Want to go vegan, but have no idea where to even start?
This guide can help!
We've broken down going vegan into 5 easy steps (with a 6th step that doesn't really count because it's so easy).
By the end, our goal is that you have a solid understanding of the why and the how behind going vegan.
Is Going Vegan Hard?
Deciding to adopt a vegan lifestyle can be a daunting and seemingly challenging task. One may think they need to give up all the foods that they love, cut ties with all their non-vegan friends/family, and drive a Prius.
This is simply not the case.
Veganism comes in many different forms, but is grounded in one definition:
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, entertainment or any other purpose.
There are almost infinite ways to eat a vegan diet, from eating Oreos and drinking Sprite all day, to a more health-conscious version based on whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
For anyone to truly go vegan long-term, they must have the proper reasoning and motivation to do so, and this brings us to our first step on how to go vegan: Learn and Understand the Why.
Step 1. Learn the Why Behind Adopting a Vegan Diet
People adopt a vegan lifestyle for 3 main reasons:
Although many people go vegan for number 3 (health reasons), having a reason beyond yourself makes sticking to the lifestyle and avoiding temptations much easier.
As per the definition of veganism, avoiding cruelty and exploitation of animals is the most compelling reason to go vegan.
150 billion+ animals each year are slaughtered every year for the sake of our own consumption, a truly staggering number. (Source: Adaptt.org Kill Counter).
From fish to chicken to pigs, all vertebrates share the same ability to feel pain. (Source: Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals).
Meat is the Corpses of Other Sentient Beings
Meat eaters will consume about 7,000 animals over the course of their lifetime. Your personal choice does have an important effect on the world around you. If you cannot be the change you want to see in the world, how can you expect others to change?
Not only are the animals killed, but they are subjected to a life of misery and torture since the day they are born.
Many people find it easy to brush these facts to the side, but imagine if your beloved dog or cat was being sent off to slaughter - your feelings would no doubt change.
Extreme suffering is just that, and once you know the pain and torture that your meat has gone through, it becomes increasingly difficult to consume it with a clear conscious.
For an in-depth perspective off the full truth behind the animal agriculture industry, we highly recommend the documentary Earthings which can be viewed directly on YouTube.
Earthlings Part 1.
The official website for the documentary and its creators can be found here.
Animal Agriculture is one of the most resource consuming and greenhouse gas emitting industries.
The information we're shown on environmental issues tends to be greatly skewed and tends to ignore the staggering truth behind animal agriculture. Many people simply don't know "the inconvenient truth" behind the food products that are familiarly and comfortably consumed on a daily basis.
The Facts About Animal Agriculture and Climate Change are Staggering
The fact is, the act of feeding, transporting and slaughtering animals is a huge burden on resources as well as a major contributor to environmental destruction.
Livestock and their byproducts are responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation only accounts for 13% . (source 1.)(source 2.)(source 3.)(source 4.)
Most water in the United States is used for animal agriculture, with growing feed crops for animals accounting for 56% of US water consumption. (source).
Many so-called “environmentalists” will make you feel guilty for driving your car or running the shower too long, but just taking a look at the figures below shows how off-base those claims are. The consumption of animal products is a far greater threat to the environment than almost any other activity that we humans partake in.
We encourage you to check out some of these facts and figures below as well as their sources to help educate yourself on the truth behind the destructive nature of the animal agriculture industry.
Gallons of Water Required
477 Gallons of Water
1 Pound of Eggs
900 Gallons of Water
1 Pound of Cheese
1000 Gallons of Water
1 Gallon of Milk
2500 Gallons of Water
1 Pound of Beef
660 Gallons of Water
2 Months of Showering
Amount of land needed to feed a vegan for a year is 1/6th of an acre, whereas a meat acre requires 18 acres of food.
For those who want to dive deeper into the environmental side of veganism, we highly recommend starting with a documentary called Cowspiracy.
The full documentary is available on Netflix or available directly from the filmmaker's website.
While one of the more controversial subjects of veganism, the topic of health and veganism can lead many people astray. Despite conflicting opinions from bloggers and online news websites, scientific consensus is clear.
The American Dietetic Association, which is the largest body of food and nutrition professionals, state that:
Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.
Here's a link to their official statement.
A common argument against veganism is that our ancestors ate meat, which helped us evolve into humans, and therefore we are designed to do so. However, this is a misrepresentation and misunderstanding of what the research indicates.
In addition, one of the common characteristics of the longest living cultures in the world, known as the Blue Zones, is that they all eat a predominately plant based diet, centered around legumes, along with daily light exercise and socialization.
These cultures all ate upwards of a 95% plant based diet, mainly reserving meat for celebratory occasions. One section of the Blue Zones, the California 7th Day Adventists, ate no meat at all.
A 13 year study of this population concluded they have "perhaps the highest life expectancy of any formally described population."
This presentation “Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death” gives a brief journey into what the actual peer-reviewed scientific literature says about the effects of vegan diets.
Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death by Dr. Michael Gregor
Another great documentary to watch on this topic is Forks over Knives.
To conclude, we've briefly discussed:
- The longest living cultures in the world consume little to no animals
- Adopting a plant-based diet can reverse or prevent our most deadly diseases (detailed in video above)
- We can end the suffering and death of billions of sentient beings each year
- Animal agriculture is destroying the rain forest, wasting water resources, and polluting the environment more than anything else on the planet
With all of these factors in mind, adopting a vegan lifestyle is the single most impactful decision one can make to reduce environmental harm, animal suffering, and chronic disease.
After you’ve learned about the many reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle and decided you are ready to make the change, the next step is to begin your transition!
Depending on your situation and preference, transitioning into veganism can be done overnight or gradually. While eating vegan is very easy and hassle-free once you’ve got the hang of it, one needs to accept that transitioning to veganism after eating a standard western diet for decades may require a bit of extra effort starting out.
However, this shouldn’t be treated as a daunting task, but rather an exciting opportunity to explore new recipes and cuisines!
The overnight transition, while the most ambitious, may be the preference of some who feel strongly about adopting a vegan lifestyle and want to put it into effect right away.
When doing this, it is important to have a basic plan of what meals you plan to make, what you plan to shop for, and where you can eat.
This will be discussed in more depth shortly.
Finish the Remainder of Your Animal Based Foods
Another method is to slowly transition to veganism by working through all the remaining animal products left in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. This will give you some time to wean yourself off animal products and slowly incorporate more plant based dishes into your daily routine.
Reaching the Finish Line is the Most Important Thing
While doing this, it is important to identify your favorite comfort foods and learn how to create a vegan version of these foods.
By the time you’ve consumed all the animal products left in your home, you will have a great understanding of how to shop and cook vegan!
Slowly Adjust Your Diet
Another way to become accustomed to plant based eating is to incorporate plant based meals slowly into your life day by day. This will allow you to gradually learn how to eat plant based meals and become accustomed to full days of vegan eating.
An example of this would be to start eating completely vegan on Mondays, and the rest of the week you are free to eat how you like. You would then gradually incorporate more days with full vegan eating until you’re ready to fully commit!
A variation of this would be to transition meal by meal, e.g. only eat vegan for breakfast, then breakfast and lunch, then breakfast lunch and dinner.
While many think going vegan requires having to go to health food stores to shop and only eating at a few specialty restaurants. This is far from the truth.
One great advantage of transitioning to veganism these days is how easy it is to find vegan options at every grocery store and the majority of restaurants.
Going vegan can be inexpensive and easy to shop for at regular conventional markets or online. Check out our guide on how to go vegan on a budget.
This list of already made store bought vegan food by Vegan Wolf is a really helpful resource as well.
While transitioning, we recommend trying....
While transitioning, we recommend trying out a few different brands of meat substitutes that taste and feel nearly identical to real meat. Most of these brands can be found at your local supermarket/Walmart. A few great ones to start out with are:
You can use the store locators on the website above to see if those brands are carried in a supermarket near you which they most likely are.
Tofu, Tempeh, and Seitan are also great for using in place of meat for various recipes. You can cook them in the same sauces and spices you would meat to achieve an amazing, healthy new meal to your diet. If you're going to cook tofu at home, using a tofu press is great for achieving the right texture.
Delicious Asian Style Tofu
Check out some of our favorite recipes below for meat substitutes:
Beans and lentils can also be hearty, protein-rich replacement for meat on your plate. They can be used to create meat-like meals such as meatloaf and burgers!
Check out some of our favorite bean/legume based recipes here:
Buying plant-based milks in the store is probably one of the easiest steps as they've been popular and readily available for quite some time.
Some of the most popular varieties include soy milk, almond milk, and cashew milk.
We tend to prefer soy milk simply because the other ones can be a bit watered down (specifically almond), and soy milk performs the best in coffee as a creamer. Cashew milk can great as well, but its highly dependent on what brand you buy, so don't be afraid to experiment.
Once you've identified what you like, making your own at home with a soy / nut milk maker is a great option to save money and make it to your specific tastes.
For many, giving up cheese may seem hard or near impossible. However, there are plenty of identical tasting substitutes that are available without any animal products! With the demand for vegan options growing over the past decade, these brands have come a very long way in refining their recipes.
Here are some of the top vegan cheese brands (You may even like them better than the real thing!):
Pizza Made with Vegan Cheese
Or, there is plenty of quick and simply ways to make Cashew Cheese at home.
Check out some recipes here:
The options are really endless!
For many people following a SAD (Standard American Diet), some of the most health promoting Vegan items may seem bland and unpalatable.
However, if you never branch out beyond the vegan replacement foods that we just finished covering, you won't reap all of the health benefits of going vegan.
The most healthful foods that you can consume are whole plant foods (beans, legumes, greens, potatoes, nuts, seeds, fruits etc). These are the foods that are most abundant in health promoting micronutrients and phytochemicals and have the least amount of calories.
Whole Plant Foods Are The Healthiest Choices You Can Make
As you make the transition, we highly recommend filling more and more of your plate up with these kinds of whole foods so that your palate becomes accustomed to them.
If your taste buds are used to eating jelly donuts and hamburgers which have high amounts of concentrated sugar and fat (and low amounts of micronutrients per calorie), whole plant foods are simply going to seem plain and boring.
However, over time your taste buds will readjust to their normal levels and healthier foods will become just as pleasurable if not more pleasurable to consume than the foods you're currently used to.
Many plant-based doctors liken the process to quitting an addictive drug such as cocaine.
While this may seem like an extreme example, when you start to realize how overstimulating the standard Western diet actually is, you'll come to agree that this example isn't too far off.
Although it's a bit of a long watch, this is one of the best introductions to the concepts behind plant-based nutrition by Dr. Fuhrman which we reference several times on Thrive Cusine.
Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free by Dr. Fuhrman.
We highly recommend giving it a watch and implementing these principles into your vegan journey if you're seeking health and longevity.
Learn the Best Ways to Cook Plants
If you've ever turned on the Food Network or any TV station, you're likely to have seen shows that focused on making meat the center of the meal. There's so much emphasis on teaching people all the different ways to cook meat that people neglect to talk about how to prepare plant foods with culinary excellence.
Rosemary Roasted Broccoli by Simply Fresh Dinners
Preparing plant foods doesn't have to be complicated either. Usually simplicity of ingredients, spices, and cooking methods are the best ways to bring out flavors.
Get a vegan crockpot cookbook or watch the endless amount of free videos on YouTube for inspiration.
Don't look at going vegan as a restrictive choice, but rather one that is going to expand your palate and help you appreciate different flavors.
Assistance from the modern world of great kitchen appliances such as blenders can help get creative with your food.
And you don't need an expensive unit like the Vitamix 780 to create delicious vegan soups and sauces.
Check out our guide to the best blenders for vegans to learn how to do it on the cheap.
Where to Shop
When you begin to transition into more whole plant foods, there become even less constraints because you can find vegan staples such as sweet potatoes, lentils, legumes, produce, etc. at pretty much any supermarket.
If you have budgetary concerns, we created an entire guide on how to shop vegan on a budget which you can check out below. Even if you're not on a budget, the guide is sure to be helpful in navigating your first few months as a vegan.
In addition, websites such as Forks Over Knives, even offer free plant based meal plans to help you kick-start your vegan lifestyle.
Vegan Options in Unlikely Places
Eating vegan at a restaurant is a great opportunity to explore new dishes and cuisines. While in a pinch, there are many chains that offer vegan options you can grab in only a few minutes even at some of the most unlikely fast food restaurants:
Check out some of the above options to learn how you can eat vegan even at some of the most common fast food and casual dining restaurants.
You will also find that eating out at ethnic restaurants will have a wide array of meatless dishes. Many Eastern cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese, will typically have a large vegetarian selection because of the high Buddhist population in these regions.
Indian Vegetable Masala
Just be sure to ask if there are any eggs or dairy in the vegetarian options as many of them don't traditionally use the word "vegan", but rather "vegetarian" as an all-encompassing term.
Yelp and Happy Cow
Simply searching “vegan” or “vegetarian” on Yelp will yield a variety of reviews customers have left for restaurants near you that mention these terms.
Last but not least, one of the best tools for finding vegan options at a restaurant is the app Happy Cow. It’s free to use on your computer or you can get it for only a few dollars on your smart phone. In the click of a button, HappyCow will show you nearby by far the easiest way to find vegan-friendly places to eat near you wherever you may be
Your Taste Buds Will Change!
Remember, if you crave certain foods while food going vegan, this may not last forever. Your taste buds literally change as you adjust your diet. The more plants you eat, the more you’ll crave them.
Short Video on Taste Buds from NutritionFacts.org
As discussed in the previous section, there are tons of great tasting and inexpensive plant-based alternatives to all your favorite animal ingredients. If you’re craving mac & cheese, go buy some vegan mac & cheese. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a decadent meal or dessert from time to time.
You should never feel like you’re restricting yourself on a vegan diet or you're likely to simply give up.
What is Umami?
One way to satisy meat cravings is to eat foods with more umami. Umami is the 5th taste that, although less well-known, is deeply ingrained into the way we enjoy food.
The Umami flavor can be best translated as “pleasant, savory taste”.
We taste umami through our glutamate receptors, meaning foods high in glutamate will give you that savory, meaty taste. Cured meats, fish, cheeses, and even breast milk, are all high in glutamate.
However, there are plenty of plant based sources you can incorporate into your life to satisfy this craving, such as:
- Fermented Foods (Tempeh, Sauerkraut, Soy Sauce)
- Nutritional Yeast
Mushrooms Are High in Umami Flavor
For a huge Umami hit, check out this amazing recipe for Teriyaki Tempeh and Shiitake Mushrooms with Sriracha Soba Noddles.
There are so many different types of mushrooms in there with rich and complex flavors so be sure to check out your local store's selection next time you're out shopping! You can even order your own kits to grow them in abundance through companies like Mossy Creek Mushrooms.
The Truth About Leather and Fur
Adopting a lifestyle that seeks to avoid harm to all animals extends just beyond what’s on your plant(plate). Millions of animals are subject to cruelty and death each year to make fur, leather, and cosmetic products.
Please watch these two 60 second videos for a glimpse into the reality behind the fur/leather industry.
Be warned: the footage below is graphic, but it is important to educate yourself on the reality of these industries rather than living in ignorance.
Leather Industry in 60 Seconds
Fur Industry in 60 Seconds
After coming to realization about the cruelty behind these industries, many ask if it is necessary to get rid of all their fur coats, leather couches, makeup, shoes, etc.. The answer is that it’s up to you. Throwing out those items won’t undo any damage.
Vegan Clothing Options and Make Up Brands
Fortunately, modern technology allows us to make faux leather that is virtually identical to real leather. Look for the phrases "Manmade materials or PU Leather" on the shoe tongues or shoebox to see what material the shoe is made of. In recent developments, "vegan leathers" are even being made from banana trees, resulting in a much more environmentally friendly supply chain.
Faux Fur is also easily available and virtually identical to real fur.
Just to give you some examples of what are out there as far as clothing and makeup:
Lots of Vegan Clothing Options at Zappos!
For people who wear makeup, it is important to also be mindful of makeup brands that test on animals:
- Here's a list of 101 Cruelty Free Makeup Brands
As mentioned earlier, this is an amazing resource for finding restaurants with vegan options in your nearby area or any area you plan to go. Equipped with reviews, descriptions of vegan options, and directions, this is a must have!
Every year, this non-profit organization reviews all the published peer reviewed medical/nutrition literature and reports their findings in short, easy to digest videos. Scouring scientific literature is no easy task, and most information finally makes its way to the average person in the form of a half-researched news article or health blog. Nutrtionfacts takes the most cutting edge research and presents it directly to the end user in an entertaining fashion.
One of our favorite recipe websites, OhSheGlows is home to one of the most popular and acclaimed food blogs on the internet, and she even has a few best selling cookbooks! From the Vegan Alfredo to the dozens of cookie recipes, everything on this site is simply delicious! She even has an app for easy recipe access on your phone.
Do Individual Purchases Matter?
If you’ve found any of the statistics, videos, or ideas presented in this guide disturbing or immoral, it is important to know that you personally can make an impact and have your opinion heard.
Every dollar you spend is a vote of support for that particular brand and industry. By boycotting industries you find immoral and putting your hard earned money into cruelty-free businesses, it has tremendous impact.
It is no coincidence companies such as Tyson Foods has become an investor for Beyond Meat and Silk has been bought out by Dean Foods, one of the largest dairy processers in the world. Big companies are beginning to recognize the demand for cruelty-free alternatives.
So, Do We Still Buy From These Companies?
The answer is yes. It is nearly impossible to only eat at vegan restaurants, shop at vegan supermarkets, and buy from 100% cruelty-free brands.
The point is that by supporting the cruelty-free options offered at big chains and large companies, your dollar supporting the demands for those options only. If you purchase vegan options from these large companies, they will see a demand for it and begin to stock more of these options and stop spending money on restocking animal products.
While these companies no doubt participate in acts that can be viewed as “evil or immoral” to most vegans, it is important to recognize that they have one job: making more money.
With that in mind, they also possess the resources to actually shift the economic landscape of the food industry, so sending them the right signals to move away from animal-based products is crucially important.
What About Protein?
We’ve covered this topic in depth in the article Ultimate Guide to Protein Sources On A Vegan Diet and The Guide To Building Muscle On A Vegan Diet. There are a number of athletes who have adopted and thrived on a plant based lifestyle, some notable figures include:
Dealing with family/friends?
While you’re bound to be the subject of jokes and teasing from unaware friends/family, especially at first, approach dealing with them with a calm and patient manner. Getting angry and defensive is never a good option. Some will open up and ask questions while others will not.
What About Grass-Fed and Cage Free?
At an environmental level, “grass-fed” beef is even more harmful and unsustainable than factory farmed meat.
You can check out more on that topic here on One Green Planet.
At an ethical level, the idea of “humane” meat and slaughter has been shrouded in misconception. Is there an ethical way to rape or murder a human being? Given the overwhelming consensus that you can live a long, healthy life on a plant based diet, there is no reason to support the slaughter of innocent animals.
You can read more on that topic here at Humane Myth.
Weren't Humans Meant to Eat Meat?
Many will cite that “we’ve been eating animals for thousands of years” and “we’ve adapted to eat meat” as arguments for the cruelty and necessity of modern animal agriculture.
However, when the largest body of nutrition professionals in the world state that vegan diets are nutritionally adequate for all stages of life, the longest living cultures in the world share a similarity of plant-based eating, and research now suggests cooked starches played the main role in human brain evolution (source), these arguments fall flat.
Paleolithic ancestors also ate upwards of 100g of fiber a day, an amount only achievable by eating a high volume of plant foods.
The Facts About Paleo Poo by Dr. Michael Gregor
It is also important to consider the concept of surviving vs. thriving.
While it is true that meat is a very nutritionally dense option for a hunter-gatherer with no other options around, that doesn’t mean it is still necessary for us to consume animal products in modern times, especially given the evidence presented above.
Don't be fooled by "Appeal to Tradition" and "Appeal to Nature Fallacies" which claim meat is necessary on baseless claims of it being natural or in our history.
We hope you will take the time to consider all the information presented in this guide and put it into action. We encourage you to further explore even the immorality and unsustainability of the animal agriculture industry as well as the benefits of plant-based nutrition.
This guide is by no means a comprehensive look at all of the issues discussed and learning about these issues should be a continuous process. This article: 10 Things No One Tells You About Going Vegan, by Nicole Solomon at Crixeo does a great job outlining some of the things you probably won't come to learn until you've been vegan for at least a few months, but might be comforting and sobering to learn beforehand.
We hope to have armed you with the necessary knowledge to begin your journey to veganism.