When I went vegetarian back in 1996, there weren’t a lot of blogs around to help me make the transition. In fact, blogs actually didn’t exist yet back then (What?!? There was a time in the not-too-distant past when everyone and their grandma didn’t have a blog!). I don’t even remember if I had a home computer or the internet back then, but I digress. When I went vegetarian, I didn’t have much to rely on other than a handful of cookbooks and the one other friend I knew who was already eating vegan.
October 1 is World Vegetarian Day, so today is a perfect time for me to reflect back and think about all the advice I wish I had known before becoming vegan nearly 20 years ago, and share them with you!
Here are my top five words of wisdom for transitioning or switching to a vegetarian diet:
1. Don’t be hard on yourself!
My first piece of advice for anyone going “cold turkey” (I love the no pun intended use of that expression!) is to remember to be flexible and gentle with yourself. Make sure you do not feel like you are depriving yourself. Just do the best you can and don’t worry if you “slip up.”
Focus on enjoying what you eat and start with eating more of the foods that are already accidentally vegetarian, like hummus, for instance.
2. Ask questions.
Ask as many questions as you can when dining out, be it a restaurant or a friend’s place. There are so many hidden animal products in food that you’ve never had to think about before. Some examples: Are the beans cooked with lard? Is the rice cooked with chicken stock? What is the base for the soup?
I always check out menus online before I go out to see what I might possibly be able to eat. Chefs are usually happy to make you something special, especially if you give them a heads up.
If you are invited to a meal at a friend’s place, make them aware of your new diet and offer to bring something or provide your favorite recipes.
3. Get to know what products may have hidden animal ingredients.
Gelatin hides in a lot of desserts; lanolin (from sheep’s wool) is often found in Vitamin D enriched foods, like orange juice; some wines and beers are made with animal ingredients, like bone char and fish bladder. Peta has a long list of hidden animal ingredients. Barnivore.com is my go to source for vegan wine and beer.
4. Familiarize yourself with vegetarian substitutes.
Unless your reason for transitioning to vegetarianism is that you don’t like the taste or texture of meat, it may be easier for you to start off with mainstream meat substitutes like Gardein, Beyond Meat and Boca before you dive into tempeh, tofu, seitan and beans.
As a natural foods chef, however, I urge you to not get stuck on those highly processed products as they are not the healthiest options. If you don’t already have a taste for beans, nuts and seeds, hopefully you’ll be adventurous enough to try something new. Cooking beans from scratch is easy, inexpensive and tastes much better than from a can. Of course, cans are convenient if you don’t have time or desire to cook.
When replacing eggs for breakfast, you can turn to tofu for omelettes and scrambles; for baking, flax slurries, apple sauce, tapioca flour, and egg replacer are just some of the substitutes. Olive and coconut oils are great substitutes for butter.
5. Reach out to other veg heads!
Talk to your more experienced vegetarian and vegan friends. Find vegetarian/vegan meetup groups or community groups in your area to get to know other vegetarians and vegans. It’s fun to meet people with the same eating style as you and they are usually great resources for what and where to eat near you!
And a bonus tip...
Peaceful Dumpling is your new best friend.
You’ve found us here at Peaceful Dumpling and we are thrilled to welcome you. Right at your fingertips is a great resource for recipes, food tips, wellness and lifestyle advice, and a community to connect you to other vegans and food lovers. 🙂
Seasoned vegans, what’s something you wish you knew before making the leap? And any new vegetarians and vegans–what do you find most challenging about the journey?
Related: 7 Day Challenge for the Veg-Curious
Photo: Robert Gourley via Flickr