“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Gandhi
That opening quote may sound a little preachy, but that’s essentially the mindset that drove me to my newfound veganism. As I am introducing myself and my blog with this post, I thought I’d start with my motivations, primarily, to live a more ethical life.
HOWEVER, let me say this now before I start triggering defensive responses; this blog is not meant in any way to shame those non-vegans reading. We are all responsible for our own choices in life, and I would never presume to know better than another what choice is best for them. That said, if I can help others get on board a vegan lifestyle, or even just add more vegan choices to an omnivore diet, FANTASTIC!
My Beginning: Guilt, Shame, Mobilization
I started my vegan journey this New Year of 2018, after many years of unchecked guilt about the food choices I was making. I had heard the PETA pleas, and seen the various literature showing the barbaric treatment of farm animals, heard the environmental criticisms, and somehow always dismissed it, moving it to the back of my mind for when I was really ready to deal with it. I never felt great about eating meat, but that wasn’t the main thing that made me uncomfortable with an omnivore diet.
For me, it was the milk, the eggs, the animal by-products, and how I couldn’t absolve myself of the guilt I felt at basically enslaving animals to produce these ingredients for food indulgences. Coming from a healthy-living family, I was introduced to vegan recipes by my mom and sister before any of us had decided to make the change. The more I saw how delicious and simple dairy and egg-substitute recipes were, the less sense it made to me to consume animal by-products. Still, I was addicted to my matcha lattes, poached egg breakfasts, and pizza nights. Invariably, after an animal by-product indulgence, I would be face-to-face with a public transit advertisement showing a beautiful farm animal contrasted with the violence it faced every day in commercial farming. It broke my heart. The more they stared at me, the more I stared back. Then one day it clicked for me:
How could I consider myself an ethical person, while endorsing the pain and suffering of these innocent animals?
The answer: I couldn’t.
I think that’s how it starts for many vegans: guilt. Since starting this journey, I’ve learned that guilt is a good motivator to get started, but is not the most healthy motivator to continue successfully on your vegan journey.
Let me elaborate on a small tangent. The feeling of guilt essentially helps us to identify a wrongdoing and our feelings of responsibility for it, but guilt can also be paralyzing if we let it overwhelm us. It is a powerful emotion and one with a very problematic portrayal in many cultures, specifically North American. A person with a guilty criminal conviction goes to prison to receive their punishment. A guilty child is punished with discipline. We rarely hear the stories of rehabilitation or forgiveness. So for many of us, guilt is something we deny, bury, and ignore, afraid of the punishment, and unable to empower ourselves to see the opportunity to do better. This is how I was able to ignore my ethical dilemma for so many years. However, once I was able to accept responsibility for how I was implicated in systemic animal cruelty AND to see a way out, I was able to move forward. That guilt is no longer motivating me, but rather, it is the optimism at a better future that now moves me forward.
That optimism, rather than guilt, allows for struggles and slip-ups that don’t derail me. Instead of burying myself in guilt and shame over craving the occasional cheese pizza, I acknowledge the craving, choose to give in or not, and remind myself of how much good I’ve done since making my change this year. So the next meal is 100% vegan, and I am reminded that I am 100% human and fallible. For some vegans, this would be inexcusable, and I understand that. For me and my journey, I’ve found that I am happier and more committed when I allow myself room to err and forgive. I would encourage you to discover what works best for you.
My Beginning: Discovering My Love for Vegan Cooking
Like many omnivores, I was intimidated by the idea of going vegan because I couldn’t imagine what I would eat, let alone the disappointment of giving up some of my favourite foods. Happily, what I’ve found since making the switch is that not only is vegan cooking pretty easy and versatile, but it’s also DELICIOUS!
I swear to you it’s not all bland soy, veggies, and lentils (though my diet includes these items, that list is not exclusive, and it’s FAR from bland). There are a few secret weapons in the vegan diet that will help you to live nutritiously and deliciously. I will go through them in my next post, but as a heads up look into nutritional yeast, canned coconut milk, raw cashews, vegan butter, and vegan mayonaise.
The best thing about vegan cooking, for me, is that it necessitates creativity and a more intuitive connection with food. I think more about flavours and textures and nutrition than I ever did previously. I find vegan cooking to be more simple and nutritious and cleaner, without sacrificing flavour. One of the first vegan dinners I made was shepherd’s pie, and I just used sautéed lentils, onion, carrot in a tomato and wine vinegar sauce as the filling and made the mashed potato filling with vegan butter and oat milk. Simple, tasty, nutritious, AND filled with protein and calcium. Now, I feel energized thinking of what I can experiment with next, and I hope to share my enthusiasm with you!
Another thing I discovered is that animal by-products, specifically milk, are in SO MUCH FOOD. Also, that this is entirely unnecessary. Have you ever read the list of ingredients in packaged food, like bread, tomato sauce, salad dressing? So many brands of these products include milk, egg, or cheese, but if you were to make vegan versions of them it would become clear how unnecessary this is. As an omnivore, I rarely read ingredients lists, so I never paid attention to how ubiquitous and insidious the use of animal by-products is to our consumer world. Even cosmetic products are largely not vegan! With deep disappointment, I discovered the hair conditioner I had been using for years includes gelatin in it…
It was certainly an eye-opening experience, but it also left me feeling completely overwhelmed and pessimistic. Starting my vegan journey was going to be much more complicated than I anticipated. Looking back at my start now, it’s hard to imagine reliving that state of bewilderment — I find it so easy to make vegan choices now, but I know it was a very real issue for me then, and likely is for those reading. Let me just say to you now, being vegan is entirely achievable, rewarding, and fun.
Your Beginning: How to Start Your Vegan Journey
There are vegan substitutions for everything you eat now. There are thousands upon thousands of resources online to help you learn how to eat vegan, how to clean vegan, how to shop vegan, how to live vegan. As I develop my blog, I will be adding to these resources from my own perspective. Please stay connected to receive my best tips, tricks, and advice for starting your own vegan lifestyle journey.
In the meantime, check out the starter guide below: