by Anda Mtshemla
noun veg·an \ˈvē-gəna strict vegetarian who consumes no food (such as meat, eggs, or dairy products) that comes from animals; also: one who abstains from using animal products (such as leather)
Since going vegan nearly a year ago now, I’ve seen so many positive changes in my life; my skin cleared up, my grades improved, I got a job– all, obviously, direct results of a plant-based diet. Since good health is trending, I figured I’ve done my share of stumbling clumsily through veganism so, I’ve turned my biggest challenges into a list that will help you in starting your vegan journey successfully.
1. DON’T GO COLD TURKEY
Despite this being bad for obvious vegan reasons, jumping straight from consuming animal products regularly to a completely plant-based diet might really shock your body. While I doubt the switch will actually negatively affect your body, it may make it difficult to curb animal product cravings in the future, should they come.
Start slow; a good start is, of course, cutting out all meat products and replacing them with imitations. Next, let go of the cheese and other dairy products. Continue to cut out and replace things from your diet like this until you have fully transitioned.
2. GIVE YOUR PANTRY A MAKEOVER
Unless you follow a meat and egg-dense paleo diet, I truly believe that any food cupboard can easily be transformed into a vegan paradise. You will be surprised how much of what you already have is perfectly suitable for vegan consumption so don’t go getting rid of everything in your pantry just yet.
Since we’ve decided on a slow transition into veganism, when say, your mayonnaise finishes, replace it with vegan mayo. Try a different bag of chips instead of the non-vegan variation you usually buy. Swap your honey for agave or maple syrup, opt for soy or almond milk next time you run out of dairy. The possibilities are endless!
If you need a little help setting up your pantry, click here.
3. LEARN HOW TO READ “VEGAN”
While there are the obviously vegan food products in stores like fresh produce and the few clearly marked items, there are a plethora of things in the store that aren’t necessarily marketed as vegan or labelled as such but perfectly fine for you to eat.
The best way to go about finding out if a food item is vegan is to turn it over and search the ALLERGENS first. If there is no milk, eggs or any of the obvious non-vegan ingredients, that’s one tick for it. Next, look for the “E numbers.” This one is a little bit trickier but easy to get the hang of since there aren’t that many that are animal derived. E22, for instance, is gelatine and should be avoided. E992 is beeswax which as a vegan, you’ll likely not want to eat. Once you’re clear on those two things, throw it in the basket!
Here’s a comprehensive list of all the E numbers that you can keep handy for uncertain moments. If you’re still unclear on whether something is vegan, you can always Google!
4. PLAN YOUR MEALS
Once you’ve got your pantry right, create a meal plan with what you have. This is not in a miserable, dieting kind of way but more a way for you to get into the vegan swing of things. Collect recipes you’d like to try and meals you know you’ll enjoy, and note them so you know what you’ll be preparing for every meal. Trust me, your experience is going to be far more enjoyable if you’re not worrying about what you’re going to make for dinner.
5. BE CREATIVE WHEN EATING OUT
Food has become extremely social in our modern society; we eat to celebrate, you go out for a meal with friends to catch up and at times, you may even be eating purely to pass time. For this reason, when you become vegan, you may start to feel frustrated in social situations as vegan options are sometimes difficult to come by.
American rapper, Andre 3000 said in Esquire, “I was a hardcore vegan for fifteen years. I’ve even done raw. But socially it became horrible. I was kind of just sitting at home eating a salad. You become mean. That’s not good for you,” which, I get, but I couldn’t disagree with the man more.
Don’t be afraid to ask what vegan options are available at a restaurant; some restaurants have entire vegan menus that are available on request, so you don’t have to be content with a salad or plate of chips. Alternatively, search Happy Cow for a vegan-friendly restaurant near you and suggest it next time you go out to eat with friends. Take your own snacks along to parties and events etc. Don’t be like Andre.
6. FOLLOW 24KARROTS
No, but on a serious note, the vegan community isn’t very well established, especially in South Africa so it’s important to garner inspiration from all corners of the Internet and align yourself with people that get it. There are a number of groups on Facebook where vegans share experiences, recipes, vegan finds and most importantly, memes.
A little extra guidance…
Vegan-friendly products and restaurants in South Africa: Click Here
Vegan Society SA Facebook page: Click Here
The video that helped me quit dairy: Click Here
The most important documentary in vegan history: Click Here
Vitamins and deficiencies: Click Here
DISCLAIMER: The statements expressed in this article are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Readers should seek their own professional counsel for any medical condition before starting or altering any dietary plan.