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Hi there!

First of all, let me say that I'm in my third year of veganism. I never ever thought I'd ever go vegetarian - I really loved eating meat, and would laugh at my vegetarian friends for depriving themselves. Yeah, I was one of "those" people... ;-)

And then I started reading, just like you did, and trying to eat better, and learning about dietary causes of heart disease and cancer (both diseases in my family history that I need to watch out for) and one day, I ended up vegetarian ("For health reasons only! I'll never be one of those vegans!")

However, I didn't stop reading, and couldn't avoid the facts any longer. I started reading "Diet for a New America" as a vegetarian, and when I finished the book I had resolved to go vegan. Wow. I still wake up some days and say "I did what???"

Ok, some answers to your questions:

1) Yes, it absolutely positively gets easier to go meatless over time. Seriously.

First, try out some of the "mock meats" out there. They are amazing. My husband (a non-veg) is the King of Fake Meats - he's tried them all. For a great chicken substitute, find "Veat" in your grocer's freezer - it's amazing. Yves does good deli slices (and great Canadian Bacon). Boca Burgers are extremely hamburger-y. Experiment and see what you like, and find some dishes to make with them (Veat does great in stir-fries).

Second, after a while (especially if you didn't cook before and are starting to cook now) you'll recognize flavorings more than "meat" smells. I used to walk into Safeway and say "Mmmmm, roasted chicken". Now I say "Mmmmm, Rosemary". Same with steak - toss some Worcestershire Sauce onto a Boca Burger and that'll kill your cravings instantly.

Don't be afraid to experiment, and to find what you like.

2) Go as far as feels comfortable for you. Maybe full-on vegan isn't for you, especially not right now. But that doesn't mean that you can't try some soymilk or some sorbet instead of milk and ice cream once in a while. Just relax about it all - new vegetarians tend to get very defensive and kind of uptight (I sure was) about it all. Just go with the flow - this is a positive thing!

You may decide, for example, that buying organic free-range humanely produced eggs instead of going vegan is fine with you. That's a personal decision, and no one can tell you otherwise. Just listen to your conscience and your stomach.

3) You can go your whole vegetarian life and not eat tofu and mushrooms. It's ok.

If you really want to try tofu done well, go to a vegetarian restaurant and ask the server to recommend a dish for someone who is tofu-phobic. Chances are that they will have an interesting presentation that might interest you.

I used to hate hate hate and fear fear fear mushrooms. I've sort of gotten over that in dishes like stir-fries or pasta sauce, but will pick them out of salads. Can't deal with the Portabello either - it's too much for me. Just keep trying new foods and maybe you'll find that you suddenly do like something - it does happen. I used to hate asparagus, and then I discovered that I just hated my mother's asparagus, not all asparagus in general. I'm currently working up my courage to try Brussels Sprouts after about a decade of successfully avoiding them...

4) Equipment: I don't have a crockpot/slowcooker, nor a pressure cooker. My appliances are limited to a blender/3-cup food processor combo, a small hand mixer, and a toaster oven. And I cook all the time. I've found that you can get by without the fancy appliances, or you can use them - whatever works for you. If you're interested in a crockpot, try the local thrift stores - mine always have some brand new ones for cheap, along with about a dozen bread machines, numerous espresso makers, and a handful of toaster ovens.

5) Books: I recommend "Food Revolution" (the revised version of "Diet for a New America") by John Robbins for a great "Why Be Vegetarian?" kick in the pants. I highly recommend "Becoming Vegetarian" by Vesanto Melina, Brenda Davis, and Victoria Harrison for anyone from the considering-vegetarianism person to the full-on hardcore vegan. It is a wonderful resource for nutritional information as well as frequently asked questions. I think it is an essential part of any vegetarian bookshelf. And I think that "Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home" is a great cookbook - it gives serving suggestions, substitution ideas, and really helps you pull a meal together quickly and easily.

Also, try your library! Check out cookbooks and try a few recipes before deciding whether to buy or not. Read vegetarian-themed books (like "Mad Cowboy") or food-politics books (like "Fast Food Nation"). If they don't subscribe to magazines like "Vegetarian Times" and "Veggie Life" and "Vegetarian Journal", ask that they do. Sure, you can subscribe to all of these yourself, too, but we're on The Motley Fool boards so I have to lean towards thriftyness... ;-)

6) Websites: I of course have to recommend VegSource ( http://www.vegsource.com/ ) and especially their "New Vegetarians" board - loads of great recipes and very helpful people on those boards, and a great website overall. You can spend months just on this site...

7) Support: Something that will probably help you greatly is to find a vegetarian buddy or group somewhere, who can help you explore your town's vegetarian restaurants, tell you when Veat is on sale at the co-op, and can join you in vegetarian potlucks. I'm not sure where you live, but there are vegetarian groups all over the place - just go to Google and type in "[Your Area] Vegetarians" and see what you find. If you can't find anything, ask at your local health food store - chances are that they'll be tapped into any local Vegetarian groups.

And discussion boards like this one or like the ones on Vegsource can be very helpful too! :-)

Good luck! Keep coming back, and tell us how you're doing!
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