Going vegan has taught me a lot — about myself and my ability to act in accordance with my beliefs, about my friends and family, and about veganism. Many of my expectations about veganism have been shattered — mostly in positive ways. Here are some of the things I've discovered after two months of eating vegan.
1. Having more than one motive is key.
Years ago, I tried to go vegan solely for health purposes — and it didn't stick. Now, whenever I start to think that just one non-vegan meal surely can't hurt too much, I visualize graphic images of animal cruelty and it puts me back on track. Or, I think about how going vegan has made me more environmentally conscious. The point is, having multiple reasons for being vegan has strengthened my resolve.
2. Going vegan won't cure all your maladies (but it can help).
I wanted so badly to believe that going vegan was going to single-handedly cure me of every health issue I've ever had, but going vegan didn't change the fact that I have eczema and still suffer from frequent heartburn. On the other hand, I have noticed some improvements to my well-being. My digestion has been much better, and I don't really get bloated anymore. There's also evidence that vegetarian and vegan diets can reduce the risk for heart disease and cancer — both of which have affected my family.
3. It's all about balance.
As with any type of diet, your food intake should be well-planned and balanced to ensure you're getting all the right nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. B12 is a vitamin that is pretty much only found in meat and animal products, so I take a B12 supplement. I also buy non-dairy milks that are fortified with B12 and other vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin D and calcium. For Omega-3s, I make sure to eat flax and walnuts, but I will probably also start using a vegan DHA supplement, too.
4. Going vegan will expose you to new foods and cooking techniques.
Before going vegan, I had never heard of jackfruit or seitan, I hadn't really cooked with cauliflower, and I thought of cashews as the best part of mixed nuts. Now I'm constantly learning new cooking methods and trying new vegetables and protein sources to keep things interesting. Recently I made my own vegan cheese and yogurt — two things I had never attempted pre-veganism.
5. Vegan baking isn't as hard as you might think.
One of my main concerns when deciding to go vegan was that I would never be able to bake anything ever again, but I've actually had a great deal of success. There's a learning curve, to be sure, but there are a lot of commercial products — like vegan butter and egg replacer powder — to help ease the transition. And now that I feel a little more comfortable with vegan baking, I've been using less-processed ingredientsl like coconut and other oils, flaxseed, and aquafaba.
6. Vegan food is real food.
There is a misconception that vegan food is a poor imitation of "real food," and I can understand where that myth comes from; there are some pretty atrocious commercial vegan products on the market! But if you like PB&J, chili, and spaghetti, you already like three vegan meals. In fact, most vegan meals that I've made don't even require specialty ingredients. Of course, a veggie burger will never taste the same as a real burger, but instead of comparing vegan food to its non-vegan counterpart, I try to appreciate the meal and the ingredients for what they are.
7. Eating vegan doesn't have to be more expensive.
In the beginning, when my husband and I were stocking our pantry with new kitchen staples, our grocery bill was a little higher. But for the most part, we have been able to stay on budget with our weekly shopping. Commercially prepared vegan foods from the freezer section will definitely cause your bill to skyrocket — but we have never shopped like that, and I don't see any need to start now. I basically use the same techniques I always have to stay on budget: buying in bulk, shopping in-season for produce, and finding out which stores have the lowest prices for each kind of food.
8. Dining out is tough, but it can be done.
Even though I live in a city with lots of restaurants, there are very few that are exclusively vegan. In fact, after going vegan, I analyzed the menus of my favorite dining-out spots and realized many of them didn't have a single vegan option on the menu. Some didn't even have a vegetarian option! Not one to be deterred, I started calling and sending Facebook messages to restaurants to see if there were any meals that could be easily vegan-ized. Almost every restaurant either gave me ways to customize dishes or told me that the chef could make me something special on request. The lesson? Know your options before you go — otherwise, you might be stuck with a very boring salad.
9. Your tastes will change.
Since going vegan, I have given into temptation a couple times — especially in the beginning. But as my journey continues, I'm finding that I don't have the same taste for meat or dairy that I once did. At one point, I tried a piece of pork and was so turned off by the taste, I spit it out. (And for the record, several omnivorous friends enjoyed the pork, so it was me, not the meat.)
10. You'll never be vegan enough for some people.
As soon as you go vegan, vegans and omnivores alike will want to tell you how many foods aren't vegan. Certain sugars are processed using bone char filters, for example. Some wines and beers use animal byproducts in their production. I even had another vegan suggest to me that figs aren't vegan because wasps die inside of them! For me, this kind of thinking is ultimately unhelpful, unrealistic, and uninviting. I prefer to focus on the things I can eat. Personally, I try to avoid non-vegan alcohols and sugars, but if my parents go out of their way to make me vegan cookies, I'm not going to turn them down because they used the wrong brand of sugar.
(Image credits: Maria Siriano; Maria Siriano of Sift & Whisk)