by Dustin Rhodes

January is Veganuary—a month devoted to helping people who are serious about adopting a vegan lifestyle. While I personally don’t make New Year’s resolutions, per se, I do love that a whole month is devoted to the most profound thing I—and millions of others—have ever experienced in terms of personal change. I can’t seem to quit all my bad habits, but I find the vegan ethic sustaining, transformative and inspiring still—over two decades later.

I don’t have a good or interesting (let alone inspirational) vegan story. I didn’t have some big animal rights epiphany or health a-ha! In 1999, I had a vegan co-worker that I became close friends with, who had been raised a vegan by her parents, and I wondered, “Is part of the reason she’s so amazing because she’s vegan?” But what I really had, but didn’t realize at the time, was a vegan mentor—a gift I wish I could give everyone. She helped me navigate ingredients lists, products that were and weren’t tested on animals, how to deal with family and friends—all in real time.

That’s how my vegan practice started. I refer to veganism as a practice because I have messed up, many times, especially in the beginning; you probably will too. Calling it a practice reminded me then—as it does now—not to give up on something you can and will always get better at. I am always finding ways to improve upon what vegan means to me; in the past couple of years, I have tried to use less plastic, less of anything that contributes to our throw-away culture. Veganism, 23 years later, continues to reinvigorate, renew and restore my experience as a human being—for which I remain grateful.

There are an infinite number of reasons to become vegan—animals, the environment, your health, social justice, because it just seems like the right thing to do. All the reasons don’t have to resonate with you. The reason that I am most in alignment with: It’s the least I can do for animals. The least I can do to help the planet and the climate crisis we find ourselves in. Viewing it this way, veganism doesn’t become an overwhelming ordeal that feels impossible. It reminds me that I am imperfect and can always strive to do more. That’s the beauty of it: veganism helps us, each day, to be our best selves. For me, veganism is a path, not a destination.

Here are some tips for trying out a plant-based lifestyle in January (and hopefully far beyond)—some of which I learned the hard way—that I hope you’ll find helpful. Don’t be hard on yourself, but make the commitment that, even if you make a mistake or two, you just get back up and dust yourself off, as in life.

The best advice I can give is easy:

Learn To Cook

I cannot emphasize this enough: Go into your kitchen and start making food—food that does not contain animal ingredients. It’s as easy as buying a few great cookbooks, subscribing to some easy cooking channels on social media and being adventurous and open to having a good time. Don’t let Burger King inform what a vegan burger tastes like—make one from scratch. Learn how to make vegan Indian, Thai, Korean, Southern, Japanese—the list is endless—food. Expand your palette. But I urge you to do it in your own kitchen, even if you think you can’t or you think cooking is not interesting. This is the more healthy, ecological, delicious, empowering choice. I barely cooked at all before becoming vegan, and to be totally honest I was not talented at it. But cooking, like veganism, is a practice—the more you do it the better you become Cooking is also restorative, a creative outlet and a delicious way to spend time.

Pro-Tips: Friends of Animals has published two vegan cookbooks; our first one, Dining with Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine, is a terrific everyday cookbook; the second, The Best of Vegan Cooking, has more adventurous recipes.

Other cookbooks I personally recommend: America’s Test Kitchen: Vegan For Everybody, Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (great for beginner cooks), The Korean Vegan by Joanne Molinaro. AfroVegan by Bryant Terry, Hot for Food All Day by Lauren Toyota, Asian Green by Ching-He Huang

Instagram accounts to follow featuring vegan recipes/cooking tips: Chef Timothy Pakron @mississippivegan, Max La Manna @maxlamanna, @bestofvegan (a vegan recipe compilation account that’s full of recipes)

Vegan Youtube Cooking Channels:

These recipes are favorites of Friends of Animals’ staff:

Throw a winning tailgate party with these great vegan recipes

Our ultimate holiday vegan menu

Vegan Thanksgiving feast

Have Patience

I can promise you at least once you will eat a vegan meal at a restaurant or one that you cooked in your own kitchen and you will think to yourself: “this is gross.” You may be tempted to write off veganism right then and there. But this is a huge mistake. I wasn’t even a vegetarian when I became vegan, so I made the mistake of trying to make vegan versions of all the foods that I normally ate. Many people follow this approach, but I think most people who stick with it for the long haul agree that this is not the way. Yes, you can try vegan burger meat, faux fish, plant-based eggs, etc., but you will likely find them disappointing until you re-orient your mindset and taste buds. What I am trying to say is: Don’t try to eat exactly like you did before. That’s why I think it’s important to get into the kitchen. You will be shocked to discover than you can cook completely-from-scratch, home-cooked meals in less than an hour—sometimes even in less than 30 minutes. Cooking will be your superpower you never knew you had.

We’ll be back with some more tips for personal care products, clothing, etc. that doesn’t participate in animal exploitation—so stay tuned. And Happy Veganuary! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out or leave comments in the comments section.

For those of you who are already vegan, please share your tips! What do you wish you knew then that you know now? Do you have any favorite vegan recipes you’d like to share?

(Photo Credit: The Happy Pear)