Linda signed up to the newsletter this week, and she said that the very best tip I could give her would be “getting started” ideas for brand new vegans. We’ve got a growing set of recipes and cooking tips on Eazy Vegan, so I’m not going to pick out some simple recipes. Instead, here are three basic principles to keep in mind that I think can help new and experienced vegans alike:
Figure out your biggest problem
A complete overhaul of your diet is a massive change on a zillion levels of your life. Your body may react differently, your social interactions may change, your finances might get into trouble if you stick to too many processed vegan foods, and other issues might erupt that’ll challenge your decision to go vegan.
Ask yourself, in a year’s time, if it all goes bad, what’s the most likely way you’ll finish this phrase: “yeah, I was vegan for a while but I had to stop because of…”
Fix that right now.
I don’t know what your hypothetical dealbreaker is, but it’s probably not unique. If you’d like help brainstorming, feel free to get in touch, but work on the biggest challenge first. Once that’s under control, repeat the exercise (nobody likes to admit this for some reason, but massive change is hard and usually presents multiple obstacles!)
If you try to fix everything at once, your brain’s going to be all over the place, and you probably won’t even realize what most of the problems are. Fixing the biggest problem first will clear more room for you right away, and you’ll probably find that this fix will automatically fix a few other issues that you didn’t even know were related.
Ignore the fine print
In a perfect world we’d eat nothing but whole fruits and vegetables and everything would have an ingredients list of one. Actually, scratch that, that’d be a pretty boring world. I like the fact that there are a lot of items in the grocery store that some company has taken the time to prepare for me so I don’t have to, for instance, make my own tofu.
Lots of these items have weird ingredients in them that I can’t even spell, let alone recognize without practice. You can burn up a lot of energy as a new vegan poring through each list, comparing each item to the entry in a list of food ingredients, and agonizing over simple mistakes you made just a few days before when you misread a label.
When you’re just starting out, focus on the easy 80%. Consider the rest a transition process. You’ll learn how to scan ingredients as you learn everything else (and the good news is that it’s getting easier and easier as products start to actually identify themselves as vegan.)
I’m not trying to tell you to ignore trace amounts of animal products, but you need to recognize that you probably don’t have a chemistry degree and this stuff can be hard to figure out, and animal ingredients hide in lots of places you don’t expect. For example, every week I hear from a longtime vegan who just found out that beer is often filtered with fish guts (thankfully, it’s usually the same week they discovered Barnivore.) Does that make them less vegan up to that point? Personally, I don’t think so.
Focus on the big ingredients when you’re starting out. Avoid bacon, for example. Things like L-Cysteine will get sorted out later on in your journey.
Learn four recipes
OK, I said I wasn’t going to pick out recipes, and I’ll stick to that, mostly, but I want to call out a behaviour that I see in a lot of new vegans: they want to try absolutely everything, right away.
And this is exciting! I remember when I decided to adopt a plant-based diet, and it was like a light went off in my head, and suddenly I had permission to explore entire aisles of the grocery store that I’d previously ignored. I don’t know why, as an omnivore, I felt that I didn’t need to know what cous cous, falafels, millet, and, say, black eyed peas were, let alone how to use them, but there’s a tendency to think of a new vegan diet as “new everything” as opposed to “less of this stuff, more of this stuff.”
Unfortunately, this makes things a lot harder than it has to be when you’re starting out, and if something’s difficult, it’s more likely that you’ll give up. Your body is going to be trying to get used to a new type of cuisine with different amounts of fat and fibre among other things, and if you change things up dramatically with every meal, you might have some difficulties there. Your budget might suffer with the wider range of staple foods you’ll be buying to create each new meal (see our post on the three spices you need to get started for some help there.) And then there’s the matter of simply trying to remember everything!
Trying new things is something I always encourage, but if you’re just starting out, I recommend learning maybe four solid recipes that you can use as your home base. Most people I know, omnivore or vegan, tend to eat pretty much the same stuff over a given period of time, so don’t worry about being in a rut. I’d just hate for you to stop enjoying veganism simply because you can’t find the time, energy, and resources to keep the food supply moving into your belly.
I said I wouldn’t supply recipes, but here are some guidelines: learn a good bean dish, a good tofu dish (tofu scramble is super easy to figure out,) something as simple as a sandwich or wrap you can make for lunches, and finally some kind of cake or cookie recipe that’ll get you started with baking (it’s not as stereotypically vegan as my other suggestions, and you can take the desserts to work to win more people over!)
Think of these as your “home base” recipes. You can try new things, but if you get the hang of four solid choices you’ll have something to fall back on when you’re having a rough day, or your body is craving something familiar.
These are three tips that popped into my head this morning, but there are a bunch more I could have gone with, so I’m turning it over to the other vegan readers: what one tip do you wish someone had told you when you were starting as a vegan? Let us know in the comments so we all can learn!
Update: lots of great suggestion from fans over on the Facebook posting, check ’em out!