The Hardest Part of Living Vegan – Imperfection
For most people becoming vegan or plant-based is a journey and not a switch that was turned on one day. In fact, I don’t know anyone who was a carnivore one day and a vegan the next. The change is really an evolution which occurs over time. Very often, as was with me, a person becomes vegetarian because of a nutritional concern and then learns about the animal livestock and dairy industries and gradually cuts out dairy products out of a moral, ethical, or religious belief. And, then there is the third part of the vegan triangle which is the environment because there is no doubt the animal livestock and dairy industries are destroying the environment with the CO2 emissions, contaminated water systems, and forest destruction.
But, the hardest part of being vegan is that the journey doesn’t end with food choices. Veganism makes you look in the mirror and you don’t always like what you see. Eliminating meat and dairy products is huge but once a person conquers that hurdle, he or she realizes that food is just the tip of the iceberg. The shoes and boots in the closet are made of leather; the blanket on the bed is made of wool; the sweaters in the closet are made of cashmere; the winter coat is filled with down, and the purse hanging from your shoulder is made of animal skin as is the leather seats in that new vehicle….all of these things make you feel terrible and like a hypocrite. The whole thing is enough to totally stress you out, think you’re just not good enough and that veganism is just not obtainable. To this I say, life is a journey and none of us are perfect or able to achieve perfection in short – or even long – periods of time. We try our best; we do what we can and we plod along. We can’t let our deficiencies make us retreat. We must move forward the best we can day by day. And, we gradually get better and as do, we must resist the urge to judge others.
No one likes to be lectured to even if the message is “right.” Instead of judging or making people feel inadequate, heartless, or without a moral compass, imperfect vegans need to step back and do a soft sell. Many vegans forget how hard their own journey has been because after years of commitment to this way of life, they have figured it out and evolved. The vegan you are in year one is not the vegan you will be in year five because the more you learn, the more you change, the better you feel, and the more the world changes.
Early on in my vegan journey, I felt it was my responsibility to enlighten people about the diary or livestock industry because I was so shocked about the realities. Although the horrors of these industries are generally hidden from our eyes, we all have the capacity to think about our choices if we want to align our actions with our beliefs. We just have to be open, seek information, and think about our choices. By simply not eating animal products or providing just enough information to get people curious or to think introspectively, vegans can be more effective than dissing people for their less than perfect choices.
By focusing on the positive – telling non-vegans about the benefits of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and showing non-vegans how to make delicious food – instead of food shaming – vegans can have a much stronger impact because honestly, I don’t know anyone who says he or she wants to eat more unhealthy or kill an animal or take a calf from its mom. Most people when asked will say they want to eat healthier and that they love animals. They just haven’t made the connection yet, don’t know how to live their lives any other way, are scared of the unknown, or overwhelmed with thinking about a way of life so different from the one in which they were brought up (i.e. What about Thanksgiving and the turkey? No more of Aunt Cookie’s lasagna or veal parmigiano? What about the garlic bread made with melted butter or the milk in my latte?).
Last year my daughter worked at Farm Sanctuary as a volunteer and was given a great piece of advice by Gene Baur, the founder. When asked how to convince people of the importance of veganism from a nutritional, moral, and environmental view, Gene Baur told her “find common ground.” We all want to eat and be healthier but the information and the systems out there are not helping us (in fact, they are hurting us) so we have to rely on each other. It doesn’t help when doctors are not educated in nutrition or unaware of the latest peer-reviewed scientific data or when Registered Dietitians tell people to eat meat, dairy, and eggs despite what the peer-reviewed scientific studies show because they only know what they were taught years ago or told (do you want to be right or do you want to graduate?). Give people good information. Tell them to watch Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy or Plant Pure Nation on Netflix or to read the summaries of peer-reviewed scientific studies on www.nutritionfacts.org and then allow them the time to think for themselves. More often than not, they will seek more information and move towards a more compassionate and healthy life.
Veganism – for many of us – is a door that has been closed for most of our lives. When we opened it, the dam came crashing down. An enormous amount of information became available and it keeps coming, primarily because of the internet. For me, having that door open after more than five decades on this earth was shocking, overwhelming and life changing. There’s no turning back for me but change didn’t happen overnight. The process was very gradual and marked by small decisions made after a lot of thought when I was given the space to align my actions with my beliefs. The goal should be to make people feel good about any and all changes they make, whether it’s Meatless Monday, increasing the amount of vegetables on their plate, switching to almond milk, buying a cotton sweater instead of cashmere, or any of the thousands of little things they can do to make this world a more compassionate place.
Is living vegan difficult? Yes and no. No, in that I embrace veganism every single day with delicious ways to eat nutritious foods but also, yes, as I strive to align my actions with my beliefs in a world that is animal product-centered. For me, veganism is a goal to strive for every single day.