Whether you are now a full vegan or if you have been thinking about building on your meatless Mondays here’s some info and tips to stay strong, healthy and happy during tricky moments
Photo by Toa Heftiba
You’re a what?
You don’t have to label yourself. Quietly going about your own changes is admirable. You will encounter people who demand to know, but you don’t have to answer. I used to say I was on a plant-based diet for health reasons as I felt a bit shy to explain why I was turning food down left right and centre.
Most vegans I have met are positive, helpful supportive and inspirational. Others definitely love animals more than their fellow humans. Don’t feel obliged to be an active member of the community or local groups if it doesn’t work for you, they are not for everyone.
If you feel like you’re the only vegan in the village and want to meet new people try looking for a local vegan meetup group or attend vegan events and markets. Volunteering at events in a great way to meet people. Vegan Runners UK has been the most supportive and friendly of groups I know. You don’t need to be a runner to help out with events. They are a great crowd, and they would be happy to meet you.
Don’t torture yourself by watching endless footage of animal cruelty. There are some awful videos out there and while I think it’s important to understand what goes on, ask yourself if you need to continue to watch. It can be incredibly overwhelming and hard to accept the consequences of our old lifestyles. Protect your precious self and don’t feel duty bound to keep watching.
I’m not the best at planning in life, but when it comes to eating out, I’m not going to risk disappointment. Use the Happy Cow app to find new places. Check for menu’s online and call the venue directly, the best places will be happy to talk you through the options and may even create a particular dish for you. Chefs will be glad to get a heads up so that the food can be prepared separately or ahead of time. Headed to a popular vegan venue? Ask nicely, and they might reserve a popular dish for you.
Ask for recommendations from your local Vegan Facegroup pages; everyone is more than happy to share hidden gems in the area. I find this is often more reliable than published reviews which may not be truthful. Take the time to read comments on the reviews rather than the ratings and look at the dates and comments rather than the star count. Ratings can be created with helping hands for either good or bad. (Shed at Dulwich anyone?). Remember businesses can change ownership, menus, ingredients and suppliers can change too plus there might be an amazing new vegan chef in the kitchen since that bad review in 2013.
Take your own
If you’re out with a large group, or, no one got the vegan memo or, it’s too short notice for the kitchen ask if you can take some food that can be heated up for you. It’s worth the effort to enjoy your food with everyone else and if you ask nicely, and you’ll get a plate too. Posh.
You’ve had an invitation to a friends house for dinner, and they are not vegan. Ask if they are happy to cook for you and if they need any info. Offer to cook with them or bring food with you and take plenty so that everyone else can try. Make sure it’s good but not so good you go home hungry.
Eating on the move
Most UK train stations and airports still pretty limited for vegan options so take food with you. Airports and stations shops vary, you get lucky, or you get a green banana and a bag of dry almonds, either way, every item costs at least £5. Airlines and some train lines will be happy to accommodate you if phone ahead and with plenty of notice. Virgin Trains East Coast has a pre-order service and sells vegan food which sounds fancy. I’m lucky to get a seat most days when I travel. Find out about other UK options for all train lines here.
You can take food with you onto flights in your hand luggage but avoid hot foods and liquid foods like shakes, smoothies or soups. They may be confiscated by security. Sealed containers under cabin pressure might go a little wild so open with caution. Check the rules with the airline first as there may be allergen issues with your peanut butter sandwich.
If you are travelling and you don’t speak the language learn how to say that you are vegan or that you don’t consume any animal products before you go. Write phrases down to take with you. Use a language dictionary or Google translate to check ingredients. In The Gambia when I visited ‘no blood’ was the widely understood way of asking for vegan food, everything was cooked from fresh which was a bonus. In Barcelona I got a lot of tuna with my salad, I never did do very well in Spanish class.
Carry a Trek bar or some trail mix with you, always, just in case things go wrong.
Supermarket products can be quickly scanned as allergens are in bold text and milk is the biggest culprit for ruining perfectly good foods. Big brands like to sprinkle milk powder on everything and be careful with vegetarian labelled food as it often contains egg and “Free from” foods as the packaging can be misleading, no dairy foods usually contain eggs. It’s a cruel game they play to build up your hopes just to knock them down. I’ve been doing this a while and just last week I got caught out by milk powder in salt and vinegar crisps. Some things just shouldn’t be messed with, but they do.
Keep an eye out for the “May contain…” info on labels. It’s used on a lot of labels by companies who produce foods using the same factories, machinery, packaging or warehouses as animal products. It’s a smart way to get around potential allergen issues but the chances are your food many only contain a trace if any at all. It’s up to you how comfortable you feel with this.
Is it vegan?
Don’t feel sorry for double-checking or asking the waiter to check items with the chef before you order. Businesses can change ownership and suppliers, and your amazing vegan-friendly chef might have left the building so keep an eye on menu changes. Most waiting staff have a good understanding of the ingredients, if not they should be able to provide you information on allergens. If they can’t or won’t tell you it is worth considering if you trust them to make your food.
When ordering I advise asking for “the vegan/vegan option of *delicious food*…” I find it’s a nice discreet way to let everyone know you are a vegan unless you are already wearing a vegan hoodie cap and flying a green flag. If you are confident that you can work your magic on assembling a dish of your own from starters, make sure you explain why so that the chef can take measures to prepare the food to avoid any cross-contamination. It also gives the person who’s serving you an opportunity to inform you of surprise ingredients you might want to avoid.
People aren’t out to trick us
Professional chefs are extremely unlikely to risk their career and livelihoods and face a miserable media show to trick one vegan.
If you think there has been a mistake stay calm until you are sure and remember it is a mistake, not a personal attack. I once asked about a risotto with tears in my eyes to discover the unidentified ‘meat’ was, in fact, a suspicious looking mushroom. Don’t flip out immediately, ask someone to check your dish and hope for the best. Worst case scenario, try and resolve any mishaps calmly with the business owners. If they are not there or if you are not satisfied you can file a formal complaint. It might be advisable to keep a sample and take note of what you ordered and when. I wouldn’t advise taking to social media to round up the troops to create aggressive one-star reviews until you know exactly how the mistake happened.
You have to be responsible for yourself too, don’t rely on another person telling you they had a great vegan meal/product/cake/drink and assume that they asked all the right questions, unless it’s a vegan business, then you can relax and order freely. One of each usually 😉
Do a bit of research on how foods are made so that you know to ask if easily forgettable ingredients might be in food. Check your pasta has no egg, that there’s no fish sauce in your ramen or honey in your bread.
What about my angora jumper, leather shoes, sofa or belt?
Don’t feel that you have to throw everything away. The simple act of not buying any more animal products is huge and stuff is expensive. If you don’t feel comfortable, you can donate or sell and replace them as you go. Do what you can afford. Charity shops will take a lot, but no one would have wanted my tatty old jacket, so I wore it until it had become so wretched it was impossible to wear. Another option is to contact local animal sanctuaries who often take fur or wool to use as bedding.
Check the labels when you buy new as despite the hoo-ha of fake/real fur in the media lately shops will still want to use up old stock or will continue to buy from irresponsible suppliers. If it’s soft and luxurious, you should be suspicious. I’ve found that independent sellers and boutiques are the worst for this. It’s infuriating especially when it comes with a ridiculous price tag. I’m not interested in falling out with people trying to make a living so I will discreetly point out the weird animal ingredient on the label. Let’s not assume that they are keen animal murderers and go straight in for the attack. Poor Geoff behind the counter might just be minding the shop while the owner has popped out to have their lunch.
Make-up and cosmetics
Makeup and cosmetics are pretty good now, but you will need to do your research as the majority of popular high street brands are still not cruelty-free, this includes favourite family brands and children’s products. Brands that sell in China must test in order to enter the marketplace there. Peta is pretty good at updating their lists if you want to check if your existing products are cruelty-free. I’m not a dedicated follower of fashion, and I have the same makeup look since I was 20 so Ethica Magazine have got you covered.
Dealing with difficult conversations
You’re probably experienced at explaining Veganuary to your nearest and dearest. I hope you got some great support and I’m sorry that you’ve probably had to deal with endless cliches and stereotypes projected at you. People enjoy congratulating themselves when they uncover that you don’t have the stats and scientific evidence to hand for every question when you’ve been vegan for an entire 24 hours. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to justify or explain your actions to anyone, you’re doing a truly amazing thing and making sacrifices. Hold onto that, be proud and don’t let anyone get you down.
If you do want to talk but don’t want to be challenged focus on the benefits you’ve experienced. People in your world are likely to connect more to how you are feeling and the positive impact on you. If you look and feel great and have saved money and have enjoyed your food you’ve got their attention. If the conversation isn’t flowing you’ve lost them. Let it go and say you’re happy to talk another time. People will ask questions when they are ready, or never.
The great vegan guilt trip
For a large part of my life my attitude was pretty terrible; dairy cows naturally milky and we were doing them a favour, cheap leather products were a bargain, pigs were bacon, chickens were stupid and vegans were pathetic. I felt great guilt and shame when I finally took the time to educate myself. Be careful not shift all your guilt onto non-vegans. Find a way to let the guilt go and do something constructive with your new found passion.
Another source of guilt can be drinking or eating non-vegan by mistake (or if you are like me accidentally-on-purpose for the first 6 months). It’s hard to change lifelong habits and create brand new ones overnight so don’t beat yourself up too much. Learn from it and move on. Your taste buds will soon change.
Cravings fade over time, but they don’t always disappear. Don’t feel bad because you’ve not been able to remove your memories of enjoying a lifetime of food. Taste is the biggest deal breaker for veganism. What is impressive is your willpower to get past them.
Take care of your health
Some will experience positive improvements immediately while others need more time to adjust. Keep note of any changes you experience since you’ve changed your diet so that you can track which foods make you feel at your best. A diary can also help you identify any areas that need more work. If you have any concerns or questions, speak to your GP. You can also do blood tests at home using kits like Thriva which checks for common deficiencies which include Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and Iron.
Processed food and junk food rules still apply. Just because it’s vegan, it doesn’t mean that it will be healthier for you so focus on a varied, whole food plant-based diet to give yourself the best chance of optimum health. Vitamin B12 is supplemented by most vegans as we do need a consistent supply coming in once animal products are removed from the diet. Vitamin B12 is said to be found in fermented foods and some sea vegetables, but the information out there is contradictory. But do consume away. Sea vegetables and fermented foods are super nutritious, and ferments will keep your gut very happy while you continue to transition to your diet. Beans, seeds, nuts and legumes can be soaked in water to make them more digestible if you are having problems with gas. Do not live up to that cliche and be a smelly vegan!
Enjoy the change and the journey
You made it this far, and I want you to know that I am proud of the changes you are making (and for reading the whole article) and to remind you to stay focused on the positive habits you are creating rather than dwelling on what you miss. Over time you’ll discover many more great foods, flavours, new places to go, recipes, products and you may even make new friends. It’s a great year to be vegan so be excited to be part of it. There are so many positives for your health, your peace of mind, the positive impact on the environment is enormous, and you can feel proud that you are contributing towards a better world for so many beautiful creatures.
Stay strong, healthy, and I’d love to know how you get on. If you have any questions or just want some tips or advice feel free to contact me anytime. I’d be very pleased to support you.
Useful links and resources
Laura Miller – vegan chef and wellness
Avant Garde Vegan – a great UK Vegan chef
Plantlab – great recipes from pro’s
Happy Pear – super enthusiastic Irish chef twins
Bosh! – great recipes if you’re not worried about calories
Pick up Limes – great lunch ideas and lifestyle advice from a vegan nutritionist
Jenny Mustard – JM is mesmerising, is she real?
Events in your area and places to volunteer
My Vegan town – Viva! Events Diary
Vegan Runners – promote cruelty-free living in a powerful, positive way
The Vegan Society – events in your area
Animal Aid – fighting animal Abuse & promoting a cruelty-free lifestyle
Animal Rescue Centres – A-Z list