It’s World Vegan Month. Founded by the Vegan Society in 1994, the month celebrates the founding of the organisation itself, and the creation of the term “vegan”, coined by Donald Watson in 1944. Over the last few years, the term has shown up in mainstream media and all over the internet more frequently than ever before. More people than ever now know what “vegan” means. With the plant-based lifestyle growing all over the world (rising markets include the US, Germany, the UK, and Australia), World Vegan Month is now an occasion for vegan-curious people to learn more about one of the fastest-growing lifestyle movements in the world.
Although there are several reasons to go vegan, the lifestyle is, at its core, an ethical choice. “Veganism is a philosophy and 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment” is the definition given to the term by Watson himself.
And here, it’s already made clear that food is only one aspect of vegan living. Using animals for clothing, experimentation, and entertainment such as zoos and circuses, are also seen as non-vegan. In short, veganism seeks to challenge the commodity status of animals and promote a world where they are seen as individuals with their own right to life.
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If, like many others, you’re curious about trying this lifestyle but aren’t sure where to start, here are 10 practical tips to make your journey easier.
1. Get informed.
Any endeavour becomes easier when we’re armed with information – and that’s even more true when we’re talking about a lifestyle overhaul like going vegan. Learn basic nutritional info, so you know you’re getting your nutrients. Watch documentaries such as Cowspiracy or Game Changers. Check out the Vegan Society or Vegan Australia, or order PETA’s free Vegan Starter Kit, packed with tips, recipes and advice.
2. Connect with other vegans.
This will make your first few weeks and months as a vegan so much easier. Having someone to turn to for questions – even if it’s a Facebook group rather than actual friends – will make all the difference. We live in a time when connecting with like-minded people can be as easy as a click of a button, so sign up for vegan groups in your area, or get a vegan mentor at Challenge 22.
3. Understand what vegan means.
Contrary to popular belief, eating vegan food doesn’t mean trekking to the health-food shop for tempeh, seitan and other specialty ingredients – although those sure are delicious. Chances are, what’s in your fridge is already largely vegan, all you need are a few small tweaks. Example: pasta with tomato sauce is a vegan dish all in itself, no tofu or fake meats needed. Same goes for your wardrobe, a jeans-and-t-shirt outfit is pretty much guaranteed to be vegan, and most dresses are vegan too. You’ll be surprised at how vegan you are already.
4. Let it take time.
Any lifestyle change is likely to be a gradual process. If you can go cold turkey, great – but otherwise, let it be a transition. Learn, read, get inspired, and slowly replace animal ingredients in your life with vegan ones, mindfully and thoughtfully. There is no need to rush.
5. Replace responsibly.
When getting rid of non-vegan clothing, please be mindful of waste. The equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is burned or dumped in landfill every second (yep, you read that right. Let it sink in) so throwing out your wool and leather isn’t the way to a conscious wardrobe. Donate those garments to charity. Sell them – and if you don’t feel comfortable keeping the money, donate it to an animal shelter. If you’re stuck with fur, PETA has a fur donation programme. Or – hear me out – you could just keep wearing those garments until they fall apart, and then get new, vegan ones. This is one of the most sustainable options.
6. Get creative.
The fun part of going vegan is all the new ingredients, recipes and flavours you will discover. For some kitchen inspiration, check out Katy Beskow‘s easy vegan recipes – her cookbooks such as Five Ingredient Vegan and 15 Minute Vegan are a must-have tool for new vegans. “I’m a firm believer that a few simple, good quality ingredients can make the most satisfying of home-cooked vegan meals,” says Katy.
“Particularly with fresh ingredients, such as vegetables, fruit and bread, buy the best that you can afford, and buy ingredients in season for maximum flavour. Strip it back, keep it simple and think about versatile ways to use your fresh and store cupboard ingredients to create something memorable every day of the week. Take yourself on a journey with new ingredients, experience the aromas and sounds, and enjoy learning how a dish is brought together. Failing that, put on some music, pour yourself a glass of vegan wine and get cooking!”.
7. Don’t beat yourself up when you slip up.
It’s going to happen. You’ll mistakenly eat some dish with egg in it, or order a pair of gloves online without realising that they are leather. You might buy a magazine that offers a mascara as a gift – and then realise that the mascara isn’t vegan. Don’t worry. Return the offending item when you can, and in the case that you’ve already eaten something non-vegan, don’t be too hard on yourself. There is virtually no vegan who hasn’t been through this. It’s fine. And yes, you’re still vegan.
8. Find new places to shop and new brands to love.
You may be used to getting your beauty products in a shop that doesn’t carry your new vegan favourites – this is a great time to try something new and uncover new hidden gems. Same for clothes: as you say goodbye to brands that mainly sell animal skins, you’ll discover new labels to love, that carry cruelty-free offerings to suit your tastes.
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9. Let go of personal purity.
Veganism isn’t about being as pure and perfect as we possibly can. When we focus on personal purity rather than societal change, we become too narrow-minded and lose sight of our true goal. So don’t worry if your vegan dish was cooked on the same grill as the meat or there might be “cross-contamination”. It makes literally zero difference to the animals.
10. Remember your “why”.
This is what will keep you on track when you’re faced with salad and fries as your only vegan option at a restaurant, or when colleagues question your choices. Keep in mind what brought you to veganism in the first place, and know that you are making a difference. By being a happy, healthy, inspiring vegan, you might light a spark in others that might prompt them to make the same compassionate choice.
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Cover image Natalie Nguyen for Fable Food Co.