What Vegans Should Really Preach
As someone who’s recently come to terms with the ups and downs of this lifestyle, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned along the way about what it means to embrace veganism wholeheartedly.
Now, I’d say most ethical vegans transition immediately into their plant-based diets following their “ethical vegan awakening”: the moment when they just can’t seem to look at their dinner plate the same way again. These morals are the foundation under the pillars of veganism, frequently fueled by a sense of greater purpose and determination to stick to this newfound regimen.
Personally, I took a little longer to develop my “vegan awakening” into a full-fledged lifestyle.
After 17 years of being a perfectly content omnivore and avid cheese lover, I came across the food documentaries on Netflix, last August. I could barely get past the twenty-minute mark of Food, Inc. without my stomach churning.
Seriously, ignorance is bliss.
I was headed to college in less than a month and the last thing I wanted to do was limit my options during an already stressful first semester. So I tried my best to push my twenty-minute preview into the horrors of the corporate-controlled food industry to the back of mind and naïvely continue my life free of any dietary “restrictions”.
Then during my second semester, I met my friend Lauren who’s been plant-based for almost three years. As a student commuting to school everyday without a meal plan, she still balanced a diet completely free of animal products, showing me just how practical and attainable her lifestyle really was — especially for someone like me who had easy-access to campus dining halls stocked with plenty of vegan alternatives.
Flash forward to April of my second semester: I made the switch and quickly found myself in a territory completely unfamiliar.
Thankfully, I could always text Lauren when I wasn’t sure if the diner cornbread was vegan-friendly— and yes, cornbread is (usually) made with milk — which was seriously such a no-brainer, but I think I was just secretly hoping it wasn’t.
So, if you know me, you know I can’t stand the stigmas that can completely alter sentiments attached to social movements. Feminism, BLM, veganism: over time these movements have turned controversial due to the rampant stereotypes that come along with them — which compels me to try everything in my power to avoid these stereotypes.
The common stereotype attached to the “self-righteous vegan warrior” is —
“How do you know if someone is a vegan? — They’ll tell you right away.”
This, of course, added to my insecurity when the conversation during mealtimes with friends and family turned towards my new and peculiar dietary choices.
I realized that my explanation could be one of the first introductions that some of them would have into veganism. First impressions mattered, and I suddenly felt it was my responsibility to ensure that the people I was close to were receiving the message behind veganism in a positive light.
Within a week of me repeating the same spiel over and over again, I had mentally prepared bullet points I wanted to talk about when the topic would come up with someone new.
Overall, I seemed to receive a pretty wide range of responses during my transition period and pretty much all of them included the standard questions: How long are you going to last? How do you get enough protein in? Don’t you miss it? What can you eat again exactly? Did you lose any weight since?
But almost all of them would end the standard Q&A period with:
“Well, I could never do it. I just love [insert cheese; chicken; milk; etc.] too much.”
So, here’s the thing.
When I tell you I’m vegan, I’m not looking for you to justify your own diet to me. Really. I’m not asking you to refrain from eating animal products around me. I’m not even trying to make you feel guilty about the lifestyle choices that make you happy.
I respect your choices, just as you would respect mine.
Okay, so then how can I be this self-proclaimed “ethical” vegan, if I don’t mind it when my friend is enjoying a cheeseburger right in front of me?
This is an extremely valid question and something I really struggled with at first, especially when I came home to meals with my non-vegetarian family after being plant-based on my own for two months.
But as I scoured the internet in search of an explanation describing what I was identifying with, I finally found one: Sadia’s blog post sparked, what I think was, my real “vegan awakening”. A kind of veganism that preaches empathy above all else.
How are we, as vegans, supposed to demonstrate love and compassion if we only love others based on the condition that they’re vegan too?
The biggest gift Lauren gave me was that she made it entirely my choice. Her accepting me regardless of whether or not I chose to be vegan made all the difference.
All she did was present me with the facts and let me decide how I felt about them. In the end, it was her constant support that removed the expectation to be perfect and instead helped me focus on all the positive aspects of this lifestyle, rather than the things I would be losing. She reminded me that setbacks were okay and it was more important to stay true to yourself.
Things go south when you start pressuring your loved ones into adhering to your own ideals. Especially when they aren’t ready to commit.
Don’t take it upon yourself to push your opinions onto others. Don’t feel the need to “educate” people who aren’t ready to learn. The best we can do is to lead by example: encouraging those we care about to make informed and conscious decisions for themselves.
Until then, just remind yourself that following a vegan lifestyle means you’re on this journey of practicing self-love and loving those around you.