Checklist for Going Vegan

Courtesy: D Sharon Pruitt

This week was supposed to be our first week of “The Vegan Experiment.” Jay came home one day last month and said he wanted to try going vegan for a month. I need to fill you in on Jay’s eating habits — he’s the pickiest eater ever! I mean the pickiest! So this presented quite a challenge.

I told him that a month was a long commitment — so how about if we tried doing it for a week? He agreed. I had seen an Oprah episode where her entire staff went on a vegan diet for a week and the results were pretty stunning. People had more energy, were more regular and felt better overall. Those are pretty great side effects.

Despite my support — Jay chickened out. (haha — I wasn’t even trying to make a carnivore joke!) So I think we’ll try vegan meals once in a while at least– just to see what it’s all about. But I realized that I don’t know the first thing about going vegan — or what I need to get rid of or stock up on in our kitchen. I, of course — reached out to a friend for a list!

A Beginner’s List for Going Vegan

by George Nickle

I have been Vegan for 8 years and was Vegetarian for 10 years before then. Let me begin by saying that while I live in LA now, I am a country boy. I grew up in the middle of orchards and dairy farms. I was raised on unpasteurized milk and I have seen animals butchered in the morning, then on my plate for dinner. This is how the majority of humans experienced the food chain during our species’ existence. So if you are thinking about giving Veganism a try and are a little scared, know that I understand where you are at. For a good bit of my life — a meal wasn’t a meal unless it was mostly meat.

I love animals but stopped eating them mainly for health reasons. I got fat as a teen and was already in diet mode when I read about the truly disgusting conditions in factory farms (I was living far away from my bucolic roots and family farms by then.) I gave up meat right then and honestly never missed it. As a Vegan I maintain a healthy weight and feel better than ever. If you want to do the same here is a list to get you going:

1. Thou shalt not eat: meat (yes that includes fish and I can’t understand why people even ask that, but they do), dairy, eggs or honey. Nothing that comes from an animal, even if it doesn’t kill them to take it.

2. Make a list of what you normally eat in a day. Break it down by meals and cross off anything that falls into the category above. You will have some holes in your diet but we’ll fill them.

3. Find alternatives! Most people think Vegans eat nothing but leaves, grain and beans and that to become one you will never have favorites like ice cream or chocolate again. Wrong. Especially over the last few years — more and more products have hit the market that look, smell and taste like the foods you grew up with. They often are far more processed and contain more fat and calories than good old leaves and beans, but they are good comfort foods and really important during the transition from carnivore to Vegan. Some favorites:

  • Almond Breeze Almond Milk ( in place of milk (note: there are many soy, rice, coconut, oat and even hemp alternatives to milk. This tastes best to me.)
  • Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread ( in place of butter.
  • Gardein ( in place of meat. These guys are fairly new, but boy are they good! They make crispy tenders (like chicken fingers,) scallopini, burgers and lots more. I’ve found them in major grocery chains from LA to small town North Carolina.
  • Morning Star Farms ( is much better known and even more widely available. Many of their products contain egg. If they do they will be labeled “Vegetarian” above the nutrition facts. Vegan items will be labeled “Vegan.”
  • Purely Decadent & Soy Delicious ( in place of ice cream. They make amazing frozen desserts (and more) in a wide variety of familiar flavors.
  • Diaya ( in place of cheese. This is something of a revolution when it comes to Vegan cheeses. There are others, but this stuff has the right melt, texture and taste. And I’ve started to see it in major grocery chains.

4. Replace your haunts. List where you normally eat out and grocery shop. Do some reconnaissance at your usual grocery stores to see which of the products I listed above they have. When you find them look around them, literally. Most of the meatless items are grouped together and you are sure to find more things you want to try. The big grocery chain in LA is Ralph’s and they have even begun listing many items in their own brand as Vegan. Maybe your local chain does too. There is always Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s (check out their great Vegan item’s list: and probably more than one local health food grocery that will probably have cool local items the bigger chains won’t.

Restaurants may be harder. You probably have favorites but they may no longer be able to accommodate your diet. I personally avoid eating at all but totally Vegan restaurants if I can. I just can’t stand the smell of meat any more and the thought of transfer in the kitchen makes me ill. What else did they cut with that knife that chopped up my salad greens? It is easy for me, I live in a big city filled with great Vegan restaurants. But they are popping up all over.

A favorite California chain of mine, Native Foods (, is not only expanding all over Southern California, but Chicago too! NYC is loaded with great places like my favorite Vegan restaurant anywhere, Candle 79 ( — try the poletna fries!), and the amazing bakery Babycakes ( — now in CA too!). San Francisco has Herbivore ( in several locations and if you want to lay out some bucks Millennium ( Veggie Grill ( is expanding and is delicious. For something local try Happy Cow ( for international listings of restaurants and grocery stores. Also check out my favorite Vegan blog:

5. Read labels! Now it gets tricky. You thought the above was challenging, this will not only prove challenging but eye-opening. You have no idea what you’ve been eating all of your life, but as a Vegan you have to know to avoid hidden animal ingredients. Nutritional labels are your friends. The quickest way to tell that something is not Vegan is if it has cholesterol. If it does it has something from an animal and we don’t eat it.

Ingredient lists are our best friends. If something is listed and you don’t know what it is — then you don’t know where it came from and you don’t eat it. You need to head to the internet and find some reliable Vegan Ingredient lists. Study them, print them and hang them in your kitchen. When you shop, take them with you. Also check out for certified Vegan items. Their symbol is easily recognizable. But as you study, and realize what things you never thought twice about putting in your mouth actually are, I think your commitment to Veganism will be strengthened.

Did you know what gelatine actually is? Bones, skin, hooves. Yuk! And it isn’t just in colorful wiggly desserts, it is in tons of stuff! Like marshmallows and Altoids (as a Vegan you have to consider things like mints and gum too). How about Carmine? Sounds nice enough. You’ll find it all sorts of foods. It’s a red food coloring and it is made from ground up beetle shells. As in bugs, ground up and added to your food to make it pretty. Starting to see why reading, and understanding, labels is worth the effort?

6. Be prepared to become a detective. Some food additives can come from Vegan and non-Vegan sources. And that is a pain in the butt. If you aren’t sure, best to just move on. But if it is something you really want to eat, say a favorite brand, you will have to become a detective. Go to the company website and e-mail them. Most are pretty good about getting back to you. I had this problem just recently when my favorite food in the world (not kidding,) — Snyder’s of Hanover Sourdough Hard Pretzels changed their recipe on me. Since I was eating them as a little boy in Pennsylvania they had five ingredients, the first being whole wheat unbleached flour. Suddenly they changed it to enriched wheat flour, which is seven ingredients on its own. Enriched flour is always a problem because most of those vitamins can come from animal sources (like niacin, thiamin, riboflavin.) I e-mailed the company and heard back from a nice lady named Mary Ruth in two days assuring me that my beloved pretzels are still Vegan.

7. Some bummers. I have some more bad news about favorite foods that you would never think of as having any animal anything in them but just might: sugar and alcohol. But the good thing is neither is great for you and being Vegan will limit your consumption of both. White sugar is processed, some of it being filtered through charcoal made from bone char. While that bone char might not be in the final product, it just doesn’t seem to be very Vegan to many. Me included.

On to the drinks! Lots wines, liqueurs and beers use very non-Vegan fining agents like gelatine, eggs, milk, even blood. Worry not! Again, Trader Joe’s to the rescue with a $5 wine from Spain called Albero. At least two of this label’s wines are Vegan, including a sparkling, and for $5 they aren’t bad.

8. Nutrition. You get enough protein and calcium as a Vegan. At least one with a well-balanced diet. If you spent all of your time downing cupcakes from Babycakes with that $5 Vegan wine you might technically be Vegan, but probably not very healthy. My almond milk has more calcium than cow’s milk. Beans and nuts have lots of protein. A bag of Gardein crispy tenders has 40 grams of it vs. 63 for the same amount of beef. I still take a daily multivitamin as there are some vitamins that aren’t as easy to come by in a Vegan diet (like B12 & D.)

9. Money. Get ready to spend more on food. Cheap food just tends to be bad for you. Why are so many poor people fat? Is it because they have more to eat? Spend more on food? No. It is because the food they can afford is loaded with preservatives, chemicals and just cheaper ingredients. Being poor was a major reason I got so fat as a teenager. But shop around for deals. Farmer’s markets often have great prices on really good fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of the brands listed above will offer coupons from time to time. Bottom line, your health is worth the time and money it takes to be a Vegan. And I’ll bet you’ll save on doctor’s bills. I haven’t needed to go to one in forever and then it an exercise related injury.

10. Health Benefits. From maintaining a healthy weight, to lowering risks of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, if that won’t convince you nothing will. And once you are committed we can talk about ditching that leather wallet, belt, watch band, shoes, silk shirts and ties and then we’ll get into cosmetics, cologne, perfume and more. Won’t that be fun!

George Nickle has worked as talent manager and ran a DVD label focusing on independent and documentary films. Now he is concentrating on his writing: shopping his first novel, a non-fiction book and a pilot. George loves history, politics and amazingly bad movies (as well as some really good ones.) His work has appeared in such places as American Atheist Magazine and Weird Load Nation.

20 replies
  1. Becky
    Becky says:

    I hate to be a downer, but… You need to read the labels of “meatless” products like Morning Star and Gardein as well. They still count eggs and milk products as meatless. I have both in my fridge, and I just label checked. The morning star chik’n nuggets used egg. Gardein meatless tips were ok. Qorn “chicken” tender used egg as well. Also, watch out for whey! It’s milk derive.

  2. lisa
    lisa says:

    thanks so much for this wonderful article about how easy and important it is to make vegan choices. i have been a passionate and committed vegan for almost 30 years and reading blogs like this (and the supportive comments!) give me hope that the tipping point is around the corner. thanks for your contribution to the vegan evolution. lisa

  3. Zoe Helene
    Zoe Helene says:

    This is GREATEST LIST! I just love this. I hope people out there who are looking to make the change can find it. I’m going to share it around…. thanks Paula and George. You two both totally rock.

  4. Kathy Machnik, Montreal - Canada
    Kathy Machnik, Montreal - Canada says:

    Thanks George for this very informative article. We are an active family of 5 (three grown girls who love healthy eating) and are always experimenting with ways to improve health and vitality. Your list gives us a good start in moving towards an interesting change in our eating habits.

  5. George
    George says:

    My recipes.

    The best cooks in my family were the men. My father was one of them. I was always told that men don’t measure. Well I do, if I am following someone else recipe, but not if I am making up my own. So sorry, nothing precise here when it comes to my own dishes, rather lets call them “combinations”:

    Farmers’ Market Roasts:

    *Zucchini (green) & Summer Squash (yellow)
    *Tomatoes (whatever they have in season at your Farmer’s Market, Roma, heirloom, etc.)
    *Mushrooms (optional)
    *Fresh Basil
    *Seitan (available from various companies like White Wave) or firm tofu
    *A little olive oil
    *Tomato paste

    Grease a baking pan with the olive oil. Throw in your chopped vegetables, seitan or tofu and basil, cover with tomato paste (the juice from the vegetables with thin it out) cover and roast until all is tender.

    I love potatoes. When I decide to shed a few pounds I make them the center of my meal and it always works.

    *Potatoes (I like a mix of Yukon gold & red)
    *Fresh garlic bulbs, peeled and separated but not diced
    *Olive oil
    *Fresh Basil, Oregano or Rosemary (sea salt is good with the Rosemary)

    Dice potatoes and onions and put into greased pan. Add herb and just a bit more oil. Roast until tender. Serve with:


    Cut off tops, clean well and roast in oiled pan covered until tender. You can add some vegan margarine, but honestly, they make heavenly juices on their own.

    A few comfort foods:

    Super Quick Microwave Sloppy Joe

    This seems to work best without fresh ingredients. It tastes more like something from a box mix from your childhood this way. It is cheaper, quicker and everything can be gotten from most regular grocery stores.

    *Package of Meatless Ground – several brands exist: Lightlife Smart Ground (not the Gimme Lean in tube), Yves and Trader Joes has their own brand. All are high in protein and fat free or low in fat.

    *Dehydrated Onion

    *Dried Oregano and Basil

    *Black pepper

    *Red Pepper Flakes (you can add some others too like chipotle if you want it hotter)

    *Diced up Roma tomatoes (fresh is best for this one ingredient)

    *Bag of frozen green, red and or yellow pepper slices (optional)

    *Olive oil

    *Can of tomato sauce (be careful to read the label and make sure it is Vegan)

    Throw it all together in a microwavable container with a lid. Mix well and cook about 10 minutes, stopping half way to stir. You’ll know its done when the tomatoes are a little tender. I serve on toasted pane bread (Trader Joe’s has a great cheap one that is Vegan for about $2 a loaf).

    “Beef” and Onions Stir Fry

    *Package of Vegan “Beef” strips (again, Lightlife, Yves and Trader Joe’s makes them).

    *2 or 3 big onions (yellow or white)

    *Soy Sauce


    *Canola or Peanut oil

    *Cooked white rice

    Slice onions to make rings. Stir fry in hot oil in pan or wok until tender. Add “Beef Strips” and cook until hot.

    Thicken soy sauce with a bit of cornstarch (not too much, it’ll thicken as it cooks) and pour into onion and strips. Heat until sauce thickens and bubbles. Serve over cooked white rice.

    “Chicken” Corn Soup

    Now I am showing my Pennsylvania Dutch background. Where I grew up this is a staple. As a Vegan I still wanted that taste (minus the chicken death & blood).

    *Package of “Chicken” Strips (again, Lightlife, Yves or Trader Joes) or seitan

    *Yellow Vegetable Broth (about 2 quarts) Imagine Foods’ “No-Chicken Broth” is good. Trader Joes makes a Vegan broth too that works great.

    * Small diced Yellow Onion

    * Cup or so of Diced Celery

    * Can or 2 of Yellow Corn (or cut fresh from the cob)

    * Black Pepper

    * Sea Salt

    *Vegan Eggless Ribbon Noodles

    Put everything (except the noodles) in a crock-pot and cook on low overnight. Use more sea salt than pepper. If it is a bit salty it better mimics the original recipe.

    Boil noodles until tender and add some to each bowl of soup (mixing all together makes the noodles suck up all of the broth). You may also add a small spoonful of Vegan Margarine (I like Earth Balance).

  6. George
    George says:

    Thank you all for reading my list! Hope I inspired a few to give Veganism a try.

    On recipes… I have a terrible sweet tooth so let me begin with:

    Buy their book on cookies too. These ladies are amazing! I always have a holiday party with nothing but sweets made from just these recipes (which always turn out just right) and in June people are still talking about the treats.

    From the owner of one of my favorite restaurants Native Foods:

    It covers lots from how to cook rice to seitan (wheat gluten) from scratch and then tons of dishes that include them and lots more.

    Always has great free recipes and an amazing newsletter. The magazine itself is well worth picking up too!

  7. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Really enjoyed George’s article. I don’t normally think of vegans as foodies. But he make it clear he enjoys his diet. Maybe George could supply a couple of his favorite recipes?

    • List Producer
      List Producer says:

      Hi Barbara —

      Thanks so much for reading George’s post. He definitely has some great advice! Stay tuned on the recipes — I’ve reached out to see if he has any to share. 🙂

  8. Randy Gillis
    Randy Gillis says:

    Great article! Informative and funny. A great way to present a lot of information. I admire your commitment. Thanks!

  9. Alex Multatuli
    Alex Multatuli says:

    Veganism is of the future because it allows people an ethical and responsible way to coexist and connect with nature. I think people such as George, who make the means to achieve a vegan life accesible and less marginalized, do us all a great service. Thank you for this, George,and I look forward to your next writing.

  10. Sheila Kekesi
    Sheila Kekesi says:

    Great article! My husband and I are trying to eat healthier and are finding ourselves leaning to a vegan diet. Thanks for the great info!

    • List Producer
      List Producer says:

      Thanks for commenting Shelia — that’s wonderful that you and your husband are trying to be healthier. Once you get on a kick with it — it’s easy! Any good vegan recipes to share?

  11. Tiffany Weisner
    Tiffany Weisner says:

    Kudos on your dedication to living a Vegan life. I have many friends who say they are Vegan, just to find out they enjoy the occasional serving of fish. Thanks for writing such an informative article.


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