Going Vegetarian or taking up Veganuary?

Back in 2008 the UN recommended we eat less meat to help reduce global warming. Some say that the single most effective thing an individual can do to slash their personal carbon footprint is become a vegetarian or a vegan

Viva vegan cartoon

Want to be a vegetarian or vegan, but finding it difficult? Help is at hand! Here are a few tips to empower you to make the change!

First of all, convince yourself! The biggest barrier to going, or staying, vegetarian is not really being persuaded of your own reasons for wanting to in the first place! Find out as many reasons as you can for going vegetarian – ask around vegetarians you know, look up veggie issues on the internet (try www.viva.org.uk for example), think it through.

Knowing WHY YOU want to be vegetarian will help you to stick at it. On the other hand, after doing plenty of research, you may find that actually you don’t have a problem with meat-eating, in which case you can eat meat with a clean conscience! Either way, knowing the issues well is better than putting your head in the sand and pretending not to know about them, whilst either eating meat guiltily or struggling as a vegetarian/vegan!

Don’t jump straight in!

It’s not going to be easy going straight from a very meat-based diet to being completely vegetarian (unless you’re really dedicated). Try cutting down on your meat intake gradually. Maybe start by giving up non-organically farmed meat, as organic farming goes some way towards addressing some of the reasons you may have for going veggie (better for animals, environment and health for example) – then you can buy less of it as it is more expensive, and get used to eating more vegetarian food in between. By the way vegetarian doesn't just mean cheese and crisps nor does vegan mean eating things only labelled with 'vegan' on it. Again the research you do first will help you with this. You are aiming for a whole food vegetarian or vegan diet rather than a processed one.

Arm yourself with plenty of recipes

You will need to find plenty of really tasty vegetarian recipes from the start, otherwise you will soon find yourself bored of your new diet and craving old meaty favourites! Try starting with those old favourites, and see if you can make them just as tastily without the meat. For example, you could replace mince with lentils or good quality soya mince, use chickpeas instead of meat in curries, use marinated tofu pieces instead of meat in stir-fries, make stews with chunks of good quality veggie sausage, add olives to pasta instead of bacon, stuff large vegetables with sage and onion stuffing and chopped nuts and roast as your Sunday roast… the possibilities are as limitless as your imagination, and there are plenty of great recipe books out there to help you! And remember, most recipes can be made veggie just by taking out the meat! One of my favourite vegan recipe sites is www.includingcake.com - seriously if I hadn't told you, you probably wouldn't miss the meat from these dishes!

Black Bean Burger by Including cake

Black Bean Burger

Shopping

You can be encouraged that this should now work out cheaper, as veggie ingredients are cheaper than all that meat. Most ready prepared foods now state on the packet if they are suitable for vegetarians, so it’s not hard to know what’s going to be ok for you. If possible, buy your nuts, pulses and soya from healthfood or Asian shops (many of these ingredients are staple parts of Asian cuisine, so can be found cheaply in large quantities!), as they are typically much more expensive in supermarkets.

Have a positive attitude!

This is key, if you look at this change in lifestyle as an exciting challenge rather than a chore you'll maek it so much easier on yourself. Don’t focus on the things you ‘can’t have’ – you may not be eating meat anymore, but you can still eat everything else! And don’t think of vegetarianism as difficult – if you’re stuck with something, use the internet! If you don’t know if there is a veggie alternative, look it up (because there almost certainly is!), that’s what the internet is for! You’ll find lists of which wines and cheeses are vegetarian, find veggie shoe shops and veggie sweets, and much more!

Going out

This is easy absolutely everywhere (in the UK at least), especially if you like to eat a lot of cheese and mushrooms!! If not, or you’re sick of having to have the goats cheese stuffed pepper every time, stick to ethnically-based restaurants (such as Indian, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Greek etc) rather than British or French type restaurants and meat-based chains, and you’ll find you have much more choice! You may want to look up whether or not you have a local veggie restaurant too! When I first went veggie I noticed two things eating out; the first that there was this whole part of the menu I'd never looked at and second that it often made my food decisions quicker!!

Turkey cartoon, vegetarian

Friends and family

Do tell your friends that you’ve decided to go veggie, you shouldn’t be ashamed about it or overly worried about sounding preachy. Most people will accept it as being perfectly normal, after all, it is becoming increasingly common, so most people will already know plenty of other vegetarians. Even if they do tease you at first, they’ll soon get used to the idea that you’re really serious about your decision. If you get invited round for a meal by friends, do make sure they know you’re veggie – it’s perfectly human to forget sometimes if you’ve only just changed your diet after they’ve known you a long time as a meat eater. If they sound horrified when you tell them, perhaps sensitively offer to help them cook, or help with choosing a menu, or even invite them round to yours instead the first few times so they can see what you eat, and see that it is normal food! Above all be patient! If someone makes a mistake and gives you something non-vegetarian, DO tell them, so that they can learn for next time, BUT be gracious and humble rather than preachy or accusing! Eg. ‘er..is the jelly vegetarian?’ ‘why wouldn’t it be?’ ‘ah – most jellies are made of gelatine, which is a meat product’ ‘I’m so sorry!’ ‘no problem, you weren’t to know, sorry! I’ll eat this one! or I'll pass on it this time but how about I make one and bring it next time? or If you want to make it veggie next time you could use (veggie jelly brand) from (shop), I’d be happy to taste test the result!’ etc.! Don’t keep quiet and just eat it though, if it was a genuine mistake your friend will feel really bad when they eventually find out they accidentally gave you a meat product, and unfortunately there are a very few people out there who are opposed to the idea of vegetarianism, or are just unwilling to try too hard to make suitable dishes, and may try to take advantage of your willingness to eat meat rather than ‘make a fuss’!

Get to know your nutritional needs

This is not as hard as it sounds, and there is plenty of advice out there (again, the www.viva.org.uk website is good for this)! The main principle to learn is that you need to eat a varied diet, rather than looking for one magic ingredient to meet all your body’s needs – but then that is true for everyone, not just veggies! You will feel empowered when you see what your needs actually are, and how easy it is to meet them through a normal diet. Learning a bit about nutrition will also help you know why if you’ve had a bad health experience as a result of your diet.

One of the most common mistakes is an over-reliance on dairy products or substitute products, (especially cheese) – you can get the impression from the menus of most English-food restaurants that it is a necessity in every meal to replace the meat, but in fact you don’t NEED to eat any at all!


Meat cravings do go away if you let them!

Another great Vegan website for ideas: www.tohappyvegans.com

Next month I'm going nuts! Well talking about them as a fabulous nutrient source that often seems to be left only for Christmas.