By Khadijah Khogeer

Veganism isn’t just a trendy diet, it’s a lifestyle increasingly adopted by many people around the world. Vegan restaurants and plant-based meal options have been popping up everywhere over the last decade. 

A vegan diet cuts out dairy, meat, seafood and animal byproducts such as honey and eggs. Because some of my favorite food items include meat and cheese, I never considered going vegan until I moved to the United States for college.

It was quite the culture shock when I went grocery shopping and found so-called “meatless meats,” as well as walked past a whole aisle dedicated to nut milks and even oat and pea milks. These options are either limited or completely unheard of in my home country.

I have also become increasingly exposed to animal cruelty and the environmental effects of the meat industry since moving to the U.S., so I decided to finally take on the challenge and start my journey into the vegan lifestyle. 

Here’s what I noticed my first week being vegan: 

  1. I started experimenting with more vegetables.

It’s not that I can’t eat vegetables without being on a vegan diet. Rather, cutting out meat from my meals meant more space for other foods. A lot of vegetables are underrated — artichokes, asparagus and brussels sprouts. Vegetables can be added as side dishes or blended into soups. I discovered that cauliflower is a versatile vegetable and that Trader Joe’s sells the best frozen cauliflower pizza crust.

  1. Finding protein I liked was difficult.

I tried tofu, beans, soy “meat” and many other meat alternatives throughout the week, but none could replace the satisfaction of a juicy steak or grilled chicken. However, Whole Foods sells “plant-based” burger patties, which are most similar in texture and flavor to beef. 

As a last resort, you can always add seasoning to cover up the taste of bland tofu.

  1. Non-dairy milk selections are very diverse, but none mimic the creaminess of cow milk.

Coffee connoisseurs will probably relate to the struggle of finding a good substitution for milk or cream in their coffee. After trying out many milks, I concluded that oat milk is the only acceptable substitution to milk in coffee. 

Almond milk has the consistency of water and coconut milk overpowers the flavor of coffee. Oat milk is also convenient if you have nut allergies.

  1. I didn’t miss cheese as much as I expected.

The most groundbreaking discovery I made is that vegan cheeses taste identical to, if not better than, regular cheese. The highlights of my discoveries this week include the Tofutti cream cheese from Whole Foods and a brand called Daiya, which makes many non-dairy cheeses, including mozzarella and cheddar.

Now, to answer the question on your mind about going vegan: Is veganism more expensive? 

The answer is: it depends. Cooking my own meals was just as cheap. While you can enjoy vegan meals outside, vegan restaurants tend to be pricey, as they are still a niche. I would say the beginning is costly because I had to buy some staple items such as vegan butter and mayo. But I expect to spend the same or less money on vegan groceries. 

I should highlight that I became vegan for ethical reasons rather than to lose weight. But while vegan foods are not always low-calorie nor necessarily contain “healthy” ingredients, for me, being health-conscious is key to making a vegan diet sustainable.

Being a new vegan is challenging because I still crave meat. But I feel the extra effort of discovering new ingredients and recipes is worth reducing my environmental footprint and has also made me reconsider whether I really need animal products in my diet.