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Tips on how to transition to vegetarianism

While transitioning to a different diet can be challenging, exploring new options and alternatives can be exciting. (Sheila Navarro)
While transitioning to a different diet can be challenging, exploring new options and alternatives can be exciting. (Sheila Navarro)

I am Filipino and part of a meat-eating culture where it is common to serve meat laden dishes like chicken adobo, beef caldereta or roasted pig. After years of being a carnivore, the odds of being a successful vegetarian are pretty low. Meat is at the center of my identity: from family parties to social events, the choices of carnivorous meals are plentiful.

When I decided to change my diet to vegetarian six months ago, people asked me how I have managed to do this in such a short amount of time. I was surprised by their interest. I have not been vegetarian that long, yet people still ask about my journey as if half a year is enough experience to offer sound and practical advice. Like with most long-term changes, the most crucial part is at the beginning when there is no safety net to fall back on like years of experience and wisdom and when temptation can be the strongest. This is my experience so far and if you are considering becoming a vegetarian then hopefully these five tips can help you.

  1. Evaluate why you want to be vegetarian and write it down. Some people do it for health reasons and some do it for political reasons. Do research or talk to other vegetarians. Be honest with your decisions and make sure your reasons are meaningful to you. This is especially important because you will find that reading your goals can be your motivation in times of doubt and frustration.
  2. Try a partial transition before the full transition. Meatless Mondays are popular, as well as eating red meat only on weekends or special occasions. I limited myself to only poultry for six months then being pescetarian – eating seafood – for another six months after. This made it easier when I became a vegetarian because I was already used to limiting myself to certain kinds of food.

    (Sheila Navarro)
    (Sheila Navarro)
  3. Tell your family and friends and share your reasons with them. For me, this part was the hardest because food is one of the ways my mom shows love and it pained her that I could no longer eat the meals that I grew up eating. Once I told her about my goals, my mom became more understanding. She became more prepared and she felt included in the decision. Now when I come over she can still make the same foods, but she alters it with vegetables or tofu. Also, let your friends know, too. Letting people know ahead of time gives them time to prepare and to adjust to the change as well.
  4. Be prepared! Start saving recipes, pinning on Pinterest or reading cookbooks. Bookmark vegetarian restaurants on Yelp. Eat something light before you attend social gatherings where vegetarian meals tend to be limited. Leave snacks in the car for onthego dilemmas. There are also meal delivery options such as Green Chef and Blue Apron that focus on vegetarian dishes; or, take the time to meal prep once or twice a week. The more prepared you are, the better position you will be in times of emergencies.
  5. Have fun. I cannot stress that enough. Just because you are vegetarian does not mean you should be deprived of rich, savory, flavorful dishes. Try recreating your favorite meal with a vegetarian twist. I had the best time this summer trying to perfect a moist black bean burger with grilled pineapple recipe.  Also, visit a vegetable farm in the fall or go fruit picking in the summer. Try buying a new vegetable every time you are in the grocery store, or creating a themed dinner with a couple friends. Everyone can bring various dishes that are cooked with a certain vegetable.

There are still some dishes I miss eating since I have become a vegetarian, but when I think about my goals, and when I have fun trying new restaurants or eating vegetables that I never would have considered, it makes it easier to stay on this new, rewarding path.