How To Go Vegan: An Info Packed Starter Guide

how to go vegan

Are you considering making the switch to a vegan lifestyle?

Going vegan is most likely the single biggest way to reduce your contribution to both animal abuse and environmental destruction.

But big changes to your lifestyle are stressful – which is why I put together this quick starter guide to going vegan.

We’ll be breaking down the basics of going vegan, including how to eat a healthy vegan diet, connect with other vegans, and even a few tips on handling criticism.

So let’s get started, shall we?

What does being vegan even mean?

The first thing you should know is there’s no such thing as a perfect vegan.

Even if you’re doing your best to be a mindful, cruelty-free shopper, you’re still going to face challenges.

These could be simple issues like not realizing your pad thai includes fish sauce, or more annoying things like your favorite skincare brand including a confusingly named animal ingredient in their formulas.

Don’t beat yourself up for slip-ups; if you’re interested in veganism you’re already doing more than most people.

But, it’s still important to know how to go vegan the right way, so you should know what veganism really is, at its core.

Veganism is often considered just a diet, but it’s so much more than that.

It’s a philosophy and a way of life.

veganism: a lifestyle that excludes all forms of animal exploitation when realistic and possible

It means living your life more consciously and compassionately, and making decisions based on ethics, rather than always choosing the easy, convenient option.

Veganism is one of the best ways to attempt to live in harmony with our planet and reduce the suffering we cause animals, and in doing so, help the environment.

Will becoming a vegan change my life?

So which areas of your life will actually be affected by going vegan?

Most likely all aspects of your life will change as you grow into veganism, but it’s not a bad thing. Vegan alternatives for nearly everything exist nowadays, however, here are the major areas of your life that may change:

Your diet will change. Eating animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs is not vegan, and tons of random hidden ingredients in everyday food products are also from animals.

The brightly lit aisles of a supermarket, with shelves lined with vegan and non vegan foods.

The good news is, plant based foods are amazing nowadays – and supermarkets are stocking their shelves with vegan-friendly foods.

Your routines and hobbies may be affected. Supporting skincare brands that use animal products or test on animals, using hobby-related animal products, or even things like the cleaning products you use around the house are areas you may need to reexamine.

Your closet and wardrobe may not be vegan. Wearing clothes made with animal derived materials like wool or silk or buying leather bags or boots – these are a couple of examples of how you may be involved in the animal industry through your fashion choices.

Your exploitation of animals will be drastically reduced. This sounds like I’m talking about directly abusing animals, but it’s not as simple. Animals are currently exploited for lots of things right now, especially in entertainment industries.

unethical cow rodeo
Image by Farm Watch via Flickr

Things like unethical zoos, circuses, rodeos, horse races, or even some movies and shows aren’t easy things to be around once you start thinking about veganism.

Why should you go vegan?

Not everyone has a personal reason to go vegan, and that’s fine.

If you’re new to veganism, you probably aren’t even completely sure why you should care in the first place, aside from obvious things like your health (and all the dead animals).

So, let’s briefly go over the major reasons why veganism is a lifestyle you’ll benefit from:

Veganism reduces animal cruelty and suffering

The most obvious reason to be a vegan is to help animals.

Animal agriculture directly leads to tens of billions of animals being subjected to slaughter, cruel and inhumane living conditions, painful procedures, and other forms of abuse each year.

I think it’s hard to put all the dark stuff that happens in slaughterhouses into words, so I’ll include a few links to important documentaries further down, but just know that this sad, cramped photo below would be considered above average living standards for most factory raised pigs.

pig factory farming
Image by Farm Watch via Flickr

Vegan lifestyles help reduce the demand for meat and animal products, and support the much needed transition towards a more compassionate and ethical food system – instead of one centered around industrial abuse.

Most people are completely removed from the process of raising and slaughtering animals for food, so wrapping your mind around the insane reality of these industries can be difficult.

Veganism is better for the environment

Becoming vegan not only helps animals, it’s also a great option for those who care about the natural world.

Animal agriculture produces around the same amount of emissions as the transportation sector. If more people switch to a plant based diet, humanity could drastically reduce these emissions; if it was done rapidly, it could stabilize greenhouse gas emissions for 30 years.

Vegan diets require much less agricultural land overall, which might sound strange, but most of the crops we grow never reach our plates. Instead, things like soy and grains are used to feed the animals we eat.

Not only can we give more land back to nature if we stop eating animals, vegan diets also require significantly less water and energy to produce more nutritious calories.

Animal products require a huge increase in emissions to produce, compared to plant based food crops, with beef being coming in on top:

A graph showing the greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food product.

A vegan diet, compared to the average American diet, requires 14% less freshwater, 21% less groundwater, and produces 53% fewer emissions to produce the same number of calories.

Sticking with a plant based diet over the course of a lifetime is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and do your part in contributing to environmentalism.

Our planet’s important forest ecosystems are being burned down and deforested to graze cattle, our oceans are being plundered by overfishing and whaling, and even oceanic reefs are suffering from coral bleaching events due to rising temperatures and agricultural runoff, among other things.

Biodiversity loss on a large scale is directly linked to animal agriculture, making it hard to justify eating these things if you care.

Veganism is healthier

This may be the main reason you’re looking into veganism. A well-planned vegan diet can provide you everything you need to live a happy, healthy life – and the evidence of various health benefits that come along with it continues to grow.

A few examples include a lower rate of type 2 diabetes, a reduced risk of obesity and heart disease, and overall better protection against cancer. The main idea behind many of these studies is that plant based diets contain foods that reduce oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.

Diets high in animal products, on the other hand, can lead to a wide range of negative, chronic health conditions. The worst products to be eating regularly are red and processed meats, which are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, and even colon polyps.

garden fruit vegetable platter
Image by Cristina Sanvito via Flickr

So if you want to avoid seeing your proctologist regularly, you may want to make dietary changes a priority.

Just keep in mind that it’s definitely possible to be vegan and still eat a terrible diet, which is why having a meal plan or at least learning the basics of nutrition are important, which we’ll talk about shortly.

How do you become a vegan?

Now that we’ve gone over why you should go vegan, let’s dive into how you can actually do these things without losing your mind.

Here’s your main objective: make small changes everyday.

Seriously, if there’s one piece of advice I can give you it’s to be patient with yourself. Vegans only make up around 1% of the world, population-wise, which means you will find yourself feeling frustrated or let down, so building routines up slowly instead of turning your life inside out is much easier.

With that being said, if you want to purge your life of all animal products all at once it’s definitely possible, so feel free to do that if it works better for you.

Focus on one thing at a time

Like I said above, trying to change every single aspect of your life at once doesn’t always work out. And I really want you to succeed in your attempt at veganism, which is why I recommend changing one thing at a time, and building smaller routines up.

For example, if you want to get rid of your clothing woven with animal-based fabrics, change your diet, and also start looking for a vegan-friendly job – how do you decide where to start?

Where you start matters less than just starting, but my advice is to start with your diet and slowly chip away at everything else in your life, as good food is the highlight of the day for many, and exploring the delicious vegan options out there nowadays is a lot of fun.

Obsessing over every single thing you can change from the start (which is what I did), on the other hand, could lead to a lot of stress and anxiety over something that can and should be fun.

Think of veganism as a to-do list that you work on each day – and you’ll be in for a much smoother transition.

You don’t have to give things up

People often think that being a vegan, or even just eating a vegan diet means you have to give up all the best things in life.

This scarcity mindset makes a vegan lifestyle appear as one that’s lacking, instead of one that’s abundant. This really couldn’t be further from the truth.

Vegan living may have sucked in 1985, but times have changed. Vegan chicken nuggies, cheese, yogurt, and icecream all exist, as well as nearly anything else you may crave regularly. Plant based meat is everywhere, and lab grown meat is just around the corner, making it quite simple for most to find alternative brands to try.

vegan japanese dessert
Image by Pete Birkinshaw via Flickr

We live in an era of incredible creativity and innovation, so make an effort to be open-minded to new things, and you’ll soon realize how fun vegan eating can be and how many options are available to you!

You aren’t giving up anything to be vegan; you’re simply doing things differently.

Get educated about veganism

The more you know about veganism and the benefits it can provide, the more motivation you’ll find to stick to this lifestyle change.

There’s so much great vegan content out there, making it pretty simple to start your journey. Here are a few documentaries you may want to check out:

  • Cowspiracy
  • Seaspiracy
  • Forks Over Knives
  • What The Health

Most of those are on Netflix, making them super easy to get into. But most streaming platforms have great vegan documentaries, including YouTube.

On YouTube, you have a few different kinds of videos you may want to watch. Vegan beginners will probably want to start with an easy watch, like this recent film made by Plant Based News:

Other documentaries show behind the scenes footage from animal farms and slaughterhouses, and if you want a glimpse into that, you should watch Dominion on YouTube.

Just be aware that Dominion shows graphic factory farming animal abuse, but to be honest this documentary is probably the most important documentary you can watch if you care about animals.

Another excellent vegan resource I’d recommend for newbies would be NutritionFact’s plant based diet articles and videos if you’re aiming to learn about the health benefits of veganism (and he’s funny).

Free, useful, and detailed vegan resources exist for you to find online, you just have to look.

So don’t feel intimidated; instead, start spending some of your free time learning from those who already started down the path of veganism.

Find support in vegan communities

Not everyone in your close circle will understand why you want to be a vegan.

Those who care about you will respect your decision, but non vegan friends and family won’t be of much help when you face the inevitable challenges of going vegan, which is why it’s important to surround yourself with vegans wherever you can.

Luckily, vegans are usually happy to support anyone new to veganism. If you don’t know any vegans already, you can find huge communities of them online.

Some of the biggest communities out there are on websites like Reddit, so make sure to check out subreddits like /r/Vegan – but really any big social media site will have communities like this if you look hard enough.

vegan subreddit

Depending on where you live, there may even be local vegan meetups or other social functions offline. These will most likely be easier to find if you lead an urban existence, especially in more sustainable cities, but you never know until you look.

What’s the best vegan diet for beginners?

Your vegan diet is never going to be perfect, but you do want it to be healthy.

Chances are, you’ll be constantly picking new favorite dishes, trying new ingredients, and generally just experimenting with food.

A lot of vegans end up eating a balanced diet without much effort just by eating a colorful variety of fruits, vegetables, staples like beans, lentils, and rice, nuts and seeds, and soy products like tofu.

In other words – eat plants that are all colors of the rainbow, often.

Getting all your essential nutrients is important, and you don’t want to fall into the trap of constantly eating processed vegan junk food or only eating plant based meat and dairy substitutes.

There’s just as much junk food out there for vegans, so you may want to do a few things first as a new vegan:

  • Talk to your doctor, and get their opinion on any preexisting conditions
  • Do some research on the supplements you may need as a vegan
  • Maybe even learn how to start a garden and grow your own food

Here’s a great video on the topic of vegan supplementation by Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts, which goes over exactly what vitamins and micronutrients to be on the lookout for:

The most important takeaway is that you need an appropriate amount of vitamin B12 , which you can get directly from supplements or through fortified foods like cereals.

The potential side effects of vitamin B12 deficiency include a higher risk of a range of neurological, immune, vascular, and inflammatory disorders – so it’s best to make sure you keep up with it.

Vegans tips for eating out

Being a vegan is pretty easy in the comfort of your own home, but eating out can be a beast of its own.

And when you do go out, you may live somewhere with a severe lack of vegan options, making the task of dining with non vegan friends more difficult than it needs to be.

But if you know how to quickly identify vegan menu items, and get some experience asking for modifications, you’ll have no issues eating vegan food out and about.

eating out as a vegan
Image by John Gillespie via Flickr

A lot of popular cuisines are already vegan friendly. Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican, Korean, Thai, and Ethiopian are some, just to name a few; and if menu items aren’t vegan, simple modifications can usually be made.

Restaurants usually have the ingredients and ability to prepare a vegan meal. You may just need to ask, as most people will be willing to accommodate you if you aren’t rude about it.

Animal ingredients can be hidden, however, even in seemingly vegan dishes. Fish sauce is often added to Asian dishes, vegetables may be fried in butter, and pans may not be washed after frying up a bit of flesh.

If you’re unsure, just ask – and another way to end up with a stress free dining experience is to simply read menus before you go out, or call ahead of time to ask about modifications.

How should you approach vegan skincare?

Animal testing and the use of animal-derived ingredients are both common practices in the cosmetics industry.

Most skincare, haircare, and makeup brands are guilty of this to some degree, some more than others. The frustrating part about skincare in particular is it’s sometimes hard to decipher the gibberish printed on ingredient labels.

You’ll also run into the issue of vegan skincare brands excluding animal products, but still using formulas filled to the brim with skincare ingredients you should avoid like endocrine disruptors and PFAS, or packaging everything in plastic bottles.

There is hope, however, because I’ve actually covered all the best options out there when it comes to sustainable skincare brands, and I’ve even written individual guides for most skincare products you use daily:

Here’s the full list of those guides:

What about vegan fashion?

The environmental impact of the fashion industry is truly insane, but there are a few simple things you should know about vegan fashion.

First, because a vegan lifestyle means avoiding animal products, clothing made with materials like leather, wool, and silk aren’t vegan.

What that doesn’t mean is go off and support brands who pump our cheap plastic clothing, as textile pollution is a growing issue that makes it harder and harder to avoid microplastics each year.

Also, don’t throw away things you already own that are made from animals. The harm has already been done, so either keep wearing them or donate them to someone in need – alot of people can’t afford nice clothing, or clothing in general, to begin with.

Most clothes will have tags on them that break down the materials used, or you can do a few searches online to find out. Vegan and ethical fashion has exploded in popularity, and there are tons of different brands to choose from.

Saying no to fast fashion is actually pretty easy nowadays, and if you prefer thrifting or secondhand and vintage clothing, you have even more options.

How can you deal with criticism as a vegan?

I wish I could tell you that your new interest in veganism will be celebrated and supported by everyone.

The more likely reality is that a small number of your friends and family will support you, and the reactions of others will range from apathy to anger and annoyance.

Vegans are often portrayed as super sensitive and easily triggered, but the ironic thing is you’ll probably “trigger” people who aren’t vegan by simply declining a slice of pizza.

Veganism doesn’t have to be all about criticizing others for their choices (and it really shouldn’t be). You’re simply making a personal choice to live more consciously.

At the core of all the criticism, hate, and jokes you’ll receive, there’s a simple explanation for why it can happen: cognitive dissonance.

cognitive dissonance: discomfort or stress caused by the clashing of two or more conflicting ideas

An example of this would be the devoted dog owner who claims to love and respect animals – but also eats a meat heavy diet fueled by animal abuse.

Where does the love end and the abuse begin?

Why do dogs deserve to be treated better than pigs?

pet owner cognitive dissonance

Here’s the thing: most people know animal agriculture is terrible for the animals, our planet, and themselves. But even if they know this, many refuse to make an effort to even try a plant based diet, let alone veganism as a whole.

As a species, we’re currently in a position where we see, hear, feel, and know climate change is real (and even suffer from climate grief) – but we still deal with people who actively support climate change denial.

So, it’s easy to see how you may face some criticism when 99% of people are non vegan.

Being prepared for the inevitable criticism you’ll face means you’ll handle it with grace and compassion, instead of firing back at others and making the situation worse.

I’m not saying everyone will be aggressively critical of your choices – it might just be family or friends cracking some extremely unfunny jokes based on a lack of understanding. The best thing you can do is not react in a way that’s going to encourage that kind of behavior, although that’s easier said than done.

Jokes are one thing, but some people may also come at you with loads of questions in an attempt to make you feel stupid or misinformed. This can be much harder to deal with, but still, the best thing you can do is not get defensive or angry.

This is why educating yourself about veganism is so important. Knowledge is your shield, and presenting facts when faced with those who peddle myths and falsehoods may even spark some interest or intrigue.

How can you respond to vegan myths?

There are a lot of myths surrounding veganism that people may bring up with you if they find out you’re vegan. Whether it’s due to boredom or annoyance, people will try to poke holes in your logic, and it can sometimes feel like they’re just reciting a script.

There are also plenty of people in the non vegan community who want to believe these myths, in order to support the things they claim or to justify their own choices.

Vegan foods are not expensive

A convenient way for some people to keep eating animal products is by claiming a vegan diet would be too expensive.

In reality, you’ll probably save money eating a plant based diet. The most widely eaten staples of a vegan diet – things like beans, rice, and soy products – are pretty cheap in most places.

Even fruits and veggies are cheap if you know how and where to shop, which could take a bit of experimentation and even budgeting, but most people could benefit from a bit of that anyways.

Where it can get expensive is if you’re buying tons of vegan junk food, meat and dairy alternatives, or eating out and ordering in a lot instead of preparing your own meals.

But things like junk food and to-go orders are expensive for everyone, not just vegans. And the cost of root vegetables and tofu aren’t the only prices steadily rising; in fact, the price of meat and dairy products is rising faster than plant based alternatives.

Vegans get plenty of protein

You might even hear this myth more than the first, as there’s a huge misconception that most of the protein people eat comes from meat or dairy products.

And sure, if you stuff yourself with cheeseburgers and whey protein shakes for the sake of gains, most of your protein will be from animals – but where the heck else would it be coming from?

Many plants are actually quite rich in protein, and there’s a huge variety of things to choose from as well; humans can easily get all the protein they need from plants, and then some.

Vegan athletes and bodybuilders exist, no matter what you’ve heard. With that being said, you’ll probably come across plenty of bro science in the vegan world as well, so be on the lookout.

Soy does not noticeably affect human hormones

This is usually sarcastically offered up as a reason why someone can’t go vegan, but some people truly believe it. We all know the type – and sadly, these people are just victims of anti-soy marketing campaigns pumped out by the meat industry.

Soy is a pretty unique legume, as it contains a high concentration of isoflavones, a type of plant estrogen that functions similarly to human estrogen.

And while this phytoestrogen exists in soy, various meta-analyses have found that neither soy nor isoflavone intake affects total or circulating testosterone in men.

There really isn’t any conclusive evidence that eating soy affects human hormones in a noticeable way. The health benefits of soy, however, are well known and numerous.

Final thoughts

Transforming your life and learning about veganism doesn’t have to be hard – and if you truly make an effort, it’s likely to be both an enjoyable and simple process.

But even if it is difficult sometimes, by following these tips for going vegan you’re on your way to helping our planet and the billions of animals we share it with.

So what’s stopping you from going vegan?

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