Of all the people I know who’ve gone vegan, I’ve noticed that there is always a powerful, soul arising urge to embrace a more conscious lifestyle; we feel compassion, we see the total rightness in it, we lunge forward enthusiastically with a passion that feels as if it might even set the world on fire…only to find that the world we live in isn’t quite so understanding of our heartfelt choices. It can be challenging in the face of opposition. It can become disheartening when you realise how today’s world is not exactly configured for being vegan. Yet, it needn’t be so difficult if we see things from a more advantageous perspective and prepare ourselves ahead of time.
When I embraced a vegan lifestyle about 20 years ago I felt incredibly alone. Yet that loneliness soon unravelled itself when I discovered new and exciting ways to honour my new found ethics in a non-vegan world. One of the first things I did was subscribe to a vegan magazine, reading each issue from cover to cover. Knowing that there were others out there paving the way made a huge difference. I found a couple of penpals (these days, I guess you’d just join a forum or subscribe to a blog). I located my nearest local vegan contact who lived about an hour away and we arranged our first meeting. We didn’t have internet or email back then (or at least most of us didn’t), so I had lots of time to contemplate and try to figure things out myself…getting any sort of information usually involved a long eager wait for the postman to arrive after finding addresses on adverts or articles in any publications I could get hold of.
I remember in 1997 when traveling to the USA, I wrote to the Ahimsa Magazine (which I believe may now be the American Vegan Society). It involved sending an international reply coupon through the mail (which took a lot longer back then) and waiting weeks to receive a list of vegan friendly cafes and restaurants on the West Coast. That one piece of paper with addresses and phone numbers was a life saver for me when I arrived in the US. It allowed me to venture my way from Seattle to San Diego, one veggie cafe at a time. Thankfully, it’s infinitely easier to find information now. In recent years the world-wide-web has gained increasing popularity. The day HappyCow.net flung open it’s etheric doors changed my travel plans for ever! I’ve enjoyed the most delicious vegan food all over the world as a result, with a couple of simple clicks on my keyboard and an adventuresome spirit. I often travel with the retreat work that I do and one of the very first things I do when we are set to visit a new country is excitedly say to my husband, “Let’s check HappyCow and see where we can eat!” In all my years as a vegan, I can hold my hand on my heart and say that HappyCow really has changed the face of vegan travel.
Being vegan is much more popular these days. It really excites me when I hear that more and more people are making the transition to a much more conscious way of living. I still often hear stories of how difficult it can be to stay vegan though, especially when visiting friends, family or traveling. So here are some friendly tips to help stay on the vegan path…
1. Find out where you can eat out ahead of time. It can be so disheartening wandering around trying to find a vegan friendly restaurant in a strange town. I’ve been there many times! So, find out where you can eat. Discover new local places you’ve never heard of. Unveil far away hidden gems. The most amazing find for me was ‘Napfenyes Etterem’ in Budapest. My Hungarian friend was sure they didn’t have any vegan eateries there – yet right under her nose was one of the most amazing vegan restaurants I’ve ever visited. Without Happy Cow, I would have never found it!
2. Learn to cook new dishes. There is a plethora of awesome recipes and vegan friendly recipe websites on the internet. Set some time aside to create tasty food and enjoy your own culinary delights. It doesn’t have to be complex; often the simplest dishes are the most tasty. For simplicity, see my mint pea soup. It’s ready in 15 minutes, has only five ingredients and even my pea-phobic friend loves it (yes, people apparently really do have pea phobia)! There are loads of brilliant vegan cookbooks out there these days too. Find one that inspires you. Surprise your family with tasty new foods or have a party and invite a bunch a friends around to share.
3. Be prepared if you go out for the day. It might be tempting to diverge from the vegan path, especially when you go out for the day and have lots of stuff that you used to eat wafted under your nose. So bring some tasty filling vegan snacks in case you can’t find anything while you are out. I’ve always found it invaluable to think ahead.
4. Stay informed about vegan nutrition. One of the most common concerns about staying vegan is whether or not you’ll get enough protein, iron, vitamin D and other nutrients. There’s a plethora of information and insight out out there and some reliable books devoted to vegan nutrition. Make sure that you know where important nutrients like B12, vitamin D and iron come from. Stay up to date with new research too – new discoveries keep surfacing – many of which are most supportive.
5. Remind yourself why you went vegan in the first place. For many people it’s because they really care about sentient life. Watch ‘Earthlings’ or ‘If Slaughterhouses had Glass Walls’ or see what new videos are current. It’s very difficult to have anything to do with consuming animal products after reminding yourself of the hard facts.
6. Find like-minded people. It can be a lonely journey on your own. Find a local vegan contact or groups; join a vegan forum; go to vegan fairs, gatherings, camps, festivals, etc. Getting to know other people socially can make a world of difference. I’ve always found people super friendly and happy to connect, share experiences, meet up, etc. Although I find most vegan people lovely, like all walks of life you get all sorts, so be discerning. Don’t be put off if you meet a bunch that you don’t resonate with. Stick with it and you’ll gravitate to like-minded souls before you know it.
7. Help out when invited to dine at a friend’s house. People usually love getting help! It doesn’t need to be a big deal. If you are blessed enough to be invited over for dinner, then offer to bring a delicious dish that everyone will love. You’ll find people become really interested in what is actually in it and how you made it taste so good. One of my favourite dishes for people who eat conventionally is ‘conscious cottage pie’. I’ve posted my original recipe here for anyone interested. It’s filling, delicious, and there has never been a morsel left during all the years I have baked it. The most common comment is, “Wow – I didn’t realise that eating vegan could taste so good!” Better still – don’t tell people it’s vegan until later…then they’ll really be amazed. People often don’t realise how scrumptious vegan food can be. With a tasty dish or two you can soon dispel the ‘I thought vegans only ate rabbit food’ myth.
8. Call the restaurant ahead of time. If you are eating out with friends later, it might seem like a bit of a faff to call the restaurant ahead of time, but it saves that awkward moment of not having a clue what you can eat when you get there (and then sticking out like a sore thumb when you ask a thousand questions about every option on the menu). Most places can usually offer something and you’ll have the opportunity to get any questions out of the way, so that you kick back and relax when you are there.
9. Make being vegan ‘normal’. Paradoxically, when I stopped being bothered about what people would think about my ‘weird’ eating choices, everyone started accepting it as normal. People really don’t like it if you get in their face and threaten the foundation upon which their life is built (i.e happily consuming meat and animal stuff), it just throws up walls. First of all, be happy that at least you are doing your bit! Feel compassion for others no matter what they eat. If you can just be content in yourself, people are much more open to ask about what you are eating and at times, even start questioning their own choices. I used to think that if people became informed, then they’d go vegan in a flash. It doesn’t work like that with most people…but don’t be disheartened, just do your own thing. If people resonate with your vibe, then you’ll be the first person they turn to if they need advice on more conscious food choices. Now I see lots of people going vegan around me, because they keep asking what my secret is and genuinely want to learn more. It rubs off – just by ‘being’.
10. Find new vegan meals, products and dishes ready-made in your local health food store or supermarket. This can be a bit of a fun adventure. What exciting new thing can you discover today? Make sure you’ve always got something tasty in at home to pull out at a moment’s notice. If you haven’t weaned yourself of junk food yet, then keep some semi-healthy vegan junk food alternatives in. At least it will stop you reaching out for something that you’d regret later and you can tell yourself that ‘at least it’s vegan’.
11. Forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness is not to be underestimated! Eating vegan is all about being compassionate. So don’t forget to be compassionate towards yourself too. If you slip from the path, then remember that there’s always the next moment to get back on track again. Learn to forgive your slip-ups and use them to motivate yourself to be more committed in future. Celebrate the journey – don’t make it a prison sentence. Being mostly vegan is much better than not being interested in conscious eating at all.
12. Learn more about which ingredients are vegan and which are not. The Vegan Society have a list of the most common non-ingredients that you might find in packaged foods. Learn to love reading ingredients. It really does get easier with time. See reading ingredients on the back of packets as a mission, knowing that you’ll never know what you might find. It’s really exciting when you find something new that meets your compassionate ethics. Alternatively, if you are super-keen, do what I did and start making everything from scratch with whole, fresh ingredients and you’ll never need to read a label again.
Author bio: I have always loved sharing food and showing others how tasty vegan, conscious food can be. After catering for retreats for years, I recently (and rather excitedly) published my first book ‘Trinity’s Conscious Kitchen’. It’s brimming with vegan, wheat-free and free from refined sugar recipes for evolution. Find out more information here: www.trinityskitchen.com