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My blog isn’t about veganism, per se, but since a lot of people in my social circles know me as a long-time vegan, I’m often asked for suggestions on how to make the transition smoothly. As I approach 16 years as a vegan, I may be a bit removed from the process, but I’ve gathered a few thoughts on what I’ve learned and what might make it easier.

Do whatever the vegan version of “catch more flies with honey” is. Dining out as a vegan isn’t nearly as difficult as people sometimes think. 19 years ago, when I first cut meat from my diet, if I’d asked a waiter what on a menu could be made vegetarian, odds were he or she would look at me blankly and suggest the house salad. It’s not like that anymore in most places. Most of the time, when I ask restaurant employees about vegetarian options, they ask me about my restrictions: do I eat fish? eggs? dairy? In that way, it’s even easier to be vegan now than ever. There are no guarantees, though, and you generally get the best results if you ask politely and know what the likely culprits of non-vegan ingredients are so you can help the employee help you. In a Mexican restaurant, for example, there may be chicken stock in the rice or lard in the beans. In a Thai restaurant, there may be fish sauce in many dishes, including Pad Thai. In an Indian restaurant, there may be ghee (clarified butter) in many of the dishes. A little preparation can get you a more accurate and cooperative answer from the restaurant.

Don’t kid yourself. Being vegetarian doesn’t automatically imply having a healthy diet (although neither does being an omnivore, obviously). I’ve known vegetarians who seemed to require cheese at every meal, and vegans who seem to subsist on French fries and dessert. The animals you’re not eating are better off, sure, but you may not be. So make it a priority to learn a few things about vegetarian nutrition. The last thing you want is for your nails to get brittle and your hair to thin out and to have to abandon your new diet because you weren’t getting the nutrients you require. It’s possible, believe me. I’ve thrived on a vegan diet (and even more so on a high raw diet, but that’s a story for another post).

Diversify. Done right, the emphasis on having a vegetarian diet can be on introducing far more plant-based whole foods into your diet, and not so much about taking away the meat. Because omnivores typically have a broader variety of restaurant menu options and all the familiar comfort foods they grew up eating, they don’t always experiment with new foods. You, on the other hand, are charting new waters anyway, so gather up your gumption and make a game of buying a new unfamiliar vegetable or grain every week or two, and researching recipes for how to prepare it. When your home cooking repertoire includes jerusalem artichokes, amaranth, jicama, parsnips, and chard, prepared with Liquid Aminos, nutritional yeast, miso, coconut milk, and gomasio, you’ll feel like a bona fide kitchen badass, and with good reason.

Please don’t preach. The best way to encourage more people to go vegan is to be such a glowing example of health and pleasure that people want to know how you did it. No one wants to endure the zeal of the newly converted. Lecturing people won’t convince anyone; it will only reduce the number of parties you’re invited to. And vegans love parties too.

Study up. You can send away for a free Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit, which provides you with plenty of information on how to do it with the best chances for health and success.

Have fun! Most of all, remember what your reasons were for going veg, whether health-related, ethical, environmental, or a combination, and feel good about your progress. Enjoy your more compassionate and heart-healthier lifestyle. If you do it so that it fits you, it should be so much more a liberating mindset than a limitation. Good luck.

Going vegan or vegetarian for the new year?

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