There are a lot of posts on the internet about going vegan (and vegetarian) yet I have found that a lot of them assume you have the money to buy all of these great foods or even have access to them. If you live in the UK for example, we don’t have that famous ‘Trader Joe’s’ and so there are a lot of veggie and vegan items we can’t really get. So I thought, as a poor student living in England, I’d give some more realistic tips on changing your lifestyle.
My number one tip before you even get started: DONT GO COLD TURKEY. It can be done, but if you’re already looking for help on changing your lifestyle, I’d recommend doing it gradually.
I could not live without chicken…
Chicken used to be my favourite meat, yet it was the one meat that triggered my decision to go vegetarian as my family used to keep chickens, which I naturally saw as my pets. But it was still the one thing that could be tempting for the earliest period in my vegetarianism. Processed chicken like nuggets and popcorn chicken were my favourites and if I’d ever had non-veggie Nandos, perhaps that would’ve been too. So my suggestion is Quorn. Quorn is a meat replacement but, unlike tofu, it actually resembles the taste and texture of meat. I think that the chicken nuggets pretty much taste like McDonald’s nuggets, it’s all processed anyway! But it isn’t vegan yet so this is a good transition to just help you cut out meat. You can also get it in a variety of forms and of course you can replace other meats. I would say though to try a few different brands as I’ve had some veggie burgers that taste horrendous and some that make me think it’s actually beef. It all depends on personal preference. Obviously there are other brands in other countries too so have a look for your version of Quorn. Eventually you’ll desensitise from your favourite meats and won’t even crave them or see them as food.
I can’t be a vegetarian because of protein and iron and I’m anaemic and…
There is absolutely no reason why any nutrition deficiency would stop you having a healthy veggie/vegan lifestyle. I hear it so often. Going vegetarian doesn’t mean that you stop getting protein and iron, it just means that you get it from different, HEALTHIER sources. Of course if you don’t already eat the foods that give you these, you need to look into eating them or supplementing them. But here are a few facts to reassure you of just how easy it is to do it without having to eat weird beans and grains that us vegans seem to eat all the time. You really can’t use it as an excuse!
A cup of baked beans has more than 10 grams of protein, equal to 50 gram steak.
You can get your iron from easy sources like potatoes and fruit and green veg actually gives you more iron than meat sources would.
And for calcium… there are actually more cases of Osteoporosis in countries that consume more calcium from animal sources like milk. You are very unlikely to become calcium deficient if you stop drinking cow’s milk.
I recommend reading ‘Skinny Bitch’ (don’t be put off by the title) as it contains all of the information you need to know about nutrients and the myths surrounding the meat and dairy industry. It’s pretty cheap from Amazon and you don’t need to follow the diet side of it.
My parents won’t let me…
When first deciding to go veggie/vegan, if you’re still living with your parents then it can be difficult. I was ten and so I had pretty much no say when it comes to adult decisions. I actually first went pescetarian (the only meat I ate was fish), which appeased my parents as they believed, as did I at the time, that you still needed fish to be healthy. I’ll assure you that you definitely don’t. But it can help ease them into the transition, as well as yourself. I found that it was much more difficult to eat out as a vegetarian when I first transitioned and so the fish option was usually considered the veggie option. And it did make things easier. Until I stopped and realised that fish are animals too. Now it is a lot easier to eat out as a vegetarian, even McDonald’s do a vegetarian option in most countries, and so if you decide you do want to cut fish out, you should still find things to eat almost everywhere for family meals. Becoming vegan is a little more difficult and so I do suggest going veggie first. In addition to/instead of pescetarianism, read up on your options. Show them that you can get a meat alternative in ASDA and it is this price (usually much cheaper than meat) and so they can cook the same meals, just with a different version of the meat for you. Roast dinners can be exactly the same, they just substitute the meat. It might also be reassuring to write a list of all the nutrients you need and where you can get them from. This is also pretty useful for yourself so you feel more confident and are also able to answer people’s questions with facts.
Once you get a bit more confident and start exploring more meal options (it’ll come with time as you research more online and in recipe books) you could make them a meal to show them just how nice the food actually is.
So I will say that to start off with, STAY AWAY. You will probably end up doing what I did, which was to buy a tofu meat substitute (on holiday in America actually) and hate it and then think that tofu is the worst thing ever. A lot of people will try tofu as they’re curious about what vegetarians and vegans eat and they hate it and then think that we’re weirdos who eat bland food and should just eat some bacon. Tofu can actually be delicious and if you ever want a chinese takeaway, sweet and sour tofu (sometimes called bean curd) is the one, buuuuut until you learn how to cook it properly and learn about the different types, I’d give it a miss for now. But if you’re keen to use it, as it is full of protein, then just find a good recipe and have a go.
It doesn’t stop at meat substitutes!
Whilst I recommend substituting all of your meat for fake meats, eventually it’s worth trying out meals that don’t require a meat substitute at all. You’ll actually realise just how strange it is to try and include meat in every meal, when the most exciting foods are actually made with your ‘sides.’ My first years as a vegetarian was just eating fake chicken nuggets and chips, all the time. So this is an example of how a vegetarian diet isn’t always the healthiest if you’re just eating the same junk food but with the veggie alternatives. There are loads of student vegetarian recipe books that’ll show you easy and cheap veggie recipes if you’re looking to try new things. OH AND TRY FALAFEL! (You can buy cheap packets of falafel mix that you just add water to and voila, falafel)
Im a vegetarian, how do I go vegan?
This one is a little trickier as you will end up cutting out what you might currently think are your favourite treats. This is why I stress how important it is to do it gradually. I once tried it cold turkey a few years ago and I remember eating a salad, which consisted of blackberries, strawberries, seeds and lettuce. It was safe to say that it didn’t last very long.
I started buying eggs when I first started uni as it seemed like a staple grocery item. But I found myself having to create meals just so I could use the eggs up. I then just stopped buying them and I really didn’t miss them. So I’d suggest cutting out eggs first. You can even just limit them to only eating them when you go out to eat or when you’re baking. Eventually it’ll be easy to just rule them out completely. There are vegan alternatives for almost every recipe that contains egg as it’s an easy ingredient to replace. I recently made vegan pancakes without eggs and they don’t taste any different.
Now for milk. This one is pretty easy depending on how much milk you already use. I stopped drinking milk a long time ago as I didn’t like the thought of drinking something that had come from a cow (my instincts were actually right because milk contains A LOT of puss – ew) but I’d continue to use it (contradiction) in hot chocolate. If you like to drink a pure glass of milk, it’ll be important to you to try out a lot of different milks until you find one you like the taste of. You can get Soya milk, which tends to be the easiest to get hold of, almond milk, rice milk, oat milk… the list goes on, and each one is available sweetened and unsweetened. Sweetened soya could be the best option to try first. If you’re just using it as an ingredient, either in tea or hot chocolate etc then it won’t be AS difficult. Again I’d suggest starting with soya, but everyone will have their own preference. I’ve never had tea with milk but my boyfriend and mum have said that it does affect the taste, but both drink different types of milk based on their own preference. You’ll actually find that a lot of items have a milk powder added to them, so watch out for these. But you can choose to continue eating them whilst you transition as they don’t give you the taste of milk.
I cannot live without cheese…
Well you can. Cheese was the last thing that I cut out as I thought it to be the hardest. Pizza, cheesy pasta bake, mozzarella, cheese on toast… I know. But it hasn’t been as bad as I thought, honestly. Cheese contains a protein called Casein (coming from the milk) which has actually been proven to be addictive. And so the reason that you’re craving cheese so much is because you are addicted. I initially stopped buying cheese. This meant that everyday I wasn’t including it in meals, but I didn’t stop myself eating it when I was eating out or ordering pizza. This reduced my intake of casein and so I stopped craving it. But of course as soon as you tuck into some cheesy chips, you’ll want more and more. If you are living in a household that is still buying cheese, you’ll need more will power. If you reduce it gradually, you really will stop craving it, but you need to be strong in your beliefs. Remind yourself of why you chose to go vegan. I ordered a cheese-less Domino’s pizza last night and I didn’t miss the cheese at all. I doubled up on the sauce and got a load of veggie toppings that I like (and I’m pretty fussy as I don’t really like mushrooms, onions or spicy things!) and it was seriously satisfying – it still tasted like pizza funnily enough. Do it as a challenge. You can actually buy vegan cheese and so it is possible to just replace it if you are finding it difficult, and you can take it along to restaurants and most will be happy to replace their cheese with yours in a dish. If you’re embarrassed at all, just say you’re lactose intolerant (This rule applies to any social situation!)
I NEED CHOCOLATE
This one is funny because it hasn’t been that long since I stopped eating non-vegan chocolate and I don’t miss it. It’s similar to cheese, but perhaps easier because the replacements are easier to find, I think. Chocolate was the thing I allowed myself to give up last, because I didn’t want to let go. If you’re from the UK, I would like to direct you to the ‘free from’ aisle in your nearest supermarket. I know that Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tescos and ASDA all have them and it might be easier in the US. The free-from section is where all your vegan dreams come true. It’s not all totally vegan though as some products are just gluten or wheat free, but there’ll be enough to help overcome your loss of chocolate and treats. You can get chocolate buttons, chocolate bars, orange chocolate, millionaire shortbread, chocolate raisins, fudge … the list goes on! I even got vegan advent calendars and easter eggs! Their own brand isn’t even expensive either. But you will find that you’ll be eating smaller portions as you can’t get a big dairy milk sized vegan chocolate bar from the supermarket (that I’ve found in the UK anyway). This is a pretty good thing though as you’ll soon realise you don’t need chocolate as much as you think you do and your cravings will again go. OH AND OREOS. There are a lot of ‘accidental’ vegan foods, like Oreos and some Fox’s biscuits that’ll make you wonder if you’re missing anything at all as a vegan. If I’m going to buy junk food or snacks with my friends, I can go for Pringles (not all flavours), Oreos, FreeFrom chocolate and popcorn. Of course these are just my preferences but it gives you an idea of how little you’ll actually be giving up if you really still want these things.
My final advice
Like I said, do it all gradually. If you cut out one thing at a time it won’t seem too drastic at all and will also make situations with families a lot easier. Read up on the nutrients you need and then look at the foods you like and see how much you can get from them so you know that you’re eating enough. If eating meat substitutes and chips is your first step, like me, who cares? If it’s not harming animals in the process then it’s just down to you when you want to look into other meals. Substitute, then eliminate tends to be a good method, although you can stop at the substitution if you’re happy with it. And remember that what you’re doing is better for your health, animal welfare and the environment, so don’t let people get you down about it.
And if you want anymore advice, feel free to contact me 🙂