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Getting Started as a Vegan

Congratulations! You've just made one of the most positive choices you can ever make in your life - for the animals, for the environment and for your own health. "Taking the first step is always the hardest", but becoming vegan has never been easier than right now. Read Lesleigh's guide to the vegan essentials of getting started ...

What can Vegans Eat?

Fruit salads come in an infinite number of tasty varieties - photo courtesy of Johnny Greig:

The day I became vegan, life wasn't as hard as I had expected it to be as when the idea had first entered my mind. Meat was easily tossed aside, the taste and texture was absolutely repulsive to me.

Milk, eggs and fish however, were another thing as I had little knowledge of what vegans can eat. I and vegetarian friends of mine felt that taking such "crucial ingredients" from our diets would limit food options to a head of lettuce and a carrot or two. Little did we know that there were vast amounts of new and replacement foods which our taste buds had yet to experience.

I of course, converted to veganism the hard way. I knew not of the animal friendly alternatives and suffered needlessly in the name of animal rights. As I become more aware of "what's in what", I quickly realised there are many meat substitutes, dairy free milks, cheeses, pastries and ice-creams. Fat free has become the vegan's friend, with milk and egg-free mayonnaise, margarine and baked goods now so readily available that no one need 'suffer' without animal products in their diet.

Being vegan offers the opportunity to expand your culinary choices, but you don't need to if you prefer not to. A meat eater could still have their (faux) meat and 3 veg. every night without the guilt or immorality associated with an actual meat based diet.

VeganSA is here to help with the transition to vegan from meat eater or vegetarian, with essential vegan advice on what to eat, where you can go buy things to eat and restaurants to take your friends. There are also many other vegan websites and books which can assist with the transition stage.

Below are some tips and suggestions gathered on how to 'make it' as a compassionate consumer:

Food Product Substitutes

There are many alternatives to "used to" or substitute products. Although most of them won't actually taste exactly the same as the real product, over time you do find many substitutes that you will thoroughly enjoy. Often just changing brands makes a big difference in taste.

Most of the day to day ingredients that we consumed as meat eaters have a veggie substitute, be it the vitamins found in vegetables and nuts, or faux cheeses and meats. Milk on cereals, in coffee, tea, breakfast and cooking is easily replaced with the many non-dairy types that can be found at health stores such as rice, oat and soya milks. There are egg, meat and cheese substitutes which ensure no traditional home-cooked meal need be missed. See our listings of vegan foodstuffs available in SA.

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Wear Out or Throw Out?

Old leather can easily be replaced by modern synthetics - photo courtesy of Johnny Greig:

Many who decide to convert to an exclusively plant-based vegan diet decide to keep their already-purchased leather, wool and silk garments until old and worn out. Often these people argue that this is because they feel that an animal had to die and suffer in the production of the product and therefore it should not have died in vain. Others decide that it's repulsive to wear dead animal products and cannot bare the sight of the product anymore.

Ultimately the choice to wear out or throw out is up to each individual. Over time however, most vegans will eventually rid themselves of all their ignorant or unconcerned purchases. They have comfort in knowing that they no longer support or condone these cruel and senseless industries. Read our vegan clothing article or see our listings of cruelty-free products in South Africa.

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How to Tolerate the Talk

Being vegan can be very challenging, especially when it comes to the thoughts of other non-vegan friends, family and co-workers. Unless you are blessed to be surrounded by enlightened vegans, you will more than likely be ridiculed, told that you will make yourself ill, that man was designed to eat animals, or that you're just plain weird. Some people who you know may will be in shock and won't understand your decision. My own sister tells people that I am allergic to meat; how could someone possibly decide to not eat meat?!

The trick is to be prepared ...

I find that people will either attack because they have known a self-righteous vegan or somehow got the concept in their heads that all vegans are preachers, or that they feel guilty and do not want to confront the reality of their own choice of diet and the consequences to which it leads. As a vegan, you need to know how to respond to their ridicule:

• If they say we were designed to eat meat you could mention that if we were designed to eat meat surely we wouldn't need to cook it or that our canines are not like that of all other meat eaters, which are normally a lot longer and sharper.

• If they say that there is no iron in vegan diets, you could mention that green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds have iron.

• If you are told you will get osteoporosis because you do not consume dairy foods, you could mention that seeds, grains and nuts contain calcium and that we are the only animal species on this planet that drinks the milk from another animal.

I always say that I don't mind people eating meat, just as long as it was happy meat - meat from a liberated animal that lead a normal and natural life, and that had the opportunity to fulfill its natural behaviours. But not caged or diseased animals that suffer at the hand of profiteers. This goes down well, especially if they thought you were another preacher.

These are only a few suggestions. All new vegans will eventually find their own responses that they feel comfortable relating and that work for them. But do try to avoid being adversarial as this may offend others and damage the veganism cause. It's best to adopt an engaging and positive approach to vegan advocacy wherever possible.

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Important Foods for Vegans

As a vegan you will need to consume certain essential foods to ensure optimal health. It is recommended that vegans consume in a day: 6-11 servings of grains, 2 servings of fruit, 3 or more servings of vegetables, 2-3 servings of beans or bean alternatives, 6-8 servings of fortified soya milk or alternatives, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

This can however, be a little time consuming and one might want to use this just as a guide. It is essential though to ensure that you do have enough protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B12 in your diet. It is best to gain these nutrients from food itself, however, there are also vitamin supplements available at most health stores. For more information on healthy vegan diets, read our vegan nutrition section.

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Staying the Course

Whatever your personal reasons for becoming a vegan, we'd like to thank you for making the right choice. Making the transition can appear daunting to some people but do not despair; you are not alone. There are more like-minded vegans in South Africa than you might imagine, and our numbers grow as more people become aware of the benefits of being vegan.

"A problem shared is a problem halved", so why not get involved in one of the on-line South African vegan communities? There are active online forums where you can meet and chat with fellow vegans. There are also some Facebook groups and fan pages, dedicated to South African vegans - our own Vegan SA Facebook pageOpens in a new window, xxVegAns_Cape TowNxxOpens in a new window, Vegan Society-DurbanOpens in a new window and Vegan Meet Up JHBOpens in a new window. Or you might like to consider volunteering to manage a listings section on our Vegan SA site.

And here's a popular international chat site for vegans: Vegan Chat RoomOpens in a new window

If it's your health that concerns you, apart from using this site to find exciting and healthy vegan recipes, places to buy vegan foods and dine out, you should consider making an appointment with a dietician to allay your worries. There are also many books, societies and other websites that provide valuable information on nutrition, products and recipes.

We trust you found reading this section useful and we hope you'll have a fulfilling and enjoyable journey into a life of veganism.

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"I'm a 20-year-old medical student in Durban, and I've been vegan for the past 2 months. Your site has been THE most helpful resource in making the transition, and although it isn't always easy, I'm so grateful for the contact with like-minded people." - , Durban, South Africa


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