vegan chocolate are still bad eating choices as are an abundance of vegan processed, freezer foods.
4 Vegan cheese is best avoided (through cold turkey avoidance) for at least the first year. Most vegan cheeses, despite the fury of the dairy industry and entrepreneurs like La Fauxmagerie, taste foul imho and are no threat to hard core dairy fans. As with plant milks, try all of them until you find the ones you like. Some are better in cooking, others in small amounts but everyone’s taste is different and not an immediate swap for dairy cheese. It’s taken me four years to find the ones I like but I haven’t tried those from the La Fauxmagerie shop yet.
5 Don’t beat yourself up for making a mistake. Along as you don’t suffer from food allergens, it won’t affect your health or wish to not exploit other species. You don’t fail veganism. You will find yourself checking ingredients carefully but an occasional ‘may contain’ is a ‘does contain’ and manufacturers change recipes regularly. Look out for vegan trademark logos.
6 Too expensive to shop vegan? Not necessarily. Vegan cleaning products tend to be cheaper than alternatives (see Astonish cleaning range compared to Flash/Mr Muscle) but harder to source. Vinegar and other old fashioned methods are better all round though. Choice is everything and the supermarkets react to demand. This January saw an all time high in the supermarket ranges of plant based pre prepared food. Shockingly expensive too; insider advice- get a few recipe books and learn to cook. Shoes and trainers can be expensive for branded and popular styles; shop around and look out for bargains. My work shoes are PU faux leather from Next and cost just £10 due to being bright yellow. I painted them dark brown. My NB trainers were £22 in a sale and have lasted me two years so far. They are starting to look tatty and replacements in the same model are £80 so I will keep shopping around.
7 Eating out can be a pain even when you have pre-planned using a spreadsheet. The fun in eating out is sharing time socially so be open to going somewhere with a very limited menu. With family I try to use an app like Happy Cow to spot somewhere interesting but compromise and go to places they want too. For formal family or work events always phone up and reiterate that you want plant based food. On occasion, I have been introduced to the chef to explain what I will or won’t eat. Things are getting better and even steakhouses are offering vegan options. For me, a large framed 6’3” bloke, portion sizes are designed for yoga goddesses. I recommend side dishes that can be shared with others if they do get the portions right. It is mixed abroad; cities like Berlin and Amsterdam have a wealth of choice whereas sometimes on beach breaks it’s beer, salad and chips.
8 Food on the go is getting a lot better due to campaigning from the Vegan Society. Only a year ago, while stuck in town and hungry, I had a choice of one sandwich. Now, I have found 6 different options in Boots and the much acclaimed vegan sausage rolls in Greggs. Best option, if you see something you can eat earlier in the day, buy it for later. The runaround hunt for food on an empty stomach isn’t worth it.
9 It is not dangerous to ‘go vegan’ but be prepared for strong emotions from other people. I have been asked if I’m endangering my health, want to die young etc. I advise careful thought about nutrition, use a daily supplement tablet if you wish or an app like Nutritionfacts.org Daily Dozen or the Vegan Society VNutrition to help you get everything you need. People feel strongly about their own food choices and friends and family alike will question your motives. You will get asked why there are such things as fake meat. Also, complete strangers feel the need to lecture you or just be damned rude. Some people are open minded and others want confrontation. Be prepared and if you want to calmly debate, read something like this: https://veganspeak.org/vegan-arguments/
10 You don’t have to be a fire-breathing activist! There is a place for people who feel strongly and take direct action (within the law). Without risk takers who expose animal cruelty we would still have the abuses of cock-fighting, bear baiting and fox hunting. There are still those who take enjoyment from these so-called sports despite illegality in this country. Activists undertaking a Cube of Truth are using street theatre to enlighten and educate people who may never come across documentary footage. No one can make you a protestor. Personally, I invest in graphic t-shirts with vegan messages, if someone wants to talk to me about them, they can.
I made the graphics on this blog post; you’re welcome to use them with attribution under this (cc) license Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.