Updated: May 27, 2020
For the last year, I have been experiencing the most horrible symptoms as a result of going through the early menopause. I have had to go on HRT, and with all the inherent health risks associated with doing that I decided enough was enough, and my health, both physical and mental, had to come first - I had to start living and eating my values. This is my story of living live on the veg!
Focus on why - what is your 'value' driver to becoming vegan
More and more people are becoming vegan, the drive to do so can be very personal based on your values, but the environmental and ethical case for going vegan is highly compelling.
There are primarily three main reasons for becoming vegan.
Environmental: research from the University of Oxford states that a diet free from all animal products, including meat, fish, diary and eggs is the "single biggest way" to reduce your negative impact on the planet. Reducing your personal carbon footprint by 73%.
Animal Cruelty-Free: the ethical rationale against the appalling quality of life and death that industrially farmed animals have.
Health: animal free foods are associated with improved health (whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts) The University of Oxford studied the growing body of evidence that demonstrated "replacing meat and diary with a variety of plant-based foods can improve both your health and health of the planet."
My reasons for becoming vegan, although driven in the end by health, are linked to all three. For me they all represent inclusive living. And living my values, has never felt so good!
But where do you start? My top 10 tips
So the 'thought' of going vegan is really rather daunting, especially if you are an avid meat lover like I was. A meal was not complete without the main protagonist of the show - the meat! However, that is all it is - a thought - the actual process was really rather simple once I had committed to it. It has surprised me how easy it has been! And importantly, I actually prefer the food that I am now eating, it is far more colourful and full of flavour. I've learned a lot so far, and I am sure I am going to carry on learning a lot more on this journey, but I thought I would share my top 10 tips to starting out.
Find Out More - if you can, speak to friends who are vegans and chat through the why's, and how's openly. Or find forums or blogs online - there are many! Do things like familiarise yourself with what vegan products are available in the supermarket, what restaurants near you have vegan food, what recipes make your mouth water. You can do this by just cruising the internet, it is easier now as there are so many websites, forums, books, magazines and videos with great advice, my favourites are: https://www.bosh.tv/ and https://plantbasedmag.com/
Make it Personal - as mentioned above the WHY is really important and it has to be personal. Remind yourself why you are doing this, this is all about you. It is your journey, your values, your self-care and your life. This is not a 'diet' this is a lifestyle change - so knowing why it is important to you will help you. Learn more about what motivates you - the effect on animals, the environmental impact, open your eyes and become more aware of the health and humanity consequences. Once you allow these to enter your heart it is hard to go back and become part of that system of pain and destruction. Tools, films and reviews can help, things like the Meat Calculator (although developed in America it is still highly relevant; the controversial movie 'What the Health' - although I would encourage you to read balanced reviews about this film before you decide if you want to watch it - such as Vegan Dietitian Virginia Messina.
Ease Into It - if you are not a vegetarian already, it is sometimes helpful to transition slowly. Use vegetarian foods as a stepping stone, and then start to eliminate eggs, cheese and dairy. I did this, and it really helped me. Remember you don't have to be perfect, it does not have to be an all or nothing situation - this is what works for you. A little is better than nothing. This is a learning curve, so gradually easing into it helped me understand more and learn what worked for me. It meant I could try new foods, and gradually introduce them into my diet - for example, I had never had Quorn or tofu - so I tried it, love it, it is just like chicken! I tried edamame beans, a really tasty addition! Rice noodles replaced egg, green tea replaced PG Tips, oat or almond milk replace cows milk. Nuts! Cashew nuts I never realised had so many options! Getting comfortable with a few quick and easy vegan meals that you enjoy, will really aid you in those 'arghhh... what can I have for dinner' moments.
Keep Positive - this is a happy transition so make sure to frame it that way in how you think. Concentrate on the positive things, like how you are introducing so many new foods into your diet, the new flavours, the international dishes. You are now genuinely living your values - woo hoo! It is about what you are gaining, not what you are giving up. It is really easy to make some of your favourite dishes vegan - and lots of online support to help you do that. My positivity for becoming vegan started with a Reiki session. I had never had Reiki before and was highly skeptical, working in Universities for so long meant I was committed to robust science. But I was exploring ways of helping me to manage my menopausal symptoms which had taken me to a very dark place and I was suicidal. My amazing practitioner Beth James really helped me to open my eyes to what really needed to change and I have not looked back.
Be Kind - not everyone will understand, you may receive jibes, nasty remarks, jokes - things like, "how do you know if someone is a vegan, don't worry they will tell you" or "your farts must smell really bad!" Unfortunately, this attitude is still present in society, but when you come across it, understand this is based on a lack of knowledge, a fear of change and difference, and a lack of tolerance for anything that goes against the way society conditions us. So be kind, understand they are only defending their way of understanding life, don't lecture, don't be judgemental of them and their values, don't try and convert them and don't argue back. I either starve the conversation of oxygen and do not rise to it or say something tongue in cheek with humour like, "Hey, at least my farts don't smell of death!" Or you can cook for them - prepare some food or nibbles for when they come around show them how delicious the food is without telling them it is vegan until they ask.
Understand Your Bodies Needs - no one had ever asked me about my protein or vitamin intake before I became vegan. I can honestly say, in retrospect I was not getting the right balance of foods on a traditional meat based diet - chocolate, sugar, processed meats and carbs played too much of a role! But on a plant-based diet, my body is working so much better - less joint aches, better expulsion (!), eyesight is better, improved mood, less tired, clear skin... the list of benefits goes on. But for some reason people, with no nutritional expertise are asking me if I am getting enough protein or are my vitamin levels OK? It is quite bizarre. The only thing I take is a B12 supplement, recommended by those in the know and I ensure I am eating lots of yummy nuts and sprinkling things like seeds on my cereals, salads and soups. I was taking more supplements before!
Bust Myths - it is not expensive and it does not take more time! Time and money are two of the biggest procrastinating tools that we use to stop ourselves doing something. And once again you see these myths being told and provided as excuses. Fruit and vegetables are so accessible, you can buy good produce in economically friendly supermarkets and you can so easily grow your own from what is in your fridge on your window sill. This is what I did, I have so many tomato and rocket plants, my window sills are full of colour and a wonderful smell. You can buy frozen fruits which are packed full of nutrients as they are frozen at their peak. Buying in bulk things like nuts and seeds, flours, grains and dried fruit makes it inexpensive. Herbs are easy to propagate and grow - I seem to have an abundance of basil, thyme and mint on my window sills at the moment! You don't need to buy expensive brands, generic items such as rice, and pasta can be bought cheaply. Online vegan retailers often have great deals as well - so take advantage of them, I tend to favour The Vegan Kind Supermarket. Creating a grocery list was really useful for me to know what I genuinely needed for my meals. And it really helped me to understand how to pull a plant-based menu plan together.
Have Fun! - remember this is a great way to explore and have fun. Experiment with your foods, enjoy the process and journey of discovery. This is giving you permission to enjoy looking after you, whilst positively impacting others. Make new friends, start new hobbies (cooking, gardening etc.) and enjoy a new found relationship with animals and the planet.
Remember Self-Care, Is Not Being Awkward! - one of the things that used to hold me back from becoming vegan was the thought I was being awkward. I was making things difficult for others. Eating was a big social aspect of our lives, whether eating out with my husband - going for a two for one steak at our favourite restaurant or going around friends for a meal. And the reality is that has been tough, my husband is not vegan, and I think I am the only vegan in the village! But I am learning that this is no reason not to practice self-care. My husband is learning to adapt, and brings home a 'free' steak for the dogs! The village farm shop has started stocking vegan products, and when going around to friends, I can either offer to make a vegan dish which they inevitably try, or point them to a vegan recipe. I recently started making vegan cheese from cashew nuts, and dandelion honey which make a really good gifts when visiting friends. Family and friends will understand and respect your values and health - it might just take a bit of time for them to get used to it. Be patient and put you first.
Wobbles Don't Mean Defeat- remember no one is judging you - only you! The vegan community has been the most welcoming and non-judgemental I have come across. The only negativity I have come across was from 'friends' trying to belittle and ridicule the vegan community. Wobbles are part of life, if you accidentally or on purpose consume a bit of meat, understand why it happened, and embrace these wobbles as learning opportunities and adapt as a result of them. Remember self-love is vital for all aspects of life, so NO BLAME! There is no right way - just what it right for you.
When I was starting out, I joined a number of online groups and took part in some Zoom recipe groups. One of the best I took part in was with the Holistic Chef Jamie Raftery who taught us from the Thai Jungle how to make a plant based Thai Curry. I sat back watched, took notes and then that evening made my own. It now makes a regular appearance each week for my dinner, and I can make enough for two meals. The online class was hosted by: Plant Academy they regularly host online classes and events which I can highly recommend.
Well, this is a process, so I am always learning new recipes and discovering more.
I am now looking into how to ensure my whole lifestyle is more vegan. So things like skincare products and household items. It is a process I am committed to and I know I am going to both enjoy and find challenging. Wish me luck!
I hope you enjoyed this article and found something in it that will aid you on your decision to whether to become a vegan and journey ahead.