Your Guide to Understanding Veganism Before Going Vegan
So, you’re thinking of going vegan. On behalf of the vegan community, welcome! You have officially made your first step in the process of living a better life for the world around you. In recent years, veganism has experienced a major growth spurt - with a 600 percent increase in people identifying as vegan in the past three years alone. This is significant because each person who goes vegan is implementing a major change in the world. But before you jump into the deep end, it is important to take some time to educate yourself and learn what veganism means for you.
We’ve created this guide as a resource to hopefully answer common questions and concerns, as well as help with the transition process.
What is Veganism?
Traditionally, veganism refers to someone whose diet is free from any form of animal products and by-products. However, that has now extended past diet and into lifestyle choices as well (i.e. clothes, toiletries, art supplies). It’s easy to assume that people initially go vegan because of the animals however; people go vegan for many different reasons. The most common reasons are either ethical, environmental, or health.
Ethical veganism refers to those whose lifestyle choices are shaped by their desire to avoid animal cruelty and suffering. Environmental veganism refers to individuals, like myself, who have chosen to eliminate animal products from their diets due to the environmental damage that comes from their production. Eliminating animal products can reduce one’s carbon footprint by 73 percent. In addition, vegans use five times less water a day than meat-eaters. Lastly, we have people who go vegan for health reasons. As you can imagine veganism is overall a healthier lifestyle, and with new studies being conducted every day, people are making the switch.
Here are some interesting health facts to consider:
If the entire population were to go vegan by 2050, 8.1 million deaths could be prevented.
Vegan diets can reduce the chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 23 percent.
Those who are plant-based are 32 percent less likely to die of heart disease.
There are a lot of misconceptions and speculation surrounding veganism, but for the most part, they are just that - a misconception. One of the biggest myths about vegans is that they think they are better than everyone else. We're not sure where this one originated, but it couldn’t be any less true. To this day, we have yet to come across any pushy, self-righteous, whiny, and sensitive stereotypical vegans.
Another common misbelief is that veganism is more expensive. While this may be true for certain specialty items and produce, when comparing prices of essentials items like grains and proteins, this just isn’t the case. On average, one pound of boneless chicken breast or ground beef cost $3.27, one pound of boneless pork cost $3.90, and the average price for steak is $6.86 per pound, while the average price for one pound of tofu ranges from $2 to $2.50. Catch the myth?
Lastly, many people tend to associate veganism with being extremely healthy. While veganism is an overall healthier lifestyle, it’s important to note that it is very much possible to be an unhealthy vegan. With so many new vegan products rolling out, it is just as easy to eat unhealthily and have a pantry filled with 'junk food'. The saying “everything in moderation” applies to the vegan diet as well.
What You'll Learn
As a vegan, you’ll begin to notice quite a lot about the food industry. The industry can be misleading and secretive, often using names to disguise what a product actually is. For example, the vitamin D3 found in your Rice Krispies isn’t vegan it’s just the more appealing and marketable way of saying sheep’s wool. The ‘shellac’ ingredient found in some of your favorite candies is, in other words, crushed up bugs … yep, you read that right, bugs. Simple ingredients such as sugar are also often processed using bone char, which helps to bleach the product. Wine and beer even undergo a process called ‘fining’ which essentially uses animal derivatives like bone marrow and isinglass (fish bladder) as a way to filter out “impurities.” I’m not sure fish bladder in my wine is any better than impurities.
Nonetheless, you’ll also be able to enjoy things you thought you would never have again; Oreos, crescent rolls, Sour Patch Kids, and even bacon bits. Products like these are what we vegans call “accidentally vegan” because they meet every standard of a vegan product. It’s safe to say that by going vegan, you’ll learn more than you expected to.
Supplements Are A Must
As a vegan, intaking certain vitamins and nutrients will prove difficult to get the necessary amounts that your body needs. Though it is entirely possible to be vegan and get these nutrients on your own, if you are just starting out and learning the ropes, we would suggest taking supplements as it may take some time to get the hang of things.
The most important supplement to take is B12. Vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell production and maintaining a healthy nervous system; however, it is mostly found in animal products like meat and fish - so taking a supplement is a must. Other supplements that vegans should consider taking are Vitamin D, Iron, Zinc, Omega 3 Fatty Acids, and Calcium. If you’re not a fan of taking too many pills, there are a lot of vegan multivitamins on the market as well.
Ingredients That Will Make The Transition Easier
Whether you plan on going full-fledged vegan overnight or plan on slowly integrating it into your lifestyle, you’re going to want to grab a few of these things from the grocery store. If you are planning on going cold turkey (pun intended), make sure you either use up or pass on any items in your pantry that will no longer be needed; no matter what kind of food it is (vegan or not) it shouldn't be wasted.
I’ve provided a list of ingredients that I wish I would have had in my pantry before making the switch:
Nutritional Yeast - Not only is it used in a ton of recipes, but you can also sprinkle it on virtually anything to add a cheesy flavor and a little extra B12.
Coconut Oil - Make sure to pick up the refined version, it has a neutral scent and won’t add any coconut flavors to whatever your making.
Cashews - Be sure to grab raw cashews, unroasted, and unsalted for variety.
Chickpeas - These are an easy, reliable source of protein. They are also known as garbanzo beans.
Tofu - Another great source of protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. Check out my favorite recipe here, it’s simple and only has a few ingredients.
Maple Syrup - It’s used in so many recipes and is a great sweetener replacement for sugar, which as we mentioned earlier is oftentimes not vegan.
Applesauce - This one may seem a little random, but applesauce is a great substitute for eggs when baking.
Quinoa - While most use quinoa as a grain, it is also high in protein and contains all of the essential amino acids we need.
Vegan Butter - A healthy non-dairy substitute for normal butter. There are plenty of great options: Earthbalance, Miyoko's Kitchen, even Country Crook recently came out with a plant-based butter.
Dairy-Free Milk - This one might seem like a no brainer, but plant-based milk is the easiest place to start. There are many options like Oatly.
How Should I Go About Making This Change?
There are many approaches to officially making the switch, and everyone’s experience is different. Listen to your body and do what’s right for you. I went vegan overnight - but I only did this because I know myself (I’m very much an all or nothing kind of person). The Vegan Society offers great tips on how to go about the process. In sum, they suggest taking it slow, doing it right, trying new things, educating yourself, asking for help, reminding yourself why you went vegan, and not giving up.
The Journey Ahead
You will make mistakes and that’s okay. I ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch for four months before I learned that it’s not vegan regardless of its deceiving ingredient list. Despite this mistake and a few others, I have still identified as a vegan. Veganism is a journey and a learning process that will undoubtedly have bumps in the road - we wouldn't advise listening to people who tell you otherwise. Some vegans are very strict, but don’t let that scare you off. It's okay if you don’t make it to full-blown vegan. Go easy on yourself and remember that every step you take is creating a positive change in the world.
It's Not For Everybody
We understand that veganism is not for everybody. Whether it’s due to financial or health reasons, or you're just not the one doing the cooking in the house, just know that there is a whole community that appreciates your desire to learn. Educating yourself is the most powerful thing you can do.
Veganism is by no means the only ethical and sustainable lifestyle. Despite the superiority complex that is typically associated with vegans, the majority of us do not want to criticize or attack anyone else’s dietary choices. Veganism is a choice that should be made by and for the individuals themselves. If you are aware of any genetic deficiencies or have a history with any form of an eating disorder, consider consulting a doctor before committing. Your health should be your greatest priority.