Beginner's Tips For Going Veg

It's fairly well-known that cutting out meat and/or animal products can have positive affects on one's health, and it seems like veganism especially has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. Even myself, a long-time vegetarian (takin' it back to '99!) with a serious cheese obsession has decided to give the no-animal-product lifestyle a go. (I mean, for the most part. I'm not going to lie and say that I'm never gonna NEED to eat goat cheese or brie again. Yes, need.)

One of the reasons I was hesitant to make the jump from vegetarianism to veganism is because, after nearly 20 years of veg experience, I knew that it wasn't always the easiest to accommodate my diet when I was out and about, or eating at others' homes. Plus, like . . . cheese. (Good GOD, I love the stuff.) But after a slow but steady weight-gain once my 30s hit, digestive issues, skin congestion, inflammation, and so on, I decided to give it a whirl.

Full disclosure: it's only been about a week, but so far it hasn't been too bad! It's definitely helpful to have a bit of an idea about what you're doing, though, so here are some of my top tips:

  • Immediately find alternatives for meat or dairy items you use daily!

(Clockwise from top left: sweet potato and corn tacos I made topped with Daiya cheese; So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer; vegan "huevos" rancheros from The Ace on RoncesvallesDaiya shredded cheese.)

Coffee drinkers, I'm looking at you! 

Personally, I like to alternate between cashew or coconut milk to replace cow's milk. I find they both have creamy flavours, and especially taste great in coffee. Warning: almond milk WILL make your coffee taste like cardboard! Luckily a lot of coffee shops will offer a few different non-dairy options. Starbucks even has coconut milk now, which is what I always go for! Sure, maybe it has some crap in there that might not be completely necessary for one's health and wellbeing, but at least you're not chugging the stuff, right? 

For those who are more conscious about ingredients, making your own plant-based milk is always the way to go, if you have the time and money. Tigernut milk is a great choice for anyone with nut allergens. (Fun fact: tigernuts are actually tubers!)

As far as cheese replacements, I've been pretty happy with Daiya so far. I like that it doesn't have soy, which a lot of vegan products use as a base. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who thinks soy is the devil (there are a lot of misconceptions out there about it), but you also don't want to be consuming vast quantities of it. 

If you're in the Toronto area and you want a fancier vegan cheese, I can't recommend Culcherd enough! It actually tastes like goat cheese, so you KNOW I instantly fell in love.

Luckily, the variety of dairy alternatives out there has grown immensely in the last few years. You just have to know where to look! Which brings me to my next point . . .

  • Health food stores are your new best friend!
Most grocery stores these days have a small vegetarian section, which is great, but it usually just consists of a variety of coagulated fake meat. If you want the good stuff, ya gotta hit up a health food store! From tempeh to vegan eggs and everything in between, health food stores are the place to be for the meatless crew. (I should know - I worked at one for 4+ years!) A standard grocery store is fine in a pinch, but the variety will be lacking, and you're often going to pay a premium. If you can find a small, family-owned health food store, you're golden! 

Health food stores are also great because most contain bulk sections. Now, here's the beauty of cutting out animal products: you get to experiment with food! Bulk sections offer inexpensive staples that you can get creative with. Anyone else feel like a kid in a candy store in a health food shop? New member of the veg club, you're going to grow to love 'em!

  • Reinvent your favourite meals!
(Homemade vegan, gluten-free pasta-bake)

Just because you have become a vegan or vegetarian doesn't mean you have to miss out on your favourite meals! There are so many alternatives out there to dairy and meat products, and now that you're inspired to become a creative genius in the kitchen by this post (right?), you know that you can switch out animal products for tofu, beans, seitan, tempeh, and so on. The possibilities are endless! For example, instead of tacos with meat, try this awesome sweet potato taco recipe. Pepperoni and cheese pizza can be switched to a Daiya and veggie pizza. Feeling inspired yet? You got this!

  • Be prepaaaaared! *cue Lion King music*
Although the world is changing to a much friendlier place for us salad folk, especially in bigger cities, you're still going to have to be prepared for those times when you're in a McDonald's desert. I will often carry around a Lara bar or spare baggy of mixed nuts for such a time. No one wants to be stuck in, say, a suburban strip-mall while starving and vegan!

In a pinch, you can always ask for adjustments on certain chain food items. Taco Bell, for example, will substitute beans for meat on any of their products that contain ground beef. Some Subway locations have a veggie patty you can get on their sandwiches instead of cold cuts. And if you want to dine like a queen (ha!) you can get my sister Hannah's McDonald's fave, a Big Mac without meat (which is DEFINITELY only vegetarian and not vegan!) I mean, these aren't necessarily a holistic nutritionist's top choices, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

  • Aim for progress, not perfection!
So, you want to give this vegetarian thing a try, but then you visit family for the holidays and your grandma made her famous meatballs. Or you swear you're going to commit to veganism but then late night cheesy nachos occur. Hey, life happens! I get it! 

The more you read this blog, the more you will see how vehemently opposed to black and white thinking I am, and there is no exception when it comes to vegetarianism/veganism. I've been a vegetarian for more than half my life, but a few times a year I'll have fish. I'm now attempting veganism, but I am going to allow myself dairy at times. And I'm totally okay with that!

The problem is that people get so caught up in trying to be perfect that they end up quitting or don't even start in the first place. Allow yourself the chance to be human. Even if you eschew meat 6 days out of 7, you're still doing yourself, the planet, and all those adorable cows and chickens a big favour! 

Listen, eating should be an enjoyable experience. If placing harsh rules on your diet sucks the life out of ya, then screw it! Make an effort to be better, but don't beat yourself up if you, say, accidentally eat honey. Life's too short!

* * * * *

These tips are just a few of my faves, but I hope they help you to see that moving towards a plant-based diet doesn't have to be scary, and can in fact be a lot of fun! Plus, personally, I think that the benefits to one's health, the planet, and so on make it more than worth it.

I hope you enjoyed these tips, and keep checking back for more! After spending more than half my life as a veg-head, I've learned a few tricks. Stay tuned!


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