I figured I'd write something about transitioning to a vegan diet given that it's now been a year since my bf and I did it (having previously been vegetarian) and January is so often a time when people try to make changes in their lives. I'm no expert but I reckon I can share some useful tips. I'm keeping advice pretty general here but hopefully it'll be of some help...
A WORD ON CRITICISM
Now that you've made this decision, don't suddenly become that preachy vegan in the corner. If you want to try and open someone up to idea of a vegan diet, the best thing you can do is share delicious food with them and show them how brilliant it can be. Let people make decisions on their own terms - there's nothing more off-putting than having someone criticise your way of life while you're just trying to get on with things. Personally, that kind of attitude from some vegans is exactly the kind of thing which stopped me giving it a try for so long, and I think that's the same for many people. That said, on the flip side, be aware that certain people might take umbrage with your new diet and you could find yourself at the receiving end of unprovoked criticism. I've certainly had it, and I don't really discuss my veganism with people unless we're having food, and even then I only mention it on a practical level. I've found that the best way to respond is to smile nicely and move the conversation swiftly on (while gritting my teeth). I do think that things will get better eventually. I certainly used to receive the same treatment as a vegetarian back when I was a kid, but over the past decade vegetarianism has become totally normal, so hopefully the same will eventually happen with veganism.
GET USED TO LABEL-SCANNING
At first you'll spend a ridiculous amount of time reading ingredients in the supermarket aisles and researching products online but it will, over time, get better as you get used to quickly scanning packets. Promise! A couple of helpful hints: allergens such as milk and eggs are often listed in bold, but honey isn't. If a product says something along the lines of 'may contain milk or nuts' but the ingredients appear fine, I'll happily buy it - this is often intended as a warning with actual allergies. This will all become second nature as you get into the swing of things.
TRY TO AVOID EATING LOADS OF JUNK WHILE YOU ADJUST
If you're anything like me and my bf, you'll spend the first couple of months buying and consuming absolute rubbish just because it's vegan. We ate stupid amounts of Oreos and Tesco's free-from 'Cornetto' ice creams. There is a lot of vegan and accidentally-vegan processed food out there, but if you live off that stuff you'll end up considerably heavier and unhealthier. Go easy on the snacks. Of course, if you want to eat junk then please do!
COOK FROM SCRATCH
If you don't already cook this is the time to start. Try not to see cooking as a chore though; instead, make it an enjoyable activity for yourself (I love the time I get to listen to music or an audiobook and really switch off from the world for a bit). Some tips: 1. Make sure you have at least one really good knife and a knife sharpener. 2. Arm yourself with a few basic tools, particularly a stick blender, a pestle and mortar, measuring spoons and cups, a measuring jug, a set of kitchen scales and a good vegetable peeler. 3. If you can stretch to it, a decent food processor is a genuinely useful addition to your kitchen: I have this Phillips food processor and it's the most-used item in our kitchen (I use all the parts and attachments on a regular basis). 4. Buy lots of tupperware, as cooking extra and stocking your freezer with leftovers is always a good idea and something I do all the time. 5. Find a good local greengrocer if you can (the produce tends to be better, especially the herbs), but failing that any decent-sized supermarket will do. 6. Buy a couple of good cookbooks and plan your meals on a weekly basis at first; this will help you avoid any supermarket brain malfunctions. I found Anna Jones' two books and Yotam Ottolenghi's veg-based recipes absolutely indispensable when starting out.
MAKE PACKED LUNCHES
Unless you want to eat the same few things from Pret and the like over and over again, bring lunch into work or uni with you. It's healthier, tastes way better and saves you loads of money. Soup is always a great option: I regularly make a couple of big batches of soup to divide between tupperware and freeze in individual portions. On days when I won't have access to a microwave I'll heat the soup up in the morning and transport it in a Thermos soup flask. Another thing I often do is roast a couple of trays of seasoned vegetables on a Sunday afternoon, make up a batch of cous cous or pearl barley and put together a tahini quick sauce or dressing. I'll then divide everything up into tupperware boxes along with some fresh herbs, some seeds or chickpeas, and a wedge of lemon or lime. Finally, the easiest option is to make enough of your evening meal to have leftovers the next day - if it's meant to be eaten warm you can either heat it up in the microwave or bring it in a flask.
AVOID OVERPRICED ORGANIC SHOPS AND FADDY PRODUCTS
I actually spend way less on food than I did previously, and my diet is now so much better. The trick is to not get suckered into shopping at fancy organic shops for your regular day-to-day produce. Don't succumb to the latest 'magic' ingredients. You absolutely don't need to - and if you do so you will end up poor! Buy rice, grains, seeds, pulses, spices and nuts from your local grocer or supermarket (our local Lebanese grocer has the best selection with everything coming in at a fraction of the price compared to the likes of Planet Organic). If shopping at a supermarket, check the world food aisles first: you can usually find lentils, rice and the like much cheaper. However, if you want vegan 'dairy' or 'meat' products then organic shops tend to be the place to go for a good selection. Tip for Londoners: Planet Organic offer student discount which does make a difference.
TAKE SUPPLEMENTS & KEEP AN EYE ON NUTRIENTS
The vegan diet can be very nutritious but it can also be the exact opposite. Keep an eye on what you're eating and how you're feeling: make sure you're eating a good amount of protein (lentils, pulses, tahini and tofu are your friends), iron (dark leafy vegetables are good), vitamin C (try Brussels sprouts, red peppers and kale) and fats from nuts and olive oils. Mushrooms are great for helping you to absorb vitamin D better, and my bf increases his protein intake by adding pea protein to smoothies for an extra boost.
Above all it's important that you get B12, as deficiency can lead to nasty, life-long health problems. You can obtain B12 from nutritional yeast and enriched plant milks/products, but just to be safe I take daily B12 supplements, along with iron, vitamin D and calcium & magnesium, which might seem excessive but I actually feel better now than I ever did when I was vegetarian. Boots regularly run 3 for 2 offers on vitamin supplements, and Holland & Barratt penny sales are useful. I do think it makes a huge difference; I was only properly ill once in 2016 (I succumbed to the flu just before Christmas) whereas I used to get several times a year, often for a couple of weeks at a time.
GET INSPIRATION FROM SOCIAL MEDIA
I find Instagram hugely helpful when I'm stuck in a food rut. There's a fantastic, supportive community of vegan bloggers and Instagram users out there, all of whom regularly share recipes, ideas, restaurant and product suggestions and the like. I used to be completely anti-hashtags but they actually prove to be a godsend when you need need a little push. I post here.
When it comes to shopping for groceries, it may be an idea to do a big shop for all your store cupboard items at first, then top everything up as needed. Then on a week-by-week basis you can just pick up fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and any other bits and pieces you might need. Make vegetables the main focus of your meals, not processed products. I generally always have the following basic items in the kitchen. It might seem like a lot, but once you're stocked up you'll be set for a good while. STORE CUPBOARD: vegetable stock (I use Marigold Bouillon), nutritional yeast (I buy the enriched variety), sea salt, black peppercorns, regular olive oil for cooking, good extra virgin olive oil for dressings, coconut oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, miso paste, red and white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, flour (plain/self-raising), bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, maple syrup, sugar (granulated/castor), tomato purée, tinned tomatoes, tinned chickpeas and beans (borlotti, haricot, kidney, black, butter, cannellini), lentils (green, puy, brown, red), a variety of dried pasta, basmati rice, dried noodles (I love rice vermicelli, udon and soba noodles), cous cous, pearl barley, buckwheat, seeds (pumpkin seeds are cheap and great sprinkled over salads), nuts (red peanuts are cheap and versatile), peanut butter, porridge oats, polenta. FRIDGE: dijon mustard, tahini, tofu, capers, olives, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, garlic, onions, fresh chillies, lemons and limes. SPICES & DRIED HERBS: cumin (seeds & ground), turmeric, cinnamon (sticks & ground), curry leaves, cardamom pods, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, smoked paprika, sesame seeds, nigella seeds, garam masala, ground coriander, pul biber, sumac, ras-el-hanout, allspice, za'atar, cayenne pepper, chilli powder, curry powder., bay leaves, dried thyme, dried oregano, dried sage, dried rosemary
Eating out can either be wonderful or a bit of a pain when you're starting out. You do, however, quickly get used to what you can and can't eat and how to negotiate ordering. If you're lucky enough to have vegetarian and vegan restaurants near you then you're all set. If you don't or you're eating with a group, there are still options. In pizza places you can almost always order pizza without the cheese and add extra toppings if you desire (I do this with Franco Manca). Vietnamese food is generally good - just check there's no fish sauce lurking anywhere! Same goes for Chinese and Japanese. South Indian cooking tends to be wonderful, just check that there's no ghee in what you're ordering. These days most places are happy to remove certain ingredients - staff are so used to it that they rarely bat an eyelid. If you're stuck at a meat-heavy restaurant and really struggling, you can always order a few side dishes. I've done this in the past and managed to have a really good meal.
SOME FAVOURITE PRODUCTS...
Oatly Foamable Oat milk is hands down the best milk out there - especially for tea (Yorkshire Tea always). It's also delicious in coffee and on cereal, and any other time you would use milk, and it makes a brilliant béchamel sauce. But the reason I stress it being good with a cup of tea is that finding a good vegan milk for tea is surprisingly hard: Oatly Foamable doesn't leave a weird bitter taste like almond milk does, it doesn't curdle like regular oat milk does, and it doesn't contain soy (too much soy isn't great for you). When I was still hesitating about going vegan I posted on Facebook asking my vegan friends for advice on the best non-dairy milk for tea, as a good brew was and is very important to me. Once I found this stuff I knew I could do it.
My favourite vegan 'dairy' products: Follow Your Heart's Soya-Free Vegenaise is the best vegan mayo, full stop. Sojade Plain soy yoghurt is neutral-tasting, creamy and doesn't have over-strong soy tones like other yoghurts, making it ideal for both savoury and sweet dishes. Violife is generally great for vegan cheese: the Prosociano block is the best alternative to parmesan that I've tried. A block lasts for ages in the fridge and really does work perfectly. Also, their smoked flavour 'cheese' is delicious, especially in a grilled cheese sandwich. I've found that you can't go wrong with Oatly's products in general: I really rate their single cream, craime fraiche and custard. Koko milk is a good, widely-available vegan milk which I'll buy if I can't get hold of Oatly Foamable (which is slightly harder to find but you can bulk-buy on Amazon).
Vivani's small chocolate bars are great when you want a treat. Not everything in the range is vegan, but the dark nougat, almond orange, white nougat crisp, strawberry wafer crunch, crispy corn flakes and black cherry are all suitable. Otherwise, dark chocolate is your friend - but check it doesn't contain milk as some brands do! I used to love chocolate in all its forms and thought I'd miss it, but I quickly stopped craving it. It's a cliche but one square of dark chocolate is usually enough to satisfy sweet cravings.
SOME FAVOURITE RECIPES...
Here's a list of some free, online recipes which I've cooked and loved. A quick note: there may be elements in some of these recipes in this list which aren't vegan: where that's the case I would generally either substitute (for example, I'd use soy instead or natural yoghurt, maple or agave syrup instead of honey) or leave the ingredient out altogether. Over time I've learned to adjust flavours accordingly: for example if a recipe calls for feta cheese, I've discovered that some good smoked tofu with lemon juice makes a great alternative. Nutritional yeast can be used to emulate cheesy flavours (I made a great béchamel sauce using olive oil, flour, oat milk and nutritional yeast recently), and where a savoury recipe calls for butter I'll use olive oil with a pinch of salt.
- Ottolenghi's black pepper tofu
- Ottolenghi's spiced cabbage and chana dal
- Ottolenghi's red lentil soup with fried tofu
- Ottolenghi's urid beans, tomato and spinach
- Ottolenghi's roasted butternut squash with cardamom and nigella seeds
- Ottolenghi's raqaq u addas (green lentil and pasta with yoghurt)
- Rachel Roddy's pasta e fagioli
- Rachel Roddy's quick pasta e ceci
- Rachel Roddy's tagliatelle con pomodori scoppiati
- Felicity Cloake's chana masala
- Felicity Cloake's aloo gobi
- Anna Jones' chilli
- Anna Jones' black eyed beans with chard and herb smash
- Anna Jones' buddha bowls
- Anna Jones' nut roast with pistachio and cranberries
- Anna Jones' roasted coconut, lime and tamarind curry
- Anna Jones' avocado, tahini and olive smash
SOME FAVOURITE RECIPE BOOKS...
These aren't specifically vegan, but I find them all massively useful for cooking; I use each of them regularly. I'm yet to find an entirely vegan cookbook which inspires me, if I'm honest, but these all work perfectly with a little imagination.
- Anna Jones - A Modern Way to Eat (vegetarian)
- Anna Jones - A Modern Way to Cook (vegetarian)
- Yotam Ottolenghi - Plenty (vegetarian)
- Yotam Ottolenghi - Plenty More (vegetarian)
- Alice Hart - The New Vegetarian (vegetarian)
- Yotam Ottolenghi - Ottolenghi (omni)
- Yotam Ottolenghi - Jerusalem (omni)
- Nigel Slater - Tender (omni)
- Felicity Cloake - The A - Z of Eating (omni)
- Rachel Roddy - Five Quarters (omni)
SOME FAVOURITE PLACES TO EAT...
Mostly London and Manchester, as I live in London and I'm from Manchester. There are, however, countless places in London and beyond which I haven't tried (the list of vegan-friendly places is growing all the time), so this list definitely isn't an exhaustive guide - just places I really like! I really recommend using the Happy Cow app/website when travelling - it certainly proved itself to be a lifesaver in Lisbon and Porto last summer.
- Cook Daily (London - Vegan)
- Home (London - Vegan)
- What The Pitta (London - Vegan)
- Mildred's (London - Vegetarian)
- Gallery Cafe (London - Vegetarian)
- Sagar (London - vegetarian)
- Rasa (London - vegetarian)
- Viet Hoa (London - omni)
- Hanoi Cafe (London - omni)
- Franco Manca (London - omni)
- Voodoo Ray's (London - omni)
- Lyle's (London - omni, will prepare a vegan menu on request)
- Lily's (Manchester - vegetarian)
- 1847 (Manchester - vegetarian)
- Greens (Manchester - vegetarian)
- Rudy's (Manchester - omni)
- Koffee Pot (Manchester - omni)
- The Egg (Liverpool - vegetarian)
- Greendays Cafe (Liverpool - vegetarian)
- The Hug and Pint (Glasgow - vegan)
I've only covered the food side of veganism above as that's what this blog is focused on, but I thought I'd share a few suggestions.
In terms of clothing and shoes I decided to wear out any wool and leather items I already had - not least because I couldn't afford to chuck everything out and start again, but also to avoid unnecessary waste - then replace with vegan versions as needed. I've been doing this gradually and with relative ease ever since. With my limited budget I'm more than happy to wear synthetic materials - and did so anyway! My old DM 1461 shoes finally fell apart a few months ago, so I happily replaced them with the vegan version and they're wearing brilliantly. I've found that Zara is brilliant for non-wool jumpers. And on ASOS you can specify 'non-leather' in the search filter when looking at shoes and bags. I haven't yet had to find replacements for my beloved Adidas Gazelles, so we'll see how that goes when the day comes... All in all, it's been pretty straightforward.
Make-up: There are loads of vegan Charlotte Tilbury products (see this list), which I'm very thankful for because CT Magic Foundation is my absolute favourite foundation, and I received CT Hot Lips lipstick in Tell Laura for Christmas and it's beautiful. Both vegan! Further to that, I put a post out on Facebook about a month ago asking for other vegan lipstick suggestions and ended up with my first Kat von D Studded Kiss lipstick in Hellbent (a Christmas gift from my bf), two Lime Crime liquid lipsticks from the Velvetines range and a gorgeous dark purple Coloured Raine liquid lipstick (thanks S!). They're all brilliant, however the Kat von D is a new favourite for regular wear (I wear red lipstick pretty much every day) and I'll be buying more shades as soon as I can. Illamasqua also have an extensive list of vegan products. Real Techniques brushes are fantastic. If you're after more budget-friendly products, NYX is cruelty-free and offer a number of vegan products, although you'll need to check against their list.
Skincare/Toiletries: For daily skincare I swear by Superdrug's own brand skin and body care range - the Naturally Radiant hot cloth cleanser is almost identical to the Liz Earle version, and the Simply Pure hydrating serum is fantastic (as vouched-for by the excellent Sali Hughes). As a bonus, it's all really cheap. My mum also bought me a few body care products from Tropic for Christmas and they're beautiful. Original Source is all vegan, and LUSH offer loads of products.
A FINAL NOTE
Remember, you're only human and no one is perfect. If you try and don't quite manage it, that's ok. You can always try again. If you mess up or accidentally eat something with milk or eggs in, move on. Don't be a 'Level 5 Vegan'.