By Erik Marcus
One of the great virtues of New Year’s resolutions is that they can take any form, since there are limitless opportunities for self-improvement. Resolutions can be hugely ambitious or they can be tiny—the important thing is that they stick. You don’t want to be that person who commits to a rigorous workout program but who gives up after three visits to the gym.
The most common of all New Year’s resolutions concerns making commitments to improve diet or health, and veganism is an increasingly popular route towards achieving this goal. Likewise, people wanting to disconnect themselves from agribusiness cruelties are especially likely to embrace a vegan lifestyle. But animal protection is just one of many reasons to go vegan. To get acquainted with all the best reasons to move to a plant-based diet, see my “Why Go Vegan?” essay.
Unfortunately, many vegans ultimately go back to eating animal products. Oftentimes, it’s because they’ve paid inadequate attention to nutrition. There are plenty of junky foods that are vegan, and if these foods make up the bulk of your diet your health will surely suffer. Additionally, even people who commit to eating their veggies can run into trouble. There’s just no substitute to reading up on nutrition—the payoff is huge and failure to learn the basics is the quickest path to becoming an ex-vegan. Just like omnivores, vegans can benefit from a few judiciously-chosen inexpensive supplements.
While it’s absolutely possible to make a complete transition overnight, it takes a lot of reading and significant commitment to pull that off. By contrast, if you just edge into things and gradually step up your commitment every week, you’ll still make surprisingly rapid progress. So here are some ideas for New Year’s resolutions if you don’t feel ready to go 100 percent vegan on January 1st. Some of these suggestions are big, some are tiny. All are easy and important.
Read Books and Watch Movies
It doesn’t matter if the topic is nutrition, animal rights, or environmental considerations; the more you know the less you’ll want to eat animal products. Motivation is everything and there’s no better way to increase your motivation than spending time learning about the advantages of being vegan. Check out our books page for some of the top titles. For movies, you might check out Vegan: Everyday Stories and Get Vegucated.
Do a Three Week Test Drive
One of the things that keeps people from going all-in is the raw terror that accompanies making a lifelong commitment. So why not take the pressure off? One great way to do it is to make a temporary commitment. Do three weeks and see how it goes. If that approach sounds appealing, we’ve got a handy guide to trying out a vegan diet.
Go Vegan in Your Kitchen
If there’s one thing that worries people contemplating a vegan diet, it’s the thought of being far from home with no obvious vegan options. Long-term vegan learn how to eat well wherever they go. But by merely committing to be vegan at home, you can still eat whatever you want when you leave the house. Maybe over time you’ll be ready for a greater commitment, maybe not. But it’s fair to say that you’re making a difference by eating vegan whenever you’re home.
Try Being Vegan Before 6
Mark Bittman might be the most respected general interest food politics writer in the world. He’s not vegan but he certainly understands the benefits as well as anyone. With that in mind, he created a diet for himself where he stays vegan every day until 6:00 PM, and then he eats whatever he wants after that. If everyone did that, the meat, dairy, and egg industries would be totally screwed. After Bittman adhered to this plan for a few years, he decided that the rest of the world could benefit from it as well, so he published a great book on the topic. Just like our Three Week Test Drive mentioned above, Vegan Before 6 is one of the best ways to experience veganism while bypassing the pressure of having to be perfect for the rest of your life.
Eat a Vegan Restaurant Meal Every Week
90 percent of becoming vegan or mostly vegan is just trying new foods. If you’re lucky enough to have vegan-friendly restaurants nearby, you can experience all sorts of great new food ideas without spending a moment in the kitchen. The best way to discover all your nearby vegan options is to search Google Maps. Just search for vegan and you’ll find every local vegan-friendly restaurant. Boom—you’re now an expert on your area’s very best options. For more possibilities use HappyCow, a restaurant review site devoted to vegetarian and vegan dining.
And don’t forget the deli section at your local natural foods store. They’re usually loaded with some terrific vegan options.
Buy, and Read, a Few Vegan Cookbooks
Over the past decade or so, veganism has transformed from fringe oddity to mainstream movement. In consequence, a flood of cookbooks have come to market and the typical title has improved from sucky to superb. Given the stiff competition there’s just no room for mediocrity anymore, and all the bestsellers now share top-notch production values. To browse a good vegan cookbook today is to immerse yourself in all sorts of delicious possibilities, so why not take full advantage?
If you want to explore a specific type cooking, there’s a vegan cookbook for every niche. Our cookbooks page brings together all the finest recent titles, covering everything from cupcakes to Korean food.
Spend More Time in Your Market’s Produce Section
This one’s so obvious it’s shocking that virtually nobody notices it. There’s no doubt that the healthiest people spend more time scouring the produce section than hanging out in the cookies, chips, and soda aisles. Merely spending time in the produce section all but guarantees you’ll buy more of the stuff on display. So do that, OK? The benefits are huge, regardless of whether you’re a Level 5 Vegan or the world’s biggest meat eater. And every mouthful of vegetables you consume is a mouthful of animal-based foods you aren’t eating.
For extra points, bring up an unfamiliar vegetable each week and find a way to cook it. Our guide to vegetables covers all the best preparation methods.
The phrase “it was the least I could do” undoubtedly inspired Meatless Mondays. I mean, what could be easier than to forgo meat just one day a week? Options abound, and you’ll have the combined energies of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the cutest Beatle backing you up at every turn. Even if you go no further than observe Meatless Mondays, you’ll be well ahead of most people and solidly in the camp that’s striving to make a difference.
Any of these ideas are fantastic stepping stones toward a plant-strong diet. But if you can come up with something that meshes even better with your lifestyle, have at it! There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The key is to enjoy the experience, constantly try new foods, and to make this a journey of discovery rather than deprivation. Remember that cutting out foods feels like deprivation, whereas crowding out foods with plant-based alternatives you prefer is a piece of (vegan) cake.
Over time, you’ll find that being mostly or entirely vegan becomes second nature, and you’ll be taking more pleasure from food than ever before.