The journey to a plant-based vegan diet can feel like an impossible feat at times, and one that is difficult to navigate. I went vegan in 2009, a gradual transition as I learned more about nutrition and animal welfare.
It wasn’t always easy, and I soon discovered that there would be hurdles along my path. These are some of the things I wish I knew back then that I’ve figured out along the way. I hope my experience is helpful for you as well. Feel free to share your own lessons in the comments!
1. You don’t have to go cold turkey if you don’t want to.
Sometimes people feel pressure to cut every animal product out of their life all at once. This can totally work for some, but for me that felt a bit overwhelming. My shift to a vegan diet was very gradual and happened over the course of several months. I experimented with vegan recipes, discovered new-to-me ingredients, and learned more about factory farming and its impact on animals and the environment. I feel like because of this I was able to make a lasting change. If you're feeling overwhelmed, start off small and try one thing at a time. Meatless Monday is always a good place to start!
2. Experiment with vegan recipes and new ingredients.
Trying out new ingredients and recipes was a huge factor in why I was able to stay vegan. I used to think that vegan was code word for weird or unappetizing food, but I quickly proved myself wrong! My diet is now so much more varied than it used to be, and I eat so many new foods that I never would’ve considered in the past. Five years later, I now have over 400 vegan recipes on my website, so there’s never any excuse to fall into a food rut.
3. Pack food and plan vegan-friendly restaurants when traveling.
Traveling is still one of my biggest vegan challenges. I’ve learned to pack all of my airplane meals and the experience is so much more enjoyable when I have the proper fuel to get me through the day! I also love to plan out vegan-friendly restaurants in the area before I leave (or just search for nearby restaurants on my phone in a pinch!). Isn’t technology great? The Happy Cow website works well for locating vegan-friendly restaurants all over the world, and I use it every single time I travel.
4. Ask your local restaurants to add vegan items to the menu.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been served a boring, lackluster meal at a non-vegan friendly restaurant. Plain Jane salads can be the norm, unfortunately. I’ve learned to call ahead to the restaurant to see what they can offer for a vegan, and I eat beforehand if necessary. If you frequent the restaurant often, it also helps to ask if the restaurant can add a few vegan items to the menu. I have faith that someday vegan items will be on menus everywhere, but for now, I keep asking and expressing interest!
5. Find alternatives to your former favorite foods.
It’s true that you start craving the new foods you eat. I had cravings when I first went vegan (for the first several months and occasionally to this day), but I soon started craving all the new, delicious foods I was enjoying! Cashew cheese, homemade almond milk, decadent vegan desserts, lasagna, veggie burgers, and the like. I find many of the foods I enjoy now are much more flavorful than the ones I used to eat anyway, and my only problem now is deciding what to eat with so many choices.
6. Spice up your life.
I’m a firm believer that variety is the spice of life, so why not make sure your spice rack is brimming with options, too? Before I went vegan, I rarely used spices (and I’m afraid to think about how many years they had been sitting in my cupboard untouched!). But things have changed. I now love to use a generous portion of fresh herbs and spices in my recipes for maximum flavor. The more fresh herbs, the better! It really does make all the difference, and it can turn a boring meal into something extravagant. Just try my budget-friendly Quick and Easy Chana Masala in The Oh She Glows Cookbook. It’s comfort food to the max.
7. Experiment with different ethnic cuisines.
I’m certainly not an expert on cuisines around the world, but enjoying a vegan diet has led me to start experimenting with cuisines I never enjoyed before. Many dishes are naturally vegan, or they can be easily made vegan with a few swaps (like swapping cashew cream for dairy cream). I now make Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, Asian, and Mexican recipes quite frequently. Sure, they aren’t always totally authentic, but they're always tasty!