Vegan Beginner's Guide!


I have had many people ask me many questions about my lifestyle change, diet and what it means to be vegan...and how they can do it too. I wanted to put everything I've learned from this experience along with the recipes that support it. A friend said he would go vegan if he could go through "Rachel Bootcamp" because it is daunting and it seems like an unattainable or difficult task. Here is my attempt at a bootcamp for today's people in a fast paced, meat filled and unhealthy or ignorant environment. Being vegan doesn't only involve food but will most likely develop into a philosophy and lifestyle. You will learn about yourself anytime you speak to someone at a meal or refuse something at the holiday dinner. You will need to know yourself, your limits, your determination and you will find out how to give your elevator speech on why you are the way your are - and you will learn to give a damn about what you put on your fork. 

What Type of Vegan Are You?

The truth is, it's not hard after a while. Once you get used to anything, it's much easier, and it becomes more fun as time goes on. It's been over six years for us now, and I never feel like I'm deprived. But, I do it right (for me). There are many versions of vegans out there. I'm not the raw, hippie, activist vegan. I'm also not the junk food bingy vegan. I like to eat healthy with lower amounts of chemicals in my food, but I enjoy a junky donut once in a while (or like a lot of the while). You can pick from either side of the spectrum, and you can still be your own purpose. You don't have to represent the stereotype, because - as you'll notice - there are lots of different versions of vegans all over the world. It's fun to meet them all, share the common interest in the community, and explore what each sub-culture has got for you. 

Vegan or Vegan-Friendly Friends

I have lost many non-supportive friends through changing my diet because many social gatherings revolve around food and dining together. It's hard to go out with friends when they want to nonchalantly go to a restaurant where even the salad has meat in it. You will find your true friends in the process, because being friends with people who are too selfish to accomodate you in any way are just not great people. I still live in a world with 95% meat eaters, so most people, friends, and family I have eat meat. But I choose to be around people who support me. Finding friends that are vegan, vegetarian or just veggie friendly are a must for sticking to the diet. Don't expect everyone to come around with you, and I don't feel particularly compelled to preach my point. Even if they have one vegan meal with you once in a while, it changes the planet, and their diet in that small way. Going 100% vegan is not for everyone, and that's ok. Be supportive in any way they will support you. 

 "According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads." ( Badgering them to eat vegan every day seems impossible most likely, but encouraging friends and family to switch ingredients, help their health and the environment once in a while will most likely turn into more than that. Replacing ingredients for me turned into a full fledged diet after more research. A slow and steady study lead me to love the new way of eating. Your family just accepting to eat a meal with you is a great start, so support that little decision instead of preaching to them that their lifestyle sucks. 

Cooking and Shopping

The best way to become more conscious about what you put in your body is to pick the ingredients for your meal. You will need to become an avid ingredient reader. You will learn a TON about what you took for granted was in your food and you will find out if you can or even want to eat those ingredients. When you first become vegan, it's hard to move through the neverending ingredients and vegan products out there. There are good and ugly versions of all the mimicked foods (meat and dairy alternatives), so here is a list of my favorite foods that are ALWAYS in my house. Pick these specific brands up today, and you won't be disappointed or deprived ever again. There are also a few tools that are completely necessary to survive. Here is a list of what you need to buy now!

Shopping List - 10 ingredients to have in your house right now!

1. Best meat substitute: Field Roast Seitan. Try the Italian sausages or handformed burgers!
2. Best cheese substitute: Cashew cheese. Try making your own, or try Mikyoko's Kitchen and Kite Hill Brie. There are two good soy cheeses that are very unlike the rest, try: Follow Your Heart mozzarella shreds, or Field Roast Chao cheese. 
3. Best egg substitute: Follow Your Heart VeganEgg. This is a revolutionary product that feels and tastes like egg. Make scrambles, quiches, and breakfast burritos again!
4. Best mayonnaise substitute: Vegenaise! It will change your life. Make some dipping sauces with these immediately and always have a ranch or thousand island in your house. 
5. Best addition to ALL recipes ever: Nutritional Yeast. This powder will add a cheese flavor to your foods and it's basically a necessity to have in almost all foods at all times. It makes everything better.
6. Best butter alternative: Earth Balance. This is a healthy alternative to butter and it is NOT margarine and does NOT have hydrogenated oils.
7. Best yogurt alternative: Kite hill yogurt is super fantastic! But most non-dairy yogurts are pretty good. I enjoy the coconut yogurts best with the brands Almond Dream and Silk.
8. Best milk alternative: Carrageenan is thought to be a carcinogen and is found in hundreds of products as a thickener. It's found in many alternative milks, but not all. Most of the non-name brand milks are fine. I use Trader Joe's and Whole Foods almond milk. For soy, I like Soy Dream vanilla because it's the only one that foams to make microbubble foam (it has carrageenan, but it's worth it ;))
9. Best tofu: Wildwood sprouted organic extra firm tofu. Soy products and me don't mix very well, but sprouted/organic tofu alleviates those issues. Pretty amazing for fried recipes. 
10. Best meat alternative if you're not a seitan fan: Gardein brand has pretty good alternatives and their chick'un is pretty fantastic. It can be found at Target, so that's a plus too.

Go to my recipe page to find homemade vegan pizza recipes, cupcakes, raw chocolate, pasta bolognese and tuno sandwiches. This diet will allow you to say no to fast-food and take time to be creative and make something that tastes great and is good for you. 

Health and Nutrition

Many people's first response to "I'm vegan" is "Where do you get your protein". This is actually not a problem for anyone to get protein. There is a problem with overconsumption of protein in America, and this diet will give you enough protein with seitan (wheat gluten), soy, almonds and beans. The only items you need to be careful to ensure you body has is B12 because only soil carries that (meat eaters get that from the animals eating grass and soil and the flesh carries the B12). Getting proper amounts of B12 is crucial, but you can get that from fortified foods like coconut milk or taking a supplement.

The other items I make sure I have are just to be a healthy person. Calcium consumption is highest in broccoli and almonds, Vitamin D is from the sun 15 minutes a day, fiber comes from beans or flax and omega 3s can be eaten from hemp, flax or fortified Vegenaise for that matter. Just be careful to eat a balanced diet as you would as a meat eater, be mindful of your diet and make sure you reach all four areas of the vegan pyramid: Whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit.


Eating a meat-free diet is good for the environment by using less land for food consumption than raising animals on the same land. According to the book Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens, "For each fast-food, quarter-pound hamburger, 55 square feet of rain forest are destroyed. One hundred species become extinct every 2 billion fast-food burgers sold. The effects of livestock land use in the US account for about 85% of the four billion acres of topsoil lost per year. A pure vegetarian diet, on the other hand, makes less than five percent of the demand on the soil in this country.". Feeding livestock could feed the US population five times over and 95% of oats and 80% of corn in America is harvested to feed livestock instead of starving people worldwide.

Products & Animal Welfare

I am an animal lover and feel I am a compassionate person. I don't like to see helpless beings of any species being subjugated to any type of torture. This is the next part of the lifestyle that doesn't include food but the products you buy and they entertainment you enjoy.

Many packaged foods include hidden names for something the manufacture obviously wants to hide. Peta has a good list of these ingredients and there are some great books to read on ingredients and where they are used. Gelatin and whey are ingredients I find extremely often. Gelatin is melted down animal hooves and bones, this is used in most candies, marshmallows and Jello. It makes things have a sticky consistency. Whey comes from milk. Watch out for these two items if you are shopping or just look for the bold lettering "This product contains milk" these are good indications for people who have allergies to be careful of the ingredients inside so you can easily spot items with milk and eggs that way.

Entertainment is considered entertaining to everyone except the trapped and tortured animal. Watch "How I Became an Elephant" or "The Cove" to find out more.

Some easy tips and final words

Going vegetarian or vegan is a long trek but well worth it. I tried many years ago and failed because I wasn't ready for the cooking and wasn't well read on the health aspects of the diet. Simply taking out the meat from your regular diet with surely make you sick, eating only salads will kill your energy and health. I went vegetarian and replaced the meat with fake meat and still felt just as unhealthy. There are many chemicals, salts and fats inside the fake chicken patties or fake hotdogs. If you want to become vegan and feel better, you need to eat your veggies and fruits along with some good protein and whole grains. Also, read some of my favorite books to learn more and see for yourself. I loved Eating Animals by Johnathan SaFran Foer and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. There are also many documentaries about food production that are informative. I can't watch them too much now, but they are a great way to educate yourself on what's going on behind the scenes. 

Good luck!