There are a number of reasons why people go vegan, but I'm going to assume you already have your reasons and are ready to take the plunge. Making a change like this can be really intimidating, especially when you realize that vegan is a lifestyle and not just a diet. But you're not alone! I'm here to walk you through all the basic steps.
Check your fridge
Start by going through your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. Check all the labels. Be sure to keep an eye out for the sneaky stuff. (For example, Asian sauces with fish oil, casein (sodium caseinate), L-cysteine (feathers and/or hair... sometimes even human hair – blech!) Donate unopened food items that you can't eat and give away as much else as you can.
Remember that being vegan is about minimizing waste of resources, environment, or animal lives, so throwing away everything you can't eat wouldn't help the problem. For the same reason, keep in mind that some animal products are perfectly kosher to eat while vegan.
Don't forget the bathroom
A surprising number of beauty and health supplies aren't vegan. Look out again for the sneaky stuff such as A & D ointment with cod liver oil, shellac, or lanolin in lotions. Same caveat as with your food: donate or give away items you can't use.
Go through your closet
Chances are you own leather or wool shoes, jackets, clothing, maybe even furniture! Decide if you'd rather donate these items or keep them and use them until they are unusable, then replace them with vegan alternatives. Many vegans (myself included) keep leather shoes or jackets and such that they bought before they were vegan because they don't want those animals' lives to have gone to waste, since it is not possible to go back and change it. You can, of course, sell these items, but I found myself feeling a little uncomfortable with the idea of profiting monetarily off these animals' deaths and opted to either keep or donate them instead.
Go grocery shopping
The produce section is a whole new world! Bring a list of non-vegan ingredients to avoid or an experienced vegan friend who can guide you, otherwise you might find yourself very confused. Buy yourself some new things to try: maybe eggplant, tofu, quinoa, soy milk, nutritional yeast, ground flaxseed, and other vegan staples. I also recommend checking out some of the "fun" vegan options at this stage such as coconut ice cream, vegan chips and cookies, vegan cheese and butter, and maybe some vegan hot dogs or bacon. These things aren't good for your health and eventually you'll want to minimize them, but they very much ease the transition and reassure you that you can still eat delicious foods and even junk food as a vegan if you want to.
Experiment with recipes
Find staple dishes that you like (and that your family likes, if you're cooking for them too!) and write down the successful recipes. Life gets much easier after you've developed something of a recipe reservoir!
Find vegan restaurants
Everyone likes to eat out once in a while, so it's important to know where you can go in your area. Often Thai and Indian food places are a good bet if you (like me) live in a not-so-vegan-friendly area, but be sure to call first and make sure they don't use eggs, fish sauce, or fish oil in their otherwise animal-free meals.
Find a community
Depending on where you live, your best bet might be online. Don't worry; there are plenty of online vegan friendships to be had! Whatever you do, find a community of some kind, because this is the kind of thing that's easiest when done with the support of other people. When possible, wean off of your non-vegan friends and rely on vegans in their place.
Know your answers
You WILL get asked how you will get enough protein and iron, and you might even get asked how you will get enough calcium and vitamin B12. You will be told by Paleo supporters that primitive humans ate meat and therefore so should we. You will be told that veganism is fanatical and unnatural. You will be told that it's not healthy to eat so much gluten. You will be told that God said all things are good to eat, and people might even throw the "people of weak faith eat only vegetables" verse at you.
One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
If you're an atheist like I am, this won't land, but if you're religious at all look out for that one. You will be told anything that makes people feel better. You'll find that you being a vegan makes other people feel guilty about what they eat.
The greatest myth about vegans is that we're always going around judging other eaters. I haven't noticed that at all. Vegans, in my experience, are no preachier than any other group. People just think vegans are preachy because they make them feel uncomfortable about their own practices. So read up. At the very least, your mom will be worried about your health and you'll have to explain to her how healthful your diet is and how you're getting all your nutrients. At the worst, you'll get actually attacked and have to stand up for yourself. It's best to be prepared for any of it.
Buy some vegan cookbooks
I'll list a few I recommend in this slideshow, but look around because there are lots of vegan cookbooks to be had. There are also a ton of vegan blogs. My absolute favorite is Minimalist Baker. I use her recipes at least twice a week, and I'm constantly finding new ones on her site.
If you're doing a vegan diet for health reasons (even if it's only one of your reasons), I highly recommend the Forks Over Knives cookbook. If you're not all that into health and just want simple, delicious vegan meals, check out the Veganomicon. And for delicious vegan desserts, check out Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World.
Hungry for more advanced tips on living a plant-based life?
Are you thinking about going vegan? Do you have any questions or comments? Share them in the comment section!