The obvious way to become vegan is to focus on eliminating the animal products in your diet. But counter-intuitive though it may seem, this approach is needlessly difficult and joyless, and the people who choose this route are probably least likely to stay vegan over the long-term.
That’s because when you emphasize cutting out animal products, the route you are taking entails giving things up and it’s only natural you’ll have feelings of sacrifice and deprivation. Take a typical American diet, cut out all the meat, eggs, and cheese, and what you’ll end up with will seem limited and austere.
So instead of trying to cut animal products out of your diet, crowd them out. Put the emphasis on constantly seeking out delicious new vegan foods. Every time you find a new vegan food that you adore, it’ll push the animal-based foods you are still eating further to the fringes. The more vegan foods you try, the more foods you’ll like, and the more you’ll find yourself gravitating toward making more and more vegan choices.
If you’re going to change the foods you eat, that will necessitate changing the foods you buy. So why not focus on learning to take your grocery shopping skills up a notch?
Any supermarket will have sufficient foods for a diverse vegan diet (beans, rice, pasta, sauces, fruits, vegetables, etc.), but you can probably use your transition to a vegan diet as an opportunity to learn how to shop better and cheaper.
A good natural food store will blow away a supermarket when it comes to offering a wide variety of delicious vegan foods. In particular, be sure to spend time in the bulk section and in the deli. While deli items are often expensive, they’re a great way for a new vegan to sample a wide assortment of unfamiliar foods. In most cases, these are foods that can be easily made from scratch at home, at very little cost. Natural food stores have a reputation for being super expensive, but that need not be true particularly if you keep an eye on price while shopping. In fact you’re likely to save a great deal of money if you buy your staples (rice, beans, flours, cereals) from the bulk department.
That said, it’s certainly possible to spend a fortune at a natural foods store, particularly if you buy a lot of frozen foods and prepared food out of the refrigerated section. You can typically expect things like frozen vegan pizzas and TV dinners to be double or even triple the price of their non-vegan counterparts. Sure, the ingredients will typically be higher quality and organically sourced, but anyone on a budget will want to spend a lot more time in the bulk aisle than in the frozen foods section.
Just as a supermarket is probably not your best local source of groceries, your natural foods store may not be your best local source of fruits and vegetables. It’s worth your time to find out if there’s a farmer’s market or CSA in your area. If so, you may be able to find fresher and more local produce than you can from any market, at a fraction of the price. There’s probably a farmers’ market that’s nearer to you than you think. Check out this directory from LocalHarvest.org.
Going vegan is a great time to work on upgrading your cooking skills, since nothing is so reliably vegan as something you’ve personally cooked. If you’re just starting out with vegan cooking, it’s wise to start with a cookbook or two devoted to quick and easy recipes you can make every day, featuring ingredients that are easy to find. A few great choices are Robin Robertson’s Quick-Fix Vegan, Marc Reinfeld’s 30-Minute Vegan, and Lorna Sass’ Short-Cut Vegan.
Naturally, you’ll want the bulk of vegan foods that you’re sampling to be healthful choices. Try to make many of your meals heavy on vegetables, and also be sure to include other wholesome nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, and nuts. At the same time, keep in mind that simply eating mostly healthful foods is not enough to ensure you’ve covered all your nutritional bases. It’s wise to read a basic book on vegan nutrition. The best one we know of is Vegan for Life by Jack Norris and Ginny Messina.
In addition to learning about nutrition, make absolutely sure that you find a reliable and regular source of B-12. Since this crucial item isn’t found in un-supplemented vegan foods, the easiest way to make sure you’re getting enough is to take a sublingual B-12 tablet every two or three days. Be aware that the consequences of B-12 deficiency are dire and potentially irreversible, so please don’t take any chances with this crucial nutrient—especially since you can satisfy your needs for an entire year for less than $10.
Being vegan definitely gets easier the longer you stick with it. So here’s our guide to getting over the hump. It’ll give you all sorts of useful information to gracefully navigate through your first few weeks as a vegan.
Finally, you’ll find that reading a book-length guide to vegan living can speed up your transition, while eliminating inconvenience and uncertainty. A few popular titles include Erik Marcus’ The Ultimate Vegan Guide, Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan, and Elizabeth Castoria’s How to Be Vegan.