Has the thought ever crossed your mind, ‘I think I want to be a vegetarian’? Or maybe, ‘I think I’m ready to go vegan’?
Well if it has, here are some helpful tips to get you started on the path to cruelty-free living.
Making the decision to change to a plant-based diet can be a bit of a daunting prospect. Everything within you is telling you that it’s time and you’re ready for this life-altering change, but where do you begin?
Here are some helpful pointers to get you started and facilitate your transition to a plant-based diet — a big step on the path towards living gracefully — with as much ease and enjoyment as possible.
What’s in your pantry?
When making the choice to change your diet it’s also important to change how you think about your diet. What you eat, how you shop and what you’re going to keep in your kitchen cupboard from now on, are all about to change.
So keeping your reason for this change clearly in the foreground of your mind is helpful as you make this momentous transition.
To begin with, go through your cupboard, fridge and freezer and cull anything that won’t be included in your vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. You may be very surprised just how many things end up in the bin or get passed on to someone who might use them.
Few people realise how many animal products are contained in the many prepackaged foods we eat.
More foods contain animal products than you realise
For instance quite a few sauces and salads dressings (i.e. Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise and mayonnaise style dressings, ceasar salad dressing and aoli) contain anchovies, dairy or egg and many curry pastes contain shrimp. Most of us wouldn’t have a clue what’s lurking in the condiment corner of our cupboards.
Or our fridge. Nearly all cheeses contain animal-based rennet which is taken from the lining of cow stomachs. So those of you who’ve avoided eating offal all these years but regularly indulge in a bit of wine and cheese now and then, have been duped.
And it’s not only the cheese that contains animal products. Because, yes you guessed it, even wine production can involve the use of milk, fish or eggs in its processing.
If veganism appeals to you, it’s important to know that many biscuits (savoury or sweet), chips and chip-like snacks, chocolates and lollies have some animal product in them. If not eggs or milk solids, cream or butter, they may contain animal gelatin.
Animal-based gelatin is taken from the hooves or bones of animals. That means that along with the jelly lolly you’re eating, you’re also eating animal products. But jelly sweets are available that contain no gelatin at all. You just have to look for them.
Finding animal-friendly products is easier than you think
There are just as many snack foods, found at your regular supermarket, that are equally naughty (and yummy) but animal-friendly and usually a healthier snack too. It’s simply a matter of getting to know which ones they are.
And where honey’s concerned, you can replace it with malt, rice malt syrup, agave or even golden syrup if your not so health conscious.
You can see how getting to know more about what you’re eating is such an important part of changing to plant-based eating.
Whether you’re considering a vegetarian or vegan diet, checking the ingredients on the packaging becomes a natural practice when shopping for your new lifestyle.
Creating your vegan lifestyle
An ideal vegetarian or vegan diet would naturally be completely organic, wholefood and homemade. That’s what most people seem to think when it comes to the cruelty-free lifestyle alternative. My admiration goes out to those who’ve achieved this totally purist approach.
But few people, in this fast-paced world, actually live that way all of the time. Particularly when many of us have a family to consider and their individual needs and preferences to cater to.
If this is the situation you find yourself in, then finding a healthy balanced diet that everyone enjoys can require some spectacular creativity. And that’s before you even begin to think about removing or replacing what your family has come to expect as the feature component of most meals:
You’re not just changing your diet, it’s a lifestyle change too
Try to remember, here, that you’re not only changing familiar and accepted flavours and textures. Unfortunately, you’re also attempting to undo the worldly expectations, which every member of your family is constantly exposed to, about what constitutes a ‘normal’ meal.
And your children are under added pressure from their piers at school.
To change your way of life to a completely organic, homemade and wholefood diet so dramatically at the outset, might be the best way for some. On the other hand, others might find this change a little too drastic and could find themselves reverting to old foods and old habits relatively quickly.
Changing your behaviour, whether for noble or personal reasons, initially takes a great amount of concentrated energy. You’re constantly having to remind yourself to follow your new behaviours.
But, over time, the new behaviours take less and less energy to sustain them. You’ll begin to do them without thinking. They’ll become new habits.
So, as you start out, if the added demands of life are taxing your energy reserves, simple and comfortable vegetarian and vegan alternatives can alleviate some of that pressure.
Keeping it simple can help with the transition
It’s times like these that I go to the kitchen, pull out the Borg’s puff pastry and the Vegie Delight vegie sausages, and make some vegan sausage rolls with tomato sauce for the whole family; just to restore some equilibrium.
Not what you were expecting to hear?
They may not be the healthiest food you could eat, but they’re familiar and a healthier alternative to a meat-based sausage roll.
It’s certainly not the picture most people paint of plant-based alternatives. But sometimes popping back into a comfort zone — just for a moment — while at the same time remaining committed to change, can help you feel less pressured to live up to the picture most people paint of vegetarian or veganism.
The sausages rolls I’ve mentioned here are made from processed soybeans, a controversial yet common component of the vegan and vegetarian diet. Over the many years I’ve been vegetarian and vegan there’s been a lot of speculation about just how healthy or unhealthy soy products actually are for us.
There are lots of different opinions about soy
While soy is an incredibly high source of protein, these days it’s mostly produced in the United States, where it’s genetically modified. Because of this, and the particular kind of estrogen the soy itself supplies, it is said to be responsible for hormonal imbalances.
As with all controversial discussion, it’s difficult to know for certain what is fear-mongering and what is actual fact. I’ve found that most soy products produced here in Australian are organic and GMO-free.
In Australia, if something qualifies as organic it’s also free of genetically modified organisms, commonly known as GMOs. So wherever you can, just be sure to choose GMO-free, organic soy products.
And, I’ll state the obvious here: eat soy, like everything else, in moderation.
My approach to everything in life is the same. Occasionally the mental and emotional benefit of something, negates any detrimental physical impact. Especially if you feel, as I do, that our state of mind is the most powerful influence at work in our life.
At first just focus on leaving meat off your plate
The perfection of the change to plant-based living is not in how much your diet matches the way the vegetarian or vegan image is presented to you in the media — even though it’s healthy and that’s great — but, that this change embraces a compassionate attitude to eliminate your contribution to unnecessary suffering by removing meat from your plate.
What would be a shame, would be to make a burden out of what started as a choice to live a life of compassion. So if allowing yourself some indulgent moments keeps the love alive and the pressure off, then I say go for it.
As you become more comfortable and familiar with your new diet, you can research the latest thinking on nutrition and commit more deeply to whatever approach you find is most authentic for you — and if you have one, your family.
But in the interim, nice and easy does it.
When it comes to change, no matter what change you’re making: slow change is lasting change or slow and steady wins the race!
And that goes for all those around you, too. Don’t forget, this is just as new for them as it is for you.
It seems strange to say it, but an adjustment in your diet has an impact on everyone around you. Change is change and most of us feel unsettled when changes are occurring. Especially when we haven’t actively chosen it for ourselves.
So, for me, balance is the key.
Living gracefully is about balancing mind, body and spirit
If you have a family, then creating meals which appeal to their (and your) current tastes is important for a comfortable, gentle and loving transition.
It’s the cruelty-free element of this decision which is the most important consideration for me and my family. Eliminating the animal products from our diet is our primary concern.
And when it comes to health, for me, loving myself isn’t about avoiding foods out of fear of what they might be doing to my body; that seems counter-intuitive to me. Fear impacts health more than food ever could. So, it’s about choosing foods that I enjoy in a completely guilt-free, health-conscious way.
Finding balance in the way we live whilst being in harmony with other living beings is, for me, what living gracefully is really all about.