For many people, going vegan can feel daunting. It’s a major lifestyle and ideological shift. On top of this, veganism also tends to be brought up in discussion with a whole bunch of other unrelated dietary and philosophical considerations that, when piled together, make it seem utterly impossible or like something you’ll never be good enough at so why even bother? Well, the good news is there are a whole bunch of things that you don’t need to do to go vegan, and only one thing that you do.
From the many, I’ve chosen ten things that you don’t need to bother with or can cut yourself a break on. Below are numbers 1 through 5.
Stayed tuned for You can find numbers 6 through 10 here, as well as the one simple thing that you should focus on when making the switch. Life is complicated, but living compassionately doesn’t have to be.
To go vegan, you DON’T need to…
- …go gluten-free.
For some reason, gluten-free has become conflated with vegan. It may have something to do with the increased awareness around both of these lifestyles in recent years, or maybe it’s influenced by the fact that some restaurants and cafes offer items that are simultaneously gluten-free and vegan to cover both bases at once. Several questionable books published in the last decade or so have also generated the idea that gluten-free is generally healthier for everyone (something for which there is currently no evidence), and I imagine that for some people this gets tacked onto the health arguments for a plant-based diet (something for which there is overwhelming evidence).
Whatever the reasoning behind it, these are two entirely separate categories and there is no reason to eliminate gluten from your diet when going vegan. Many of the foods that vegans love and that make the lifestyle easy and enjoyable contain gluten or are gluten (hello seitan!).
I avoid gluten because I have to, so I’m personally thrilled that there are so many products and menu items that cover both categories. And, of course, those who can eat gluten can enjoy these things as well, so it’s not hurting anyone to make them available. Gluten is not an animal product, though, so, unless you specifically have a problem with the big “G,” go nuts with the vegan pizza and enjoy your wheat meat!
- …stop using oil.
The origins of this one are easy to nail down: many of the doctors and scientists who advocate a plant-based diet also recommend significantly reducing or eliminating the consumption of oil. There are good reasons for this and it can be especially beneficial for people trying to lose weight or with certain health conditions, but going oil-free is by no means requisite for living vegan or doing so healthfully. Plant-based oils add flavor, increase satiety, and can improve the texture of certain dishes, plus they’re a key ingredient in many delicious vegan products like bakery goods, cheese, and buttery spreads.
I eat a low-oil diet and almost never use it in my own cooking, but I do this because I feel best when I eat this way and because it makes sense to me (I’m actually working on a whole post about this). That doesn’t mean that you have to cut out oil too, though. Oil has become a bizarre source of conflict in the vegan community, but, excepting some of the concerns regarding palm, there is nothing ethically troubling about consuming oil. If adding olive oil to your pasta or using coconut oil in your muffins makes being vegan easier and more enjoyable for you, then by all means, oil up!
- …stop enjoying the taste and texture of meat.
Chris and I both have trouble with plant-based meats. I once had a piece of soy jerky that was so realistically textured I had to spit it out. When Chris orders seitan burgers, he frequently struggles to finish them because they’re “too meaty,” and even soy curls go too far for his tastes. I used Gardein’s gluten-free crumbles to make tacos once, and, though I wasn’t grossed out, they also didn’t really do anything for me; I would have much preferred regular old beans or a lentil-walnut crumble. Vegan bacon that tastes too much like bacon makes both of us gag.
This is not typical.
Plant-based meats exist for a reason: most people who are vegan today were not always vegan. The vast majority of people do not go vegan because they stop enjoying the taste and texture of animal flesh and other products, they go vegan because they don’t want to harm sentient beings, contribute to environmental destruction, or because they recognize that there are health benefits in doing so.
If you suddenly realized that a puppy had to die every time you ate a cupcake, you would probably give up cupcakes, even though you still think they’re delicious. And if there were puppy-death-free cupcakes that tasted similar but didn’t contribute to puppy suffering, you would probably eat them, right? I know—it’s not exactly a serious analogy, but you get the point. (If you want a more earnest explanation, Chef Skye Michael Conroy offers a thorough and balanced reasoning for why vegans seek out plant-based products that resemble animal-based fare here.)
Point being: I am no more vegan because I’ve grown to dislike super meaty textures than someone who freakin’ loves a spot-on, beefy, plant-based burger. And Chris is no more vegan than me because soy curls make his brain go “ew, meat!” while mine goes “ooh, spongy soy goodness!” If your food is made of plants and your intention is to reduce animal suffering to the very best of your ability, then you’re vegan. Period. So, if plant-based meats scratch an itch for familiar flavors and textures, or if you just plain like the way they taste, enjoy the crap out of some Beyond Meat, Gardein, Tofurky, or Field Roast!
- …buy only organic.
The shift to veganism naturally necessitates an increased awareness of what’s in one’s food and how it’s made. For many, and especially those who adopt a plant-based diet with health in mind, this translates to buying more foods and products that have been certified organic. There are some vegans who will insist that you must buy only organic. To be fair, however, there are non-vegans who will insist the same. There are also those on either side that will be adamant about local, biodynamic, non-GMO, or any other number of buzzwords that make food seem more virtuous.
Is organic better? Sure, maybe. In some cases more than others. But virtually anything labeled organic is going to be more expensive. Vegan diets already have a reputation of being costly (even though they aren’t inherently so), and the pressure to buy organic can make being vegan seem completely unattainable. To insist on organic is elitist and unnecessary.
Though it often makes its way into the conversation, this isn’t a vegan issue and the solution is actually quite simple: do what you can, where you can, if you can. If you have room in your budget for some organic, check the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists to help you prioritize where to spend and where to save. Buy the best ingredients you can afford, but don’t beat yourself up if your cruelty-free salad was made with conventional kale.
- …cook all your beans from dried.
It’s true that there are benefits to cooking things that are fresh and from scratch, including quality control and cost savings. It is also true that we all probably have more time to do some of this kind of prep than we’re willing to admit. A lot of it is just about making it part of our routine. That said, crafting every last morsel of your meals from scratch is not even remotely necessary to being vegan.
Canned beans are quick and convenient, and prewashed greens make salads a breeze. Frozen fruits and vegetables are easy and healthful. Precut veggies can help meals come together in a flash and make for easy snacking. There are also plenty of canned or boxed soups and frozen entrees available these days that are free of animal-based ingredients. All of these are completely valid choices.
For some people it’s a lot of fun and feels worthwhile to stand at the cutting board, strain their own almond milk, culture cashew cheese, press together homemade date and nut bars, and boil pounds of dried beans. But if you’re not one of these people, you are in no way a lesser vegan. Any insistence that food should always and unconditionally be fresh and homemade is needless foodie snobbery, nothing more. Make from scratch the things that feel important and enjoyable to you, or that save you the most money, and don’t worry about taking some help with the rest.