People are increasingly becoming aware of the essential role food plays in their overall health, and are trying to make the best choices for their lives when it comes to the food they eat, as well as the other products they consume. Many people find that veganism or vegetarianism is right for them. There is a world of information on vegetarianism and veganism at our fingertips, such as this course on the basics of vegetarianism and making the transition.
The difference between vegans and vegetarians is that vegans do not consume any animal products, while vegetarians tend to consume eggs and dairy products – just no meat. Some vegans also eliminate leather clothes and accessories and any products made from animals, like silk and wool, from their lives. Vegans and vegetarians also avoid gelatin and products that contain gelatin, as gelatin is an animal-based product.
A vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrition a person needs without the need for supplements. A vegan will need to take B12 and amino acid supplements, but otherwise the vegan diet can also be nutritious and healthy.
What About Raw Foods?
A raw food diet is just that – one in which all the foods consumed are raw. This does not mean that they can’t be warm, just that they have not been heated enough for the cooking process to alter the natural state of the food. A raw food diet is not necessarily vegan, nor vice-versa. However, the raw food diet is rich in similar foods to those eaten by vegans, and many people do choose this route. You can learn more about raw food diets, including the basics as well as recipes, in this course.
Why Do People Choose a Vegan Lifestyle?
There are a host of different reasons why a person might choose veganism. These range from compassion for animals to food safety to the potential health benefits.
- The Protection of Animals
One reason that people choose to go vegan is because of their overwhelming compassion for animals. Some individuals do not believe in sacrificing the lives of animals just so that they can enjoy a meal; others are concerned about the inhumane treatment of animals in the food industry. Animals are much more intelligent than many people realize, and they suffer when raised on factory farms in crowded, unsanitary conditions. They are often killed in inhumane ways. For this reason, many people choose to become vegan to avoid being part of this system of animal cruelty.
- Food Allergies
The vegan diet also minimizes problems caused by food allergies and intolerances, since the vegan diet does not include dairy, eggs, or shellfish. Vegans do not eat any meat, eggs, milk, dairy products, or even honey – no foods derived from animal products.
- Health Benefits
The other reason that a person might decide to become vegan is for the perceived health benefits. Many believe that eating a solely plant-based diet is healthier and that meat causes health problems such as heart disease, for example. Heart disease is the number one health issue in the United States, and many proponents of the vegan lifestyle believe that this is linked to a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fat, which are found in animal products.
Some vegans are also concerned about the potential for toxins to exist within the meat products available on most grocery store shelves today, such as bacteria, mercury, arsenic, and others. The millions of cases of food poisoning each year (thousands of them fatal) and the overuse of antibiotics within the industry is enough of a concern for some to convince them that a vegan diet is the safest choice.
Why Do People Choose a Vegetarian Lifestyle?
The reasons for becoming a vegetarian are much the same as those for becoming vegan, but vegetarians are not as strict as vegans about eliminating all animal products from their lives. A pescatarian (while not, strictly speaking, a vegetarian at all) generally thinks of him- or herself as a vegetarian who eats fish. Some people choose this lifestyle because of the belief that fish is a healthy food choice while other types of meat are not. Or, they may believe that fish is the least harmful option, and they want an easy source of protein.
Some people cut meat from their diets in an attempt to lose weight. It’s important to understand that neither a vegetarian diet nor a vegan diet is necessarily a healthy diet. Every effort has to be made to replace animal products with healthy, plant-based foods. It’s easy to fill your plate with pasta and snack on junk foods and say that you are a “vegetarian.” While this may be true (and may even be just fine with you, depending on your reasons for wanting to give up meat), you won’t be eating a healthy diet unless you practice careful food choices and eat a wide variety of plant foods and complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and the like.
12 Tips for Making the Transition
So you’ve decided to try out vegetarianism or veganism, and you’re wondering what the best way is to go about making the change. Some people simply push aside animal products and never look back. For most people, though, the transition is a challenge. Here are some tips for making the change a little easier.
1. Have a good reason. Becoming vegetarian just for the sake of it probably will not provide you with the level of commitment you will need. A good reason can be the motivation you need to help you stick it out, even when you find yourself in situations where sticking to your guns is tough.
2. Educate yourself. It’s hard to dive into a completely new diet without knowing anything about it. This is also a common way for vegetarians to find themselves eating a lot of junk food. Check out vegetarian cookbooks, read up on the pros and cons of vegetarianism, and check out a course that teaches plenty of irresistible vegetarian recipes.
3. Try new recipes. You could even try just one or two vegetarian recipes a week until you have a large collection of vegetarian recipes that you and your family love. Through trial and error, you will learn which ones are easy, which ones are fast, which ones are less expensive, and so on, and you will no doubt find some favorites that you’ll end up cooking again and again.
4. Make substitutions. Try converting your current favorite recipes to vegetarian versions. For example, instead of spaghetti with meat, try using a soy-based meat alternative in the sauce. You can also make many common recipes vegetarian by simply omitting the meat, such as lasagna, taco salad (be sure to get vegetarian refried beans), and much more. Substitute vegetable stock for beef stock, applesauce for butter in baked goods, and nonfat yogurt for sour cream. The possibilities are endless.
5. Eliminate meat gradually. You can certainly cut out meat all at once, but many find it easier to do it in stages. So first try eliminating red meat. When you get used to that, eliminate pork or chicken. Do this until your diet is free of all the animal products you wish to give up.
6. Make a decision about eggs and dairy. There are no vegetarian police; what you include in your diet is up to you and depends on your individual beliefs and feelings about what is right for you. You could give up just eggs, just dairy, both, or neither. If you decide to give these foods up, substitutions such as soymilk and almond milk can make the switch easier.
7. Compile a list of staples. You probably have a collection of foods that you eat regularly now, some more often than others. Think about what these foods are and then list some vegetarian alternatives to try, such as tofu instead of chicken in a stir-fry dish, or oatmeal instead of cereal and milk. This can help a lot with grocery shopping.
8. Get enough protein. It’s a myth that vegetarians can’t get enough protein, but it does take some planning. A diet that includes plenty of vegetables, beans, grains, and nuts will provide all the protein an average person needs.
9. Watch the junk food. Again, becoming vegetarian does not give you a license to indulge in more junk food. Stick with plant foods, beans, whole grains, nuts, and soy, and low-fat dairy products if you choose, as the majority of your diet.
10. Be prepared to talk to people about your choice. You can’t avoid people, particularly friends, family, and coworkers, for the most part. Some of them will be naturally curious about your new diet; some will want to challenge it, and your decision for making this lifestyle change. Have a simple explanation ready as well as a response for people who are concerned about your new diet, such as, “I understand your concerns, but this is the right choice for me, because…” and then if you wish, you can add a simple summary of your reasons for choosing vegetarianism. You don’t need to defend yourself or prove anything; it’s your life, your choice. And be prepared with helpful information for those who are genuinely interested in possibly making the switch themselves.
11. Know your snacks and convenience foods. Your diet should be kept healthy for the most part, but considering how busy most people are today, the occasional need for fast convenience foods is nearly inevitable. Keep things like cut-up veggies and hummus, almonds, pita breads, corn chips and salsa, granola, crackers, or other snack options on hand. And look for frozen vegetarian options that are easy to pop into the oven or microwave.
12. Plan ahead. Being hungry and unprepared can undo even the most well-intentioned diet. So can getting caught in the office, on the road, or in a restaurant without having a plan for eating. Bring along a vegetarian dish to a party (as long as the host agrees), stock your purse or office with nonperishable vegetarian snacks, and peruse restaurant menus online ahead of time and know what you are going to order before you ever get there. Another great option is to cook a large batch of food at one time, such as a big pot of vegetarian soup or chili, and have it in the fridge to give yourself a break from cooking for the next several days.
Avoiding Hidden Animal Products
Since many people choose vegetarianism or veganism to minimize harm to animals, these individuals usually want to be as conscientious as possible about avoiding animal products in their foods and the other products they use.
Gelatin and rennet (curdled milk from the stomach of a calf, used to make cheese) have been widely exposed as “hidden” sources of animal products. In addition, most vegans know to avoid products like leather, fur, feathers, wool, suede, silk, and honey. However, there are many animal-derived products, and products that harm animals, that are not so obvious.
Even a farm that grows fruits and vegetables displaces wildlife. Birds, insects, deer, squirrels, mice, and wolves are regularly evicted from their forest homes to make room for commercial crops. Pesticides used in most forms of agriculture kill crop-eating animals. The fertilizer used on many farms is made from bone meal, fish meal, or manure.
- Animal Parts in Food
Nobody wants to think about it, but the fact is that it is nearly impossible to harvest and process food without some measure of contamination from insect parts, rat hair, or mouse droppings. This is so inevitable that a certain amount of these animal products are allowed into your food and the FDA regulates this.
- Shellac and Beeswax
Both of these are found in the wax coating on many fruits and vegetables and in certain types of candy. Both are derived from animals. That wax on your apple does more than make it look shiny; it also helps preserve it and delays rotting.
- Driving a Car
If you have ever driven a car, chances are you have killed insects. We tend to focus on the smashed bugs all over out windshields, but in reality the entire car hits and kills insects all the time.
- Rubber, Plastic, and Glue
Manufacturers of these products are not required to disclose their ingredients as manufacturers of food products are. But these products, including tires, paint, and much more, often contain additives and chemicals of animal origins.
Other Consumer Goods
Whether the product you are buying is metal, plastic, rubber, wood, or plants, its harvesting and manufacture most likely took animals out of their natural habitats. The manufacture of many products is harmful to the environment in the form of pollution. Some of the pollution ends up in the air, some in the water. Landfills fill up with disposed-of products. All of these things are harmful to the habitats of humans and animals.
All of this is not to discourage anyone from a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. It is important for people to be aware of the many ways in which they harm animals without even realizing it, to allow them to strive for a lifestyle of minimal harm. For example, buying organic, unwaxed fruit is beneficial; try growing some (or all, for the ambitious) of your own food, using organic backyard gardening techniques; and try to consume less in general, opting to buy used products or go without whenever possible.
So What Products Can You Use?
With so much to avoid, it can seem impossible to find products that adhere to vegan standards. It’s true that it takes a little research to find out what these products are, but once you learn, they are easy to find. Besides the obvious vegetables and whole grains, there are many products on your local grocery store’s shelves that are vegan in nature (although not necessarily healthy). These include many breakfast cereals, beverages, candies, cookies, chips, condiments, breads, and more.
For clothing, choose cotton, linen, bamboo, canvas, denim, nylon, spandex, and more. Avoid non-vegan options such as leather, suede, wool, silk, flannel, cashmere, and camelhair. There are now many companies that sell specifically vegan clothes; you can find these with just a little Internet searching, or simply read the labels at your favorite store and choose vegan fabrics.
When choosing cosmetics, keep in mind that “cruelty-free” on the label does not necessarily mean vegan. Most vegans do look for products that are not tested on animals, but it can be tricky to discern which ones contain animal-derived ingredients. Some non-vegan ingredients commonly found in cosmetics include beeswax, carmine, casein, collagen, glycerin, keratin, and lanolin.
Overcoming Common Roadblocks to Vegetarianism
Many people would like to give vegetarianism or veganism a chance, but one of many barriers often presents itself, ultimately resulting in the individual deciding that it’s too hard or not worth it. Here are some of common barriers people run into when trying to live a vegetarian life.
1. The cheese problem. Many people find it very hard to give up cheese. Some vegetarians continue to eat cheese, but for those who wish to give it up entirely, great alternatives are now available such as soy-based and nut-based options. These new vegan “cheeses” are meltable and delicious, so giving up cheese is easier than it ever has been.
2. Your meal lacks a centerpiece. We are so accustomed to meals having a “main” dish, which is usually meat, and being complemented by vegetables or other sides. Try letting go of this mentality. One-pot meals such as soups, chilis, and casseroles are a good way to get out of the mindset that a meal needs a meat dish surrounded by veggies.
3. Information overload. Becoming vegan requires a lot of information, but there is no need to learn it all in one weekend. Start by eliminating meat and dairy from your diet, and gradually learn about which products and ingredients adhere to vegan standards and which don’t. Gradually replace foods, cosmetics, and other products with vegan options until you are fully vegan; there is no need to throw everything out and change your entire lifestyle in one go.
4. You make a mistake. Everyone messes up. If you buy the wrong product or eat something that isn’t vegan, that’s okay. Mistakes are how you learn, so be forgiving of yourself and get back on track.
5. Not enough time. Many individuals feel they don’t have time to change their diets. But with just a little education and effort, eating vegan can be just as easy and quick as conventional eating. With practice, you will find that you develop new habits and routines that are just as time-efficient as your old ones.
6. Worries about nutrition. If you vary your diet, base it on whole foods, and take a B12 supplement, you will be just fine. Learn about the foods that contain the nutrients you are not getting from meat. Protein, for example, can be found in nuts, beans, soy, quinoa, greens, and many other foods. You can get iron from leafy green veggies, molasses, beans, and more. And calcium is found in all leafy green vegetables, especially kale, as well as in broccoli, almonds, tahini, and more.
7. Worries about money. There is a popular myth that vegan eating is more expensive than the typical diet. You can eat completely organic and gourmet if you choose, but you can also eat vegan on the cheap. Farmers markets are great sources for inexpensive vegetables and fruits. Warehouse stores sell grains and nuts in bulk. Produce co-ops are available in some areas and can dramatically reduce costs.
Eating vegetarian or vegan is a great option for many individuals for a variety of reasons. The whole family can get involved – check out this Udemy course on cooking healthily with your children – and with just a little practice, you’ll be an experienced, healthy, and happy vegetarian in no time.