2015 was a watershed year for the vegan lifestyle – it has never been easier or more acceptable to avoid eating animals and animal ingredients.
The plight of animals is now on the radar of most people; the science has never been clearer that eating more plants – and less (or no) animals – is better for everyone’s health; and the documentary Cowspiracy revealed the breathtakingly negative impact of animal agriculture on the environment.
If you’re someone who has had an awakening of sorts during 2015, perhaps the start of a new year has you thinking about what you’ve learned, and the changes you’d like to make to align your actions with your beliefs.
So where to start? While I want nothing more than for each and every one of you to go vegan today – and I truly hope that’s where your consciousness will take you – I also know that we all have a different starting line and that it can be difficult to overhaul our lives in one fell swoop.
Here are my tips to get started:
1. Focus on creating new habits to replace old ones – one at a time. Instead of approaching it from the vantage point of what you’re giving up, view it as an opportunity to introduce new and more positive habits into your life. Mentally walk through a typical day in your life, and identify one by one what habits you want to shift, and then one by one create your new habits. Target the low hanging fruit first – the easiest changes – and move onto the more complicated stuff once you’ve gotten into your groove, if you aren’t prepared to drop everything at once.
2. Visit a vegan or vegetarian restaurant – examine the menu – and find inspiration. Ask staff members about the food. Try things you’ve never heard of before. Take a friend and share several dishes. If you go to a place like The Table or The Green Door you can try a little bit of many different dishes. Find places to try on the Vegan Eats Ottawa restaurant guide. If you’re from elsewhere, check out Happy Cow. It has listings for all over the world!
3. Buy yourself a vegan cookbook. Or subscribe to a few vegan blogs. Even if you don’t follow the recipes to a T, spend some time poring over the multitude of resources that exist to generate some meal ideas. Then, write them down. And put them on your fridge. And when you write your grocery list, refer to it. Vegan Eats Ottawa has a running Facebook feed of food and information that helps make it easier.
4. Always be prepared. It is so much easier to make better choices when you do a bit of advance planning. Carry some healthy vegan purse snacks with you (can’t go wrong with a Vega bar!) when you’re on the go, and ensure that you do a good stocking up at the grocery store before launching into a busy week. If you have vegan food on-hand, you’re far less likely to “cheat.” (Here are my tips for eating out as a vegan.)
5. Don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. Just brush yourself off and keep heading in the right direction. Making one mistake does not mean you might as well not even try. It means you made one mistake. Don’t let it define you. On that note, don’t sweat the small stuff, and also try to avoid adding a lengthy list of additional restrictions to your diet. All those will do is complicate things and make your transition more difficult. Keep it simple.
6. Find like-minded people to provide support. Maybe they already exist within your social circle. Maybe you still need to meet them. Join groups and follow pages on social media that are specifically about the lifestyle you want to learn more about. Join your local vegetarian association and attend one of its events. Ask people who have already been vegetarian or vegan for years for their advice and recommendations. They would LOVE to help.
6. Remember why you’re doing it. When faced with social pressure, or temptation, keep your motivation front and centre and let it guide you towards choices that are better for the animals, the environment, and your own conscience.
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Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the subjects of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism. She also consults with business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs. Contact her here.