Photo: The Youthful Vegan

Thinking of going vegan? Here’s what you should know first

2020 has done a number on us all. We’re in a period where so many things are out of our control, we’re now forced to do a lot more introspection than ever before, with health and wellness serving as the top priorities.

Veganism in Trinidad and Tobago certainly isn’t a new concept but there is a growing number of people more conscious of what they consume, especially now when there is more information available about what goes into our bodies. Adopting a vegan lifestyle is a major change and can be a bit intimidating if you don’t know where to start.

Here, 5 women share their journeys to living a vegan lifestyle, how it’s changed their lives, elevated their health and well-being and share advice for anyone thinking of switching to a plant-based lifestyle.

Nekeisha Francis

Nekeisha of Vegan Bites with Nekei is a Trinidadian food blogger based in Miami, Florida and has been vegetarian for 8 years and vegan for 2 and a half years. Her blog and podcast focus on helping new vegans navigate their journeys and demonstrate how to live a vegan lifestyle on any budget. Having her son has been the number one reward for living a vegan lifestyle as she was able to eliminate hormonal issues and give birth without complications.

Why did you decide to switch to veganism?

My decision to eat healthier food was sparked by my hormone imbalance. My period was irregular and I had hormonal issues like polycystic ovaries. I first eliminated meat and fish from my diet and then eventually dairy. Since then I have had a healthy baby boy and no hormonal issues. 


What are some things that you know now that you wish you knew at the start?

I wish I knew how to veganize more foods. Not necessarily replacing it with vegan meat but using the Whole Foods ingredients that are readily available to us to make delicious meals.


Are there any limitations to maintaining a vegan diet in Trinidad and Tobago (eg. lack of options, price point)?

I personally believe that being vegan can actually be cheaper than eating meat. The beautiful thing about the Caribbean is that we have access to a lot of natural foods such as provisions, beans, greens and fruits (all of which comprise a vegan diet) at reasonable prices.


Where it becomes expensive is when we decide to substitute meat for “vegan meats” and ice cream for “vegan ice cream” etc., which is becoming more available in Trinidad and Tobago now. Having these substitutes in moderation will not break the bank. 

Vegan Bites With Nekei actually started as a TV show sharing vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in Trinidad and Tobago. Eating at restaurants might need some navigation but you get used to it after some time. I highly recommend checking out the restaurant menu before your visit so you have an idea what to order.

Most restaurants in Trinidad and Tobago have vegetarian options which turn out to be vegan most of the times. Always ask your server to point out the options without dairy, meat, fish or eggs. If the restaurant has an allergy list this can be a great guide too. When in doubt double-check with the chef. Some chefs are even willing to hook you up with a special dish. Worst-case scenario, there are always side dishes that are vegan. 


What advice would you give to someone considering switching to a vegan lifestyle?

Always remember your why. Most people making the decision to become vegan starts with a reason for doing so. Start off by veganizing your favourite foods. If you love pelau, eat it without the meat or callaloo without the crab or pigtail, and eventually, you’ll get to the stage of exploring more with flavours and taste. Let your loved ones know that you have made the decision to start a vegan diet. This helps with organising food at family gatherings and support as well. If you have young children, your family will know what to offer them and what not to. 

What local resources would you recommend for those considering switching to vegan? Vegan Bites With Nekei and The Youthful Vegan’s blog. I’d also suggest visiting the farmer’s market and getting used to the fresh produce and other items that are available. 

Renuka Lassalle

Renuka is a Trinidadian lifestyle vlogger based in the UK whose YouTube channel, Sweet Delices Vegan, focuses on creating healthy, delicious, fun vegan meals. She’s been fully vegan for a year, having cut out meat and dairy but still consumed fish previously. Having previously suffered from an iron deficiency, low blood pressure and hay fever, switching to a vegan lifestyle has drastically improved her health including her blood pressure has normalising for the first time ever.

Why did you decide to switch to veganism?  I didn’t support the inhumane way animals were being treated during the production process. For example, calves being taken away from their mothers, the males slaughtered just for the milk…and it’s all done on an extremely large scale. how animals are treated during the production process just doesn’t sit right with me.


What are some things that you know now that you wish you knew at the start? I wish I started earlier. I also wish I knew about people’s reactions and how they take it personally, as in they take your diet very personally (laugh).


Food is all about texture and flavour. Don’t think about what you can’t have but instead and what you can do. Focus on what you have, the possibilities are there. I think that’s something a lot of people don’t understand is how just how creative you can get with food and the lifestyle.


What advice would you give to someone considering switching to a vegan lifestyle? 

Stop thinking foreign is better. Trinidad has so many natural foods and fruits that you can find everywhere. There is a wealth of ingredients for dishes. I’d also say don’t be too hard on yourself, ease into it. People tend to be so hard on themselves and then they get wound up, crash and feel like they’ve failed.



Laurel Hunt

Laurel Hunt is a certified Pilates and yoga instructor and the owner of Amber Yogini Wellness Studio. She has been vegan for three and a half years and says that since switching, she’s seen an overall improvement in her skin and health. She has more energy, her body feels lighter and she rarely gets sick.


Why did you decide to switch to veganism?

I switched for health reasons. I got fibroids and also my body had become extremely sluggish and lethargic.


What are some things that you know now that you wish you knew at the start? 

I wish I knew that veganism in Trinidad and Tobago could be versatile and allow you to make or find substitutes for the things that you would miss like meat or cheese. I also wished I knew that veganism didn’t have to be expensive. I found myself following the hype of “superfoods” etc that aren’t cheap. I also believed that you needed meat for protein. Extreme fallacy.


Are there any limitations to maintaining a vegan diet in Trinidad and Tobago (eg. lack of options, price point)?

Being vegan can be expensive if you don’t research. It doesn’t have to be, so it’s important to research healthy combinations. I buy mainly vegetables, provisions, greens, local and foreign fruits and legumes. You can substitute meats with veggies eg. mushrooms and cauliflower. I’ve learnt more about plant-based milk and how to make them and I can make my own ice cream or sorbet.


What advice would you give to someone considering switching to veganism? 

Research, research, research. Be sure to consult a medical professional to ensure that veganism is right for your body. Also, take your time. There’s no need to go cold turkey; start switching out things slowly. See how your cravings go, how your body feels. Eat till you’re full. When you remove meat and dairy you can get hungry faster, so fill up on slow-burning carbs like oats or dense vegetables.


What local resources would you recommend for those considering switching to a vegan lifestyle?

Farmers markets are ideal for different types of vegetables. Look for local vegan support groups on Facebook. Speak to people in the vegan community and always consult a medical practitioner.


Jeunesse Pouchet

Jeunesse is the founder of The Youthful Vegan, the first vegan eatery in Trinidad and Tobago. She recently shifted its focus to providing plant-based catering directly to customers and creating plant-based recipes for her followers. She says that living a plant-based lifestyle has given her the comfort of knowing that she’s not contributing to or supporting animal cruelty and exploitation, the health benefits I have gained and most importantly I believe that not consuming animal products from animals that insured suffering keeps my body, mind and spirit healthy.


Why did you decide to switch to veganism?

I decided to switch to a vegan lifestyle when I stumbled upon Gary Yourofskey’s Best Speech Ever on YouTube. This video showcased the torture and abuse animals faced at factor farms. I was devastated and heartbroken and did not want to contribute to the suffering of these animals. I stopped eating meat and dairy overnight.


What are some things that you know now that you wish you knew at the start?

I thought it would be a very easy switch. However, I quickly realized that a lot of the vegan products I saw online weren’t available in Trinidad. So it required me to become very creative with cooking and break some of my old eating habits that were usually more convenient.


Are there any limitations to maintaining a vegan diet in Trinidad and Tobago (eg. lack of options, price point)?

I don’t believe it’s expensive to maintain a vegan lifestyle. It simply depends on the types of vegan foods you’d like to eat. The healthier options which are if course sticking to eating mainly whole foods are the most affordable. If you want to use meat and dairy substitutes, that’s when it becomes more expensive; I try to maintain a balance between both.


Going to restaurants I’d say can be the toughest part of being a vegan. Especially because I am a HUGE foodie, it can get frustrating when my options are limited to usually one to three options (veggie burger, salad with no meat or cheese or a veggie pasta). That’s why I love Asian and Indian restaurants, they tend to have a lot more veggie options.


What advice would you give to someone considering switching to a vegan lifestyle?

My advice would be that it’s not as difficult as you think and you would be extremely happy as to how you would feel and your health should improve if done properly.


Kaylan Bartholomew

Kaylan is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and a Hatha Yoga Instructor. She’s lived a mostly whole-foods plant-based lifestyle for almost 9 years and prefers to reference her lifestyle as whole-foods plant-based since veganism goes beyond not consuming meat, but also avoiding all animal by-products such as honey from bees or wearing leather goods. Just one month into transitioning, her acid reflux and migraines stopped and no longer had to take high-blood-pressure medication.


A common myth many people is that a vegan diet is “healthy” but it isn’t necessarily true, says Kaylan.  “Doubles, fries, rum and gummy bears are all ‘vegan’, but not necessarily good for the body. The term whole-food plant-based also means avoiding animal products and focusing instead on eating plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, provisions and whole grains that are minimally processed.  A good example is a whole food plant-based diet will include a baked potato but not include packaged potato chips, which include additional fats, preservatives and sodium in processing.


Why did you decide to switch to veganism?

My switch to this whole-foods plant-based lifestyle started on December 31, 2011.  At that time I was feeling really sluggish, didn’t have the energy to run around behind my toddler and I was suffering from many health conditions such as acid reflux, high blood pressure, migraines, fatigue. Intuitively I knew that my food had something to do with it, so I decided I wanted to end the year 2011 the same way I wanted to begin 2012. I decided to eliminate all meat (and fish) from my diet to give myself a detox for a month.

I wasn’t necessarily eating a “healthy” vegetarian diet at that time, I was just avoiding meat.  But the results were so transformative, I have never eaten any meat since that day.


What are some things that you know now that you wish you knew at the start? 

My simple “detox” was more than a diet change for me and ended up changing the course of my life.


Are there any limitations to maintaining a vegan diet in Trinidad and Tobago (eg. lack of options, price point)?

People often consider fruits and vegetables to be “expensive”, but it doesn’t have to be if you buy local produce that is in season and you make sure you use all of it and not let it rot in the fridge! There is no need to buy exotic-sounding superfoods if they are not within your budget.  There are many local foods and meals that are already vegan such as callaloo, steamed bhaji, dhal, stewed pigeon peas, or dishes foods that can easily be made vegan by skipping the meat.


What advice would you give to someone considering switching to a vegan lifestyle?

Don’t make it complicated; start by replacing your animal protein with plant-based sources and then incorporate more whole-foods plant-based foods into your diet. If making this lifestyle change is important for you, get the right support. There will be many naysayers around you with stories of people who tried a vegan lifestyle and started back eating meat because it was unhealthy.  

You might even be faced with your own temptations to dive into some comfort foods or simply feel stuck not knowing what to eat.  When I first made my switch I felt great after a month, but then a few months down the road my energy started to fade again and that’s because even though I was vegetarian, I still was not eating the foods that were right for my body.  There is no one-sized fits all approach and a coach can give you the guidance and support you need to find what works right for you.

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