Switching to a vegan diet is easier than you would ever expect—just a little reading puts you halfway there. Let’s begin by looking at how to construct a smart overall approach. The most obvious way to become vegan is to focus on eliminating animal products from your diet. Surprisingly, however, this method of transitioning is needlessly difficult. People who go vegan by gritting their teeth and exerting willpower are probably least likely to make a lifelong change.
There is a much better way. Instead of trying to cut animal products out of your diet, crowd them out. Put the emphasis on constantly seeking out delicious new vegan foods. Every time you discover a vegan food that you adore, it’ll push the animal-based foods in your life further to the fringes. The more vegan foods you try, the more foods you’ll like, and the easier it becomes to choose vegan most of the time.
Cultivate the habit of trying new foods at every opportunity. The payoff is huge, and the commitment required is tiny. Just make a point of sampling at least five new vegan foods each week, and you’ll discover a steady stream of foods you love. Week by week, these items will begin crowding out the animal products that are currently in your diet. Before long, anytime you get hungry the first food that comes to mind will be vegan.
HOW FAST SHOULD YOU GO?
Once you recognize that that going vegan is really just learning a new skill—and a fairly simple one at that—much of your trepidation will disappear. Plus, you certainly don’t need to go vegan all at once. Some people do it overnight, while others ease into it over months or even years. How fast you go is not important, but rather that you do it in a way that feels easy and comfortable. Use whatever steppingstones work for you. The goal, after all, is not just to go vegan but to stay vegan long-term. You want fill your diet with delicious vegan foods that you’re delighted to eat every day.
Some people get intimidated by the thought of becoming absolutely, positively vegan—with no room for slips or exceptions. If making a 100 percent commitment sounds too much for you right now, no problem. There are always smaller steps that still accomplish a great deal of good. One of America’s most influential food writers, Mark Bittman, has long followed what he calls a “Vegan Before 6,” approach. That is, he follows a totally vegan diet until dinnertime, and then eats whatever he likes for the rest of the evening. Bittman’s approach can easily get you past the halfway point towards becoming vegan. And even if you never become completely vegan you’ll doubtless eat far fewer animal products than most people. If the Vegan Before 6 concept sounds appealing, you can get ahold of Bittman’s bookon the topic.
Or perhaps the idea of going 100 percent vegan sounds easy enough, but a commitment to stick with it for the rest of your life seems daunting. No worries—why not take the pressure off by giving a vegan diet a three-week test-drive? One great benefit to making a temporary commitment is that you’ll be on your way to forming a lasting habit. Just a few weeks on a vegan diet puts you in a great position to evaluate how well a plant-based lifestyle works for you.
And never forget: week after week, following a vegan diet just keeps getting easier. The more vegan foods you try, the easier it becomes to avoid animal products. Nearly every long-term vegan you’ll meet will tell you their transition was much easier than they expected.
READ THE MANUAL
You could certainly figure out how to be vegan without reading a single book on the topic, but why make things needlessly difficult? There’s no other lifestyle change in which a little reading delivers such an enormous payoff. Nothing about going vegan is all that challenging, but it’s inescapable that you’ll need to make changes to the way you shop, cook, dine out, and so forth. Perhaps the best book on the topic, and certainly the most inviting one, is Kristy Turner’s But I Could Never Go Vegan! Not only is Turner’s book a super-friendly introduction, but it also contains 125 really good recipes, all of which are quick and easy to make. And it’s jam-packed with great food photos, which doubtless will inspire you to get cooking.
If you want a free book that covers the same ground, you can read my Ultimate Vegan Guide online right here at Vegan.com. You really can’t go wrong with any introductory book to the topic. They’ll all teach you in just a few hours all sorts of things that would take you months or years to discover on your own.
The more motivated you are to become vegan, the easier you will find the transition. Books or films about dietary choices and animal agribusiness can greatly increase your commitment. So check out our recommended books and movies pages.
NUTRITION & SUPPLEMENTS
Vegans and meat eaters alike often have alarming lapses in their knowledge of nutrition. Many books and articles that cover vegan nutrition are full of misinformation. They can create the dangerous impression that as long as vegans eat a decent variety of foods nutrient deficiencies are practically impossible. That unfortunately is not the case. Just like omnivores, a great many vegans could stand to improve both their knowledge of nutrition and their intake of certain nutrients. The best introduction to the topic is our Vegan Nutrition Guide, written by Virginia Messina, MPH RD.
For a deeper exploration of the topic, check out Jack Norris and Virginia Messina’s Vegan for Life. From B-12 to protein to calcium, this book will set you straight about how to go about ensuring that all your nutritional bases are covered.
Even a brief review of vegan nutrition should convince you to find a reliable and regular source of B-12. This crucial vitamin isn’t found in unsupplemented vegan foods. The easiest way to make sure you’re getting enough B-12 is to take a sublingual B-12 tablet every two or three days. The consequences of B-12 deficiency are dire and potentially irreversible, so please don’t take any chances with this crucial nutrient. An inexpensive B-12 supplement will satisfy your needs for an entire year for about $10.
Check out our Vitamin and Supplements Guide for more coverage of B-12 and other nutrients of special interest to vegans.
If you’re going to change the foods you eat, that obviously necessitates changing the foods you buy. So why not learn how to bump your grocery shopping skills up a notch?
The best place to start is with our list of easy vegan foods. You’ll learn about dozens of the quickest, easiest light meals and snacks you could possibly make. Next, you want to learn how to find great vegan groceries at supermarkets, natural food stores, farmers’ markets, and online. Let’s look over that information now.
NATURAL FOOD STORES & SUPERMARKETS
Any supermarket will offer sufficient foods for a diverse vegan diet (beans, rice, pasta, hummus, soy milk, fruits, vegetables, etc.) Often, though, there are better places to buy these foods. When it comes to offering a wide variety of delicious vegan foods, a good natural food store blows away just about any supermarket. Natural food stores have a reputation for being expensive, but that need not be the case if you comparison shop. In fact, where healthful foods are concerned, natural food stores often have better prices than supermarkets. Also, the bulk department at a good natural foods store can offer tremendous savings. You can dramatically reduce your food costs by purchasing staples like rice, beans, nuts, and cereal in bulk.
Whenever you shop at a natural food store, give its vegan deli offerings a close look. Vegan deli items may be the easiest way for you to sample a wide assortment of unfamiliar foods. If you find a deli item you especially like, you can generally make it from scratch at home, at minimal cost.
Also be forewarned that vegans can spend a fortune on frozen convenience foods. Frozen vegan pizzas and TV dinners are often double the price of their non-vegan counterparts. So if you’re on a budget, you are best off buying most of your foods from the bulk section and produce department. A little cooking can save you a lot of money.
FARMERS’ MARKETS, SPECIALTY STORES, AND ONLINE GROCERIES
Just as a supermarket is probably not your best local source of groceries, your natural foods store may not be the best place to buy fruits and vegetables. It’s worth your time to check into whether there’s a farmers’ market or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in your area. There’s no better way to source your food as close to home as possible. Your nearest farmer’s market or CSA may be much closer to you than you realize. Check out this directory from LocalHarvest.org.
If you’ve got a sizable foreign population in your city, there will probably be excellent ethnic groceries worth visiting. Asian markets typically sell cheaper and fresher tofu than you can buy elsewhere, and they also carry a terrific assortment of cheap mushrooms and seaweed. Indian markets are worth visiting just for their papadums and jarred pickle relishes, and nearly all will sell remarkably inexpensive freshly-prepared samosas and pakora.
With any luck there’s a Trader Joe’s market near you. The chain is famous for selling all sorts of delicious vegan items at rock-bottom prices. They even publish a list of their vegan items, although this list is never complete given that Trader Joe’s is constantly introducing new products and discontinuing old ones. And if you’re seeking to try as many new vegan foods as possible—or you don’t have a natural foods store nearby—don’t forget Amazon.com. They carry all sorts of great vegan items, from energy bars to to hot cereals to cookies to nutritional yeast. Many of these products can be tough to find locally. Check out our Vegan.com Grocery for the best deals on Amazon’s vegan foods.
OUTFIT YOUR KITCHEN
Veganizing your diet will probably rid your diet of some of the worst foods you commonly eat. On top of that, you’ll gain a fresh incentive to learn more about cooking, which is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s amazing how far a little money spent on basic kitchen equipment can take you. Just a few well-chosen items will open up all sorts of food preparation possibilities. Check out our kitchenware guide if you want to get the biggest bang for the buck in terms of finding equipment you’ll actually use.
Some of the most useful kitchen appliances are extraordinarily cheap. These include items like toasters, blenders, slow cookers, and immersion mixers—all of which can be had for under $20 apiece. More expensive models of these appliances might look fancier but they are unlikely to perform better or last longer.
The one area not to scrimp on is a knife. The Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch chef’s knife hits the sweet spot in terms of offering quality workmanship comparable to professional grade knives costing triple the price. Get it professionally sharpened every six to twelve months and it’ll totally transform your cooking experiences.
There are also a few higher-end appliances that can be well-worth the price. In particular, Instant Pots, food processors, and professional-grade blenders like Vitamixes and Blendtecs be game-changing additions to your kitchen. See our Kitchenware Guide for buying advice on all these items.
The #1 mistake that new vegans make is choosing the wrong first cookbook. You absolutely don’t want your first cookbook to feature fussy-time consuming recipes. What you need is a cookbook geared to easy meals take 30 minutes or less to prepare. If later on you want to branch out to more sophisticated cooking, go for it. But make sure that your first cookbook is devoted to the simplest and most hassle-free meals. There are several fantastic choices, including:
- The Simply Vegan Cookbook, by Dustin Harder
- Quick-Fix Vegan, by Robin Robertson
- Thug Kitchen 101, by Davis & Holloway
- Everyday Happy Herbivore, by Lindsay S. Nixon
These cookbooks are all perfect for getting started. If you want to get a little fancier, check out Angela Liddon’s, The Oh She Glows Cookbook. Liddon’s book features sophisticated, healthful dishes that still require only minimal time to prepare.
You may also want to buy one enormous general-interest vegan cookbook. That way, anytime you have a hankering for a classic dish, whether it’s pancakes or lasagna, you’ll have a solid recipe ready to go. When it comes to a big, beautiful reference cooking volume, you can’t do better than Thug Kitchen. Or, if you want something truly massive, get ahold of Robin Robertson’s 1,000 Vegan Recipes.
The cookbooks I just mentioned only hint at the enormous diversity of vegan cooking possibilities. You can find vegan cookbooks devoted to every cuisine, including Italian, Indian, Thai, Mexican, and Ethiopian. There are likewise vegan cookbooks specializing in Instant Pots, one-dish meals, and whole-grain baking. Discover them all on our vegan cookbooks page.
Even though cookbooks can inspire all sorts of new directions in your cooking, don’t look at them as strictly necessary. The truth is you can eat an incredibly diverse vegan diet without ever following a recipe. All you need to do is to master the preparation of these five foods: smoothies; sandwiches; salads; stir-fries; and roasted vegetables.
Your local vegan dining options may range from terrible to incredible—it all depends on where you live. Chances are, you have more possibilities than you currently realize. Most mid-sized cities have a shockingly large number of vegan-friendly restaurants. Even small towns can have surprisingly good restaurant options.
Although there are a few online vegan restaurant directories like HappyCow and VegGuide, the best way to make sure you’re not missing anything is to use Yelp. That’s because Yelp has a thousand times more listings and reviews than any vegan-oriented restaurant directory. Part of what makes Yelp so powerful is that it’s got great search features to extract what you need from its mountain of restaurant reviews. Just type vegan into Yelp’s Find box and you’ll see every local restaurant with a review mentioning the term. You can then easily click through to read these vegan-oriented reviews. Yelp is especially valuable when it comes to finding the best vegan dining options in places that lack exclusively vegan restaurants. In cities with loads of vegan restaurants, I usually prefer HappyCow to Yelp since it’s nice to read nothing but vegan-oriented restaurant reviews.
Now let’s move onto more general advice for finding vegan-friendly dining. In the absence of a vegan-only restaurant, your ability to easily find a suitable meal will vary widely by cuisine. Hands down the most vegan-friendly restaurant cuisine is Middle Eastern—avoid the meat and you’re usually home free since it’s rare for Middle Eastern meals to contain dairy or eggs (but be on the lookout for Tzatziki, a cucumber dish made with yogurt).
Mexican food has great potential to be vegan-friendly but it’s challenging to find reliably vegan Mexican restaurants. You’ll have to watch out for lard in the beans or tortillas, sour cream in the guacamole, and chicken stock in the rice. In Chinese restaurant food, chicken stock is the primary menace vegans confront. The stuff can can vanish undetectably into soups and the broths of otherwise vegan entrees.
Ethiopian restaurants aren’t all that common but if you can find one you can usually get a great vegan meal. Since East Africa isn’t traditionally a place for dairy cattle or layer hens, Ethiopian food tends to be based on meat, veggies, and grains. So if you avoid the meat and make sure the vegetables aren’t prepared with butter you’re usually home free. Some Ethiopian restaurants garnish their entrees with sour cream so be sure to request it’s left off your meal.
VEGAN FAST FOOD OPTIONS
If you’re traveling and need a quick vegan meal, your easiest choices are probably Subway or Taco Bell. Subway’s got “Veggie Delight” sandwiches, which are vegan if you avoid the mayo and cheese (their whole wheat bread has honey but their white breads are vegan.) At Taco Bell, order a “Bean Burrito, Fresco Style,” and they’ll swap out the cheese for chunky salsa.
There are also great delicious and satisfying options at Cal-Mex burrito places like Chipotle, Qdoba, and Taco Del Mar. These chains feature higher-quality, tastier food than either Taco Bell or Subway, but they are also much harder to find.
SOCIALIZING AND FINDING COMMUNITY
Meetup.com offers an unmatched resource for finding local vegan and vegetarian gatherings. Just type Vegan into the search box and see what nearby events pop up. Many cities have vegan dine-outs or potlucks, and these are generally listed on Meetup.com. Another increasingly popular gathering is called Vegan Drinks. These Vegan Drinks events feature vegan bar food, often specially prepared by the venue for the occasion.
You can also find like-minded people at big regional vegan festivals, which are happening all over the world. Check out our directory to these events.
And for dating, most of the big platforms like OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, and Match.com feature categories for dietary preference, making it easy to find single vegans near you. There’s also VeggieDate, a dating site that caters exclusively to the vegetarian and vegan communities.
TAKE YOUR NEXT STEP
Just by having read this article, you’ve gained some great advantages over most aspiring vegans. No matter your level of commitment, the information you’ve read here will help you enormously. To recap the main points:
- A starter book like But I Could Never Go Vegan! will make your transition smoother, quicker, and more enjoyable.
- Take nutrition seriously. Vegan for Life will help you to steer clear of the most common deficiencies that can arise on a vegan diet.
- Make your first cookbook an easy one. The Simply Vegan Cookbook is a perfect choice.
- The quickest way to move towards a diverse vegan diet is to master the preparation of these five foods: smoothies; sandwiches; salads; stir-fries; and roasted vegetables.
- Learn how to shop affordably at natural food stores, and check out your local farmer’s market for fresh local produce. Our Amazon.com grocery page will enable you to further round out your diet.
- Yelp and HappyCow will help you discover your best vegan dining options. There are almost certainly some fantastic local possibilities that you don’t yet know about.
- In a pinch while traveling, you can always turn to Subway’s Veggie Delight without cheese or mayo. Or order Taco Bell’s Bean Burrito “Fresco Style.”
- Don’t feel isolated! There are probably plenty of vegans near you. Use Meetup.com to find them, and make plans to attend your nearest vegan festival. You can find even more fellow vegans at your local farm animal sanctuary.
Above all, remember that if it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right. Going vegan is all about discovering as many new foods as you can, from as many places as possible. You’ll know you’re headed in the right direction when you notice you’re taking more pleasure from food than ever. Just stay focused on constantly trying new foods, and you’ll be amazed by your rapid and effortless progress.