Here’s an example on how to adopt and enjoy a long-term vegan lifestyle, which I’ve been doing for 18+ years. I’ll include a little advice on transitioning, but since it’s so easy to find good info on that with a simple Google search, I’ll focus more deeply on the long-term aspects of being vegan as opposed to becoming vegan.
Transition to Vegan Foods
One way to get started with a vegan diet is to turn your favorite non-vegan foods into vegan ones by making simple substitutions. This isn’t necessarily the healthiest way to go vegan, but it’s a convenient way to get the animal ingredients out of your diet. Once you’ve been eating vegan for a while, you can make further improvements from there.
Finding Vegan Replacements – If you’re very new to eating vegan, you could start by learning about the vegan replacements for your favorite foods. Just search on “vegan ___” where ___ is the name of a food you’re used to eating. This will help you discover vegan versions of those foods and/or what vegans eat instead of those foods. So you’d learn to eat a veggie burger instead of a cow burger. Ice cream becomes soy ice cream or coconut ice cream. And so on.
Finding Vegan Recipes – It’s easy to find vegan recipes for any foods you might possibly want to make vegan. Just Google “vegan ___ recipe” such as vegan pancake recipe or vegan cheesecake recipe. If there’s any food you’re craving that you want to make vegan, it’s a safe bet that someone has already shared a quality recipe for it. Many recipes include reviews too, so you can see how people rated them.
Vegan Cookbooks – When I first went vegan during the 1990s, I initially relied on vegan cookbooks for recipe ideas and to help learn the basics of vegan cooking. Today there are many recipe apps too. I don’t think these are necessary though, unless you’re into gourmet cooking or need lots of reference material. There are so many free vegan recipes to be found online with simple searching. I have many old vegan cookbooks, but I rarely use them. Using Google is faster and more flexible. Let the Internet be your cookbook. I like to use an iPad for searching and referencing recipes whenever I need to look something up, like a vegan omelette recipe or zucchini hummus.
Milk – It’s super easy to transition away from dairy products. Instead of consuming the breast milk of animals (which is for baby animals), switch to soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, or any other plant-based varieties. Try different brands and types till you find something you like. You’ll likely discover that some varieties taste pretty bad to you, while others are very good. I used to drink a lot of rice milk when I first went vegan, but my current favorite is organic soy milk. Many vegans don’t drink any kind of milk, but when you’re first transitioning, it’s a good step, and many vegans (including me) like the versatility of vegan milks.
Cheese – It’s also super easy to switch to vegan cheese. When I first began eating vegan in the 1990s, I found the vegan cheeses to be terrible all around; the texture was awful, and the taste was worse. Today’s situation is totally different — there are now some excellent vegan cheeses. My favorite vegan cheese is Daiya, which comes in a variety of flavors (cheddar, mozzarella, pepper jack), melts well, and is getting easier and easier to find. It’s also gluten-free. Whole Foods can even make you a take-out pizza with Daiya cheese (just ask for vegan cheese on the pizza), and they sell Daiya-based vegan pizza slices at their pizza counter too. Vegan cheese can still be pretty high in fat, but if you like the taste and texture of cheese, vegan cheese is an easy substitute, especially if you like pizza.
Butter – This would be a good item to drop altogether, but if you really like the taste and texture of butter, you can easily switch to vegan margarine. Earth Balance has some good varieties. Coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature) is also a good substitute for some purposes, such as spreading on toast if you want a texture similar to melted butter. I used to love buttered popcorn, and now I make popcorn in an air popper, spray it with some olive oil via a mister, and sprinkle it with salt and nutritional yeast. It’s much lower in fat than cooking it in oil, and a light mist of olive oil helps the salt and nutritional yeast stick to it.
Eggs – If you do a lot of baking, you can substitute Egg Replacer for eggs; it’s made from potato starch. If you like scrambled eggs or omelettes, learn to make tofu scramble. I used to love making omelettes for breakfast, and tofu scramble was a satisfying way to transition. There are lots of decent tofu scramble recipes to be found online, and it’s pretty easy to make. By itself, tofu is very bland, but it picks up the flavors of whatever you mix with it, so it’s extremely versatile. I like making tofu scramble with sauteed onions or leeks, peppers, and zucchini with fresh chopped tomato on top. If you want a cheesy flavor, mix in some Daiya cheese, or sprinkle in some nutritional yeast. Many vegan restaurants that serve breakfast will have a tofu scramble option. Some Whole Foods stores also have tofu scramble available for breakfast in their salad bar area. Just be aware that there are lots of different ways to make tofu scramble, so it may take some testing to find a variation you like. I find that it goes especially good with hot sauce since I like spicy food.
Sandwiches – During my low-awareness phase, I often had sandwiches for lunch with slices of chicken flesh, turkey flesh, or pig flesh. It was pretty easy to transition to veggie sandwiches. Instead of sliced up bodies of animals on bread, I’d make sandwiches with sliced avocado, lettuce, tomato, and dijon mustard. The avocado really makes it awesome. If you miss the fleshy texture, you can easily substitute vegan deli slices as well. They come in a variety of flavors and styles and are available in many grocery stores like Whole Foods. For sandwich bread, my favorite is Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 Sesame sprouted bread, which is available at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and many other stores. Sometimes I include thinly sliced cucumbers, pickles, sprouts, or hummus too.
Breakfast – Eating vegan for breakfast is simple and easy. I often make oatmeal with some kind of fruit mixed in (usually fresh blueberries, raisins, currants, or sliced bananas), and I usually add some vanilla soy milk for a creamy texture. I especially love having a bowl of hot miso soup with oatmeal. If I feel like making a faster breakfast, I’ll make muesli; in a bowl, just put some uncooked rolled oats, dried fruit, and chopped nuts (normally walnuts or pecans) and pour vanilla soy milk on it — you’re done in two minutes. Sometimes I’ll make fruit smoothies or fruit shakes for breakfast too. Some vegans like to start the day with a glass of fresh juice. I’ve done that on occasion, but I usually prefer a more substantial breakfast, especially after exercising. When I’m in a more savory mood, tofu scramble is great. Or for something sweeter, vegan pancakes or waffles are a nice treat, especially with fresh berries, sliced bananas, and maple syrup.
Dinner – There are so many vegan dinner options that you’ll surely find tons of ideas just by Googling. When I first went vegan, I would often make stir fried veggies for dinner because I liked having a lighter meal at the end of the day. These days I often have udon or soba noodles with steamed veggies, pasta with lots of veggies, or my Ultimate Rice Bowl. You’ll probably find that your dinner options explode with variety when you go vegan. Animal eaters tend to eat the same bland dinner meals over and over — they keep eating dead birds, dead fish, dead cows, and dead pigs — but once you began exploring plant-based meals, you’ll see just how much variety is possible. Your dinner meals will probably look a lot more colorful too.
Learn the Basics – Eating vegan can be really easy if you want it to be. While you may enjoy complex meals on occasion, it’s wise to get used to the basics first. Start with simple vegan meals that are easy to prepare and that you enjoy, such as a baked potato, pasta, rice with steamed veggies, oatmeal, a veggie sandwich, or a fruit smoothie. Then you can complicate and extend those meals for greater variety if you desire. A good way to expand your horizons is to search for vegan recipes online, and you’ll get tons of idea for meals to try.
If you simply dive in and learn as you go, you’ll quickly gain experience, and you’ll see the variety in your diet increasing as you move away from the socially conditioned blandness and repetition that animal eaters so often succumb to.
Even after 18+ years as a vegan, I’m still amazed at the endless variety of new vegan dishes. There are always more ideas to try, way more than I could sample in a human lifetime. I can’t see how anyone could feel bored or deprived eating vegan, unless they’re seriously incompetent, living in a cave without Internet access, or just really ignorant about food in general.
For a variety of reasons, I recommend a 30-day trial as an effective way to transition to a plant-based diet.
The first significant 30-day trial I ever did was a test of eating a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for 30 days. I did that in the summer of 1993. After 30 days without animal flesh, I never ate animals again. I wasn’t actually trying to become a vegetarian though. I only wanted to try it for a month. But I liked it so much that it was easy to keep going. After about six months, I realized that I no longer thought of animals as food. Eating flesh became even less appealing than eating cardboard or sawdust.
Then in January 1997, I used the same approach to go fully vegan. That worked well too, and I dropped animal ingredients from my diet for good. Looking back, I wish I went vegan sooner and didn’t spend so long in the gray area of lacto-ovo vegetarianism. While it seemed like a big deal to go vegetarian in the first place, going full vegan from there was pretty easy, and it was nice to no longer be stuck supporting the disturbingly disgusting dairy and egg industries.
A 30-day trial is a mini-commitment. It’s long enough for you to learn the basics of eating plant-based foods, and once you gain 30 days of experience, you’ll realize that it’s easy to continue. But it’s also short enough that you can use the psychological trick of telling yourself that you can still eat whatever you want on day 31. Of course, you’ll probably find that it’s easy to keep going with the trial on day 31 and to make it a permanent lifestyle improvement if you so desire. On day 31 you won’t be such a newbie anymore; you’ll have 30 days of experience behind you.
For some transitions it may take multiple 30-day trials before you’re able to make it stick. There are a lot of dumb ways to eat a vegan diet — eating too few calories is among the most common mistakes — so if your first attempt goes a bit wonky, take some time to educate yourself about how long-term vegans actually eat, and prepare better for your next trial. It will probably go more smoothly. I’ve talked to a number of people who told me they tried eating vegan and that it didn’t work for them, but when I asked them what they ate, their food choices always sounded weird to me. I would think, OK, that’s technically vegan, but who actually eats like that?
Imagine if I said that I tried eating an animal flesh diet, and it didn’t work for me. And when you asked me what I ate, I shared that I hunted wild parrots, bears, and porcupines and ate them raw. Then I complained about digestive issues with the feathers, furs, claws, and spines. You might figure that’s a really weird way to eat animals, but if I’d never eaten animals before, maybe I figured it was as good a place to start as any.
A lot of animal eaters figure that since they already eat some vegan foods, they already know how to eat vegan. Just eat only the vegan stuff in their diet, and eliminate the non-vegan stuff. For many people, however, that’s a foolish approach that yields very little chance of sustainable success. To succeed they’ll probably need to include foods they don’t normally eat, not just expand their old side dishes into meals.
Veganism isn’t a singular diet. It’s a lifestyle choice, and within that choice, there are a myriad of different ways to eat a plant-based diet. Just because you’ve tried one way of eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you’ve tried them all. So be careful not to negate the whole approach just because you tried a variation that didn’t flow well for you.
I’ve found that some popular forms of plant-based diets caused negative side effects for me. For instance, eating low-fat (no more than 10% of calories from fat) is popular among many vegans. It’s also a proven way to reverse heart disease. But every time I’ve tried low-fat variations (raw or cooked), I suffered from very dry skin by the end of the second week — so dry than my knuckles would crack and bleed. The dryness would also make me itchy, especially when exercising. But within a few days of adding more fat back into my diet, such as some avocado, the dryness went away, and my skin looked and felt better.
I encourage you to read and learn about all the immense varieties of plant-based eating. Use what you read to inspire your own experiments, especially new 30-day trials. Learn by doing.
Increasing Your Food Intelligence
As a vegan you can expect to greatly increase your food intelligence. When you learn the truth about what you used to eat, you’ll probably begin feeling sorry for the people who are still being duped.
If you still want to buy pre-packaged foods, get used to reading nutrition labels. It takes some practice, but you’ll get used to scanning for animal ingredients. As soon as you identify a single animal ingredient such as milk powder or whey, you can put the package down.
What is whey anyway? Whey is a toxic, foul smelling byproduct of cheese and yogurt production. Disposing of whey was a major problem for the dairy industry. They tried dumping it into sewers to get rid of it, but that was made illegal because whey is significantly more toxic than normal raw sewage, and this caused problems for sewage treatment plants. They can’t dump whey into waterways either because whey depletes oxygen in the water and kills fish.
Eventually technology came to the rescue. The dairy industry, in concert with cooperative government agencies, found a way to dispose of whey by processing it with chemicals to turn it into an essentially tasteless and odorless food additive, so they could dispose of it by feeding it to humans. So the strategy here was to use humans as unknowing biological waste processing units for the dairy industry.
Combined with intensive marketing efforts, this was a huge success for the dairy industry, which found ways to dump whey into lots of products as a cheap filler for use by other food companies. Whey is especially common in bread-like foods such as cake mixes, pancake mixes, and cookies. Flavors and other ingredients were added to compensate for the tasteless whey.
Then the whey scientists went a step further and convinced people to buy protein powder made from whey too. One reason they went that route is that this is a part of the “food” industry that attracts some of the most gullible buyers, and the right marketing can influence people to consume just about anything. Put a big, muscled arm on the packaging. Fund some sham studies with bogus health claims. Buy full page advertising in muscle magazines, and suckers will flock to it. All it takes is money, and there was plenty of that to spend. Of course this worked beautifully, and to this day, lots of people have been brainwashed into behaving as waste disposal units for the dairy industry.
Vegan or not, whey is not something you should ever put in your body. It’s certainly not a health food, despite the crazy amount of marketing that goes into convincing people to help dispose of it by eating it. Don’t let your body be used as waste disposal unit for the dairy industry. Would you buy something marketed as Raw Sewage Protein? Well, that would mostly likely be healthier than whey, and at least it would have a more honest label. So please don’t treat your body as a sewage processing plant.
Some vegans prefer not to eat packaged foods at all. This is a personal choice. The food industry certainly sells some incredibly nasty products that will damage your health in the long run. But I wouldn’t say all the players are bad. I’m okay with buying some packaged foods, but I tend to avoid the major mainstream American brands.
A general rule of thumb that I use is that if I could find the product is the aisles of a major mainstream American supermarket chain, outside of the produce section or the organic section, it’s a safe bet that I should avoid it. So whatever you’d find in those stores, that isn’t something I’d even consider food. They’re okay places to buy toilet paper though.
Also, be on the lookout for bogus, healthy-sounding words on food packages likewhole or natural, which are largely meaningless. Organic (or Bio in Europe) is a word that actually has legal meaning. When I see legally meaningless terms that are obviously trying to make a product sound healthy, I usually assume that the product is as phony as its labeling. The products that look like they’re trying too hard to appear healthy are usually crap.
An increasing number of packaged vegan foods are including the V in a circle logo to show that they’re vegan. That’s a nice shortcut. Some products will include the word vegan on their packaging too. But many vegan products don’t use these easy identifiers. And even if a product is technically vegan, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. So I always look through the ingredients to get a better sense of what’s in there. If it looks like chemical soup, I’d rather not serve as a waste disposal unit.
As a quick shortcut, look at the cholesterol line on the nutrition label. If you see anything other than zero mg cholesterol, the food isn’t vegan since plant-based foods never contain any cholesterol. Cholesterol only comes from animal ingredients, so if you see any cholesterol at all, it’s definitely not vegan. But if the cholesterol is zero, you’ll still need to check the ingredients since there may still be small amounts of animal ingredients.
If you see an ingredient you don’t recognize, feel free to Google it with your phone. Gradually educate yourself on what each ingredient is. If you can’t figure it out, maybe you shouldn’t be eating it anyway.
In general, if you’re going to eat packaged foods, favor the ones with fewer ingredients and with ingredients that you recognize as real foods. If you see a list of dozens of items and lots of chemicals, even if they’re all vegan, I’d advise you to leave it on the shelf. There are surely healthier options.
I prefer to buy organic food whenever possible, but if you’re more sensitive to price, I wouldn’t worry about pesticides too much. As a vegan you’ll still be ingesting fewer pesticides than animal eaters since pesticides accumulate in animal tissues, so they’re way more concentrated in animal flesh than they are in produce.
Generally I buy food from Whole Foods, Costco, Trader Joe’s, and sometimes from local farmers markets. The farmers markets in Las Vegas tend to be pretty limited and overpriced; if they were like the gloriously abundant ones in California, I’d buy food from them more often. Since Costco is the closest food source to my house, I get a lot of items there. I’m pleased that they’ve been adding more and more organic items lately. The Costco near my house sells organic mixed greens, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, bananas, blueberries, soy milk, rice, pasta, udon noodles, hummus, frozen berries, and lots of other organic items too. I also like that Costco pays their employees well, so I see the same people working there year after year; they have virtually no employee turnover. Walmart, by comparison, seems just downright nasty to me, especially in how they treat their employees; I never shop there.
I’d absolutely love it if there were an all-vegan grocery store in my area. For many vegans, including me, it doesn’t feel so great to support a company that also sells animal products, even if we aren’t buying any of those products directly. You’ll have to discover for yourself how much of a purist you want to be. As more people go vegan, new possibilities will become viable. For now, do the best you can with what’s available in your area.
When it comes to restaurants, I very much prefer eating at 100% vegan establishments. I wish there were more of them in Las Vegas; nearby California makes me jealous in that respect since they have such an abundance of quality vegan restaurants there. When given the option to eat at a vegan restaurant vs. a non-vegan restaurant with vegan options, I’ll automatically favor the vegan one, and I’ll tend to tip more generously there as well. It feels so much better to support a business whose ethics align with my own. I also notice that the general vibe of 100% vegan restaurants is normally so much lighter and more peaceful than places that deal with animal ingredients.
Finding your equilibrium is an important part of being vegan. You’ll surely develop new rhythms and habits that are very different from your old lifestyle. I’m generally happy with the patterns I’ve settled into, but I also like to reassess them now and then, so I can look for ways to keep improving.
Becoming vegan is one step on a long journey. Don’t look at it as some kind of final border to cross. There are many more steps to take after that transition.