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Decided to do Veganuary this year? Congratulations! Now what?

The past two years I (Megan “I’m Not A Vegan I Just Veg A Lot”* Burns) wrote up some tips I thought might be helpful to those traveling this (occasionally lonely) road, and pretty much all of what I said still goes in 2021. For the inaugural round of info, head to this handy link:

Tips for Veganuary 2019

*To quickly quote myself (because it’s still true), “As a full disclaimer, I fall more into the ‘reducetarian’ camp, meaning YES, I still eat (and use) animal products, but those instances are becoming fewer and farther between. (Like I’d guess I eat 90% vegan each month, if that gives you a better idea.)”

Now that it’s 2021, let’s revisit some useful stuff!

BUT FIRST…not everyone can go vegan! I know these are not the opening words of encouragement you wanted to hear from me, but I want everyone valiantly trying this lifestyle out to know that there are preventative factors! Food deserts exist, financial hardship exists, health conditions exist, a pandemic exists…all of these factors are potential (and very real) setbacks, and to imply otherwise is, in my opinion, irresponsible. If these issues do not apply to your personal situation, that’s fantastic, and I say go full force! But don’t beat yourself up if after this month you find you cannot go 100% vegan, and certainly don’t shame anyone else! (A good rule to live by if you do find yourself spreading the good gospel: gently (and consensually) educate, never berate.) Before you come for me, here is a great explainer video BY A VEGAN:

Okay, you’re in this to win this. So…what the fuck are we gonna eat?

I addressed this plenty in the initial 2019 guide, so I’ll be brief! We’re gonna be flexible, eat a bunch of great stuff, and we’re gonna get inspired by food blogs and YouTube channels if we’re feeling like we’ve run out of steam! It helps to load up things that are easily mixed and matched for max variety, budget-friendliness and convenience. I am personally a big fan of DIY bowls, so I keep a couple of different bases (greens, potatoes, pasta, oats, rice and other grains) on hand at all times. To those you can add fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen, whatever’s on sale), plant-based proteins (beans, tofu, seitan, etc.), sauces and dressings, nuts and seeds…the possibilities are endless, and it’s impossible to get bored. These things are also super easy to batch-prep if you have some time on the weekend or one weeknight, and then you can just pull from the cooked ingredients to make new combinations throughout the week.

For some good batch cooking inspo, check out Downshiftology; she’s not vegan, but she has a lot of good videos on prepping ingredients, and a lot of them are plant-based and low-waste. And for more overall inspo, you can check out the YouTube channels I mentioned in the 2019 guide!

BONUS: If you feel burnt out on cooking, you can always eat out! There has never been a better time for plant-based options on restaurant menus!

What are we doing with all that pre-Veganuary meat, cheese and dairy that’s still sitting in fridge?

If it’s going to spoil before the month is up, either freeze it or donate it to someone who can use it so that it’s not going to landfill! Otherwise, freeze it and reassess once Veganuary is through to see if you should keep it or re-home it.

When grocery shopping, should we buy organic?

Short answer: If you have the financial means, it definitely doesn’t hurt, but let’s not get it twisted – buying organic is a privilege, and not everyone can do it. (And let’s be real, the food supply + supermarket safety situation has been PRETTY BONKERS due to the pandemic. Let’s stay as realistic as possible.)

Long(er) answer: It’s absolutely not necessary to be a vegan and buy organic. Is it better for you and the environment? Often times yes. Is it more expensive? Sometimes, but not always if you live in an area with affordable options, and in a place not categorized as a food desert. But guess what? A lot of people don’t have access, or if they do, it’s not at all financially viable.

If you do want to dabble with buying organic produce but are worried it’ll break the bank, I would put emphasis on foods where you might be eating the skin, or that have had more exposure to external forces, like apples or potatoes. (I would also recommend organic rice if you can swing it, mainly due to ye olde arsenic.) For things where you’re removing the skin, like bananas or citrus, I think you can feel okay about going the conventional route. 

I have personally started getting a little more invested in organic stuff since I’ve been at this mostly-plant-based thing for a good while now, and have had a chance to sit down and learn a little more about it, but I am 100% aware that this is not possible for everyone. 

Bottom line: Please don’t stress yourself out or ruin your finances (especially during these challenging times) if this is your first toe-dip into the plant-based pond. 

And now that food’s outta the way, what’s the deal with supplements?

DISCLAIMER! I am obviously not a doctor or a nutritionist! But rest assured that a lot of what people say re: veganism pitfalls are purely mythical; you can absolutely get enough protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. while enjoying a vegan diet. However (and this can be argued for a carnivorous or herbivorous diet, too), you do need to pay attention to what you’re eating and try to go for a balanced nutritional profile. Obviously eating whole, clean-ish foods is ideal (things like spinach, beans and oats have loads of iron, sweet potatoes and red peppers have bonkers amounts of Vitamin A and C, nutritional yeast has loads of B vitamins, nuts + seeds and avocados are great sources of healthy fats, etc.), but that’s true for pretty much everyone anyway!  Find out the benefits of eating 11+ servings of vegetables, along with a blend of superfoods, probiotics, and digestive enzymes with Opti Greens.

That said, some people do recommend taking supplements, like vegan daily multivitamins, to ensure you’re getting enough of all the power players. I think this could be useful if you’re planning to go long-term with this way of eating, but I would personally recommend consulting with your doctor or a nutritionist first to determine whether or not any supplements are the right fit for you. While it’s difficult to OD on any one vitamin or mineral just from the food you eat on a daily basis, when it comes to highly concentrated doses, you can absolutely pump yourself full of too much iron, selenium, zinc…even Vitamin C! Not all side-effects are super scary (like, diarrhea and stomach cramps are not ideal, but not the end of the world), but things like too much iron, for example, over a long period of time can lead to some serious complications. SO, before you take advantage of the 35% off all vitamins and supplements sale that’s going on a Whole Foods this week (they know their new year market), take a minute to figure out if you’re really all that deficient in the first place. (Apart from maybe Vitamin D as it’s wintertime, my gut is telling me you’re probably not in dire straits on this front, so no need to rush into anything without more info.)

What about non-food things?

Being vegan doesn’t end at a plant-based diet, you guys! We have to start looking at things like toiletries and cosmetics, household cleaners, clothing…pretty much anything that can be made from animals and/or tested on animals needs to be examined. However, if I were you I would take this part slowly. It can already be overwhelming to switch up your diet, and trying to upend your entire house in the process might send you packing.

That said, whether or not you decide to continue with this after January ends, I would try to start paying a little more attention to what you’re consuming in addition to food, not just for the environment, but for your own health; there’s a lot of weird shit in stuff, and it’s not great for us! However, I do think there can be exceptions to the rule, like if you are trying to escape the fast-fashion wheel and buy a good quality pair of leather shoes or wool sweater second-hand, for example. Similarly, I wouldn’t advise creating waste by purging your home of animal products (the non-harmful ones, anyway); if they’re already there and you care about them, keep them and treat them well. If you don’t care about them, donate.

And when it comes to restocking your home and wardrobe with vegan goods, try to be mindful about those choices, too! There are some cool vegan brands out there, but some are not particularly budget-friendly, or even necessarily environmentally-friendly. So do your homework, and let’s make sure we’re not counteracting the positives of a vegan lifestyle.

In sum…

Have fun with this month! If you slip up, that’s okay! And you might not come away from this feeling like you want to go vegan full-time! You might, which is awesome, but the main hope is that you’ll realize that eating plant-based even some of the time is pretty fucking good and delicious, and with that knowledge you’ll be able to have a big impact on yourself and the planet! GOOD LUCK, AMIGOS!!!