Have you ever tried to become vegan and failed? I have. It’s the reason I put off trying again for so long – 19 years in fact! Now, my only regret is not succeeding sooner…
There are two ways to become vegan: one is to transition over a period of time, the other is make the switch instantly. Different approaches work for different people. Thankfully there is now so much support available and an abundance of supermarket options to choose from, so it’s easier than ever to adopt this wonderful lifestyle.
I personally found transitioning over a two month period really helped and I wasn’t as overwhelmed as when I tried 19 years ago. Unfortunately (and I’m ashamed to say), I really didn’t know what I doing back then and I ended up inadvertently convincing myself and others that being vegan was unhealthy and difficult – which didn’t achieve anything, or help anyone. I only wish I knew then what I know now!
Changing such a big part of my lifestyle was daunting at first but after just a few months it became such a natural part of life and I am eternally grateful for all of the vegan Facebook groups, vegan websites, websites dedicated to plant-based recipes, YouTube videos and eye-opening documentaries which have been an amazing source of support, information and inspiration.
During the first month I took the time to learn more about nutrition, the hidden animal ingredients in our food, health benefits of a vegan lifestyle, as well as animal agriculture and farming methods, so that I was better prepared for when people asked me questions.
I was vegetarian for 22 years before I became vegan but I really don’t think it was any easier for me compared to a meat eater because I relied so much on dairy produce and eggs (the majority of meat substitutes or alternatives I ate were loaded with egg and /or dairy).
Below I share how I made the transition, but you may wish to split up the stages further and transition over a longer period depending on your own personal circumstances. If you are a meat eater, you can still transition using the phases below, but also cut out meat and fish in month 2.
Alternatively, you can always try one of the vegan challenges like Veganuary or Challenge 22+, which offer support, advice and resources to help make the switch. See my blog post ‘But I Could Never Go Vegan‘ for information on free resources for new and aspiring vegans.
Milk and butter (not including ready-made products containing milk or butter)
The first thing I dropped was milk. It’s so easy to substitute milk as there is absolutely loads of choice now available in the supermarkets: almond, oat, cashew, rice, soya, hazelnut, hemp – to name a few that spring to mind. Many coffee shops also stock soya or almond milk so you can still enjoy your lattes and cappuccinos. I enjoyed buying different types and brands of plant based milk and seeing what I preferred in tea and in my smoothies. Initially I wasn’t as keen on the taste of plant based milk, but now I can’t stand the smell or taste of cow’s milk; there have been a few occasional accidents where I’ve been given cow’s milk by mistake and I can’t imagine how I ever drank it!
Vegetable based spreads are also readily available in most supermarkets and I tried a few brands before settling on my favourite.
Treats and sweets
I stopped having any treats like ice cream and chocolate which contained animal products and made it my mission to find vegan versions of them all. I must have bought about six different tubs of vegan ice cream before I found my favourites – yes I have more than one (but don’t tell anyone). I quite like dark chocolate, but I have found some amazing vegan ‘milk’ chocolate, and again it’s about experimenting and finding what suits your taste.
As for cakes, I couldn’t find any supermarket alternatives, so I was over the moon when a good friend of mine came up with a delicious recipe for vegan cake. Since then I’ve discovered how to bake my own and I’m happy to report that they’ve been a hit with vegans and non-vegans alike.
Cooking vegan meals
I decided to start making vegan meals once or twice a week. I had some great hits and some… educational mishaps (mainly due to the fact that I’ve never been that confident in the kitchen). Initially it was difficult cooking for my partner who really wasn’t on board with all of this at the start. We also share different tastes in food: he hates beans and pulses whereas I really like them, so it means I sometimes make slightly different dishes – or find ways of slipping them in. I never really enjoyed cooking before becoming vegan, but now I absolutely love making meals from scratch, seeing what goes into my food and knowing how it has been prepared.
Cleaning and beauty products
Being vegan isn’t just about diet, it’s about trying your best to do the least harm – and that includes all of the products we buy. I had already switched to eco-friendly and cruelty free cleaning and beauty products some years back but just because something is cruelty free doesn’t mean it’s free of animal products. If in doubt check or Google the ingredients, write to the company or ask the vegan community (there are lots of websites and facebook pages with amazing people only too willing to help and offer advice).
Month 2 (which just so happened to be Veganuary 2017)
Giving up eggs was a lot easier than I thought. This was in part because I had already given up treats, like cake, which contained egg. Giving up Quorn mince and Quorn pieces was a little difficult because I had relied on those as a vegetarian, but I soon found soya mince and used lentils for many dishes, which worked surprisingly well. I did miss scrambled egg and boiled eggs at first, but now I find that even the smell of egg makes me feel sick – I would never have predicted that!
Oh cheese! Now that was a tough one because it’s addictive – and there’s science to prove it. Not long before I became vegan I remember uttering the words: ‘oh I could never become vegan because I love cheese too much!’ Whilst I still haven’t found a really good hard cheese substitute, I can honestly say that I no longer crave it. My New Year’s resolution (well one of them) is to experiment with making more plant based cheeses – so stay tuned!
All other products containing milk and butter
Whilst I had given up butter and milk in its raw form (and in treats), I now started looking at all product labels to check for milk and butter. I was surprised to find milk in loads of foods from ready-made guacamole to wine – I mean wine! This meant that my vegetarian wines were no longer okay to drink and I had to do a bit of research to find vegan alternatives (thankfully, some supermarkets have become a lot better at labelling their products).
At first I avoided going out with people as I wasn’t confident about what I could order – or even if I could ever eat out again. My partner and I usually go out for a meal once a week and I think he was worried that this would have to stop, but we couldn’t have been more wrong! 2017 was an amazing year, seeing more restaurants than ever catering for vegans. I enjoyed food at Pizza Express, Zizzi, Ask, Las Iguanas, Wetherspoons and the Toby Carvery – as well as loads of vegan restaurants around the country and abroad. There are also tonnes of independent cafes and restaurants out there that can usually veganise something on their menu if you call in advance (but bear in mind that you may have to do the thinking bit for them – so it’s worth checking out their menus online beforehand).
Clothing, footwear and accessories
I’m still gradually replacing any leather items I own such as bags and shoes. I was really pleased to find vegan options for my dancing shoes, and the manufacturers were able to swap out the leather uppers and soles for a fabric alternative which look and feel amazing.
I’m not a perfect vegan and probably never will be. I’m learning all the time and I still make mistakes. I feel that the most important thing is to learn from my mistakes: once I know better I always try to make sure I do better. Becoming vegan has also made me think a lot more about all the ways in which I can have a positive impact on our planet and at the moment I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic waste I am responsible for. I say responsible, because as a consumer I am part of the problem (if we can change the way we shop, or demonstrate a way to shop differently, then retailers will have to cater to demand or risk losing business).
I didn’t put any pressure on myself to have a specific day when I would go ‘fully’ vegan, but to my surprise it just happened naturally: I woke up one morning and never looked back – and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
The most incredible thing I have become aware of is how my taste buds have changed: flavours are stronger and more intense, and I appreciate and see food in a completely different light.
I have also been surprised by the positive impact on my health, particularly my immune system: before I was always plagued by colds and viruses, but in the past year since being vegan I have only had one very mild cold – a miracle and world record for me!
However you decide to make the switch, I wish you the very best of luck on your own journey. Welcome to a kinder world x