How I Went Vegan and Stayed Vegan

With the right support and planning, veganism can be a delicious, rewarding part of your life.

Vegan smoothie bowl by Arcelia Kent of EburgVeg (used with permission)

There’s a saying in the vegan community:

“Never trust an ex-vegan.”

We’ve all had friends who tried veganism for a while, then shed it for paleo or keto, as if abstaining from animal products was just one more disposable food trend.*

Ex-vegans, I don’t blame you. I get why so many people try to go vegan and fail. But I also believe, with the proper support, you can go vegan and stay vegan.

My vegan story…

I went vegan in high school (half a lifetime ago), but my vegan journey really began when we dissected fetal pigs in my junior high biology class. The whole experience freaked me out; I had never been confronted with the insides of animals, and how non-human animals have the same organs we humans do. We studied them because of their similarity to humans — animal testing happens on non-human animals because of this similarity — and recognizing this made me question everything about my relationship with animals.

But this was 1997, and I had no context for vegans or even vegetarians, except for my one friend who ate chicken and seafood, but not other animals. She called herself a vegetarian, so I followed her lead.

I now understand my road to veganism started with flexitarianism.

“STOP Eating Animals” Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash
Go Vegan Tip #1:
Get to know some other vegans. Right away. There are so many vegans happy to take you under their wing and help you. Find a local vegan mentor or meetup group, or connect online. (I love being a part of this 50,000-member Vegan Pregnancy & Parenting Facebook group.) The beginning is hard, but it gets easy once you’re used to it. We’ve all been there!

In 1998, I had a crush on a guy who worked at the mall food court’s Chick-fil-A (way before they were the poster-company for homophobia), so I would get nuggets as an excuse to talk to him. One day, one of my nuggets had a vein in it. I felt it first, swishing my tongue around this strange, stringy shape, then took it out of my mouth to look at it. It was purplish blue. That was the last time I ever ate animals.

Why was I eating chicken nuggets in the first place (besides that Chick-fil-A worker’s snaggle-toothed grin)? It’s just what I was used to, how I was raised.

“Eat What Makes You Happy” Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Go Vegan Tip #2:
So much of what we eat is based on repeating cultural habits, and there can be a lot of emotions tied up in that. So accept your cultural biases are with you, but you don’t have to be beholden to them. Some cultures don’t eat dogs; some do. Some don’t eat pigs; some do. Some don’t eat cows; some do. Most cultures are used to the idea of there being animals we don’t eat, and it’s arbitrary which ones are taboo. It’s not that far a leap to just not eat animals.

The first time I went out to eat after going vegetarian was at a hibachi restaurant in Florida. A bunch of my friends took me out for my 16th birthday, and I was so confused about what to order (despite there being a clear veggie option) that finally my friend just advised me to order the chicken and she’d eat it for me.

Why didn’t I order the veggies? The idea of a meal built around plants icked me out. I had no context for it.

Brussels sprouts. I’ll have about a million of these, please. Cropped photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash
Go Vegan Tip #3:
It turns out vegetables are freaking delicious. Not all of them (bok choy? I’ll pass), but you might think you don’t like them because of the way they were prepared. Ask your veggie-loving friend exactly how they cook their veggies. Roasting (cut-up veggies, oil, and salt in a 425 degree oven) is my favorite way. I love roasted cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and green beans.

I had still never met a vegan in real life, but by this point we had the Internet, so veganism was on my radar.

In 2000, I saw PETA’s video Meet Your Meat, which is a compilation of cruelty to animals, from undercover videos in factory farms and slaughterhouses. PETA’s pretty problematic, but I’ve never been able to 100 percent write them off, because that video made a difference for me.

Whitaker, a rescued 5-week-old calf, licking my hand, just like a dog, at Farm Sanctuary in California. (Author’s photo.)
Go Vegan Tip #4:
Watch slaughterhouse footage… or don’t. If you’re an adult who eats animals, I think it’s your responsibility to know if someone’s suffering for you, and then decide if you want to make a change. At the same time, I don’t watch slaughterhouse footage anymore. I still try to find more ways to do ethical consumption — it doesn’t end at veganism — but there is a great peace of mind in being able to look at animals with love and know you’re making a choice you’re proud of, and for me, that means no longer making myself view animal cruelty. If you are looking for videos inside factory farms and slaughterhouses, you might check out the more recent documentaries Dominion and Earthlings (both narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, who’s a longtime vegan).

So, I watched Meet Your Meat, and I saw a conveyor belt full of fluffy baby chicks going by, each being debeaked (so they wouldn’t peck each other when shoved in tiny cages together), and the male chicks (millions of them each year) ground up alive, because, of course, they’re not going to lay eggs.

And I learned for the first time that “milk comes from cows” only in the way that milk comes from humans or squirrels or dogs: Mammals make milk for their babies. Cows are impregnated (usually every year), and their male babies are killed so humans can drink their breast milk instead. Maybe you know this already. I didn’t. And once I did, I knew I had to go vegan.

Calf Photo by Amber Kipp on Unsplash
Go Vegan Tip #5:
What’s your reason for considering veganism? Hold onto it. For me, it was those baby cows being taken from their mamas, the males being put in veal crates so people could eat babies and breast milk. I understood the connection between the veal industry and the cow milk industry, and this was compelling enough for me to quit it all. Maybe that’s your reason too. Or maybe you’re doing it for your health. Whatever it is, write it down and remember it when you feel like quitting.

So I knew I had to go vegan, but I had no idea how. I didn’t know how to cook, how to eat out, how to read ingredients on packages. I was 16 and subsisting on fast food, so I was stoked to find out most fast food French fries were vegan (not McDonalds), as were my beloved barbeque potato chips. I’d been vegetarian for a while, so you’d think I’d know more than this, but I didn’t.

Go Vegan Tip #6:
If you need it, give yourself some time to learn. Some people swear by going cold Tofurky, but I think that’s the #1 reason people fail. Set a start date and then make it a fun project to learn all you can, in the meantime. Get vegan cookbooks from the library, read articles, make vegan friends. Get ready!

I gave myself until the end of the year — 4 months — to learn how to be vegan. For me, this mostly meant working on dessert recipes, because baked goods were going to be the big sticking point for me. Vegan baking isn’t hard once you’re used to it, but it does take a shift in thinking.

Vegan Candy Cake by Arcelia Kent of EburgVeg (used with permission)
Go Vegan Tip #7:
You sweet summer children: being vegan is so much easier now. Especially if you live in a city, you can probably find vegan desserts right at your grocery store (try the natural food store). Every coffee shop has non-dairy milk. And you have the amazing to find vegan restaurant options in your hometown and everywhere in the world you travel.
Go Vegan Tip #8:
If you try a vegan food and it sucks, don’t give up on veganism; give up on that dish/brand/restaurant/cookbook. If it sucks, it sucks, vegan or not. I promise you can find/buy/make vegan food that is every bit as yummy as non-vegan food.

My first try at vegan chocolate chip cookies, I just replaced the eggs in the recipe with water. Don’t do that. Use an already-vegan recipe, or use one of the many vegan foods that work well as egg-replacers.

Go Vegan Tip #9:
Experimenting is so much fun! Get some cookbooks to guide you. Check the library first. I’ve built up some pretty stellar vegan cooking instincts, but I still turn to cookbooks when I want to try something new. I am loving Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen right now! And Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s many cookbooks are my most used.

By 2007, I was working as a vegan pastry chef:

Vegan chocolate cake with raspberry frosting / vegan cowboy cookies (Author’s photos.)

And eventually my partner and I took over a vegan pizzeria:

My husband and I at the vegan pizzeria we used to own. (Author’s personal photo.)

Pizza and cake!

I eat way less sometimes foods now (having a kid made me want to model healthier habits), but I fully believe there’s still a place for treats, and if we make them healthy-ish, we can include more of them within our healthy lifestyle.

Go Vegan Tip #10:
There’s not one way to eat vegan. Just because some other vegan is raw, it doesn’t mean you need to be raw. They can be oil-free or grain-free if they want, but just by eating plant-based, you are doing so much good, for your health, for the animals, for the environment. If you want to try out any of that other stuff, have at it, but just know that you’re vegan whether you’re subsisting on rice and beans, Instagrammable smoothie bowls, Gardein fishless filets, or more likely, on a combo of a huge variety of yummy vegan foods.
Go Vegan Tip #11:
Yes, eating plant-based is “technically” limiting you, but you’ll probably find you eat way more species as a vegan than you did before. Sure, some omnivores are adventurous eaters, but a lot of y’all get stuck in a rut of making the same things over and over. Meanwhile, I’m over here feasting on Chickpea Curry from Taymer Mason’s Caribbean Vegan and black-eyed pea fritters from Bryant Terry’s Afro-Vegan. Plus homemade falafel, calzones, tamales, butternut squash lasagna, beluga lentils with ginger and turmeric, and so many rainbow-colored tacos.
Colorful cauliflower tacos. Photo by Rustic Vegan on Unsplash
Go Vegan Tip #12:
…Which reminds me: you may have seen images of veganism that made you think it’s some skinny white girl thing, but vegans come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and ethnicities.

I’ve been vegan 18 years now. My husband is vegan. Our 4-year-old has been vegan since conception. Our dog is vegan.

Originally, I went vegan for the animals. Once I committed to it, I was able to hear the other reasons, like the numerous health benefits, and, as The Guardian reported,

“Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth.”

People are eating less animal products. NPR reports that cow milk consumption in the US is way down. The big meat corporations are buying vegan “fake meat” companies. And record numbers have pledged to try veganism for Veganuary. The more people go vegan, the more vegan options will be available; as it becomes easier and more normalized to be vegan, even more people will go vegan.

It’s happening. So set a date, and ready yourself. You got this!

*Veganism is about more than just food. It’s about recognizing that all animals are beings, not objects. In this piece, I mostly discuss the food aspect, but choosing veganism is an opportunity to look at all aspects of your life; and to explore ways to live more kindly, do less harm, and value consent with your actions.
When people eat vegan food (often for health reasons only) but don’t care about the rest, “plant-based” is a great way to describe their diet.
Whatever your reasons, thank you for reading with an open mind.

Want to eat vegan-ish but not ready to go all the way? Read this: