10 things I wish I knew before going vegan

How do vegans do it?

Even after I became a vegetarian, I asked myself this question again and again. I knew I wanted to give up animal products, but I didn’t know how that was even possible. I even tried a vegan diet for a month, but as a result, I realized that I was not ready.

The decision to officially declare “I am a vegan” appeared a long time ago. In the end, it took me two whole years to completely give up eggs, milk, butter, and cheese. But when the time came, there were no more questions.

Now, two and a half years later, when this – once extreme – lifestyle seems familiar, I can say that I would like to go back in time and give my “pre-vegan” myself (or someone in my place) some advice.

So as soon as the long-awaited time machines and rocket packs are invented, I’ll take a chance and fly to talk to that guy. Here’s how I’ll help him get ready:

1. The jokes won’t stop.

Get used to them and understand that they are not always disrespectful. My dad’s favorite saying when he’s trying vegan food is “I’d like some meatballs here!” Of course, this is a joke, and the fact that he says it often has become a joke in itself.

But every family gathering or meeting of friends becomes a joke from someone who thinks he came up with it first. “Do you want me to grill you a steak? Ah, right… ha ha ha!” My uncle once handed me a plate with one leaf of lettuce and said out loud: “Hey Matt, look! Dinner!” I actually laughed at this joke.

Get used to the jokes, laugh at them, or try to explain how important your choice is to you. You decide.

2. Giving up cheese is not as difficult as it seems.

I’m not saying it’s easy to give up cheese. Life without cheese takes some getting used to, especially if you’re used to cheese as an integral part of the few vegetarian dishes served in “normal” restaurants.

I thought that I would miss cheese as an appetizer for wine or beer. But I soon discovered that if I replaced the cheese with nuts or crackers, it turned out great, thanks to their saltiness, and after them I felt much better than after the cheese.

I thought I was going to miss the cheese on my pizza. I quickly discovered that pizza without cheese was nowhere near as tasty as real pizza, but it was better than nothing, after a while I got used to (and even began to love) Daiya artificial cheese. Now vegan pizza for me is just pizza, I have not lost anything.

As it turned out, to get rid of the last piece of cheese – which I held onto for several months – you just need to decide on it.

3. Being vegan doesn’t necessarily cost more, but it will.  

When you do the math, there’s no reason why being a vegetarian or vegan should be more expensive than eating meat.

At $3, $5, $8 a pound, meat is one of the most expensive items you can buy at the grocery store. If you replace it, for example, with dollar-for-pound beans, you’ll save a lot.

And yet, now in the store I spend one and a half to two times more than before. Why? Because when I went vegan, I was on the path to a super healthy diet. I go to farmers markets, co-op stores and Whole Foods more than when I was a non-vegan, I overpay for organic products. Being vegan has made me learn more about food, so much so that I’m afraid to be indiscriminate and skeptical about everything I buy.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Pay now or pay later.” The money we spend on eating healthy is an investment in future health that will pay off over time.

4. Most of your meals will consist of one meal.

Believe it or not, this was the hardest part for me – I lost interest in cooking when I gave up meat and dairy. (I realize I’m in the minority: most vegan chefs say they didn’t know they had a passion for cooking until they went vegan.)

Here’s why it happened:

First, vegan food takes much less time to prepare. Second, with no meat or cheese as a source of protein and no carbs as fat, there was no need to prepare a high-carb side dish to maintain balance.

So, instead of cooking two or three different meals for dinner, I switched to one meal: pasta, stir-fries, salads, smoothies, cereals, herbs, legumes, and all together.

It’s a matter of practicality and simplicity that, despite its lack of sophistication, fits perfectly with other changes in my life brought about by dietary changes.

5. Your choices will affect more people than you realize.  

I didn’t expect friends and family to change their habits as a result of my decision. I didn’t want to change anyone. But—quite apart from this blog—at least half a dozen of my friends have gleefully told me that they are now eating less meat. Some have become pescatarians, vegetarians, and even vegans.

People notice everything, even if your influence is not explicitly expressed.


6. Be prepared to feel responsible and push yourself to a higher standard than before.  

There is a stereotype that vegans are skinny and weak. And it is well deserved, because so many vegans are just that.

As plant-based sports movements develop, the situation is changing. But remember that even if you know about it because you are involved in all this, most people have no idea about it. For them, vegans are always skinny and weak, by definition.

Of course, it is up to you to decide whether you will support this stereotype or make yourself the perfect counterexample. I chose the second.

Being reminded that I’m a vegan (like any vegan, consciously or not) encourages me to stay in shape, win ultramarathon prizes, and do my best to put on some muscle, even though running and my build make it hard.

Of course, the need to lead by example extends beyond fitness — for example, I try to be as far away from the image of the stereotypical vegan “preacher” as possible. A lot of vegans find their purpose in preaching, which is great, but it’s not for me.

7. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, it still matters a lot.  

I have not met vegans more relaxed than me and my wife. We don’t urge people to go vegan, we support people when they say they eat healthier food even if their diet is paleo rather than vegan, and we don’t like to discuss what other people should do.

And even with this attitude and the desire to avoid anything that might be considered intrusive, we began to dine with family and friends half as much, if not less often.

Your veganism matters whether you like it or not. Some will think that you are judging them and will not dare to cook food for you, simply because they may decide that you will not like it. Others just don’t want to strain, and they can be understood. And while there’s no reason not to invite these people over as often as I used to, I understand that a vegan dinner can turn off people who aren’t very adventurous, and so I don’t invite guests as often as I used to (note to self: work on this).

8. You will be pleasantly surprised when you find out who supports you.  

The other side of eating less often with friends and family is that it will become very obvious who thinks your choice is great, who will make sure that any party they host has dishes for you, and who will want to taste your food and learn more about your diet.

This means a lot to me. This is a new, beautiful quality that you will find in people you already know and love well, and this attitude makes you feel accepted, respected and loved.

9. You may feel lonely sometimes, but you are not alone.  

I never had the desire to “cheat” for fun. More often than not, this desire stemmed from convenience or unwillingness to make a scene, a little indulgence in such situations is something that I recently decided to get rid of completely.

But over the past two years, several times I felt like I was alone on the path of such nutrition, and these moments were much more difficult than the desire for gastronomic pleasure or convenience.

I passed this test by reminding myself that I am not alone. Thanks to new technologies, you can access a huge supportive community that will make you feel great about your choice, whatever it is. You just have to find the right people, and sometimes you don’t even have to. (You know the vegan dinner party joke, right?)

In the long run, it is connecting with like-minded people, in person or online, that makes moments of doubt increasingly rare.

10. You don’t have to get weirder by going vegan, but it will happen.  

And now the fun part. Veganism changed me so much, inspired me to explore my own uniqueness and pushed me to the frontiers and then beyond the frontiers of the mainstream, from skipping the microwave to adding broccoli to smoothies and owning very few things.

There is no reason to go vegan before you get weird. And there’s no reason why choosing to go vegan equals choosing to go weird (other than diet, of course). But that’s how it worked for me.

And I love it.

Yes? Not?

I learned – mainly by blogging about my journey – that in many ways I am not a typical vegan. Therefore, I am ready for the fact that there will be a lot of discussion and debate about this article, and I am ready to listen to them. Tell us what you think!


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