Veggin’ Out in 2009!
Recently, I was asked a question about becoming a vegetarian:
“I would like to begin eating a vegetarian diet in January. I’ve tried it a few times before but didn’t feel good physically so began eating meat again after a few days. Do you have any suggestions on how to begin eating a vegetarian diet?”
Good question! Giving up, (or at least drastically reducing), your consumption of animal products is a wonderful resolution for 2009. But like any resolution, you need a plan in order to be successful. Like the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail! So here goes:
Tracy’s Ten Top Tips for Going Veg This Year!
1. Increase Your Motivation: You need to think about why you are considering making the switch to a meatless diet. Is it for health reasons? Is it for animal rights? How about the environment, or world hunger? There are a lot of great reasons to give up meat, and the more you know about the issues, the firmer your resolve will be on days when it may seem hard. Even if you are motivated solely by health concerns, take the time to do a little research about other reasons to go veg, such as the cruelty inherent in today’s factory farms and the environmental destruction being caused by society’s appetite for meat. I recommend that you go to Google Video and watch “Earthlings”, directed by Shaun Monson and narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. An amazing and eye-opening documentary if ever there was one.
2. Get Educated: In order to follow a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet, you first need to know what that entails. Vegans eat more than salad, you know! When someone tells me that they tried a vegan diet in the past but got tired/sick/rundown, invariably it turns out that they were eating nothing but fruit and vegetables. Salads, salads, and more salads. Either that, or a diet consisting of French fries and Pepsi. No darn wonder they got sick! Fact is, you can eat an unbalanced and unhealthy diet no matter who they are. There are both vegan and vegetarian food pyramids that you can follow to ensure that you are eating a balanced diet. You can find lots of resources on the Internet via a quick Google search. www.chooseveg.com is a particularly good one.
3. Examine Your Strength and Weaknesses: In order to ensure you eat a healthy diet, you have to be honest about where you’re starting from so you know what direction you need to take. For example, maybe you’ve tried tofu before and you simply hate it, and you are thinking that this might be a hurdle you need to get over. Or perhaps you’re like me, and you’re just not fond of a lot of vegetables, like broccoli (ICK!) or Brussels spouts. (GAG!) You can work around just about any food dislike and still eat well, but you will need to investigate alternatives. At least if you’re honest you won’t start a diet that you hate, only to throw in the towel a week later.
4. Analyze Your Current Diet: Get a piece of paper (even better, a notebook) and list all of your favourite meals. Then divide them into three groups; Group One will be meals that you already eat that are vegan/vegetarian, like spaghetti with red sauce or grilled cheese sandwiches. These you can already add to your new meal plan. Group Two will be meals that you are confident you can easily veganize with a few simple changes and still enjoy. For example, you can substitute vegetable stir-fry for a meat version, or buy a veggie burger in place of a regular one. Group Three will be meals that you love, but you are not so sure that you’ll be able to find replacements for. But guess what? There aren’t too many dishes that someone out there hasn’t yet veganized. All you need to do is Google, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of recipes out there for meatless breakfast sausage, faux steak, meatless “turkey”, and even BBQ ribs! With just a little research, you should be able to find a good-looking recipe for just about every meal on your list.
5. Browse for New Recipes: One of the greatest things about going veg*n, for me at least, we being exposed to so many exciting new tastes and flavours that I’d never experienced before. Go to the library on a rainy day and check out some cookbooks, or go online to and search for vegetarian recipes online. Find at least half a dozen that look good to you, and jot them down in your notebook.
6. Go Shopping: Armed with your nutritional information and a fistful of new recipes, get thee to the store!! Locally, I find that the Atlantic Superstore has the best selection of veg-friendly foods. Don’t go crazy and fill your cart with tons of new foods all at once, because you may be throwing your money away on items that you end up not liking. Choose just a few new items to try at first, like a brand of veggie burgers that look good, or meatless cold cuts for your sandwiches. If you do purchase something that doesn’t turn your crank, see if you can use it in a different way. (For example, if you buy a brand of soymilk that isn’t your cup of tea, you can still use it in baking.)
7. Know Yourself: Will you ease into Veg*nism gradually, or will you jump in with both feet and never look back? Only you know what works for you, based on your unique personality, your resources and your life. For me personally, I picked a date about three weeks away on which I would go vegan cold turkey, then spent those three weeks trying out new foods and recipes, and stocking up on staples.
8. Be Kind to Yourself: Nobody is perfect, so don’t expect more of yourself than you can realistically deliver. If you cave in to Grandma and eat her beef stew, don’t spend days agonizing about your moment of weakness. Accept that you’re only human and move on. By the next time you’ll likely be stronger and more able to refuse gently. Also, give yourself time for your tastebuds to adjust. Some textures and flavours of vegetarian foods might be unfamiliar to you, but believe me when I say that you will quickly grow to first like them, and then prefer them. Soy cheese is one example; when I first tried it, I was, shall we say, underwhelmed. But I persisted, adding a little bit more to my pizza every time I cooked, and one day about a month later, I was amazed to discover that I was chowing down on a big cheesy pizza and lovin’ it. Your tastebuds will catch up if you just give them some time.
9. Upgrade Your Groceries: Just because your diet is meatless doesn’t necessarily mean it’s as healthy as it can be. Others won’t have much respect for your dietary choices if they see that it consists of processed crap. If you eat things like white bread, white pasta, soda pop and potato chips, you are wasting your calories on junk that will only make you fat and tired. Upgrade your breads and pasta to whole wheat (you won’t notice the difference) and switch to 100% fruit and vegetables juices. If you need something crunchy, try raw vegetables or rice crisps. Ditch the deep-fried junk, and opt for baked and broiled foods instead.
10. And finally, Grow a Thick Skin: I’ve been a veg*n for three years now, and I’ve had in that time span many a conversation with others about my diet. The sad fact is that there are other people who will see your dietary choices as a personal affront, even if you never open your mouth. Some people will see your choices as a commentary on THEIR behaviour, and they will get defensive. You will have people pick at you and make jokes at your expense. Relatives will be horrified and be certain that you are dying. You will have folks roll their eyes at you and make comments behind your back about how strange you have become. All I can say to you is this: It’s your life, not theirs. No one has a right to decide for you how you will live your life. All you can do is smile, keep your comments to yourself, enjoy your food and enjoy your life. Don’t talk about controversial topics in mixed company, and above all, lead by example. Living well is always the best revenge.