Eleven tips for new vegans!  »

Have you considered being vegan? Are you unsure of how to get started? Well I’m here to help! Here are 11 of my personal tips for new vegans.

Before we get this party started, I’ll just say I’m vegan because I want to do as little harm to animals as possible. The environment and health are great reasons to go vegan but I am vegan because of the animals and that’s what my opinions and ideas will reflect. If you want to learn more about which vegan foods are best for the environment or what’s the healthiest way to be vegan, there are lots of great resources. This probably isn’t one of them.

1. Play the game!
You have to have a good attitude if you want to be a happy vegan like me. I don’t think being vegan has to be this big hardship—it’s fun to be vegan! It’s like a big problem-solving game! When you’re an omnivore, you can eat anything—what kind of game is that? That’s like playing with blocks when we all know Tetris is more fun! When you’re vegan, you’ve got to figure stuff out and find the best way to win. Are you at a super un-vegan restaurant? Hack their menu to find vegan food! On a road trip? Hunt down the best vegan restaurant in the city! Love mac and cheese? Hold your own vegan mac and cheese recipe contest! When you’re vegan, a simple trip to get ice cream is a fun adventure.

2. Think about what you like to eat!
I read once that people basically have 11 staple meals they rotate between. For me, it’s about three. I like avocado maki, english muffins, and burritos. So, to start yourself off, think of several meals you like that are or can be made vegan. You like spaghetti? That’s one dinner right there! Make a list of these things and keep writing them down as you think of them. Once you see all the stuff you CAN eat, instead of just what you can’t, you will feel capable of success!

3. Learn what’s vegan!
A lot of food you already like is vegan! Peta has a great resource, Accidentally Vegan, that tells you all the regular old food that just happens to be vegan. There’s junk food but there’s also the likes of Cheerios and Triscuits. You will find that some of the stuff you really enjoy is accidentally vegan. What do I like? I’m glad you asked! Some of my favorites: Nature Valley peanut butter granola bars, Wheat Thins, Corn Chex, Bisquick. Look on that site and jot down the stuff you like on your food list from tip number two!

4. Get to shopping!
Go to the grocery store. Bring your list. Buy that stuff! Your best defense from “slip-ups” is to be prepared! You need food for meals and food for snacks. Get all the ingredients for all the many meals you like and get ready-to-eat snack items too! People act crazy when they are hungry. If you have vegan food around that you like, you won’t be so tempted to fall off the wagon when you are hunger-crazed.

5. Read ingredients!
While you’re shopping, make sure you read labels for non-vegan ingredients. Easy cheat: most products now have a bolded part at the bottom of the ingredients that lists any allergens—that includes dairy! If I see dairy in this bolded line, I throw the food back on the shelf; if I don’t, then I scan the rest of the ingredients to double-check it’s vegan. You will get the hang of this! It’s not so hard! It’s also pretty exciting when you find something that is accidentally vegan. Oh, watch out for whey! They add it to the oddest things! Other things to look for beyond the obvious milk, eggs, butter: casein, rennet, and carmine. But don’t overwhelm yourself! Start watching out for these ingredients and work your way up to more esoteric non-vegan ingredients down the line. Really, whey is usually the most exotic offender you will find. Besides, lots of times the packaging will just be like, “MILK FAT” and you will be like, “EW, moving on.” Easy.

6. Don’t forget about fruit!
Fruit RULES. When we think of vegan food, sometimes we think about a bunch of veggies and grains—but don’t forget about fruit! I always have bananas, apples, grapes, and clementines around. Fruit brings back the simple joys of childhood! Fruit makes people happy! Plus, most fruit is good to go. No cooking, no fuss. Easy.

7. Learn to cook!
If you can cook, any vegan dream can come true! The best way to learn to cook is just to try recipes. I happen to be a fantastical cook and it’s just because I used to hustle threw cookbook after cookbook as a kid. If you already know your way around the kitchen, you have a headstart—now you can use new recipes to learn your way around the vegan kitchen! Vegweb has a ton of recipes and really, there are recipes all over the internet! Vegan bakers be blogging! Shit, even Vegansaurus has recipes! Besides that, there are SO MANY amazing cookbooks. Go to the store, pick out a few. Or don’t go to the bookstore—as soon as you become vegan, all your relatives will probably start giving you vegan cookbooks for every holiday. You’ll be set! I got Veganomicon as a gift and it’s great. Usually I go for cookbooks with BIG PICTURES. That’s pretty much how I decide what I want to cook: whatever looks pretty.

8. Don’t be so center-centered!
When you eat meat and crap, there’s so much focus on some giant protein-heavy center of the meal you’re supposed to have. Screw that! Sure, vegan lasagna is great when you can get it, but you don’t need some big main dish to have a meal. Eat some steamed broccoli with some couscous and bean pilaf. Hell, throw in some french fries for good measure! This is 2011, not 1950: you can do whatever you want! You don’t have to be square.

9. Remember why you’re vegan!
This is just in case of emergency! Anytime I feel down about being vegan, nothing snaps me out of it more than watching those super-awful undercover factory farm videos. Seriously. Really miss M&Ms? Watch a baby calf at a dairy farm being held down and punched in the face and see if M&Ms still seem important. Plus, you’re in good company because not only are we rad (we are very rad), the best fools on earth (dead or alive) are vegan. Hello, Coretta Scott King, Brian Greene, and Ellen Degeneres! All awesome, all vegan. BAM! 

10. Get a posse!
Join listservs (do those still exist?? I don’t know, I’m not a nerd and already have plenty of friends, OK?), Yahoo groups, meet-ups, comment on local blogs, post on Craigslist, whatever it takes! I was reading Vegansaurus long before I was writing for it and it helped me out a lot when I first got to SF. Most cities have vegan groups to join or blogs where you can meet friends. And find community in the forums on sites like VegWeb and the PPK. There’s power in numbers, and they always have your back. Unless you’re in a fight about what’s the best vegan cheese and then shit can get really real, real fast. Don’t cut the omnis out of your life (besides who are the next vegans if not those same omnis?) but it’s always nice to be able to turn to other vegans when you need a hug. Except me, I’m not into touching strangers!

11. Get to stepping!
Go out and find all the great vegan stuff the world has to offer! Is there a vegan bakery near you? Go get a cupcake! Is it your birthday? Go to the finest vegan restaurant in town! Look on sites like Food Fight Grocery and order whatever crazy vegan stuff you can’t find in your hood! It’s a big vegan world out there, dive in.

Seriously, being vegan is the raddest best. It feels so good to know that you’re not contributing to the torture of poor adorable animals. Now give yourself a hug! Hell, feel yourself up! Because you did it! And you will continue to do it! One vegan day at a time.

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