This month is World Vegan Month, so what better time to try going vegan?
According to the Vegan Society: “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 or any other purpose”.
We caught up with Emma Bathgate, webmaster of veganedinburgh.com and vegan of seven years, to hear her top tips that could make going vegan a little easier.
Going vegan can be a big change. But there are some great resources out there to help you get started. I began my vegan journey by taking a “30-day pledge”. If you commit to trying vegan for a limited time, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you can stop at the end of the month if it’s not for you.
Here are a couple to get you started:
- Vegan Society 30-Day Vegan Pledge: sign up with your email for daily inspiration, advice and recipes.
- Veganuary 31-Day Pledge: Not just for January! And when you sign up, you will get lots of free downloadable goodies, including meal plans and a PDF celebrity cookbook.
How to read food labels
I still remember my first visit to the supermarket as a vegan. Naively, I assumed that all vegan products would be clearly labelled. I took so many items off the shelves, then grudgingly put them back. It was frustrating, but now I look back and laugh. You don’t need to make the same mistakes I did! You can discover many “accidentally” vegan products with a bit of savvy label-reading.
Sadly, food labelling can be inconsistent. But I find that the Co-Op, Sainburys and Aldi are great for clear vegan food labels. And keep your eyes peeled for the Vegan Society Trademark or Vegetarian Society Vegan Approved – if you see these logos, you are good to go!
With other supermarkets and products, you may need to take a moment to read the package. But don’t worry, this will all become second nature and you will quickly learn what is vegan and what isn’t.
I go through the following steps when checking new labels:
Step 1: Is it labelled as “suitable for vegetarians”? If so, you’ll know there’s definitely no meat in the product, and you can move on to the next step.
Step 2: Are there any eggs or dairy? Eggs and milk are allergens and are always highlighted in bold, making them easy to spot when skimming an ingredients list.
Step 3: Check for any “sneaky” non-vegan ingredients. If the product passes the first two tests, read the ingredients list closely one final time to check for other non-vegan ingredients that may be lurking. Be on the lookout for additives (here is a list of non-vegan E-numbers), vague ingredients like “flavourings”, and honey (and no, honey isn’t vegan).
If it passes all the above tests, there’s a good chance that product is vegan-friendly. If you’re still not sure, check resources like Vegan Womble.
What about alcohol? Unfortunately, drink labelling can be even worse than food labelling, and it can be tough to determine what’s vegan (especially beer and wine). Thankfully, Barnivore is a great resource to help you identify cruelty-free tipples.
Remember that veganism is more than just food
Food is probably our most significant source of animal consumption. But don’t be fooled. Animal products are everywhere: cosmetics, toiletries, clothes, furniture – the list goes on.
To truly embrace the vegan lifestyle, you should avoid animal products in all areas of your life. That means no more feather pillows, leather shoes, wool jumpers, or makeup tested on animals.
For toiletries and cosmetics, Superdrug has a superb vegan range. For clothes, check the materials label and avoid anything that contains leather, wool or silk.
Meet other vegans
Being vegan can be lonely if you don’t know any other vegans. Thankfully, there are lots of places you can meet like-minded people, including Meetup and Facebook groups. The University of Stirling even has its own Vegan Society. Meeting up with other vegans is a great way to make new friends and get advice for dealing with the challenges of being a new vegan.
Look after your health
Some people think that a vegan diet is the healthiest out there, while others believe that it is lacking in critical nutrients. But the truth is you can be equally healthy or unhealthy on a vegan diet. Sure, fruits and veggies are vegan – but then so are crisps, chips and many sugary sweets.
No matter what diet you follow, getting all the key nutrients you need is vital. As an “insurance policy”, I take a daily vegan vitamin supplement to ensure I get everything I need, including vitamin B12, which can be notoriously tricky to find in regular vegan foods.
And what about medicine? Medication may also contain animal products, and UK law requires all medicines to be tested on non-human animals. But if you need medicine, you should continue to take it.
Remember: the definition of veganism is “as is possible and practicable” – you should not be making yourself ill in the name of being vegan.
Be kind – to others and yourself!
Finally for my vegan tips – and most importantly – be kind.
Be kind to others. They may not fully understand why you decided to go vegan and want to ask questions about your new lifestyle. Yes, you will need to answer the same questions over and again (if I had a pound for every time someone asked where I get my protein…!), but treat these questions with good humour. Most of the time, they are being asked by well-meaning people who are genuinely curious. Viva has an excellent guide with answers to the most common questions.
And, crucially, be kind to yourself. No one is a “perfect” vegan right off the bat. You will make mistakes. You will slip up. That’s okay. All you can do is try your best and take one day at a time.
Hopefully, you find these tips helpful. Going vegan has never been easier, so this will likely be the start of a beautiful and exciting journey. Good luck!