Your first three weeks as a vegan

'I think I want to try to be vegan.'

Thinking of trying out veganism? We know that it might seem like a massive scary change at first, but it gets easy really fast, and in fact by the time you get to your third week as a vegan you will probably find that the lifestyle feels mostly effortless to continue. It's a bit difficult to know how exactly to start with going vegan so we thought we would write a guide to help make those first few weeks of trying out veganism in Norway so much easier. At the end of the three weeks you might not know all the little tips and things that someone who has been vegan for many years does but you will definitely be over the hardest part and know more than enough to stay vegan if that's what you want.

Being vegan involves cutting out the use of animals as products and avoiding contributing to animal suffering in ways which are as practical to your own lifestyle as possible. The unnecessary use of animals might suddenly become apparent to you, not just in food you eat but in other areas of your lifestyle too. However if you try to change everything in your life, right from the beginning of your journey with veganism, it's most likely going to stress you out, confuse you, and make you feel hopeless. It's like joining a gym and going straight to the heaviest weights after not training for years. You will get much better results if you just take it one step at a time. 

Start with your diet

The most important thing I can tell you is that when I went vegan, I didn't feel like I was missing things from my diet, I felt like I was gaining new things. Having the mentality that you are not cutting anything out and instead crowding things out really helps. When you think that you are cutting things out, it makes veganism feel like a deprivation, a sacrifice, a restrictive diet. However when you crowd out non vegan food it doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all because you are getting rid of the old foods that are a product of suffering and death and replacing them with a whole bunch of new stuff that you might not have tried before, free of animal suffering, full of new tastes and textures, satisfying and filling.

Experimenting with new vegan food is the most important thing you can do in these first three weeks, try as many new foods as possible, because every time you find a new vegan food that you love, the animal based foods you used to eat get pushed further to the sidelines, and even if you go back to eating meat at the end of your vegan experience, at least you will know how to make a whole bunch of great vegan meals for the days when you feel like eating a little greener or when you have your vegan pals over for a party. Of course, you won't love everything that you try, but every time you find something you enjoy it will feel like you have struck gold and will displace some of the non vegan foods you are accustomed to eating. Trying all this new stuff means you will learn about all these vegan options that exist in supermarkets and when you are dining out that you probably never noticed before.

Shopping

If you want tips on where to shop for vegan products then you are definitely in the right place. We are Norway's biggest experts on where you can find vegan food. We made a free app for iOS and Android phones with a guide to all of the best places you can shop and eat vegan in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger. There are over 500 places in the app each with a detailed description of all the vegan tips and tricks you need to know when visiting them.

When you are grocery shopping as a vegan you may feel inspired to check out more places than your regular supermarket for your groceries, because even though you can get some great vegan stuff at Rema 100, Kiwi, Meny and Coop, some of the fancier or more unusual vegan products are often found at health food stores. That being said, every supermarket will sell the basic staples that you need in your diet like beans, lentils, pasta, rice, tomato sauce and soy milk and most of them now also sell popular vegan meat replacements from brands like Hälsans Kök, Anamma, and Oumph! When I do my grocery shopping for the week I usually end up going to three places: an international grocery store, a supermarket and a health food store. I do them in that order because they get progressively more expensive so it's more economic for me to find the most stuff at the first one.

First I go to an independent grocery store.

First of all I head to the biggest and best international supermarket in my city. When I say international supermarket, I mean the sort of place where you will find an array of products from all over the world. Usually these places have a lot of ingredients that you might need for cooking asian or Indian food. These are my favourite shops to get my vegan essentials from because they are so cheap and they have so much great stuff, dried beans, rice, sauces, tofu, accidentally vegan sweets and cakes, and so much more! I can usually find most of the ingredients for my vegan recipes from these sorts of places. I buy a hell of a lot of dried stuff from here like chickpeas, broad beans and lentils. Once your cupboards have a safety stash of dried pulses bought from independent grocery stores, you will find that your weekly shopping becomes a lot cheaper.

Then I hit up a chain supermarket.

Once you have packed your backpack full of rice and tofu head over to one of the big chain supermarkets where sometimes the fruit and veg is a little fresher and they have a better choice in plant milks and vegan substitutes for everyday stuff. In our opinion the best supermarket chain for vegan food in Norway is Meny. They sell a wide range of vegan products like burgers, sausages, soy milk, almond milk, vegan cheese and ice cream. 

Unfortunately, supermarkets often group all the 'alternative' food together in one place which means that if you look for something like vegan cookies, they might also be organic, gluten free, sugar free, and therefore really expensive. This is great if you do actually have food allergies, but for those of us who are living on a budget (nice to meet you, me too) it's really wise to shop around for those expensive vegan luxury items or see if you can make them yourself. (Check out our blog post veganism on a student budget over here.) All that being said, supermarkets are certainly more accommodating to vegans than they once were, in fact this year Meny launched Norways very first vegetardisken to huge success and have been promoting vegan recipes on their site all year.

If I need anything special I pop to the health food store.

A good natural food store generally beats a supermarket in every important respect, but you can't do all your grocery shopping there as it will cost you an arm and a leg! When you first enter one of these sort of shops you might feel as though you have gone into vegan heaven. Here you will find all sorts of terrific vegan goodies that offer familiar flavours and absolute convenience: ice cream, mayo, frozen pizza, and a selection of vegan 'meats'. You will often find artisan and ethical products made by independent companies that are not only vegan but also organic, fair trade, and environmentally friendly. To be honest I mostly use health food stores to buy my fave brand of vegan cheese; 'violife', something called nutritional yeast (I'll explain what the hell this is later on), and vegan bouillon, but sometimes I do treat myself to some fancy vegan chorizo style hot dogs or some amazing vegan posh chocolate. I'm not the fanciest vegan lady in the world, but it is nice to enjoy a bit of luxury chocolate now and then isn't it?

Other places to shop

There are of course other ways to shop for vegan products. Once or twice a year I buy a bunch of stuff from one of the online vegan stores. There are three really great ones: veganermat,  veganlife and Kinsarvik. Both sell similar sorts of vegan products and for far cheaper than you would pay for them in some of the health food shops or supermarkets. I like to buy big bags of cashew nuts here, seitan flour, and sausages! There are also a lot of farmers markets happening all over Norway where you can get some really nice vegetables.

What am I looking for?

To help give you some examples of the typical things you might find in a Norwegian vegan kitchen we made this little illustration and have explained what some of the things are. Please don't take this as a prescriptive list. You don't need to run out and buy all of this stuff right now. Instead I would just check it out and maybe try a couple of things that catch your eye. Remember to focus on crowding out the non vegan products instead of cutting them out.

1. Liquid Smoke - Used often in vegan recipes to give tofu and various other stuff a smokey flavour. You can buy this from most larger supermarkets and independent grocery stores.

2. Nutritional Yeast - I know it sounds weird. It is yeast, but it's not like the yeast you use to make bread or beer. You can't just eat this stuff on its own like cereal or anything but when you add it to recipes it gives a sort of cheesy flavour. I know it sounds weird.

3. Oumph! - If there is one thing you should try in your first three weeks as a vegan please let it be Oumph! This soy based meat alternative from sweden is available in all the big supermarkets frozen section now and you can use it in the same way you would use meat!

4. Plant milk - Alpro, Oatly, and Go Green are the biggest plant milk brands and there are even some supermarkets that have their own range too. These days there is more to plant milk than soy, check out almond milk, rice milk, oat milk and coconut milk!

5. Chickpeas - Find a whole range of vegan protein sources for really cheap in the canned section of any supermarket. Our faves our black beans, lentils and chickpeas. You can also use the water from a can of chickpeas as an egg replacer, yep I'm being totally serious.

6. Vegan butter - This pretty nice one made by Berit Nordstrand is easy to find in most supermarkets. However you can find other brands of vegan butter at health food stores.

7. Vegan chocolate - the cheapest vegan chocolate we have found is coops own brand cooking chocolate which costs about 10kr and is actually not too bad. I use it mostly for baking though. Vego bars are a big fave in the vegan scene and you can get them from most health food stores.

8. Dried pulses - I use lentils all the time in dishes that call for mincemeat. With the right seasoning they work really well. They're also really good for you and a massive bag of dried ones is so cheap, like 25kr. I also buy dried chickpeas, but you have to soak them in water overnight and then boil them before you can use them.

9. Coconut milk - Great to have in the cupboard for when you want to whip up a vegan thai curry or this soup by Veganmisjonen. If you are feeling a little adventurous you can also use it to make your own caramel!

10. Tofu - Let me tell you right now that fried tofu should be the first type of tofu you try. Most people try to use silken tofu in recipes which call for fried tofu and then it just ruins tofu for them for a while. Please don't let that happen to you. If you can, get this exact type of tofu. You can usually find it at most independent international grocery stores.

11. Vegan bouillon - I cook with this all the time, It's a good all round spice. Get it from most health food stores.

12. Vegan cheese - Violife is my fave brand followed closely by Daiya. Pro tip: to make your cheese melty for pizzas first heat it up in a saucepan with a splash of oil, a splash of water and a splash of soy milk. Get the good vegan cheese at health food stores.

13. Tofuline vegan ice cream - This is the ice cream that most vegans go for as it's the easiest one to find in supermarkets. There is also a really nice vegan ice cream by Oatly which I personally prefer.

14. Wilmersburger Vegan Cheese - Another vegan cheese? Yep I included this because this is the one you will find in regular supermarkets and is handy to know about in case you can't get to a health food store.

15. Violife parmesan - YES IT'S ANOTHER CHEESE, but guess what, this one tastes exactly like parmesan cheese! I always have some of this in the fridge for grating on top of italian meals. Get it from the health food store.

16. Oatly iMat fraiche - This is a really great product to try in your first three weeks as a vegan. It's a creme fraiche substitute and can be used in so many ways. Find it in most regular supermarkets.

17. Accidentally vegan snacks. There are so many good vegan treats out there. We love these Smoki snacks that you can find at most international grocery stores, Oreos are also great, as are the plain Bixit cookies, Love Heart sweets, skittles and Sur Skalle.

18. The Vegan Egg - This caused quite a stir when it arrived in the stores earlier this year. Whilst the packaging resembles a normal egg box, inside you will find little sachets of powder that form an eggy mixture when mixed with water. The vegan egg means you can still make omelettes, quiche and baked goods! Find it at health food stores.

19. Anamma vegan products - You will find this brand sold at quite a lot of regular supermarkets all across norway and they make vegan sausages, falafel, burgers and more.

20. Hälsans Kök soya nuggets - Probably the nicest alternative to chicken nuggets on the market, you can find these at most regular supermarkets. Some nights you just need a nug.

21. Raw Bite - Sometimes you find yourself with no time at all, and need something to tide you over until you can get some proper food in you. Raw Bites are a great healthy vegan snack and they taste like a sweet treat. Get them all over the place, in Deli De Luca, Narvesen and health food shops.

22. Jackfruit in brine - The other other white 'meat'. A pulled jackfruit recipe went viral last year and since then people have found jackfruit is a wonderful meat replacement in for chicken as well as pork. Make sure you buy jackfruit in brine and NOT jackfruit in syrup, the two are very different.

23. Ajvar - Get some of this from one of the international supermarkets and thank us later. It's the best sauce.

Cooking

Ok, so now we have given you quite a detailed insight into shopping. Let's talk about what you are going to do with all this weird new stuff in your kitchen. The best way to get into veganism is to develop your cooking skills and make cooking an enjoyable and relaxing part of the day that you look forward to. So lets get our comfy pants on, put our fave album on and chill in the kitchen. We are about to learn some new stuff which is going to benefit you for the rest of your life.

Let's start with your tools. You are definitely going to need the basics of a chopping board, a good all round knife, a frying pan, maybe some other pans too and some basic utensils to go with the pans. Other than that I would really recommend a small pan for cooking rice in, a hand blender, some measuring jugs, kitchen scales, tupperware, and you know plates and cups and stuff. If you want to go super pro, get a food processor with a high wattage, you can make real magic with those things. 

The next thing to do is check out some vegan friendly recipes. The internet is full of vegan blogs, and even the mainstream recipe sites often have a great selection of vegan recipes. We find inspiration from all over the place, our favourites being Vegan Richa, Isa Chandra, Bryant Terry, Minimalist Baker and Jamie Oliver but there are also many great Norwegian vegan recipe blogs such as Vegetarbloggen, Veganmisjonen, and Green Bonanza (who all have wonderful cookbooks out right now). We recently pledged that in 2017 we would post a great vegan recipe every day on the Vegan Norway facebook page so follow us there for tasty inspiration.

Why not start out with something easy and cheap to make like an indian lentil dahl curry, or try making a bit pot of vegetable soup? A stir fry with fried tofu is also another great vegan option. The thing with stirfrys, soups and curries is that you can always vary them with slightly different vegetables, sauces and spices, so when you have mastered it once it should be super easy to have another go.

Try at making your own sweet potato chips and vegan aioli, or try and whizz up some pålegg for your lunch. See what kind of pizza creations you can come up with and maybe try making your own vegan burgers. Once you start checking out vegan recipes, you will be amazed at how much stuff you can actually do.

Eating out

Back in the day, dining out as a vegan was a painful and frustrating experience. Restaurant menus would be bulging with meat and fish and they would smother everything with egg and cheese. Vegans would be left with nothing but a side salad or maybe some fries. However, in a relatively short amount of time, things have drastically changed. In most big cities you will find a few 100% vegan restaurants and you can find vegan friendly ones all over the place. Some restaurants even have their own vegan menu, and now that allergies are being taken seriously (finally!) it's much easier for vegans to see what they can and can't eat on most menus.

We have spent the last two years working almost every day on finding out about the vegan friendly places to eat in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger. Our team has visited each place that is listed in the app and written a detailed guide of what you can eat there. There are now over 500 vegan friendly places to check out in Norway, so if you download our free app you shouldn't really find it a problem to eat out. Here are some pictures of some of the restaurants, cafes and takeaway places included in our app:

However if you live in a city that is not listed in our app you might find helpful tips on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Happy Cow or asking in some of the vegan facebook groups. If there are absolutely no vegan friendly places in your area, then the best thing to do is to ask a restaurant if they can veganise one of their existing dishes. Most places are very open to this and you may inspire them to create a vegan menu item in the future.

By far the most vegan-friendly of all cuisines is Middle Eastern, but you’re also likely to find great vegan options at Italian, Ethiopian, Mexican and Indian restaurants. We always recommend telling the waiter that you are vegan, or if you are not comfortable using the word vegan yet just say that you don't eat dairy products, meat, fish or eggs. If they get all funny about it and you are worried that they are not taking you seriously, say you have allergies - they have to take that seriously.

Vegan Nutrition

Most people (vegans and meat-eaters alike) don’t eat nearly enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It's such a vegan stereotype to much away on kale and spinach but those dark green leafy vegetables are some of the most nutrient rich things you can eat!

Some people think that simply by being vegan, they’re exempt from having to think about nutrition. Whilst it is true that vegetables are generally packed with nutrients, it’s still quite possible to develop a deficiency on a vegan diet. In fact, even if you fill your diet with healthy foods, you can still fall short on key nutrients. One thing that is really important is that vegans either take a B-12 supplement several times a week, or eat a substantial amount of B-12 fortified foods. Whether you are vegan or not it's always a good idea to get regular blood tests at the docs to ensure that you are not deficient in anything. You can find out you need to know about B-12 here, and for more info about staying healthy whilst eating plant based check out Hepla - A group of norwegian doctors and health professionals advocating for plant based diets.

Maybe check this stuff out

A good way to get through your first few weeks as a vegan is to give yourself regular reminders of why you’ve decided to make this change. The more passion you feel for your new lifestyle the easier it will be. 

For many new vegans, being confronted with the realities of factory farming is the single biggest motivator in their efforts to go vegan. We remember what it was like when we first went vegan and saw a bunch of very graphic videos and images of what happens to animals in factory farming. Even though we believe that everyone should be well informed of the systematic cruelties practised by animal agriculture we want to tell you that there are ways of learning about this stuff without traumatising yourself. Many people suffer with anxiety, depression, PTSD or other trauma so we should be careful about the ways that we confront the suffering that animals experience, so that we are taking care of ourselves whilst also not shying away from the realities of factory farming. Instead of sitting and watching video clip after video clip of the most horrifying animal abuse until you find yourself crying hysterically or shaking with anger, or following facebook accounts which constantly post horrifying content, maybe start by reading about it. Two great books to check out are 'Eating Animals' by Jonathan Safran Foer and 'Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows' by Melanie Joy. Both of these books are available to buy online, or maybe even borrow from your local library. I actually downloaded Melanie Joys book as an audiobook and listened to it on my walk to work each day.

One of few Youtube videos I would recommend on the subject of veganism.

Films are also a great way of learning about food politics and vegan-oriented issues. Of course films and images will reveal the realities of factory farming in a much more graphic way than books can. For this sort of thing the three films to watch are “Earthlings,” “The Ghosts In Our Machine,” and “The Cove.” These films are deeply troubling to watch so don't worry at all if you don't feel up to it, however witnessing them has said to be one of the main reasons why a lot of people I know have stayed vegan. Here in Norway the groundbreaking film 'Pels' really revealed the cruel realities of the norwegian fur industry and has shifted public opinion on the use of fur massively. If you’re more in the mood for a gentler introduction to the benefits of plant-based living you’ll enjoy films like 'Vegucated' and 'Forks over Knives.'

I listen to a lot of podcasts, one of my favourite ones is the Norwegian 'Kongler og Gress', but I also love to listen to international ones too like 'Our Hen House', 'The Bearded Vegans' and 'Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack'. I find that podcasts, much like audiobooks are really handy to have on in the background whilst I'm doing stuff I don't have to think much about. So I listen to them on long journeys, when I'm at the gym or when I'm cleaning the house.

More than a diet

As I said, focus on your diet at the start of your journey with veganism. Then a few weeks or months later, when you start to feel like following a vegan diet is for you, you might want to expand your veganism to include other shopping choices. This mostly involves thinking about your clothing and cosmetics.

Many cosmetics contain animal ingredients and most brands are also tested on animals. However it is possible to find products which are not tested on animals and include no animal derived ingredients. If this is something you want to look into we recommend checking out Cruelty Free Kitty, Ethical Elephant and Vegan Beauty Review. These bloggers have spent so much time researching brands to see if they are vegan friendly or not. When doing your own research on whether a cosmetic company is vegan or not it really helps to compare more than one source and be critical of what companies actually mean when they say 'cruelty free'.

Fur, leather, wool, silk and down are fairly easy to avoid. Bamboo wool and synthetic materials can be just as warm, look just as good, cost much less and not be the skin of animal that suffered or died. 

Don't worry!

The whole point of you trying out this three weeks as a vegan is not to be a 100% perfect individual (spoiler alert: it's impossible to be perfect) instead the point is to make a meaningful and satisfying change in your life. So if you slip up and consume some animal products whether accidentally or deliberately, please don't use that as a reason to give up completely. Remember that veganism is a journey, not a destination. Remember also that most vegans eat a more diverse and interesting diet than omnivores, all habits which have been steadily built up over time. When I now think back to what I ate before I went vegan, I'm shocked at how limited my diet actually was. 

Let's now revisit the main bits of advice I have given you in this article. If you can manage to do this stuff then I have full faith that you will not only find your first few weeks as a vegan very easy but you'll also feel equipped to go stay vegan if you fancy it.

  • Try loads of new food that you have never made before.
  • Get the Vegan Norway app.
  • Go shopping for vegan food.
  • Read a lil bit about vegan nutrition and check out our article on protein.
  • Develop your cooking skills, and try some recipes that look tasty as hell.
  • Check out some books, movies or podcasts on the subject of veganism.
  • Take your B-12!
  • Get some moral support and encouragement by following Vegan Norway, NOAH for Dyrs Rettigheter and Norsk Vegansamfunn on facebook.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist. Everybody slips once in a while, especially in the beginning. It's no reason to quit.

That’s it. You can do this!