I was vegan for 6+ years. Then I moved to Serbia, which is really the land of meat and cheese with an occasional tomato or pepper thrown into the mix. Last year, I was considering going vegan again but presented the problem of how much more it would cost me. Soy milk here is as much as 5 times more expensive than cow milk. To get it, I’d have to ride a bus 30 minutes (one direction) and then walk another 15 minutes to get to the health food store. And I’d have to do that with a 2-year old child in tow.
How did vegan advocates respond to my dilemma? One obnoxious girl in a vegan forum bombarded me with hateful emails about how veganism isn’t expensive because “beans are cheap and available everywhere”. I got told I was a slave owner because I bought eggs from the backyard chickens of my neighbor. Needless to say, I did NOT feel encouragement or support to go vegan.
A year later, I finally did decide to go vegan again. What got me to take the transition? Was it all of the guilt trips? Did I decide to opt for the cheap bean-intensive diet that the girl recommended? No. The reason I got the courage to go vegan again was because someone finally admitted that going vegan can be hard.
Telling People that Going Vegan is Easy is NOT Going to Help
The internet is full of all sorts of information saying how easy it is to go vegan these days. They cite facts like “there are lots of meat and cheese alternatives available in stores”, “more restaurants are offering vegan options” and “grains and legumes are cheaper than meat.” This might be true (even in places like Serbia), but it doesn’t mean that going vegan is easy for everyone.
The people who really helped me transition to veganism were the ones who freely discussed all of the challenges they face on a daily basis as vegans. They talked about how much more they spend on food (followed by some tips on how to keep those costs down). They laughed about how their relatives still think they are in a cult (with a hint of sadness beneath the laughter). They talked about how hard it is to go to a birthday party and be the only one not eating the cake.
Yes, veganism DOES get easier. But saying that it is “easy” is just going to make it harder for people transitioning.
So, please, the next time someone says they want to go vegan but are worried, don’t offer up statistics about all the benefits of veganism or some facts about animal cruelty. Instead, tell them the truth:
Going vegan probably WILL cost you more
But it doesn’t have to. Once you get the hang of soaking beans and legumes, cooking in bulk, and how to incorporate cheaper substitutions into your recipes, you might even find that going veganism is cheaper. The reality unfortunately is that meat is heavily subsidized (so you are paying for it with your taxes) so you probably will spend a lot more on groceries.
You WILL feel lonely and outcast sometimes
But you will also be amazed at the support you get from unlikely places. You will also realize who you true friends are. After all, do you really want to be friends with someone who mocks your decision not to eat animals?
You probably WILL miss cheese
But you will probably find some other favorite foods too. And since cheese is so expensive, you’ll save some money towards vegan treats but eliminating this from your budget.
You MIGHT have health problems like nutrient deficiencies or feeling lethargic
But, with proper planning, veganism can also be very good for your health. If done right (meaning you take a B12 supplement, watch your calcium and iron intake, and avoid junk foods in favor of fresh foods), you can look forward to health benefits like reduced risk of heart disease, lower rates of erectile dysfunction for men, and even improved mental health.
You probably WILL have to spend a lot more time cooking
But you will probably learn to love it, or at least get some health benefits from eating fresh foods instead of fast food and frozen dinners.
Going out to eat WILL probably stop being fun when your only choices are potatoes, grilled vegetables or a wrap
But you will probably start attending some great vegan potlucks instead. And you will probably try all sorts of new ethnic foods which just so happen to be vegan, like that great Ethiopian restaurant and the fantastic vegan dahl at that Indian place.
Going vegan WILL feel inconvenient at times
But you will be rewarded for this with the feeling of doing the right thing.
5 Ways to Make Going Vegan Easier
Here are 5 tips which can make it easier for you to transition from an omnivore to a vegan:
1. Don’t think of it as a diet restriction
When you go vegan, you suddenly won’t be able to eat a lot of the foods you used to enjoy, and you may not have any food options at some social spots (like the movie theatre or mall). Instead of focusing on all the things you can’t eat, think of veganism as an opportunity to try new foods. Before I went vegan, I had never tried things like hijiki, seitan, or Ethiopian food. Being vegan forced me to expand my parameters – and I am happy that I did!
I probably wouldn’t have tried these stuffed squash flowers if I hadn’t gone veg!
2. Take a multivitamin
Aside from nutritional yeast, there is no vegan dietary source of vitamin B 12 (and even most nutritional yeast is fortified). You will have to take a B12 supplement as a vegan. While it is possible to get all your other nutritional requirements on the vegan diet, it isn’t always easy. So, you may want to consider taking a multivitamin (at least until you get a grasp on the nutritional aspects of your new diet). After all, it won’t be any fun going vegan if you get sick in the process!
3. Get some great cookbooks and try new recipes
Going vegan will be much more exciting and fun when you see all the amazing things that can be done with vegetables. Invest in a few great cookbooks. Then, set a day/days for trying new recipes. Over time, you will have a whole new repertoire of vegan recipes so you won’t ever have to wonder about what to eat again.
4. Get social!
This is probably the most important thing you can do when transitioning to the vegan diet. You will need to seek out other vegans to help you with any questions you have. Even in simple matters, like how to cook tofu properly, the social network can be great support. Keep in mind that your social network doesn’t necessarily have to be from other vegans. For example, when I first went vegan, my (meat-eating) best friend and I organized a weekly cooking night where we’d try new vegan recipes.
5. Investigate what you can eat
Did you know Burger King’s new French fries are vegan? Or that the Chipotle vegetarian fajita with black beans (not pinto beans) is vegan? We don’t always have time to cook or pack a lunch, so it is good to know what vegan food options are out there. This is especially true for new vegans to don’t have access to veggie-friendly supermarket chains like Whole Foods. So, take some time to figure out which foods are surprisingly vegan. They probably aren’t going to be healthy though – but you can let yourself off the hook occasionally!