where do I start?: the vegan or plant-based eater

(Dayton, Ohio) - I'm not big on labels but I'll accept the term "vegan" for my relatively recent change to eliminating animals and animal products from my diet.  Something about the term "plant-based" though seems cooler and more descriptive, but I digress. I wanted to share some of my experience with veganism or plant-based eating for those who are new or struggling.  I get asked questions all the time about being vegan, but the most frequent question is always "where do I start?"

    Where to start is a difficult question because, obviously, everyone has a different situation.  Some people are starting in their 20s with a shorter experience of eating animals in their diets. Some start in their 40s or 50s, wanting to eating healthier and think veganism might be the way to go.  Others like myself may just want to stop contributing to animal suffering or even environmental damage.  Wherever someone is starting from and why, I think there are a few shared challenges that I will try to address in this brief post.

    The biggest challenge and most important place in my opinion to start is developing a plan and a routine.  What specifically to eat I'll talk about a little bit along the way, but the plan and routine of ensuring availability of your personal favorites can be what makes the difference between success and failure for the newly vegan.  We are all busy and we all have times we just don't feel like cooking or don't know what we want to eat.  These feelings can present challenges for anyone, but for the unprepared vegan these can lead to huge setbacks.  Add the fact, that when away from home, the choices and availability for vegans can be severely limited, planning and developing a routine are critical.

    To start, you have to know what you like and where you can get it.  This can only come from experimenting in the kitchen and while dining out.  My advice is to try early on to forget all your preconceived or old notions about any kind of food you have and have not tried.  I had no idea I would enjoy eating things like roasted beets, curry, Mediterranean lentil soup and other fruits and vegetables that I used to not even consider eating.  Again, everyone will have a different set of foods that fit into this category, but the key thing is to have an open mind and unbiased taste buds.

french toast
     As you grow your list of recipes and meals and develop favorites, knowing where you can purchase ingredients or where to order out to get these things will make your life so much easier, especially when traveling.  So, once you find the most convenient vegan-friendly places, grocery shop with your favorites always in mind and maybe add a few pre-made items to try or items for new recipes. The same goes for dining out. Get something you know you will enjoy and if possible a side of something new or maybe an additional new entree you can share with someone else. Just try not to stick yourself with one new entree that doesn't work out and you leave a restaurant feeling disappointed.  Experimenting with new foods can help quite a bit in the long-term.  If you find yourself eating the same 3 or 4 things all the time, you most likely will get bored and unsatisfied and resort to old eating habits.  A variety of options and their constant availability makes for a much more enjoyable eating experience.  I'm still excited about most of my meals each day after 3 years of veganism and 3 years of being a pescetarian before that.  Being able to walk into the kitchen and put together a meal at any time that "hits the spot" will help keep you happy and content in your new choice.

    So, what are some of the things I eat?  Well, meat and potatoes in some form (usually french fries) were at least 50% of my diet previously and because I live in the new age of plant-based meats, that's what I initially gravitated towards.  Impossible Burgers, Beyond Burgers, Field Roast Sausages were a big part of my routine.  I still enjoy them, but now I make my own lentil burgers and things like cashew Parmesan cheese, large pots of beans & rice, chili, gallons of vegetable smoothies, french toast, homemade pizza, stir-fry vegetables, salads and lots of other natural and processed goodies.  I'm still growing my list of go-to foods, but that also has become part of the fun.  Plus, as animal lover, I always get an added sense of satisfaction knowing my eating choices produce much less suffering in the world.

homemade chili

homemade pizza

    Plant-based eating has a lot of detractors, most of whom just don't understand or want to understand what it's all about and its benefits.  However, because everyone's situation is different, I will say that you have to also be calculating in your food choices.  You can certainly improve your well-being through eliminating animal products from your diet, but if your diet consists of only Twizzlers and french fries, you may create some new problems.  "Where do you get your protein from?" is something to be concerned about, but with planning it is a challenge that can be met.  A diverse, plentiful diet of fruits and vegetables will probably meet most of your nutritional needs, but being cognizant of how much protein, b12, iron and other essentials you're getting will only serve to keep your body running efficiently.  Consulting your doctor is also not just a cliche.  Do your research and you will find plenty of multi-vitamins and vitamin and nutrient enriched foods out there that you can include in your diet to compliment natures perfect foods.

    My last piece of advice is to not get frustrated and not to get discouraged.  Attending family barbecues and company meetings won't always be uncomfortable.  Time, along with some patience and willingness to research and try new things, can open up a whole new world that can lead to some very positive feelings and results for yourself and the world.

~ safe travels and good eating ~