The Vegan's Notebook


Few people become vegans overnight. Perhaps even fewer keep exactly the same set of habits they held when they first considered themselves vegetarian. Consequently, it's fair to say that transition between types of vegetarianism is common.

Dietary changes

When diet is a concern, slower changes (over at least a few days or weeks) are probably healthier than sudden, drastic changes. It also takes a while, and some effort, to find substitutes for foods that contain meat. Lots of vegetarians find that meat substitutes are very useful when they first become a vegetarian.

Omnivorous to Skeptical Vegetarian

Many people quit eating a specific type of meat as a first, hesitant step. They don't always consider themselves vegetarian. They might only use the label out of convenience. Yes, unbelieveably, people will sometimes ask questions that might seem very nosy to newfound veggies. It's silly, they expect someone that just traded sirloin for tofu to know about the farming practices of catfish and defend every radical environmentalist who has walked on planet Earth.

Stopping Dairy Consumption

There are reasons for veggies to not conume dairy. Fortunately, it's also easy... every grocery store seems to carry cold soy milk next to the cold cow milk, and the warm vacuum-sealed variety has a shelf life measured in months. If soy isn't appetizing, there's also rice milk, and probably a few other nut or grain milks at your grocery store. Some vegan cheeses are available, but most of the cheeses that are labeled as "vegetarian" contain casein. So why stop eating dairy products?

Dairy products often dominate omnivore cuisine. Milk requires farming cattle, often in conditions that are less humane than those provided for cattle raised for meat. Some products that do not otherwise seem to contain whole milk might contain casein, the main family proteins found in milk. Casein is often extracted from milk for use as a binding agent, or as a plastic. Calcium caseinate is the form of casein found in unaltered milk.

Dairy products like cheese are often cultured with rennin, an enzyme from rennet found in the stomach lining of unweaned calves. Rennet has also been derived from plant sources, and the genetic encoding isolated and spliced into some bacteria. A similar enzyme, chymosin, is derived from adult cattle and sometimes used as well, or mixed with rennet. The enzymes are a crucial part of cheese manufacturing, and combined with milk to initiate the curdling process.

Stopping Egg Consumption

Eggs are in a lot of food. But, that does mean vegetarians must accept their presence as unavoidable or not consider their impact. Almost all of the reasons for not eating other forms of meat apply to eggs as well. The health benefits, the environmental impact, and the ethical considerations of animal rights (or welfare) are all affected by eggs just as with meat. As an animal tissue, eggs contain the increase in contaminants and the mixture of fats harmful to human health. While the eggs themselves aren't sentient (they're often unfertilized, even), the hens that lay them are as affected by worse conditions than chickens raised for slaughter. Also, the laying hens are usually slaughtered after their egg production drops.

Animal-based products

Ok, so you're not a vegetarian purely for reasons of health. That doesn't mean changing your consumption is strictly limited to food, though. Vegetarian products other than food are often labeled "vegan", but don't let the tag scare you away if you consider your vegetarianism something else. If you can't find the vegan/vegetarian label, look for the words "man-made" or "synthetic" on things like shoes to indicate they aren't leather. I've even seen fake suede shoes. Both felt and velvet imply a transformation process that a material has undergone, not the contents that are relavent to vegetarian clothers. Wool, like any any animal-derived product, presents some of the same problems. Animal testing occurs often on personal care products like cosmetics, and probably represents the area where the most research is needed.

Making the Change to a Vegetarian Diet.