Moving towards a vegan diet is easy, especially if you bear a few things in mind when starting out. So let’s start by looking at your overall approach. The most obvious way to become vegan is to focus on eliminating animal products from your diet. Surprisingly, however, this method of transitioning is needlessly difficult, and the people who choose this route are probably least likely to stay vegan over the long-term.
There is a much better way. 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 easier it will become to choose vegan most of the time.
Cultivate the habit of trying new foods at every opportunity. The payoff is huge. If you set a goal of sampling at least five new vegan foods each week, you’ll doubtless discover a steady stream of new foods you love. And these items will begin crowding out the animal products that are currently in your diet. Before long, anytime you get hungry the first food that comes to mind will be vegan.
Once you recognize that that going vegan is really just learning a new skill—and a fairly simple one at that—much of your trepidation surrounding a change of diet will disappear. Plus, you certainly don’t need to go vegan all at once. Some people do it overnight, while others ease into it over months or even years. The important thing isn’t how fast you go, but rather that you do it in a way that feels easy and comfortable. Use whatever steppingstones work for you. The goal, after all, is not just to go vegan but to stay vegan long-term. And your ability to stick with your diet will be impeded if you’re not happy, healthy, and delighted by the foods you eat every day.
Some people get intimidated by the thought of becoming absolutely, positively vegan—with no room for slips or exceptions. If making a 100 percent commitment sounds too much for you right now, no problem. There are always halfway points that accomplish an enormous amount of good. One of America’s most influential food writers, Mark Bittman, has long followed what he calls a “Vegan Before 6,” approach. That is, he follows a totally vegan diet until dinnertime, and then eats whatever he likes for the rest of the evening. A strategy like this can easily get you past the halfway point towards becoming vegan, and even if you never become completely vegan you’ll doubtless eat far fewer animal products than most people. If the Vegan Before 6 approach sounds appealing, you can get ahold of Bittman’s book on the topic.
Or perhaps the idea of going 100 percent vegan sounds easy enough, but a commitment to stick with it for the rest of your life seems daunting. No worries—why not take the pressure off by giving a vegan diet a three-week test-drive? One great benefit to making a temporary commitment is that research shows it takes about 21 days to form a lasting habit. So after your three-week vegan experiment, you’ll be in a much better position to evaluate how well a plant-based lifestyle works for you.
And never forget: it just keeps getting easier. The more vegan foods you try the easier it will be to stick with it. So if going vegan seems hard right now, know that it’ll seem easier in a few weeks and much easier in a few months. Nearly every long-term vegan you’ll meet will tell you that the transition turned out to be far easier than they ever expected.
Read the Manual
You could certainly figure out how to be vegan without reading a single book on the topic. But there’s almost no other lifestyle change in which a little reading delivers such an enormous payoff. Nothing about going vegan is all that challenging, but it’s inescapable that you’ll need to make changes to the way you shop, cook, dine out, and so forth. Perhaps the best book on the topic, and certainly the most inviting one, is Kristy Turner’s But I Could Never Go Vegan! Not only is Turner’s book a super-friendly introduction, but it also contains 125 really good recipes, all of which are quick and easy to make. And it’s jam-packed with great food photos, which doubtless will inspire you to get cooking.
If you want a free book that covers the same ground, you can read The Ultimate Vegan Guide online right here at Vegan.com. You really can’t go wrong with any introductory book to the topic. They’ll all teach you in just a few hours all sorts of things that would take you months or years to discover on your own.
Also, keep in mind that learning how to go vegan is one thing, but having the motivation to stick with it is another. Books or films about dietary choices and animal agribusiness can inspire new levels of commitment, especially when you’re new to vegan foods. So check out our recommended books and movies pages.
Vegans and meat eaters alike often have alarming lapses in their knowledge of nutrition. Many books and articles that cover vegan nutrition are full of misinformation, and create the dangerous impression that as long as vegans eat a decent variety of foods nutrient deficiencies are practically impossible. That unfortunately is not the case. Just like omnivores, a great many vegans could stand to improve both their knowledge of nutrition and their intake of certain nutrients.
The book to read, if you want to stay out of trouble and eat as healthfully as possible, is Jack Norris and Virginia Messina’s Vegan for Life. From B-12 to protein to calcium, this book will set you straight about how to go about ensuring that all your nutritional bases are covered.
After reading about vegan nutrition, you’ll almost certainly want to find a reliable and regular source of B-12. Since this crucial vitamin 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 most vegans can satisfy their needs for an entire year for about $10.
Check out our Vitamin and Supplements Guide for more nutrients of special interest to vegans.
If you’re going to change the foods you eat, that obviously necessitates changing the foods you buy. So why not learn how to bump your grocery shopping skills up a notch?
Any supermarket will offer sufficient foods for a diverse vegan diet (beans, rice, pasta, hummus, soy milk, fruits, vegetables, etc.), but you can probably use your vegan transition 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. Natural food stores have a reputation for being expensive, but that need not be true particularly if you keep an eye on price while shopping. You can go a long way towards minimizing your food costs by purchasing your staples (rice, beans, flours, cereals) from the bulk department.
When shopping at a natural food stores, be sure to give the deli a close look, especially if it’s loaded with vegan offerings. While deli items are usually 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 minimal cost.
Also be forewarned that you can spend a fortune in the frozen foods aisle. You can expect items 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 much more time in the bulk section than in the frozen foods aisle.
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 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm 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 or CSA that’s nearer to you than you think. Check out this directory from LocalHarvest.org.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s nearby, know that they’re famous for selling all sorts of delicious vegan items at rock-bottom prices. They even publish a regularly-updated list of all their vegan items. And if you’re seeking to try as many new vegan foods as possible, don’t forget Amazon.com. They carry all sorts of great vegan items, from energy bars to to hot cereals to cookies to nutritional yeast. Many of these products can be tough to find locally. Check out our Vegan.com Grocery for links to Amazon’s best food items.
Outfit Your Kitchen
Veganizing your diet may give you the impetus to pull the plug on some of the worst foods in your diet and to master some basic cooking skills. It’s amazing how far a little money spent on basic kitchen equipment can take you, in terms of opening up all sorts of food preparation possibilities. Check out our kitchenware guide if you want to get the biggest bang for the buck in terms of finding equipment you’ll actually use.
Some of the most useful kitchen appliances are extraordinarily cheap. These include items like toasters, blenders, slow cookers, and immersion mixers—all of which can be had for under $20 apiece. More expensive models of these appliances might have better looks but they are unlikely to offer better performance or durability.
The one area not to scrimp on is a knife. The Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch chef’s knife hits the sweet spot in terms of offering quality workmanship in the same league as professional grade knives costing triple the price. Get it professionally sharpened every six to twelve months and it’ll totally transform your cooking experiences.
There are also a few higher-end appliances that can be well-worth the price. In particular, pressure cookers, food processors, and professional-grade blenders like Vitamixes and Blendtecs be game-changing additions to your kitchen.
The #1 mistake that new vegans make is choosing the wrong first cookbook. You absolutely don’t want something fussy and gourmet when getting started with vegan cooking. What you need is a cookbook geared to quick and easy meals that you can prepare in 30 minutes or less. From there if you want to branch out to more sophisticated cooking, go for it. But make sure that your first cookbook is suitable for the simplest and most hassle-free meals. There are several fantastic choices, including:
- Quick-Fix Vegan, by Robin Robertson
- Isa Does It, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
- Everyday Happy Herbivore, by Lindsay S. Nixon
- Nom Yourself, by Mary Mattern
These cookbooks are all perfect for getting started. If you want to get a little fancier, we highly recommend Angela Liddon’s, The Oh She Glows Cookbook. It’s the perfect all-around reference cookbook for recipes that tastes solidly gourmet but don’t require huge amounts of time in the kitchen.
Whatever your cooking interest, there’s a vegan cookbook that’s perfect for you. You can find cookbooks devoted to every cuisine, including Italian, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, and Ethiopian. There are likewise vegan cookbooks specializing on things like crockpots, pressure cookers, salads, and bread baking. You can discover them all on our vegan cookbooks page.
If you’re new to cooking you may be surprised to learn that you can eat an incredibly diverse vegan diet without ever following a recipe—all you need to do is to master the preparation of these five foods: smoothies; sandwiches; salads; stir-fries; and grilled veggies. Chapters 21 and 22 of The Ultimate Vegan Guide will acquaint you the basics of preparing these foods in limitless variations.
Depending on where you live, vegan dining options may range from terrible to incredible. At this point, most mid-sized cities have a number of excellent options, and you can even find vegan restaurants in the ‘burbs.
Although there are a few online vegan restaurant directories like VegGuide and HappyCow, Yelp remains by far the best way to locate vegan options in your area, since they’ve got 100 times more listings and reviews than any vegan-oriented site. Part of what makes Yelp so powerful is that it’s got great search features. Just type vegan into Yelp’s Find box and every local restaurant that has a review mentioning its vegan status will pop up. And once you’ve picked out a particular restaurant, you can use this search feature to see all reviews that contain the word vegan. If you live in a place that’s not vegan-friendly, no resource compares to Yelp when it comes to tracking down all the best vegan dining options.
Now let’s move onto more general advice for finding vegan-friendly dining. Your ability to easily find a vegan meal will vary widely by cuisine. Hands down the most vegan-friendly cuisine is Middle Eastern—avoid the meat and you’re usually home free since it’s rare for Middle Eastern meals to contain dairy or eggs (but be on the lookout for a cucumber dish made with yogurt).
Mexican food has great potential to be vegan-friendly but you have to watch out for lard in the beans or tortillas, sour cream in the guacamole, and chicken stock in the rice. Chicken stock is also a big problem in Chinese food, where it can vanish undetectably into soups and the broths of otherwise vegan entrees.
Ethiopian restaurants are a rarity compared to these other cuisines but if you can find one you can usually get a great vegan meal. Since east Africa isn’t traditionally a place for dairy cattle or layer hens, Ethiopian food tends to be based on meat, veggies, and grains. So if you avoid the meat and make sure there’s no butter used to prepare the vegetables you’re usually home free. Some Ethiopian places will use sour cream as a garnish so be sure to ask that it be left off.
If you’re out on a road trip or otherwise need a quick and reliably vegan meal your easiest choices are probably at Subway or Taco Bell. Subway’s got “Veggie Delight” sandwiches, which are vegan if you avoid the mayo and cheese (their whole wheat bread has honey but their white breads are vegan.) At Taco Bell, you can get order a “Bean Burrito al Fresco Style,” which means that they’ll swap out the cheese for chunky salsa.
There are also great vegan options at Cal-Mex burrito places like Chipotle, Qdoba, and Taco Del Mar. They’re each a big step up from what’s on offer at Taco Bell or Subway, but they are also much harder to find.
Socializing and Finding Community
Meetup.com can be a valuable resource for finding local vegans and veggie groups. Just type Vegan into the search box and see what comes up near you. Many cities have vegan dine-outs or potlucks. Another increasingly popular gathering is called Vegan Drinks. These are typically put on at bars and restaurants that offer—often especially for the event—great drink accompaniments like vegan nachos and yummy fried things.
You can also find likeminded people at big regional vegan festivals, which are happening all over the world. Check out our directory to these events.
And for dating, most of the big platforms like OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, and Match.com have categories for diet preference, making it easy to find eligible vegans near you. There’s also VeggieDate, which caters exclusively to the vegetarian and vegan communities.
Take Your Next Step
Just by reading this article, you are already way ahead of where most of today’s vegans were when they started out. Regardless of whether you want to take a step in the vegan direction, try out being vegan for a little while, or commit to being totally vegan for the rest of your life, the information you’ve read here will help you enormously. To recap the main points:
- A starter book like But I Could Never Go Vegan! will make your transition smoother, quicker, and more enjoyable.
- Take nutrition seriously. Vegan for Life will help you to steer clear of the most common deficiencies that can arise on a vegan diet.
- Make your first cookbook an easy one. Everyday Happy Herbivore is a fantastic choice.
- The quickest way to move towards a diverse vegan diet is to master the preparation of these five foods: smoothies; sandwiches; salads, stir-fries, and grilled veggies.
- Learn how to shop affordably at natural food stores, and check out your local farmer’s market for fresh local produce. Our Amazon.com grocery page will enable you to further round out your diet.
- Yelp will help you discover your best vegan dining options. There are almost certainly some fantastic local possibilities that you don’t yet know about.
- In a pinch while traveling, you can always turn to Subway’s Veggie Delight without cheese or mayo, or to Taco Bell’s Bean Burrito ordered Fresco Style.
- Don’t feel isolated! There are probably plenty of vegans near you, if you take the time to look. Use Meetup.com to find them, and make plans to attend your nearest vegan festival.
Above all, remember that if it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right. Going vegan is all about discovering as many new foods as you can, from as many places as possible. A sure sign that you are headed in the right direction is when you notice that your diet is becoming more satisfying and delicious than it ever was. Month by month, you can bring your food choices into increasing alignment with your values, and eat more compassionately, healthfully, and sustainably than ever before.