When I tell non-vegetarians or vegans that I don’t eat meat or fish, they usually respond in one of two ways: they either look surprised (sometimes pleasantly, sometimes less so) or they say that they’re impressed, because, while they like the idea of vegetarianism, they don’t think they could ever do it. The reality is though, it’s not hard to make the transition if you’re committed to it.
It probably seems as though I’m preaching to the choir here – and to an extent, I am. But given that October is Vegetarian Awareness Month it seems like a good time to share some tips for those who have perhaps ‘flirted’ with vegetarianism or those who like the concept but aren’t sure if they’re ready to actually become vegetarian.
These tips are based on my own experiences with giving up meat. I became vegetarian in 2010 after thinking about it for several years, and was happily surprised that it was easier than I thought it would be. (I made the transition to veganism in early 2014 and will cover that in a separate post.)
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. If you’re already veg and you have other suggestions, ideas or personal stories to share, please post them in the comments below.
Tip 1: Know why you’re doing it.
There are many good reasons to go veg, whether it’s for moral reasons or because you want to improve your health or lessen your carbon footprint. Taking the time to think seriously about why you want to be vegetarian is important, since there may be times when you feel like giving up and it will help to remind yourself of why you made the decision to go veg in the first place.
Tip 2: Decide on an approach.
Some people stop eating all meat and fish immediately, while others opt for a more gradual approach. I personally was worried that I might relapse if I gave it up overnight, so I decided to eliminate one animal from my diet at a time. I eventually became vegetarian after several months of cutting out animal products and experimenting with vegetarian recipes. I suggest that you do whatever feels right for you.
Tip 3: Look for alternatives to staples in your diet.
If you consume a lot of meat/fish or have favourite dishes that include animal products, it’s not a bad idea to find substitutions so that you can still enjoy foods you know you like. For example, there are some very convincing ‘faux meats’ that are popular among many vegetarians and vegans (like products by Yves or Field Roast) and meat alternatives like soy, tempeh and seitan. If you’re used to having spaghetti and meatballs, try adding lentils or roasted vegetables to your pasta instead. Used to having turkey on a sandwich? Hummus is a great alternative. It may feel like a bit of hassle at first but I promise, there are so many delicious vegetarian options out there that you won’t feel like you’re missing out.
Tip 4: Do your homework.
A lot of processed/pre-packaged foods contain ingredients that are not vegetarian, or that may come from non-vegetarian sources. You’ll have to carefully check labels for things like gelatin (found in marshmallows and gummy candies, for example), shellac (common in candies with a shiny coating), anchovies (in Worcestershire sauce and Caesar salad dressing), rennet (in some cheese/dairy products), carmine (used as a colouring agent), stearates (like calcium or magnesium stearate) or any derivatives of glycerine (like mono and di-glycerides, which are found in most commercial bread products). Some of these ingredients can be derived from plant sources, but more often than not they are not suitable for vegetarians. It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of asking questions in restaurants. Although almost every menu has at least one vegetarian option, seemingly innocent items like soup are often made with animal broths.
Tip 5: Talk to your friends and family about your decision.
This is especially important if most of the people you’re close to are omnivores. I recommend telling the people in your life about your new dietary preferences and your reasons for becoming vegetarian, since they will likely want to know the reason for the change and may wonder what you expect from them. Ask them to support you in your new lifestyle and suggest ways to make the transition easier for everyone. For example, you may need to be a little more involved in planning the menu for your next family gathering, or you could offer to prepare something the next time you go over to a friend’s house. Ultimately it will be up to you to work out the logistics (it will be more of an issue for some people than others) but it’s usually a discussion worth having.
Tip 6: Pay attention to your body.
Most people seem to feel great after ditching meat and fish from their diet. Before long, you should start to see and feel positive changes in your body such as increased energy, easier digestion, deeper sleep and of course, a clearer conscience if you’ve gone veg for non-health reasons. However, it’s important to make sure you’re eating balanced meals and getting the right nutrients (this goes for everyone, regardless of how they eat). If you start to notice any negative changes that don’t clear up on their own, like low energy levels or significant weight loss, it may be worth seeing a doctor or nutritionist. Eating a variety of fresh, whole foods should leave you feeling strong and healthy, but you may need or choose to supplement your diet with extra doses of vitamins and minerals like iron, B12 and calcium.
If you’re thinking about making the switch to vegetarianism but don’t feel ready to give up meat/fish completely, just do what you can at first. Some people do meatless Mondays, or follow a weekday vegetarian diet, or make 2 out of 3 meals each day vegetarian. Every little bit helps your body, the planet and the animals. And when you’re ready to fully commit to being vegetarian, you’ll already know which vegetarian meals you like and which restaurants in your area offer good veggie fare.
Stay tuned for another article with tips on becoming vegan, coming soon!