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Thinking of Going Vegan? Try One of These Seven Methods

01/30/2014 12:20 EST | Updated 04/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Most of the people to whom I speak about veganism understand the issues (ethics, environment, and health) rather quickly and end up showing interest in changing their dietary patterns. However, such a radical change can be scary, and many people feel like they wouldn't be able to make the transition. Should we make it happen overnight? Not necessarily.

There are probably as many ways to become a vegan than there are vegans. Embracing veganism is a personal approach -- you need to respect yourself if you want to successfully make the transition into veganism and remain a long-time vegan. After all, it is a big change to get used to, and that's why it's better to have a personalized approach. For those of you who need a few ideas to ensure a smooth transition, here are seven different methods that you could learn from:

  1. The Three-Meal Method
  2. The Three-List Method
  3. The Outside/Inside Method
  4. The One-Day-at-a-Time Method
  5. The Challenge Method
  6. The One-Food-at-a-Time Method
  7. The Conditioning Method

1. The Three-Meal Method

Since there are three meals a day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), you need to pick one meal and take things one meal at a time. For example, start by going vegan for breakfast every day. Once you're well used to this change, do the same thing for a second meal and, after a while, for the third meal. That's all there is to it!

2. The Three-List Method

To make sure their home-made meals are not too repetitive, most families unconsciously alternate between 10 to 12 recipes. To put it another way, you just have to know a dozen vegan recipes to eat vegan on a daily basis. How can we do this? You'll see, it's quite easy.

Make a list of at least 10 meals that you already prepare and eat often. First of all, you need to check if some of these meals are vegan. Who knows, maybe a quarter of the list already fits the purpose! If it's not the case, don't worry about it.

Step two is to transform the recipes that contain meat and other animal products into vegan versions -- in other words, to replace all animal products. It's easier than you think, especially with the whole range of fake meat products on the market! For example: instead of spaghetti with ground beef, try making your sauce with red lentils or simply without ground meat; make your ham and pea soup... without ham; make breaded tofu instead of chicken; etc.

You can buy some veggie bacon strips, but many tempeh recipes are just as comforting. You can make black bean tacos instead of beef tacos, and cow milk can easily be substituted with any vegetable milk (even in your recipes). Daiya's "faux cheese" is a tasty alternative you can use in your favourite meals. Get the idea?

When it comes to commercial fake meat, it's important to be aware that just like there are quality grades to meat, fake meat products have various quality characteristics. Also, not all pieces of meat please everyone, just like fake meat doesn't appeal to every single person. We must avoid judging a range of products or a specific product based on a sample. Some brands make imitation meat products that really taste like the real thing, whereas other are just as good even if they don't really have that meat-like texture. Also, there's no denying it: some brands are simply inedible! Either way, fake meat products are not an obligatory step on the path to veganism.

The third step requires you to discover and test new vegan recipes so that your new list includes 10 to 12 meals. There are so many possibilities and such a wide variety -- it's even possible that you'll end up mastering even more meals than before you started this transition. Who ever said that vegan menus were limited? It's a myth. To discover new menu ideas, get your hands on a good vegan cookbook or surf the web, try new foods or visit your local natural food store. Also, testing a new dressing or sauce can make a dramatic change to your meal.

Of course, when you make this new recipe list, focus on those recipes that you like best and that are easy to make (as well as nutritious). However, don't hesitate to try something new once in a while. For example, make it your goal to test a new recipe each week. If it's not quite a success, just cast it aside. On the other hand, add it to your permanent list if you enjoyed it!

3. The Outside/Inside Method

Are you afraid of veganism, or do you lack confidence in your cooking skills? This method, which is based on a three-step process, is the right one for you. First, you must get familiar with vegan cooking outside of your home, when you're not cooking yourself. Go out and try the nearest vegan restaurants, or try vegan options offered by restaurants you know. Don't be afraid to try international cuisine restaurants, as many countries have a vegan tradition (for example, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican and Lebanese cuisine). Meanwhile, continue cooking as usual when you're at home. This step will give you a chance to appreciate vegan meals which are usually well made and less expensive than meals that contain meat. In other words, you'll effortlessly become more familiar with veganism!

For the second step of the process, you need to do the exact opposite: stop buying and preparing meat products, and take on the challenge of becoming a vegan at home while eating whatever you want when you go out (at restaurants or at your friends'). This way, you can find some inspiration in the meals you discovered when eating out. Don't be too hard on yourself! If you're patient, there is no reason why you shouldn't become a good cook. Also, the better you'll become, the more you'll enjoy cooking. Treating yourself to a vegan cooking class could also be a good idea.

For the third step, you have to completely stop consuming animal products, outside and inside your home. At first, you'll probably miss the pleasure some of them give you, but keep in mind that most vegans admit that after a few weeks (three weeks, in most cases), they don't feel those urges anymore.

4. The One-Day-at-a-Time Method

This method is a logical follow-up to the Meatless Monday trend: you just need to takes things one day at a time. You can go vegan on a specific day (for instance, every Monday, then every Monday and Wednesday) or on a specific number of days (two days a week, then three, and so on). After a while, you could decide to eat animal products only during the weekend (or the opposite) until you feel comfortable enough to embrace veganism seven days a week.

5. The Challenge Method

This method refers to a full-time, but temporary, transition -- in other words, being vegan for a predetermined period. It is a very popular approach. For example, Oprah and her 378 employees did it for a week in 2011. Programs such as PCRM's 21-Day Vegan Kickstart can even help with the process.

This method might seem restrictive and drastic, but you should choose to perceive it as your first dive. However, the first impression isn't always good, especially when people don't have enough recipes. To avoid this, it might be a good idea to seek guidance and to be organized. On the other hand, taking the plunge is, for others, the kick they needed to change their lifestyle once and for all.

6. The One-Food-at-a-Time Method

One does not become a vegan by replacing meat with cheese or chicken with fish. However, it is true that some foods are harder to replace than others. If it's easier for you to give up on chicken that on beef, you could start by keeping beef in your diet a little longer. Meanwhile, slowly learn more about new recipes and ingredients -- eventually, you'll be ready to also ditch beef for good. When it comes to others ingredients you feel you could never live without (like that comforting latte!), just try various vegan substitutes until you find the right one.

Similarly, many people say that they'll cut out meat, but could never give up on cheese, so why not eliminate all animal products except cheese? It would already be a really good start. It is essential to do as much as possible; after a while, you'll probably see that your perspectives have shifted, and maybe you'll even feel confident enough to become a full-fledged vegan.

7. The Conditioning Method

This is the most drastic and demanding method and it is primarily meant for people who become vegans for ethical reasons. I must warn you: it isn't for the faint of heart.

If you feel a sudden irresistible urge to eat ice cream, all you have to do is associate this urge to something disagreeable. The most logical and honest thing to do is to read about the breeding conditions of the applicable animal (in this case, cows and calves). A more direct approach would be to simply watch videos on industrial livestock farming, such as Earthlings (1 hour and 35 min) or From Farm to Fridge (12 min) (Warning: Some images are difficult to watch.) This way, you'll soon see that your urge to eat these foods will be replaced by thoughts of this unfair and unbearable treatment of animals. Bacon will not look or smell the same to you anymore.

This method could seem exaggerated or dishonest to some, but it is normal that some of our cravings don't automatically align themselves with our moral convictions. Why would it be wrong to use this little trick to better stay true to our ideals? However, I would suggest that you don't overuse this method, or you might feel its impact on your mood (you could start feeling depressed, or even experience post-traumatic stress). There is nothing interesting in becoming a depressed and frustrated vegan -- this is why I prefer the other methods, which focus on discovering new things and on the positives aspects of veganism.

While we're at it: instead of looking at pictures to tame our instincts, why not browse through pictures of happy animals or delicious vegan meals?

Other pieces of advice

If you're in luck, get one of your relations to try and make the transition with you: it's always more agreeable, easy and motivating to try something new with someone else. If you already know a vegan, ask for his or her help (I'm sure he or she will gladly oblige!). For example, go to the grocery store with that person -- you'll certainly leave with tonnes of ideas! You could also join a local vegetarian or vegan association (or create one, if there is none). Knowing other vegans is undoubtedly one of key drivers for perseverance.

Also, to be even more confident while you go through with your transition, you should take time to read on vegan nutrition; once you're well informed, you won't have anything to worry about. You could also view videos on the subject, such as Dr. Greger's Nutrition Facts website. To give you a hand, I have gathered, on my personal page, various practical references concerning veganism (i.e. nutrition, recipe websites and socialization).

You should now have all the necessary tools to make room for this change. I'm sure there are other ways to proceed, but what's most important is to adapt yourself, depending on your own capacities, criteria, rhythm -- while always making sure the experience is agreeable and stimulating. Becoming a vegan doesn't have to be associated with sacrifice: you can choose to see it as a discovery, a progress, a commitment to values such as compassion and sustainable life. It is not a limitation, but rather an adjustment. Veganism is not necessarily about restrictions (e.g. to not eat meat, dairy products and eggs): it is mostly a new beginning, where there are endless possibilities.

It is important to regularly reflect on why you want to be a vegan, or on why you chose to become one. To align our actions with our values is, after all, one of the greatest achievements there is.

You're now free to give it a try!

Translated by Ariane Bilodeau.

Check on my website for further info on how to be vegan.

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