Congratulations! You’ve just made one of the most positive choices you can ever make in your life – for the animals, for the environment and for your own health. “Taking the first step is always the hardest”, but becoming vegan has never been easier than right now. Read Lesleigh’s guide to get started on a vegan diet.
What can Vegans Eat?
The day I became vegan, life wasn’t as hard as I had expected it to be as when the idea had first entered my mind. Meat was easily tossed aside, the taste and texture was absolutely repulsive to me.
Milk, eggs and fish however, were another thing as I had little knowledge of what vegans can eat. I and vegetarian friends of mine felt that taking such “crucial ingredients” from our diets would limit food options to a head of lettuce and a carrot or two. Little did we know that there were vast amounts of new and replacement foods which our taste buds had yet to experience.
I of course, converted to veganism the hard way. I knew not of the animal friendly alternatives and suffered needlessly in the name of animal rights. As I become more aware of “what’s in what”, I quickly realised there are many meat substitutes, dairy free milks, cheeses, pastries and ice-creams. Fat free has become the vegan’s friend, with milk and egg-free mayonnaise, margarine and baked goods now so readily available that no one need ‘suffer’ without animal products in their diet.
Being vegan offers the opportunity to expand your culinary choices, but you don’t need to if you prefer not to. A meat eater could still have their (faux) meat and 3 veg. every night without the guilt or immorality associated with an actual meat based diet.
There are plenty of websites that can help with the transition to vegan from meat eater or vegetarian, with advice on what to eat, where you can go buy things to eat and restaurants to take your friends. There are also many other resources (e.g. books and shops) which can assist with the transition stage.
Below are some tips and suggestions gathered on how to ‘make it’ as a compassionate consumer:
Food Product Substitutes
There are many alternatives to “used to” or substitute products. Although most of them won’t actually taste exactly the same as the real product, over time you do find many substitutes that you will thoroughly enjoy. Often just changing brands makes a big difference in taste.
Most of the day to day ingredients that we consumed as meat eaters have a veggie substitute, be it the vitamins found in vegetables and nuts, or faux cheeses and meats. Milk on cereals, in coffee, tea, breakfast and cooking is easily replaced with the many non-dairy types that can be found at health stores such as rice, oat and soya milks. There are egg, meat and cheese substitutes which ensure no traditional home-cooked meal need be missed.
Wear Out or Throw Out?
Many who decide to convert to an exclusively plant-based vegan diet decide to keep their already-purchased leather, wool and silk garments until old and worn out. Often these people argue that this is because they feel that an animal had to die and suffer in the production of the product and therefore it should not have died in vain. Others decide that it’s repulsive to wear dead animal products and cannot bare the sight of the product anymore.
Ultimately the choice to wear out or throw out is up to each individual. Over time however, most vegans will eventually rid themselves of all their ignorant or unconcerned purchases. They have comfort in knowing that they no longer support or condone these cruel and senseless industries.
How to Tolerate the Talk
Being vegan can be very challenging, especially when it comes to the thoughts of other non-vegan friends, family and co-workers. Unless you are blessed to be surrounded by enlightened vegans, you will more than likely be ridiculed, told that you will make yourself ill, that man was designed to eat animals, or that you’re just plain weird. Some people who you know may will be in shock and won’t understand your decision. My own sister tells people that I am allergic to meat; how could someone possibly decide to not eat meat?!
The trick is to be prepared…
I find that people will either attack because they have known a self-righteous vegan or somehow got the concept in their heads that all vegans are preachers, or that they feel guilty and do not want to confront the reality of their own choice of diet and the consequences to which it leads. As a vegan, you need to know how to respond to their ridicule:
- If they say we were designed to eat meat you could mention that if we were designed to eat meat surely we wouldn’t need to cook it or that our canines are not like that of all other meat eaters, which are normally a lot longer and sharper.
- If they say that there is no iron in vegan diets, you could mention that green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds have iron.
- If you are told you will get osteoporosis because you do not consume dairy foods, you could mention that seeds, grains and nuts contain calcium and that we are the only animal species on this planet that drinks the milk from another animal.
I always say that I don’t mind people eating meat, just as long as it was happy meat – meat from a liberated animal that lead a normal and natural life, and that had the opportunity to fulfill its natural behaviours. But not caged or diseased animals that suffer at the hand of profiteers. This goes down well, especially if they thought you were another preacher.
These are only a few suggestions. All new vegans will eventually find their own responses that they feel comfortable relating and that work for them. But do try to avoid being adversarial as this may offend others and damage the veganism cause. It’s best to adopt an engaging and positive approach to vegan advocacy wherever possible.
Important Foods for Vegans
As a vegan you will need to consume certain foods to ensure optimal health. It is recommended that vegans consume in a day: 6-11 servings of grains, 2 servings of fruit, 3 or more servings of vegetables, 2-3 servings of beans or bean alternatives, 6-8 servings of fortified soya milk or alternatives, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
This can however, be a little time consuming and one might want to use this just as a guide. It is essential though to ensure that you do have enough protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B12 in your diet. It is best to gain these nutrients from food itself, however, there are also vitamin supplements available at most health stores.
Staying the Course
Whatever your personal reasons for becoming a vegan, we’d like to thank you for making the right choice. Making the transition can appear daunting to some people but do not despair; you are not alone. There are more like-minded vegans in South Africa than you might imagine, and our numbers grow as more people become aware of the benefits of being vegan.
“A problem shared is a problem halved”, so why not get involved in one of the many on-line South African vegan communities?
If it’s your health that concerns you, you should consider making an appointment with a dietician to allay your worries. There are also many books, societies and other websites that provide valuable information on nutrition, products and recipes.
We trust you found reading this article useful and we hope you’ll have a fulfilling and enjoyable journey into a life of veganism.