Getting Started as a Vegetarian or Vegan

Learn your health facts. It’s not hard to be a healthy vegetarian or vegan. Like eating as an omnivore, you have to put effort into your diet to be healthy. Of course you won’t be healthy if your primary nutrient source is Oreos (yes, they are vegan, surprisingly). Be sure to know the myths (obtaining protein isn’t difficult AT ALL).

Be ready for opposition. You’ll probably hear a lot of jokes. Even if they’re not mean (“Do vegans eat animal crackers? LOL”), hearing the same one over and over is boring. Living in Bloomington, IU vegetarians and vegans are pretty lucky in that it is more widely accepted and catered to in many restaurants! Other places are not quite as considerate.

Check your food ingredients. There are non-vegan and non-vegetarian ingredients snuck into surprising foods. Certain flavors of potato chips have chicken stock in them; a kind of peanut butter is even made with anchovie oils (we don’t get it either). It’s not too hard to shop around these ingredients, but you’ll want to keep up with your obscure, very long, weird ingredient names. Dihydrocholesterol Octyledecanoate looks like a word I’d rather not pronounce, let alone remember. But it, and many similar words, represents an animal fat ingredient. Luckily, most healthful foods have simple, easy-to-read ingredients.

Set your own restrictions. There are many different types of vegans and vegetarians, with different opinions on what and who is “vegan.” Some vegans eat honey, some don’t. Some vegetarians and vegans are stricter than others. These are choices that you should make for yourself. Accept that some may not abide by the same “rules” as you, but it’s not as obvious as it may seem to respect how someone chooses to identify his or herself. Ultimately, what really matters is that, whether cutting out all animal byproducts or simply reducing the amount you consume, it does make a difference. The general misconception is that vegetarians have an unimaginably limited diet and that vegans take this restriction to the extreme.

Consider substitutes. Being either vegetarian or vegan in today’s world is a lot easier than you might imagine. The main things that most vegetarians and vegans “miss out” on usually have vegan options. Want some ice cream? Try coconut milk, soy milk, or almond milk ice cream. Missing cream cheese? Try some Tofutti cream cheese! But there are a couple things that you want to keep in mind when transitioning to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Some people are not fond of substitutes as blatant as soy 'chicken,' but others feel differently and ingredients such as egg replacer are great options to continue baking. These are a couple things that you want to keep in mind when thinking about what you're 'missing' as you transition to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Check out vegetarian resources or find some vegetarian or vegan friends. Being a vegetarian or vegan is much easier when you know someone else that you can ask for suggestions or try new foods with. Remember that you can ask any of us for help at any point online or at a meeting. We’ve even gone grocery shopping together before. We are here for you! Also, check out our resources page for more tips.

This was written by Jennie Plasterer and Elie C-Del Abraham, President and Vice President of VegIU in 2011.

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