I was lucky; I was highly motivated to change my diet. I was getting older and my numbers (cholesterol, weight, blood pressure etc.) were getting worse. I made the change to vegetarian in one moment after a visit to the doctor, and then a couple of months later, after reading about eggs, milk, and cheese, decided to go vegan. It has been—well, not effortless, but an interesting, rewarding, and delightful journey.
So what if you want to take this step but don’t know where to start? Here are my suggestions.
- Find a vegan group. I found mine on meetup.com. We have gatherings twice a month where I learn new recipes, can ask questions, find new cookbooks, and find out a lot of information. (Thanks, J.J.!) People who are vegan-curious go to those meetings as well as those who have been vegan for 35+ years. They’ve got a lot of information to share, like “Where to get your protein?” The answer? Everywhere. Cows are vegan. Elephants are vegan. They seem to get enough protein.
- Educate yourself. Here are some films to find and watch: Forks over Knives; Cowspiracy; GMO OMG, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and Dr. Greger’s three amazing videos from http://www.nutritionfacts.org: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day–Preventing Our Most Common Diseases, and From Table to Able–Combating Disabling Diseases with Food. Some of these are only about nutrition, and some are about environmental issues. None of these have footage of tortured animals, but they will change your idea about how meat, cheese, and dairy is produced, marketed, and delivered to the table. It ain’t pretty. Read The China Study, and The World Peace Diet.
- Buy a couple of vegan cookbooks. I have amassed a nice collection, but the one I seem to continually come back to is Vegan on the Cheap, because it has good recipes for vegan mayo, vegan sour cream, a delicious mushroom gravy, and all those basics that I threw out and didn’t want to replace with expensive ones in the grocery store, especially if I didn’t know whether or not I would like them. Vegan yogurt? I still haven’t tried it, but I do love vegan cheese—in small doses. Baking without eggs can be tricky, but The Joy of Vegan Baking has never failed me.
- Know that you’re going to have some failures. Not every culinary experiment is a winner. Annotate your cookbooks. Make adjustments. Cross out the terrible ones.
- Make a journal. This is an entirely new way of eating for our household, and I didn’t want to get stuck making the same three things over and over again. So when I get a new vegan cookbook, I read it, and mark the things I want to make. I write those down in the back of my journal. Then when I make them, I put them in the front of my journal, along with a grade. Some things I’ll never make again; some things have become staples.
- Make a menu and a shopping list every week. I do this, and once the food is in the house, I only have to look at my menu and know what I’m going to cook for the evening. Sometimes these recipes have what seem like exotic ingredients, but once your pantry is stocked, you will be amazed at how little you spend on food every week. This week, for example, for two evening meals we’re eating leftovers from the freezer (love that Crockpot!), and for two other meals I only needed to buy a cabbage and some red bell peppers. I already have everything else. (Note: I have a soy milk maker, so I make our own soy milk and almond milk. (Thanks, Karen!) The appliance cost about $110, and I buy organic, non-GMO dried soybeans in 25-pound bags, so a quart of soymilk costs me about 25 cents.)
- Stock your kitchen with the basic appliances. I love my Crockpot, and have a couple of vegan Crockpot cookbooks. I was on this culinary journey for 18 months before I bit the bullet and bought a Vitamix and now I can’t imagine living without it. (Thanks, Jerry!) Soymilk maker. A rice cooker is mandatory, (Thanks, John and Mike!) as are good vegetable chopping implements, like quality knives and a mandolin.
- Take the time to look and appreciate at how beautiful your food has become. It has a variety of colors, textures, and flavors. Notice how you can actually feel the micronutrients energize your cells after a good meal with healthy food. Watch your numbers come down and know that you are reversing the heart disease that the Standard American Diet has created in your arteries.
- Don’t be afraid to go out to eat. I can always find something to eat. Most kitchens are happy to accommodate my requests. And when they do, I make an extra effort to thank them, and post reviews on Yelp and Happy Cow. Best is the great array of vegetarian and vegan restaurants that are popping up all over. People are becoming aware.
- If you don’t want to commit, don’t. Start with Meatless Mondays. But the more you know, the less meat and dairy you will consume. It’s not just a health thing, it’s an environmental thing, it’s an animal thing. And because of all that, it becomes a spiritual thing. But whatever you do, don’t stick your head in the sand. What we eat has significant consequences.
- Let me know how it goes. I’m interested.