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I've been vegan for 10 years and in response to telling people about my lifestyle choice, I've heard a plethora of reasons why people don't think they could ever be vegan, or why they don't think they ever WANT to be vegan. Changing from an omnivore diet to a vegan diet isn't easy but, c'mon, is ANY dietary change? For every lifestyle change, there will be definite times of struggle, especially when those close to you aren't striving for the same change in their own lives. But just because you've eaten animal products your whole life or all your friends eat meat doesn't mean you can't take charge of your own lifestyle choices while STILL enjoying your social life AND your food!
Here I've compiled a few tips that have helped me stay happily vegan for the past decade - even when confronted with obstacles!
1) As much as we'd like to think our personal choices are our own, other people ARE going to ask "Why?!" Before you're sitting at a restaurant, or at a friend's house refusing the Chicken Alfredo they made, have an answer to this question. There are many reasons for choosing a vegan diet: animal rights, morality environmental conservation, overall health, weight loss... There really isn't a "right" answer, but each of us does have an answer. Believe in your reasoning and don't let it bother you if at first you get laughs or scoffs! Anyone close to you will respect you standing firm in your lifestyle change if you show you've thought about it and aren't just trying out a fad.
2) Be confident! That doesn't mean be a jackass so don't go yelling at everyone eating animal products that they're murderers destroying the planet (even if that is, indeed, what you're thinking). At the same time don't apologize for being vegan. The second you start feeling inferior because of your choice, the chances of wavering become exponentially higher. None of us need additional reasons to doubt ourselves so don't let veganism become one! Part of going against the social norm in any outlet of life is being okay with standing out. Every vegan have had to smile and laugh off awkward pauses after being the one at the table to order "The Chicken Marinara Pasta, please, but without the chicken or Parmesan. And is the Garlic Bread made with oil or butter? Thank you so much for checking…"
3) Do some recon. It pays off to walk around grocery stores just reading ingredient labels. While many products - especially ones already concerned with health specifications - are doing a great job labeling which products are certified vegan, there are actually a ton of vegan products that you might not think of. Now, the reasons why you personally chose veganism do play a part here since if, for example, you've chosen a vegan diet to lower your risk of heart disease and lose weight, it doesn't really help you to know that Oreo cookies and Lays Potato Chips are vegan. For others though, the notion of becoming vegan seems particularly daunting because "What do you eat?? Just SALAD and TOFU?! *insert alarmed gagging face*" Not the case. It doesn't take much research, just a quick Google search, to acquire extensive lists of all kinds of vegan products. Junk foods, vegan desserts, cheese and meat alternatives, Starbucks beverages, etc (peta.org does a great job with these!). Change your search engine slightly and, BOOM, you have the top plant based protein sources and great ways to season meals without having to buy any specialty products. The information really is out there for us, you don't need to read any lengthy nutrition books to find it, and it's well worth taking a few minutes here and there so you don't get stuck in any binds thinking, "Shit! I'm STARVING, nothing is labeled vegan and I'm in a hell of a hurry…c'mon!"
4) Don't bite when people bait you with "Cmon it's already DEAD so you might as well not let it's life go to waste" or "It's ok to eat some animal products while you transition." The former is just rude, the latter just isn't going to work. If/when someone says something similar - or you're saying it to yourself - start by remembering your "why." If you believe your reason is important, why should you knowingly hamper progress toward an important goal? I have heard dozens of people tell me they're vegan, too, they just eat fish and eggs. Or they're vegan but they "just can't help their craving for cheese." There are ways to overcome cravings and without feeling deprived! Countless brands make delicious vegan alternatives for animal products. While ultimately, a whole foods plant based diet is the healthiest, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating vegan Mac and Cheese with meatless hot dogs if that was your favorite meal before going vegan. The problem with trying the "gradual" route is that chances are if you're new to veganism, and you taste vegan cheese right after dairy cheese, you'll notice a difference. You'd be amazed how fast your body adapts to changes, though, so when you stop eating animal products altogether, it doesn't take long at all for your body not to miss it. It's fantastic!
5) Buy a vegan cookbook or subscribe to a vegan recipe blog. There are a million reasons why this tip makes a huge difference. I learned early on that large family get togethers - think holidays - can be incredibly uncomfortable when the 10y/o at the table isn't eating any of granny's famous mashed potatoes dowsed in butter and turkey gravy. It's pretty much impossible to avoid the helpless look in the eyes of grandparents when they don't think they can have full-participation in family meals anymore. But guess what? They LOVE recipes! Pick out a favorite recipe of yours and let them make it for you - now you have granny's cooking expertise turned vegan and they have a happy table. Win-win! Another important part of this tip is that while pre-made vegan foods are frickin' delicious, they're usually pretty pricey. I don't know about you, but I'm not rollin' in spare cash. Cooking your own meals is way cheaper and - let's be honest - super empowering!
Vegan cookbooks range from recipes for gourmet meals with several courses (the kind my sister likes), to ones that swear in every recipe and give it to you straight (the kind I like), to ones that tell you which pre-packaged items at your local Kroger are vegan and instruct you in what quantities to throw that shit in the microwave to nuke it to perfection. After you find the cooking style that suits your life best comes the important part: share your favorite creations with vegan and non-vegan friends alike. I personally like shocking people by offering them heavenly homemade vegan dessert from my mother's carefully honed recipes and watching their eyes bulge when I tell them it's vegan ;)
Many people don't fully grasp why veganism is appealing as a diet or as a
lifestyle. And I don't think it's our job - or even our place - to preach to people
about how they ought to "see the light" and become vegan, BUT why not start by
showing them how good being vegan can taste? Offer them some of your vegan
entree, a spoonful of your pint of almond milk ice cream, or a home cooked
vegan meal. Sometimes people try a little harder to understand your answers to
the question "Why?" when they are in the middle of a delicious vegan
experience. Okay, okay, so even if you don't decide to go the food bribery route, I
believe that a critical component of staying true to my "why" has been having
those around me understand my choices even if theirs aren't the same. I know
I'm not alone in my journey, and neither are any other vegans!
Tell me what you thought about the article and if you have any questions, feel free to comment below!