Becoming a vegan is a wonderful journey of self discovery. New tastes, new routines, and an overall new outlook on how your life can effect millions of others, every single day. If you’re coming from the typical American diet and consumerism, it’s a huge change. Here are the top five things I wish I had known when I first started my vegan lifestyle.
There will be many people who will be unsupportive, rude, and unspeakably callous
The psychology of eating meat is fascinating to me. What makes us draw that line between eating a cow vs eating a dog? Obviously it’s a culturally accepted disassociating with our food, but who knew that challenging it would cause people’s nasty side to take over?
I wish I had been told about how people in my life (strangers and friends alike) would handle my decision to be a vegan. I expected confusion, concern, and perhaps some disagreement, and I certainly got those as well. But overall, I was faced with a suddenly livid mob that was desperately trying to tear down my new found hope for leading a cruelty-free life. Who knew that what I chose to eat, wear and use was so up for discussion by the general public? Be prepared to face contempt, anger and flat out malice for your choice to be a vegan. Perhaps it’s the stereotype of how arrogant and superior vegans act, and so they’re trying to “take you down a peg”. Or maybe it’s from their own inner conflict with facing the fact that they pay to have animals killed, and they don’t want to think about the logic of it because change is incredibly hard. Either way, your new found empathy will seem like an atrocity. “How dare you push your way of life onto others? You’re as bad as extremist Christians! You think you’re so special for researching what happens behind slaughterhouse’s closed doors? You just want to be different! You don’t really care about the animals!” The list of insults will go on and on.
When faced with people like this, it helps to get away from social media and the general public, and seek some solitude. Keep a journal of what you hope you’re accomplishing by being vegan, or about what drove you to being vegan. I also keep an arsenal of uplifting blogs and animal rescue stories to fuel my decision to not be a part of animal cruelty.
And lastly, I try to wish the angry person peace. It’s all too easy to continue an argument with them, especially when being vegan is so logical. But it’s important to remember that these types of people are not interested in learning or understanding. They are directing anger at someone who is trying to create peace. They want to prove you “wrong”, to force you back into the cultural mold (eating meat) which makes them feel less threatened. In short, they are not worth the turmoil of an argument.
Everyone around you will suddenly have a degree in nutrition
“But where do you get your protein? Plant protein isn’t the same as animal protein! Calcium only comes from milk. You can’t digest iron from plants like you can digest iron from meat, you know. What about B12? Clearly, you’ll have to eat eggs. My friend’s cousin’s wife’s baby was raised vegan, and the baby died!” Expect to hear just about everyone attempt to school you in nutrition. I’ve found that this happens the most with people who are close to me. It’s their way of showing concern for what seems like an unsustainable and unhealthy diet. We grew up being taught that meat and milk are what make you grow and keep you muscular, so attempting to eliminate those things, and more, from our diets can cause some people to panic. The easiest way to handle these types of people is to keep in mind where their comments are coming from, while also keeping yourself educated on a vegan diet. Not only will this keep you as healthy as possible, but it will also help put those that care for you at ease.
Meeting another vegan can be the most exciting part of your life… or the most frustrating
Veganism as a whole is a concept of peace. We strive to be conscious of everything we eat, wear and use. In a nutshell, we are doing the best we can to eliminate contributing to suffering in this world. I live in relatively small suburb, where dairy and egg farms are scattered throughout. In fact, there’s a slaughter house right in the middle of town. Suffice to say, I am an anomaly as a vegan where I live. Meeting my first fellow vegan was so exciting, but I wish I had been warned that not every vegan is alike- far from it!
You will inevitably meet a few vegans who seem to be nothing like yourself. Perhaps they have forgotten what first turned them to veganism (and thus admit to periodically still eating cheese, fish or meat), or maybe their commitment to veganism drives them to be as aggressive as possible about the topic due to its importance, and so they come off as rude and judgmental. And yes, there’s always the vegan police, out there on the inter-webs just waiting to pounce on your every dietary decision (“You don’t eat organic? Then you’re killing bugs!”).
As frustrating as it seems, acknowledging that veganism isn’t the same for everyone is important for your own well being. You can argue all day about which foods are or aren’t “technically” vegan (White sugar! Orange juice! Bagels! Red #40!), or you can acknowledge that most vegans you meet are doing their personal best to live without harming other species. And then you should move on. Once day, you will meet a fellow vegan whose ideals align with yours completely, and it will be a relief to find someone that thinks like you.
Many people do not know what vegan means
If I only had a nickel for every time I say I’m vegan, only to receive, “But you eat fish, right?” as a response! This is a typical response from someone who eats an omnivorous, standard American diet, and is certainly an issue in and of itself. Instead, I’m focusing on the sweeping popularity of plant-based diets.
This new health craze is certainly science-laden, and really, who are we to complain, so long as animals are being saved in the process? However, it does get frustrating when the term vegan is used to describe what is in fact, simply plant-based. For example, a person who eats an herbivorous diet, but doesn’t avoid products like honey, beeswax, leather, etc should be called plant-based rather than vegan, simply by definition alone. But, as mentioned above- do we really want to argue about the definition of veganism when the bottom line is saved lives?
Personally, I think it’s an issue only from a cultural standpoint. Individuals who eat plant-based, but wear leather jackets while calling themselves vegan, are creating an entirely new definition of vegan. Which is perfectly fine- language evolves. In fact, when the term vegetarian was first coined sometime around the 1800’s (although vegetarianism was in practice long, long before that), it was by definition the modern-day vegan. So now what should we call those of us who abstain from all animal products, in both food and merchandise? It’s a sticky subject, for sure, and eventually we’ll need separate terms to avoid confusion. In the meantime, I simply ask someone who identifies as vegan if they eat vegan, or if they’re an “ethical vegan”.
It’s all worth it
The stereotyping, the backlash, the vegan police- in the end, it’s all worth it. Going vegan has been one of the most uplifting, exciting and soothing decisions of my life. Not only does my body thank me, but my mind does, too. I am a huge animal lover and always have been. And yet I ate meat most of my life. Any vegan will know the feeling of the light bulb turning on in their mind when they first realize that you simply cannot love all animals and yet also eat them. It creates a sense of inner calm once your morals and ideals match how you act in your life. It made me a more conscious being not only to animals, but also to fellow humans because I have learned to think outside myself far more often than I used to. I can honestly say that I am doing my very best to never harm or take the life of a being that has just as much of a right to live as I do. And that is what makes veganism worth it.