Advice to My Younger Self: What I Wish I Knew Before Going Vegan


Switching to a plant-based, or vegan, lifestyle after growing up eating meat, consuming dairy, and never thinking twice about what I was consuming was a big switch up for me. Learning how to navigate different protein sources, meet nutritional needs, and order at restaurants were all things I had to learn as I went. So, to help out anyone reading this who is ready to make the plunge, here is my advice to you (and my younger self.)


Educate yourself on plant-based substitutes prior to cutting out meat

When I first decided to stop eating meat in high school, I also had no concept of what tofu was. Nor did I substitute meat for plant-based protein. Nor did I use protein powder. I was basically eating carbs and dairy, and I kept wondering why I didn’t feel my best (hindsight is 20/20!) When I took this approach (or lack thereof) to cutting out meat, it was no wonder I didn’t last long (probably about 6-months before I started eating meat again.) I set myself up for failure, and I have seen so many others do the same. Here is my advice to avoid my mistakes.

  • Prior to going plant-based, research, research, research protein sources. Learn about which protein sources you could replace your usual protein sources with, learn what your local grocery store carries (most carry tofu and some form of vegan nuggets at the minimum,) and what you could actually see yourself implementing into your diet. If I could go back and do everything over again, I would have used an alternative protein source for every other meal intandem with my meat consumption instead of cutting meat out cold-turkey (ha, ha.) Here are my favorite protein swaps to get you started:
  • Tofu scramble instead of eggs. Cut out your morning eggs for some delicious tofu! To make it even tastier, mix in a bell pepper, some spinach, nutritional yeast, your favorite shredded vegan cheese, some hot sauce, and enjoy.
  • Jackfruit + kidney beans instead of shredded pork/chicken. As a lover of all things barbeque, I found myself craving a bbq pulled pork sandwich every fourth of July. Thankfully I discovered jackfruit about a year into my vegan journey; it’s natures version of shredded meat! However, it lacks protein as it is a fruit, so mixing in some mashed kidney beans will give your veganized shredded “meat” a hearty texture and keep you full for hours.
  • Seitan slices instead of deli meat. Seitan (say-tan) slices were first introduced to me when I started eating out at vegan restaurants. This is the most common deli meat replacement I have seen, and it’s for good reason; the texture is crazy similar! You can buy seitan deli meat slices at the some grocery stores, such as the Tofurky brand, and they make a great addition to a sandwich, sub, or shredded up in chik’n pot pies!
  • Get out of your comfort zone. When I first went plant-based, I was not adventurous in my eating at all. It took me about one year into my vegan journey to venture away from Beyond Burgers as my only protein source. Diversity of protein sources is key for a healthy gut and healthy body (learned that the hard way,) so make sure you are mixing it up when it comes to your proteins. The best way to do this? Have fun with it! Go out to eat at more vegan restaurants and try new things. Cook a new protein every night. Research recipes until you see things that jump out at you. Write your own recipes for crying out loud! Just enjoy the learning curve and be patient with yourself. And, of course, give each protein sources a chance (or five.) It took me awhile to realize I loved tofu, so let your taste buds adapt with time.

There are, of course, so many other plant based protein sources, such as edamame, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, soy milk, pea milk (or pea protein powder, my favorite!), kidney beans, chickpeas, quinoa, plant-based patties, etc! As a new vegan, I would recommend trying every protein source you can find until you find the ones that you can see yourself incorporating into your daily food routine.


Learn how to navigate ordering at restaurants

When it comes to eating plant-based at restaurants, where you live is probably the biggest factor indicating how difficult it will be for you. For me, in my small Midwestern town, it was hard to find anything fully vegan, but when I went to college in the city, my dining options multiplied immensely. No matter where you live, I want you to feel like you can go enjoy a meal at a restaurants without breaking your plant-based lifestyle. Here is what I have learned to do over the last few years when it comes to ordering at restaurants.

  • Research the menu before hand. This is the most obvious tip, of course, but it’s also one of the easiest things you can do. Restaurant chains, if they exceed a certain number of stores, are required to post not only their menu, but also their nutrition facts (these are your best friends!!) Pay attention to the keys on the menu if applicable (V, Veg, GF), read up on ingredients, and browse the appetizer section (if worst comes to worse, you can usually manage to get fries and a side salad.)
  • Call ahead. Not a fan of calling? Me either. However, this is one of the best ways to get the information you need (as someone who has worked in the restaurant industry for over 5 years, I would recommend calling during the day before a rush if you want the most detailed answers.) You can inquire about certain dishes, ask if they have any way to veganize dishes, and you can ask what oils they cook foods in, if they have separate fryers for meat, etc! Speaking with management, or the chefs if they allow it, will be your best bet.
  • Use Happy Cow. Happy Cow is a vegan’s best friend. It functions as a website and an app, and it helps locate vegetarian and/or vegan friendly restaurants near you. Simple as that! If you are pressed for time or don’t want to call restaurants with a bunch of questions, this is the app for you.

Read up on your nutritional needs

Prior to going vegan, I did not realize how many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients I was getting from fortified dairy products and meats. In a society that is geared towards animal consumption, there is a learning curve when you steer away from eating these products in term of meeting your nutrient needs. Here is what I wish I knew about nutritional needs for vegans before making the switch.

  • Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is extremely important, and if you go without if for too long, you can cause irreversible damage to your body (so make sure you’re getting this in your plant-based diet.) Essentially, it helps to keep the blood and nerve cells healthy while also helping with DNA repair. The best source for B12? Fish, meat, dairy, and eggs. For someone carrying out a plant-based diet, you can sneak in some B12 with nutritional yeast (my favorite), fortified cereals, tempeh, and some mushrooms. But, the easiest way to get B12 is through supplementation.
  • Iron. This one is kind of obvious, but low iron is very common among the vegan community. Iron is most commonly found in lean meats and fish, but can also be found in beans, apples, pomegranates, and prune juice. Iron is a key player in helping blood flow and moving oxygen from the lungs to muscle tissue. If you’re low in iron, you will feel fatigued, potentially develop anemia, and lightheadedness.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids. This is something I pushed to the back burner and did not supplement for a long time – omega 3’s are so important for keeping your heart healthy and happy! Most commonly found in fish, there are other sneaky ways to get in more omega 3’s, such as: nuts, chia seeds, brussels sprouts, and flax seeds. You can also find vegan “fish” oil supplements packed with omega 3’s!
  • Protein Sources. When I first started my plant-based journey, I was for sure lacking in protein: I could not gain muscle mass, was tired all the time, and had poor balance. As a vegan, I cannot stress this enough: vary your protein sources. For me, protein powder was my best friend for the first few months, and now I rely on tofu, beans, plant-based burgers, tempeh, and more. I recommend trying about three different protein sources a week. This could look like tofu stir fry on Monday and Tuesday, smoothie bowls with protein power and nut butter on Wednesday and Thursday, and plant-based “deli meat” sandwiches to finish out the week.

People will question/comment on your eating habits…a lot

When I first made the switch, my friends and family were hesitant (and they made sure to express it.) “It’s just a phase,” some will say. “But where will you get your protein?” they will ask. At the end of the day, it’s always important to remember that this is your life, and you only get one of them, so don’t be too phased by the opinions of others. When it comes to constant questioning, comments, and some disapproving remarks regarding your eating habits, it may take a toll on you. My article, “5 Common Objections to Going Plant-Based,” addresses the best ways to respond to objections. Here is my other advice.

  • Know why you’re going plant-based. Like most things in life, if there is no passion or reason for doing it, it most likely won’t last long (or be enjoyable.) For me, I knew I wanted to go plant-based for animal rights reasons, and that is my “why.” For some, a plant-based diet may be for health reasons, for the climate, religious reasons, etc. Whatever your reasoning is, stick to it, and craft your responses to common objections around your reasoning. For example, when people ask “but our ancestors ate meat, why should I stop?” Someone who is plant-based for animal rights reasons may respond, “Well, our ancestors did not pump farm animals full of antibiotics and factory farm them. Until farming practices are more humane, I am choosing not to participate in any action that contributes to animal cruelty.”
  • Don’t take it to heart. At the end of the day, you choices and behaviors are up to nobody but yourself. If you choose to eat in a way that makes you feel good, weather that’s gluten free, 80% plant-based, dairy free, etc, that’s up to you! People will always have opinions, even those closest to you, so it’s best to remember to take everything with a grain of salt. If you’re happy with your choices, it truly doesn’t matter what others say; take everything with a grain of salt.

16-year old me would benefit from this advice and insight, and I hope many of you will as well. For those nervous to take the plunge, or struggling to stick with it, remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Good things take time — enjoy the journey, push yourself to new lengths, and dive in!

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5 Common Objections to Going Plant-Based


Imagine this scenario: you’ve made the personal choice that you want a more plant-focused diet, maybe for your health, the environment, animal rights, etc. This involves reducing (or eliminating) consumption of meat, dairy, and animal products. You are excited to take on your new lifestyle, but you are met with hesitations from those closest to you.

“But where will you get your protein?” Aunt Linda may ask.

“Being vegan will be expensive, how will you afford that on your budget?” Grandpa Bill may ask.

“One person going vegan won’t change the world.” Your partner remarks.

These are all common objections that most vegans have heard once or twice (or one thousand times.) Growing up in a small town in the Midwest that was crawling with farms, I was met with much hesitation from my family members, friends, and society in general.

In order to stand your ground with confidence, these are responses I have curated to assist you in answering these common objections with confidence.


1) “But where will you get your protein?”

To be honest, this is one of the most valid objections. In our society, meat and eggs are the two most common sources of protein for many people. For many, they have never even tried tofu, seitan, plant-based patties, etc. My biggest suggestion prior to going plant-based is to incorporate alternative protein sources (like those listed) and really get a feel for them before cutting out meat entirely. This will make the process less of a shock for your body and taste buds.

When it comes to plant-based protein, there are ample options to choose from. Here are some of my favorites:

Tofu

Tofu is one of the most common replacements for meat because it’s A) cheap, and B) easy to cook with. Many people, including myself, are afraid of tofu because, frankly, I didn’t know what it was. For those who don’t know what tofu is, it’s essentially the curd of soy milk (a byproduct of producing soy milk.) For a serving of tofu, which is about 1/2 cup, you consume around 10 grams of protein. For reference, the average sedentary man needs around 55 grams of protein/day, and the average sedentary woman needs about 45 grams of protein/day. Therefore, tofu is a great source of protein (and lower in fat and calories compared to beef!)

My favorite way to make tofu is baked in the oven with a mix of all my favorite seasonings. My recipe is perfect for beginners who are acquiring a taste for tofu!

If you’re unsure where to buy, how to store, or how to cook tofu, I recommend reading up on the basics here.

Chickpeas

Chickpeas take the cake for me. Not only are they versatile, they are delicious and an easy addition to almost any meal. Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a legume packed with protein (15 grams/cup to be exact!) And, since they are a part of the legume family, they are full of essential nutrients, such as iron and folate.

Chickpeas can be roasted in the oven, added to simmering curry sauce, or, my personal favorite, blended into hummus! They are also one of the most common forms of legume, so they are easily accessible and cheap.

Did you know you can also use the liquid from chickpeas (known as aquafob) as an egg replacement in baked goods?! It is truly the most versatile plant-based protein source, so definitely give them a shot.

Seitan

For many readers, you may be wondering what on earth seitan even is! I didn’t know what seitan was well into my plant-based journey, so there is no shame in that. Seitan (pronounced say-tan) is made from whole wheat flour or from wheat gluten. It’s very high in protein, packing up to 31 grams/serving, making it popular for those needing more protein.

Seitan is most commonly used as a plant-based form of deli meat slices (such as Tofurkey.) It has almost an earthy taste, reminding me of mushrooms. For me, seitan is more of a luxury than a staple. The only times I usually consume it is at restaurants, usually in the form of a sandwich. It’s more processed than both tofu and chickpeas, and it contains more sodium; it makes for a good treat here and there, but is not my go-to for plant-based protein.

Curious about seitan? You should be! Learn more about it here.

So, next time you get asked “but where will you get your protein from?” here are some great protein sources to bring up!

2) “But isn’t plant-based food more expensive?”

The simple answer: it can be.

However, it all depends on your consumption choices. When I first became plant-based, I was heavily consuming meat-replacements, cheese replacements, and all the fun foods the vegan world has to offer! And there is nothing wrong with that. I actually recommend this when beginning your plant based journey to better adapt to your new lifestyle.

However, this does get expensive. For example, vegan feta cheese from VioLife is $4.79, while regular feta cheese costs about $3.99. Although a dollar difference is not too significant, it adds up when every plant-based replacement in your cart costs a dollar more.

Now that I am have been vegan for almost two years, I am learning to love whole foods, a variety of vegetables, fruits, and bean, so I rely on the replacement products significantly less. Here are my go-to, affordable vegan meals that are filling, nourishing, and can silence any skeptic who doubts plant-based eating can be affordable:

Nourish Bowls

Nourish Bowls are my go to lunch since I can meal prep them and reheat them throughout the week. They are full of vegetables, nutrients, and protein. And, the best part? You can customize them to your liking! I find myself making some form of this bowl every week, and I have yet to get sick of them.

My go to bowl (not pictured) usually consists of the following:

  • Black Beans (.99 cents)
  • White Rice (.79 cents)
  • Brussel Sprouts ($1.39, frozen)
  • Sweet Potato ($2.00)
  • Kale ($2.99)
  • Hot Sauce + Spices (I love adding tumeric, red pepper flakes, and lots of garlic salt!)

These meals cost me less than two dollars/meal, and they keep me full, focused, and nourished (hence the name.) You can sub out the protein for any bean of your liking, or tofu, seitan, tempeh, etc. Bonus points if you adjust the vegetables you use based on what’s in season!

Vegan Curry

As someone who grew up in Minnesota, where the winters are cold, harsh, and never-ending, a comforting bowl of warm curry was always welcomed.

For a delicious and affordable curry, you would need the following:

  • Chickpeas (0.69 cents)
  • Bell pepper ($1.39)
  • Spinach ($1.99)
  • Coconut milk ($1.98)
  • Curry powder ($1.99)

And that’s it! Of course, it gets even more wonderful with the addition of garlic, turmeric, legumes, etc, but this is a solid, affordable foundation for a heart-warming curry.

Honorable mentions
  • Smoothie bowls topped with nuts and berries
  • Avocado toast with tomato
  • White bean chili
  • Spicy peanut noodles/stir fry
  • Tofu scramble with spinach
  • Tofu tacos
  • Black bean enchiladas
  • Lentil soup
  • And more!

These are some of my favorite, affordable, plant-based meals, and you can buy a majority of the ingredients in cans or frozen, making them even more budget-friendly!

3) “But our ancestors ate meat. It’s only natural.”

This is one of my personal favorite objections because, when you start to unravel it, it does not hold much validity. Let me explain.

“But our ancestors did it.” Okay, and? Our ancestors also had to hunt and gather for every single meal. They engaged in cannibalism for some time.They had to light fires outside to cook food and stay warm. They had no technology. They had to make their own clothing. For some time, they barely even had a language to communicate with one another. Does it mean we need to resort back to this? Of course not! There are so many options for consumers now that choosing to eat meat “because our ancestors did” is not a strong argument; meat is all they had, but we have the luxury of choice now.

“But we are made to eat meat. It’s in our biology.” Well, in recent studies, it has actually been proven our digestive system is similar to those of monkeys and apes. These primates have a biological make up that allows for fruit, vegetables, and meat to be consumed. But for many primates, insects are their biggest source of meat and protein, and this is still rare in comparison to how many plants the consume. Protein intake, and the fascination with eating large amounts of meat, has evolved with society (notice I said society, not our biology.) To learn more about the human biology and consuming meat, here’s a fun article I found for you all.

“But eating meat is natural.” Well, if you are looking at some of our ancestors history, I guess you could say it was indeed natural as it was a means for survival. Today, however, most animals consumed are a product of factory farming. They are pumped with antibiotics, kept in sunless rooms for their entire lives, given food in the form of pellets, and are surrounding by technology and machinery. Is this natural to you?

4) “Humans are at the top of the food chain. Do you think animals are better than us or something?”

As comical as this objection is, it’s actually one I have heard many times. Since we farm animals, fish, and even use insects to our liking (honey, for example), people often think we are just at the top of the food chain.

Contrary to popular belief, however, we are in the middle of the food chain. Those at the top are orca whales and polar bears, not homeo sapiens! We fall right in between pigs and anchovies based on our dietary needs (crazy, right?!)

Between Pigs And Anchovies: Where Humans Rank On The Food Chain : The Salt  : NPR
Photo from NPR.org

Even if humans began eating more meat (currently the American diet is about 80:20 meat to whole foods) our position on the food chain won’t change; it all comes down to our biological makeup!

So, to shut down this objection, no, I don’t think animals are better than humans. However, they deserve a long healthy life, just like all of us do. Their lives are more important than a meal. Their lives are important.

“Could you look an animal in the eyes and say to it, ‘My appetite is more important than your suffering’?”

– Moby

5) “But one person going vegan isn’t going to change the World.”

This is the objection I feel the most passionate about. In our current society, there is quite a bit of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance, a term coined by Leon Festinger in 1950, describes the physiological stress that occurs when humans’ actions go against their beliefs. And this leaves humans with two choices: changing their actions, or justifying them.

When it comes to our consumption habits, humans usually choose to justify their actions rather than change them. It’s either “one vegan won’t change anything,” or “animal products will just go to waste if people stop eating them.” Both of these are false, of course, and we can prove that by the concept of supply and demand (I studied a lot of economics in college, trust me on this one.)

A common objection I hear that piggybacks off of the main objection is that their is “no ethical consumption under Capitalism,” or “big corporations aren’t going to change, so why should I?” Both of these feed into the justification of consumption choices rather than taking personal responsibility. In fact, a vegan, on average, saves 30 animals in the course of one month by choosing not to eat animal products. This means, if only 100 people went vegan for one year, we would save 36,000 animals from being slaughtered.

Plus, not eating animals also impacts the environment directly! Oxford University stated that since “agriculture is a sector that spans a multitude of environmental problems,” going vegan is better than getting an electric car or taking less flights. Eating plant-based conserves water, limits the amount of CO2 production from cattle, and assists in changing the agricultural practices for the better.

So, one vegan won’t change anything, right? Think again. Check out this infographic for more specifics on vegan statistics.

So, next time you go to a family gathering and are forced to deal with relatives who don’t understand your plant-based consumption choices, hit them with these responses! Remember, statistics and facts always make your responses more powerful, meaningful, and insightful. But, at the end of the day, you don’t need to justify your choices to others (only if you want to!)

My Plant-Based Journey


When I first sat down to write this post, I titled it “my vegan story.” However, as I got to writing, I realized it’s less of a story and truly more of a journey. My progression into a plant-based lifestyle has had many ups and downs, highs and lows, and sometimes I even fell off track and stopped the journey all together. However, I tackled every obstacle and am now (almost) 2 years vegan. With all that being said, let’s start from the beginning.


I was not raised vegan or vegetarian. I grew up in the Midwest where meat, potatoes, and corn are considered the three main food groups. When I entered high school, I was still eating this way, until one day the little bubble I lived in was popped: I saw a video of a slaughterhouse. To preface, I grew up in a small farming town, so seeing cattle, smelling manure, and staring into endless rows of corn was normal on the way to and from school. After I saw this video, however, I could no longer make the trip to and from school without feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness when I saw the farms, pushing me to make a change within myself.

When I turned 16, I was ready to switch up my diet for animal cruelty reasons: I went vegetarian. Every adult in my life was immediately telling me “It’s just a phase!” or questioning “how will you get your protein?” Thankfully, it wasn’t just a phase. However, I did not go about cutting out meat correctly; I had no substitutes! So, as much as I hate to admit it, the adults were right to be curious about where my protein intake would now come from.

For months, I stuck to this vegetarian lifestyle, but I could tell I was lacking protein. I had never tried tofu, seitan, or any plant-based meat alternatives, so my diet was essentially dairy and carbs. If any of you have ever done this, you would know it’s not sustainable (especially not for a teenage athlete.) So, here is where I fell off my journey to becoming plant-based and resorted back to eating meat (a chicken strip basket with extra ranch from Dairy Queen to be exact.)


I carried out eating this way for the rest of my highschool career. I was super interested in food and nutrition, so when I graduated high school and got accepted into my dream college, I chose to study nutrition in hopes of becoming a dietician. In one of my first college courses, Food Safety, my professor kept preaching about the benefits of drinking milk and consuming dairy products. Although I myself was consuming them at the time, I did not think they were good for me as milkshakes made my stomach turn, and cheese inflamed my acne like no other. This sparked me into doing my own research of dairy consumption, which then led me to researching meat consumption, and soon I was deep into researching everything regarding animal agriculture. I went vegetarian (again) the next day.

I was truly passionate about being a nutrition major, but after I struggled through a few chemistry courses, I realized I was not learning something that would help me make a difference in the animal agriculture industry. So, one below-freezing winter night, I dragged myself to the library and looked over all the majors my college had to offer, and I found the one for me: Agricultural and Food Business Management. I consider myself business minded, and I had a new found passion for agricultural systems, so this was a match; I dropped nutrition and joined this major beginning my second semester of college.

In my courses, I got to learn about how farming is done in America, the rates at which we consume crops and animals, and how unsustainable our farming practices truly are. I no longer felt comfortable studying farm animal cruelty cases and continuing to consume dairy. Throughout the next week, I consumed what was left in my fridge for dairy products, and that was the end of it. I went plant-based.

Again, I did not make this transition effectively. I did not have any substitutes for eggs, cheese, or meat (besides vegan frozen “chicken” nuggets.) It was HARD. One thing many people aren’t aware of is that cheese actually has an addicting factor to it. I had learned about it in a food chemistry course, but I did not realize I was affected. Essentially, the protein casein, which is found in cheese, breaks down into a compound that attaches to dopamine receptors, making you crave cheese over, and over, and over again.

I know I have a bad track record of quitting my plant-based journey, but surprisingly, I toughed it out and broke my cheese “addiction” cold turkey. I did, however, still suck at finding meat replacements, so I was again eating 90% carbs (and not feeling that well.)

In time, I got more adventurous. I started making tofu (something I was afraid of), sampling vegan cheese brands (shoutout to Violife and Daiya), and soon my tastebuds adjusted. My digestion got so much better within a few months. My skin started clearing up. I felt amazing.

I felt so great that I started a low-key Tik Tok account called Lazycollegekitchen where I shared my recipes, what I eat in a day, my favorite vegan swaps, etc., and somehow I ended up with 30,000 followers and multiple brand deals. This is when I knew there was a demand for learning how to be plant-based. Being a full time college student and working 30 hours a week kind of took over, and I ended up deleting my account. However, now that I am graduated, settled, and ready to help others adopt a plant-based lifestyle, I am rebranding and starting over with The Plant Based Pristine.

Now that I am almost two years into being fully-plant based, I am excited to find ways to be more sustainable with my lifestyle, and more importantly, to help others do the same.