Updated: Mar 24
By Jackie Bastianon
I've learn a lot over the last two years - here are the top 7 things I wish I'd know before going vegan.
1. Find balance.
Being vegan means to abstain from buying and consuming products that are made from animals (meat, dairy, eggs, honey). That being said, there's a lot of different ways to do it since it's a lifestyle, not a diet. Some people choose to exclusively eat whole, plant-based foods while others choose to eat more along the lines of friends & oreos! I fall somewhere in the middle. I love eating lots of veggies, fruit, tofu, tempeh, legumes, oats, nuts, seeds but I also love snacking on my Oma's veganized cinnamon bun recipe every once in a while! It's all about finding YOUR happy medium.
2. Don't sweat the small stuff.
When you first go vegan you're not always aware of what products contain traces of animal products. At first, there will definitely be some days where you wander around the grocery store reading a lot of labels on cracker and chip boxes. Some things will be a little disappointing, but others will be pleasantly surprising (all Maynards candy products and Pillsbury croissants are good to go). I will probably happen every once in a while that you eat a chip or some chocolate to later discover that it had "milk ingredients" as the 15th ingredient. In this case don’t be too hard on yourself and definitely don’t give up. Just make sure to double check the ingredients next time! The longer you're vegan the less this will happen since you'll begin to understand what you can and can't eat. It totally sucks (been there, ugh) but one little slip up isn't a reason for you to stop continuing to a whole lot of good.
3. Dairy is hella addictive.
"...But cheese!" Believe it or not I was once this person. Giving it up was hard at first and I couldn't understand why. I knew how it was made and I didn't want to contribute to it anymore. So why was I still craving it? I later found out that dairy contains a hormone called "casein." This substance is created by the mother cow in her milk to make sure her calf continues to come back to drink. As soon as I realized there was a reason this substance was addictive and that understood that this fluid wasn't made for me, it was meant for baby cows - it become a lot easier. After a month or two of having it out of my system, I no longer craved it. Now, there are tons of vegan cheese options that I enjoy (especially this Super Blue from Nuts for Cheese.
4. Always bring a dish.
One of the things that people sometimes struggle with is the social aspects of being vegan. When someone invites you over to their non-vegan household it can be a challenge to know what to do to ensure that there are options and you don’t starve. My hack? Always bring a dish - just in case. It's a win-win situation. People are grateful that you've brought something to contribute and you can rest assured that you've got something you're excited to eat! My go-to dish is this Vegan Caesar Salad with Crispy Croutons from my favourite vegan author, Oh She Glows. It's always a big hit around the table.
5. People will understand.
People who love you, generally want to support your decisions! When explaining to people at first that you're vegan, make sure that you explain the reason. At first it was hard for my family to adjust, but these days my other sister has gone vegan, my mom is vegan, my dad loves to cook tempeh and my little brother enjoys Beyond Burgers and broccoli soup. The more normalized vegan food has become in our house, the easier it has become! Food is a big part of people's culture and traditions - but you can always start and collaborate to modify the ones you have and start awesome cruelty-free new ones.
6. Find (or create) a community of like-minded individuals.
Studies show that people are more likely to commit to new habits when they do it with the support of a buddy. If I hadn't started my journey with my little sister Brigit, going vegan definitely would have been more challenging. She helped hold me accountable, discuss new recipes and go to restaurants with. At first I didn't know a lot of other pescatarians, vegetarians or vegans - but that's changed! Many members of my extended family, closest friends and business partner are now plant-based. Our Workshops also attract a lot of open-minded people on all different stages of their plant-based journey so I've been able to connect and make friends with lots of plant-people in Ottawa.
7. Vegan means love.
Most of us weren't born vegan. I definitely wasn't - I ate animal products for 18 years of my life. Like most people, I had no idea of the impacts of the animal agriculture industry on the environment and I'd never really had the chance to connect with the pigs, chickens or animals we normally only see in a plastic tray in the grocery store. But once I started researching and I took a few trips to the farm sanctuary close to my house, I decided that some things needed to change. More research and vegan products are coming out every day and hitting the mainstream media and restaurants. I think a lot of people are curious and keen to try to eat more plants. Let's try to have more open, positive discussions grounded in facts over yummy vegan food. Maybe not everyone will go vegan, but we can ALL work harder to make more sustainable eating choices.
Interested in learning more? Come out to our next Community Cooking Workshop to try some new recipes, meet those like-minded people and start that conversation.