January is a symbolic fresh start: the perfect time to make changes in your life. For those considering going cruelty-free, here’s our easy how-to guide…
Changing to a vegan lifestyle is a positive step for so many reasons – for your own health, for compassion, and for the environment. You may also become happier – a study in 2012 showed meat eaters have more arachidonic acid in their diet, which can drag down mood.
So with this in mind, we’ve put together the ultimate guide of how to go vegan, in ten easy steps.
Go at your own pace – some people change instantly, others take longer
For every vegan who changed overnight, there is another who slowly phased all animal-products out of their life. If the idea of dropping everything at once seems impossible, do it in stages. Work out the best way to do this for yourself – cut out meat, start replacing the dairy milk in your cuppa with plant-based one. Increase vegetables – look at using grains as the set piece of meals. Experiment with new foods and recipes, as well as adapting old classics. Take your time if you need to.
Experiment with vegan alternatives to your favourite meat-based foods – sausages and bacon
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of planning animal-free meals, an easy way to get started is to replace the meat in the dish with one of the alternatives available. There are a number of meat replacement products, including tofu-based products, seitan, tempeh, and nut roasts among others. You can easily recreate standbys like a bacon sarnie, or even an entire meal – for example a roast – using one of these products as the centrepiece (as long as you use non-animal fats for the veg). While it’s not a good idea to eat too much processed food, many newbie vegans find these options a life saver.
Learn to read food labels
If there’s one thing every long-term vegan becomes an expert in, it’s scanning the back of packets and being able to pick out non-vegan ingredients within seconds. At first, it can seem labourious having to read every single item in the ingredients, but it gets easier, and soon becomes second nature.
Find out which restaurants – including your favourite high street chains have vegan options/menus
Being vegan doesn’t mean missing out on dining in restaurants. Most places have vegan options – though some dishes may require a few tweaks. Lots of surprising high street chains have many animal-free foods. Check out Peta’s video about what you can eat in Nandos, for example. There are entire websites devoted to listing the plant-based options. Some restaurants (including Carluccios) have separate vegan menus – just ask the waiter.
Reach out to the huge online vegan community – you can even meet like-minded people at special themed meet-ups across various cities
The idea of being ‘the only vegan in the village’ can be intimidating. But in this digital era, it’s becoming easier and easier to connect with others who share your beliefs. As the number of vegans continues to grow, so do your chances of knowing friends and family who lead a cruelty-free lifestyle. But if you don’t, there are a number of online resources for meeting others, including the nationwide Vegan Meet Up.
Be organised – create a meal planner, carry vegan snacks with you. Preparation means you won’t get caught out
While it’s generally easy to pick up a vegan snack anywhere (nuts, fruit, etc) sometimes there is the possibility you might find yourself hungry, with nothing to eat. It’s good to keep something tasty and filling with you – a raw bar, or a piece of fruit. If you’re going to a friend’s house for dinner, it may help if you offer to take your own food, or to prepare a dish everyone can share. When you visit restaurants, check ahead online to see what you can eat. Some people like to carry mini cartons of non-dairy milk with them when staying in hotels and B&Bs. It’s getting easier and easier to find a vegan option all the time, but if you plan ahead, you won’t get caught short in trickier situations.
Educate yourself – watch films about the meat and dairy industries, and find out all you can
Documentaries like Earthlings are a valuable resource for anyone interested in a cruelty-free way of life. This film, which exposes the ways animals are exploited for food, as well as for entertainment and as pets, has turned informed many, with its unflinchingly honest, and often difficult to watch, portrait of how humans abuse animals. Another useful film is Cowspiracy, which documents the impact of animal agriculture on the planet. Easier to watch than Earthlings, it’s educational and a real eye-opener – a must-see for anyone interested in the environment. In terms of the health benefits of a plant-based diet, Forks over Knives is a popular and informative documentary, detailing the correlation between consuming animals and illnesses.
Veganism is not just a diet
What you eat is a big part of a cruelty-free life, but what you wear, and the products you use also play a large part in it. Deciding what to do with leather goods such as shoes, jackets and handbags can be difficult – some people choose to give them away to charity, while others use them until they are worn out. With cosmetics and grooming products, it’s less wasteful to use them than replace with vegan, non-animal tested ones as required. Lots of brands are now offering cruelty-free products – the best thing to do is check online for lists though, as companies will often try to use phrases which make them look cruelty free, even if they aren’t.
If you want some support, look at the Veganuary website (veganuary.com), which encourages people to give veganism a go for the month of January (though many continue indefinitely). There’s lots of information available, as well as others who are in the same position.
Stock up on store cupboard essentials
It’s easy to enjoy vegan versions of your favourite foods. We’ve compiled a list of our favourite alternatives, to make the transition to the new you even smoother.
Plamil organic fairtrade dark chocolate sweetened with unrefined coconut blossom sugar
This new addition to Plamil’s range of vegan chocolates is dairy and gluten free and made using 100 per cent renewable energy in the Plamil Chocolate Factory where no nuts are used.
Engevita Nutritional Yeast Flakes (with B12)
Nutritional yeast flakes (aka ‘nooch’) are an essential vegan food with a cheesy, nutty taste. Sprinkle the nutritional yeast lakes over pasta, soups, stews and salads, or dissolve in milk and water.
Linda McCartney’s Vegetarian Country Pie
A comforting combination of soya mince in rich onion and beef-style gravy, the Linda McCartney’s Deep Dish Country Pie is topped with a crunchy puff pastry lid. Serve alongside roast potatoes and peas for a warming mid-week meal.
Koko coconut milk
This milk alternative is a great choice for coffee and tea. With a very mild flavour, it works well over cereal as well as in cooking or as a cold drink. Available as chilled or longlife.
Primal Pantry paleo raw food bars
There are five energy bars in the range, each made with no more than six ingredients and 0 per cent junk. Free from GMOs, gluten, grains, dairy, soy and refined sugar.
Really Not Dairy mayo
This dairy-free condiment comes in a variety of flavours, including original, chipotle and roasted garlic.
Ten Acre Pastrami in the Rye premium hand cooked crisps
This flavour is a tasty new addition to Ten Acre’s award winning range of quirky vegan snacks. Not only are ‘Pastrami in the Rye’ hand cooked crisps suitable for vegans – they are also gluten, dairy and msg free, British and great tasting too.