After reading loads of article about vegetarianism, veganism, the impact of the Meat Industry on the planet, on our health and of course on the animals, you have decided to start a vegetarian diet. You probably have a million of questions in your mind and you are not sure how to start.
I’ve been vegetarian for 3 years but changed my diet step by step to avoid big cravings, bad mood but also I did not want to be discouraged after a few weeks to finally go back to a “normal” diet. The year before I started to decrease the consumption of meat, fish,.. over the months to finish by an occasional beef burger. This is personal choice but several people changed their diet in 1 day, even became vegan directly with no issues.
Based on my personal experience, I will share a few tips in this post.
7 tips to switch to a more sustainable diet
1- Check the label When you start your vegetarian diet, you realise they put animals everywhere. For example, you will often find gelatin in cranberries capsules from your local pharmacy, the marshmallows you used to put on your cocoa, the colourful sweets, anchovies in the Worcestershire Sauce. Also, some cheese are not vegetarian as one of the ingredient is animal rennet: “Rennet /ˈrɛnɪt/ is a complex of enzymes produced in the stomachs of ruminant mammals. Chymosin, its key component, is a pro tease enzyme that curdles the casein in milk. This helps young mammals digest their mothers' milk. Rennet can also be used to separate milk into solid curds for cheese making and liquid whey. In addition to chymosin, rennet contains other important enzymes such as pepsin and a lipase. Rennet is used in the production of most cheeses. The mammal's digestive system must be accessed to obtain its rennet. Non-animal alternatives for rennet are also available.” Source: Wikipedia.
Cheddar is usually made with vegetable rennet but Parmesan, never. In Ireland, we are pretty lucky as the label is often explicit. You will find the “suitable for vegetarian” mention and/or “vegetable rennet” written on the packaging. However, it can be challenging to find vegetarian cheese in France as there is a lack of information on the label or they have the AOC label (“appellation d'origine contrôlée”, in English: protected designation of origin). This label means an animal rennet is used and hence non-vegetarian. As a French girl, I admit I prefer Irish cheeses than French ones, they are really good and I clearly know which ones I can eat :) Sources: vegetarianandveganfrance.com | Vegetarian Society
Eggs, do we eat them? It depends. Vegetarian only eat free-range eggs. If you buy a frozen quiche for example, check the label as the eggs are not always free-range. If you only read “eggs”, it is not vegetarian.
Alcohol can be an issue as it might be clarified using animal derived products. Guinness was the famous example but they announced the vegan change in 2017. Not sure if your favourite beer or wine is vegetarian? Barnivore is your friend. This website shows if an alcoholic drink is vegan but not if vegetarian. Anyway I believe it is a great and up-to-date guide.
I was told French wines are not often clarified using animal derived products anymore so I’ve checked: the website lists 553 French wines and 504 of them are vegan, not bad! Cherry on the cake, my favourite champagne is vegan friendly.
You can either stop eating such products or find alternatives. For example, I replace Parmesan by a nice white cheddar and I go to health store to buy vegetarian Capsules. My partner is not vegetarian so we have 2 bottles of Worcestershire Sauce at home: the original sauce (below picture on the left) for him and the vegetarian one for me (on the right). In case of doubt, unclear information on the label, the general rule would be not to buy the product. However, you can ask the manufacturer to clarify.
2- Vegetarian cookbooks It is not easy to cook vegetarian meals at the beginning as we tend to 1st choose the meat and then after think about the sides. If you don’t have vegetarian/vegan friends, I advise you to buy cookbooks and/or to check vegetarian websites. If you don’t want to buy any, I am pretty sure you will find nice books at your local library. Also, I kept my non-vegetarian cook book and I just change a few ingredients to make the recipe vegetarian. With experience, it will be easier to find alternatives: you can replace gelatin with agar-agar, meat with tofu,...
3- Going on holidays abroad Yes, Ireland is pretty vegetarian-friendly and you have at least one vegetarian option when you are eating out. This is not the case everywhere, especially if you are not spending your holidays in big cities. It can be really annoying to walk for an hour to find a nice restaurant with something suitable for us.If you have the time beforehand, check HappyCow website to find vegetarian or vegan restaurants, stores but also bakeries, farmers’ market and B&B! They have an app now.Go to Japanese, Lebanese, Indian and Nepalese restaurants – they always have something for us. You want to try the local cuisine and your friends really want to try this restaurant but they have nothing suitable? Don’t be afraid to ask! You explain politely you are vegetarian and ask if they can cook something up for you. I usually pick up something from their menu and ask to remove the meat for example. They will often add more veggies but don’t be surprised if you pay the same price. Don’t hesitate to explain what you can eat and what you cannot – waiters sometimes think you eat fish or you have the diet of a rabbit. If nothing can be done, order 2-3 sides and a soup can be a solution. Just don’t forget the soup can be made with a non-vegetarian broth so don’t be afraid to ask if the soup is vegetarian.
4- Ensure you have a balance diet We tend to eat with no problem our 5 veg and fruits but we can feel tired, loose more hair than usual. It might mean we have deficiencies. Becoming vegetarian goes with some (and interesting!) nutrition learning. The vegetarian society website clearly explains where to find for example Iron, Vitamin B12 and proteins. In order to avoid deficiencies, you will discover new products such as Seitan, Tempeh and QuornTM . If you have allergies or you struggle to have a balance diet, don’t hesitate to contact your GP or a nutritionist for help. After 2 years, I made a blood test to be sure everything was fine – I just had a lack of vitamin D (well, not surprised for that one). I will probably run a test every 2 years.
If you used to buy fish oil omega 3, keep in mind alternatives exist. I personally use opti3 Omega 3. It’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans and contains vitamin D3. Speaking of this vitamin, be careful as it can contain fish oil too. The brand Viridian offers vegetarian capsules
5- Family and Friends dinners Next Sunday is the Family dinner and your parents are freaking out because they don’t know what you eat beside salads and carrots (yep, rabbit’s diet again). If your family don’t mind eating something new, you can offer to cook for everyone a vegetarian meal or you cook for yourself. Either way, you will see that they are usually curious and they want to try your food, even your grand-father who usually never eats new things. It can be nice to cook an alternative: your mother is cooking a beef stew, make yours with Seitan. Your aunts and uncles will try both and probably state yours is best ;)
6- It’s ok to have cravings You ordered a steak and now you regret. You have the feeling that you failed and eating vegetarian for 3 months was a waste of time. Nope. it’s not. Think about all the animals you did not eat, all the good things you ate and how your health is better. Don’t give up and try new things: hot-dogs with fake sausages, a tasty hamburger with halloumi. We used to eat meat every day for years, habits die hard especially when they are bad.
7-Don’t try to make everyone vegetarian This tip can be unexpected but we tend to desire that everyone will do the same choices. You are finally vegetarian, proud of it and you stick to the diet. However, your friends and your family don’t share your point of view. Almost everyone asked me if my partner is vegetarian. I’ve decided to change my diet but I won’t decide for my partner, he is a grown-up :) Same as I am a big girl, I don’t want people to decide for myself. We don’t all make the same choices, at the same speed. Respecting each other choices is paramount and of course, it is great to see more and more people becoming vegetarian, vegan or even reducing the consumption of meat. I don’t want people judging me for not eating animals anymore so it is logical that I don’t do it either.
I probably forgot a few things and haven’t answered to all your questions, don’t hesitate to add your questions in the comments and I will be happy to reply :)
Update - 14/04/2020
I have been vegan for a year now but please let me know if you wish a similar post to know more about the vegan diet :)