10 Lessons I Learned When I First Went Vegan
It’s only been since June 2017 that I decided to take onboard a vegan lifestyle, but I’ve learned a lot in that short time. There are certainly challenges and loads of rewards, but I can say firmly that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made (alongside the decision to move to New Zealand). That being said, I am very fortunate to live in an era where dietary requirements are considered and alternatives are rapidly making themselves available.
I decided to go vegan for ethical, health, and environmental reasons – all the reasons. I’m not reinventing the wheel in this article, but I felt these lessons were worth sharing. Whether you’re already vegan, transitioning from vegetarian to vegan, or you’re considering going vegan cold turkey (#punning!), this article will outline the good and the bad things to expect when going plant-based.
Lesson #1: Questions, questions, questions.
Let’s start with the classics:
· “Where do you get your protein?”
· “Was it really hard to give up meat?”
· “Isn’t it more expensive to eat vegan?”
Then we get the more personal questions:
· “What are your reasons? Animal cruelty, right?” or "What was the one thing that finally made you go vegan?"
· “Is it hard to eat vegan when you travel?”
· “Do you poop more often?”
· “Have you lost loads of weight?”
People are always curious about why others make big life changes. There’s a natural curiosity embedded in the human race pushing us to want to know more and poke around a bit. Friends, family, restaurant servers, baristas, grocery store attendants, etc. will ask you questions about your new (or just new to them) lifestyle. They may not understand why someone would remove something from their diet that’s so majorly involved in the world’s menu. I’ve learned it’s best to answer any questions with kindness and be sure not to lecture.
Lesson #2: Keep learning.
This one seems pretty obvious, but it’s something I find really important when adopting a vegan diet. The more you learn, the better educated your choices will be, the more you’ll be able to back yourself up when the inevitable debate arises, and the more your decision will be validated.
When first going vegan, ensure you read books about how your body changes on a vegan diet, watch YouTube videos of Doctors arguing over medical research (insert favorite links here), look up vegan cooking websites/blogs that can teach you about operating a plant-based kitchen, and speak to other vegans, vegetarians, non-vegans, people with allergies, etc. for it will always keep you open minded.
Some of my favorite vegan resources for information, recipes, facts, encouragement, and up-to-date research are:
· FullyRaw Kristina (Vegan recipes, encouragement, community)
· Mike the Vegan (Facts, research, information)
· Minimalist Baker (Recipes, inspiration)
· Dr. Med. Ernst Walter Henrich (Research, facts, medical backing)
Lesson #3: Stay strong even when people challenge you.
Not long after I decided to go vegan, my boyfriend had me over for dinner with his housemates. They made a big roast and we made a salad and roasted veggies; there was plenty of food for all types of eaters. We started talking about this new choice I had made and they shared their kudos for the undertaking.
As dinner conversation evolved, we started debating about the environmental reasons people go vegan. Words like “global warming, ” “cow farts,” and “Trump exiting the Paris Climate Accord” were thrown around and it got a little heated. Being a new vegan and all, I had plenty of ammo in my arsenal (not that it was an attack, but sometimes these things get passionate) from all the latest reading I had been doing and had tons of valid and researched-based points to make.
It’s great when you feel prepared for a debate, but not so great when you wilt under pressure and forget it all. Sure, the reading I had done was enough to support my side of the argument, but because it was a newly adopted practice, I didn’t feel as confident as I do today to stand my ground. Meat eaters usually hate the idea of giving up bacon or being told they can’t have cream cheese on their bagel, so they can get intense when someone challenges that “right.” Not all non-vegans feel as enthusiastically about bacon or cream cheese, I’m just tossing in an example.
My point is, be prepared for people to challenge you and be okay with the outcome of the debate no matter how it turns out. Educated discussion is important for sharing ideas and concepts, but disrespecting someone’s decision out of spite or ignorance is not okay. Your reason for being vegan is absolutely valid; never let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Lesson #4: Be creative, be weird, stay open-minded.
I have eaten some of the best food of my entire existence since I became vegan. Although a non-vegan, my boyfriend, Nick, and I cook vegan at home. The substitutions, add-ons, crazy creations, and experiments we have tried have been out of this world. Never did I think I would like mushrooms or cabbage as much as I do now. Never did Nick think he could create a plant-based Fettuccine Alfredo that tastes better than the “real” thing!
Most menus and nutritional panels include meat, dairy or seafood as a main ingredient or component of a meal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be just as full and satisfied without them! When you’re making unique dishes or trying original recipes, don’t be afraid to get weird. Sometimes the strangest combinations turn out the best. Nick and I have stunned ourselves with the things that we’ve come up with or the unexpected recipes that have become staples to our weekly menu.
Plus, they’re really coming up with all types of ludicrous substitutions, so don’t say no before you try them. Case and point: coconut bacon.
Lesson #5: Be prepared!
When you’re traveling somewhere new or eating at a restaurant you’re unfamiliar with, always be prepared (as often as you can!). I’ve learned that despite the fact that in this day and age society is chock full of options, there aren’t always vegan choices available. Nick and I have gone on road trips and found that roadside cafés usually don’t have a vegan option. We’ve also discovered that if you don’t call ahead or check the menu online, a restaurant you’ve wanted to try may not have anything you can eat (or limited options).
Until recently, the café at our work didn’t have many vegan options. When you come to work without lunch and there’s nothing left you can have, you’re likely going to be very hangry by the end of the day.
Think about your week and prep for it. Buy fruit, prepare snacks and keep a few in your bag, make a little more at dinner to have leftovers for lunch, research food spots with vegan options before you go anywhere new. Be prepared; it will save you from that aggressive appetite caused by an empty stomach and from saying things you don’t mean when you’re hungry! Trusssst me.
Lesson #6: The importance of a like-minded community.
One of the most crucial lessons I learned when I started my new vegan chapter was the importance of finding others with the same values. Not everyone you’re friends with, not all of your family members, and not many of your colleagues will be vegan, however, if you find yourself a few people who subscribe to the lifestyle you’ve chosen, it will be much easier for you to find a sense of belonging.
I have a few vegan friends I often speak to about how they substitute this or if they noticed the same thing about that. Being able to share similar experiences, vegan or not, with someone who understands where you’re coming from makes things feel totally valid!
Follow vegan YouTubers, subscribe to vegan blogs for regular posts, follow vegan Instagrammers, make a vegan Pinterest board, join local groups on Facebook with similar goals. Who says you can’t befriend a group of eco-warriors at your local yoga studio or gym? Look in the local paper for community-based events or initiatives; you often find local farmers growing organic plants or creating vegan friendly products.
The more I surround myself with plant-based, eco-friendly, open-minded people, the more I find a niche community to which I feel I belong. Plus, it feels pretty cool to find others who have the same motivations as you – being kind to the planet.
Lesson # 7: Don’t push or judge the non-vegans.
I am aware that some vegans are known for placing guilt on people for their meat and dairy fueled diets. I've heard stories of vegans forcing people to watch animal cruelty videos in order to "earn" a vegan treats or even blasting social media with "vegan elitism." While I appreciate the dedication to the cause and admire the passion for raising awareness, I believe the classic expression to be true: you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.
When you were a kid and your parents or teachers told you that you had to do something, did it make you want to do it? Probably not. When your friends, grandparents, aunts or uncles, older siblings, favorite gym teacher, etc. showed you how to do something, I’m guessing you likely felt more interested and inclined to follow their lead. I hate being told what I can and cannot do; it just brings out the stubbornness in me and I know I’m not alone in that.
I’ve learned that doing my own vegan thing has actually made people more inquisitive, they often bring it up in conversation – not me, and loads of friends tell me that they’ve cut out meat or dairy and feel great since they’ve seen me do it. If you’re talking about being vegan, as soon as you try to tell someone they should be doing it too, they tend to find the nearest exit and bail. Find ways to share your love for being vegan by walking the walk, not always talking the talk. Believe it or not, it’s actually contagious!
Remember: Don’t judge the non-vegans for you were one of them once, too! It’s the system you’re against, not the people around you.
Lesson #8: There are more resources than you think.
When you begin to realize how many vegans are out there, it becomes less intimidating and more community based. I’ve mentioned a lot of them already, but there are resources in places you’d never expect! Social media is a huge way to find other vegans, along with local farmers markets and local health food stores.
You can find Facebook groups, Pinterest boards, Twitter users, and Instagrammers who promote a healthy, vegan lifestyle. On these platforms, you can expect to see anything from recipes to articles to cruelty-free products to discussion boards and even a variety of factoids. It's nice to stay connected to other vegans, near and far, for those moments when you need a quick dinner idea, answer to your vegan-related question, or just want to browse the photographs taken of plant-based lifestyles.
You can even look to the big wigs in Hollywood for support. They may be privy to more luxurious vegan foods, but that doesn't mean they haven't had their fair share of challenges along the way. If you're curious...some famous vegans (I was shocked at some of these!) are:
· Barry White
· Kate & Rooney Mara
· Liam Hemsworth
· Jennifer Lopez
· Theo Riddick
· Hannah Teter
· Olivia Wilde
· Carrie Underwood
· Toby McGuire
· Ellen DeGeneres
· Colin Kaepernick
· Lewis Hamilton
· Damaryius Thomas
· Woody Harrelson
· Joaquin Phoenix
· Albert Einstein
· Leonardo DiVinci
· Sinéad O’Connor
Lesson #9: "Vegan" isn’t just ABOUT food.
More and more and more I’m realizing how obsessed our society is with animal products and how it infiltrates almost everything! No wonder the meat, egg, dairy, and seafood industries are making a killing – pun intended – as it’s in things you would never expect.
Did you know your toothpaste might not be vegan? What about your make up and body wash, do you know for sure it’s not? How about those shoes you’re wearing? Are they definitely vegan?
Just when I thought I had a grip on this vegan thing, I got slammed in the face with some new realities, which I’m actually so glad about! Becoming vegan in the first place means you’re already waking up to the truths in the world and deciding not to live in denial of what’s really happening. Once you know about the food industry, you may realize that there’s more to being vegan than well, eating vegan.
Whether you’re a vegan for environmental reasons or not, being vegan is a level of eco-awareness. I won’t go on about our carbon footprint right here and now, but being vegan is also a way of living mindfully in your community. Using a reusable bag instead of a plastic bag is an act of veganism – which means one less plastic bag will end up in the ocean! Reading the labels of your toiletries or even your wine can make you a more mindful consumer.
Being vegan isn’t always going to be straightforward. You’ll spend many hours standing in grocery store aisles reading the backs of boxes and jars or at your local gardening centre asking basic questions on how to start your own organic veggie patch. Be patient and kind to yourself, this is a learning process, so be ever inquisitive and question the origins of everything you’re consuming.
Lesson #10: Be proud of yourself!
You’ve made one of the bravest, most impactful decisions ever by going vegan. You’re going against the grain (another pun!) by choosing a cruelty free existence. The planet can recalibrate itself to be one person less on the carbon footprint impact count coming from meat, seafood and dairy consumers. You may not see the tangible influence your vegan diet has on the earth’s atmosphere (trust me, it’s helping), but you will feel it in your body. Inflammation in your joints will go down, you’ll have more energy, your organs will function better, and your health will improve rapidly.
Pat yourself on the back for the choice you've made to go vegan. It’s not an easy one, but it will feel good knowing you’re not contributing to the many negative effects of consuming animal products. I’ve learned that with the right intentions, it’s important to feel proud of what you’re accomplishing and the way you’re giving back to the community. I’m proud to be a vegan.
Never forget: Elephants and gorillas are vegan and they’re the biggest in the jungle!