It has been a year since I started my vegan journey. After lots of contemplation and failed attempts at reduction, I decided that 2018 would be the year of change for me. Last New Year’s day was my first step on my vegan journey. Today, I wanted to do a bit of reflection on the process, the ups and downs, what I have learned since starting my journey. I thought I would share my top five vegan learnings with you.
1. There’s a Huge Difference Between Vegan Diet & Vegan Lifestyle
Obviously, following a vegan diet means your food choices are vegan — no dead animal, and no food sourced from animals. A vegan lifestyle, of course, includes more than just your food choices. That seems like a pretty basic difference, but the practical implications of that are HUGE. It’s easy enough to check food ingredients to see the things you want to avoid, but when it comes to choosing clothing, cosmetics, services, often the animal and environmental impacts are harder to determine.
For instance, did you know that dyes are often not vegan and made from insects? When was the last time you saw the list of ingredients in coloured textiles/clothing, nail polish, lipstick, processed food, etc.? Probably never. Assessing whether the dyes and inks are from vegan sources is sometimes impossible, but for those invested in a vegan lifestyle, that is very important.
Even following a vegan diet can be a challenge when you consider how little information is offered about conditions. Do you pay attention to whether your nuts are harvested ethically, or whether there are animals being displaced due to deforestation or animals starving because their food sources are being taken for human overconsumption? What about water pollution affecting aquatic life from dye dumping or plastic waste?
It’s easy enough (or becomes so with time) to select food choices that don’t directly involve animal cruelty, but making ethical choices, food or otherwise, that don’t indirectly contribute to animal cruelty requires much more thought and effort.
2. Protein Deficiency Is a Red Herring for Anti-Veganism
The number one argument touted against the value in veganism is protein deficiency.
“How are you going to get enough protein?” “What about your protein?” “Are you getting enough protein?” “But the protein?!”
I can say with confidence, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’ve heard some variation of this concern from at least a handful of people.
Why do ordinary people suddenly become expert nutritionists when veganism/vegetarianism is the topic? It’s a strange phenomenon. For some, it comes from a place of legitimate concern (which is a beautiful sentiment), but for many others it’s defensiveness and brainwashing.
Why brainwashing? Because meat is not the only or best source of protein, but most of us believe it is, because it’s what we’ve likely been told all our lives. And it’s not just an innocent misconception either; it is proffered largely because without this notion, animal farming industries might collapse. In short: there’s profit to be had.
If you’re sceptical (and, of course, you should be), check out this recent article in Science Daily comparing animal versus plant sources of protein, “Meat Protein Is Unhealthy, but Protein from Nuts and Seeds Is Heart Smart.”
What I’ve discovered since following a vegan diet, however, is that — as an omnivore — I had no clue about my nutrition. I wasn’t paying attention to my protein levels, or my B12, or Vitamin D, etc. When I started charting my diet and watching my daily nutrient intake, I realized that protein is EASY. Without putting much thought into my food choices, I can fulfill my daily protein requirements before any of my other nutrient targets. The same thing goes for my B vitamins (thank YOU, nutritional yeast!). What is more difficult, I’ve found, is maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D, and potassium — though, that may just be personal diet choice. Potassium has always been a difficult nutrient for me to maintain, as I am allergic to bananas, and occasionally have reactions to sweet potato (foods both very high in potassium).
Before going vegan, I am certain my vitamin deficiencies extended past vitamin D and potassium. Without my increase in vegetables, I likely would have been regularly deficient in vitamin C and A, and without my nutritional yeast, but B vitamin, folate, and manganese levels would have been too low. Likewise, the increase in vegetables in my vegan diet have helped increase my calcium levels.
The idea that a diet rich in meat and animal byproducts is healthier because it is “more natural” really just comes down to laziness and misinformation. Don’t get caught up in the rhetoric! **For some people, this may be true, but it is not inherently or universally so in the slightest.**
3. The Topic Of “Vegan” Makes Non-Vegans Defensive
Another strange phenomenon, related to the last point, is that whenever “vegan” comes into conversation, non-vegans seem to get strangely defensive. It’s the same phenomenon that occurs when feminism comes into conversation. As a vegan feminist, this has come up a lot.
Sure, there are a lot of vegans that are offensive/aggressive and instigate and produce defensive responses. That, in itself, is a concern. That type of confrontational engagement is counterproductive and offensive. I am of the opinion that important conversations about rights and cruelty (like the issues surrounding veganism and feminism) are best held in patient, compassionate, and supportive company. Hostility and aggression are conversation stoppers.
Strangely, however, there seems to be a perceived threat to omnivores simply in the notion of veganism. It’s been a very weird thing to discover. Allow me to illustrate what I mean.
I like to follow Vegetarian cooking pages on social media. Every time one of these accounts posts a vegan recipe — without fail — the comments section is full of angry non-vegans, aggressively complaining about the term “almond milk” (“if it doesn’t come from a teat, then it’s not milk!“), or about imitation meats (“why be vegan if you spend all this time trying to recreate meat? Just eat the real thing!“), or that vegetarian doesn’t mean vegan (“it’s a vegetarian page — not vegan!”). It’s a curious trend, and pretty upsetting, to be frank.
Why would a vegan recipe on a vegetarian recipes social media account attract such strong feelings of anger and hostility? I’ve learned responses like this, in any context, are usually routed in defence to some perceived threat. The threat that vegans offer is a moral dilemma: the one I faced before becoming vegan; if I am a good person, how can I justify participating in cruelty? Many non-vegans might quickly answer that question by telling themselves it’s impossible for them to have a vegan diet. When presented with evidence to the contrary, say with an appealing and easy vegan recipe, that reasoning is called into doubt.
There are, of course, different reasons not to eat/buy vegan, varying in legitimacy. Only you can determine what is right and ethical for you. However, I think for most defensive omnivores it is more about the fact that their choices are not based in anything more than convenience and comfort. It’s harder to look inward and come face to face with your guilt, and hard to make changes to routines from which you’ve never swayed. It is much easier (and more self-righteously satisfying) to retreat to anger and stubborn defensiveness.
In short, people like to make their guilt your fault.
4. Be Prepared to Either Make Compromises or Limit Social Options
Vegan options are becoming more plentiful, rapidly. I’ve eagerly watched throughout the year to see the introduction of more and more vegan products into my nearby grocery store chains. Looking at food delivery services also offers encouragement as more and more vegan restaurants start to service and more restaurants offer vegan choices (shoutout to A&W’s Beyond Meat Burger!!). It is becoming easier to be vegan, but it is still marginal.
As I learned on my recent trip to Cuba, and as I’m reminded each time I attempt a lunch get-together with a friend I haven’t seen for some time, not everyone understands veganism. I am fortunate to live in Toronto where diversity of food, culture, people, etc., is in abundance, and where I can boast multiple favourite vegan spots. This is far from normal for other locations.
There are countless memes about the pains of being vegan/vegetarian and being social eating — when the only vegan item on the menu is fries, and your ignorant relative serves you fish as your “vegetarian” option. Patience is a virtue, which not everyone possesses in large amounts, and asking for accommodations can deplete that sorry amount further.
Many vegans will find that they have to make concessions and compromises in order to keep the peace. This is a personal choice. For some, compromising on food choices is not acceptable. For others, presenting conflict in social settings is worse. In any case, you are certain to face the difficult choice: do I eat the non-vegan food, or do I forego food; do I confront my relative for disrespecting my choices or do I remove myself from their company; do I go to the BBQ and witness the roasting of flesh or do I miss this party, too?
You may find your social circle shifts when you change your diet, or that your choices become more stark and limited. It can be a lot to deal with and may force you to make choices you would rather not. Hopefully, you will find the sacrifice well worth it.
5. Everyone Has a Different Vegan Journey
Finally, what I learned very quickly after speaking with other vegans and vegetarians about their journey and choices, is that every vegan has a different diet, a different motivation, and a different goal. There are certainly commonalities between vegans, and could arguably be organized into “types,” but it is still a fairly diverse group.
There is no one or “right” way to be vegan. What is right for you, may not be right for someone else. If judgment ever starts to seep in, try to remember the benefit each vegan does, whether they are full-time vegan or part-time vegan: every little bit helps (the animals, the planet, humanity).
I’d love to hear about your journey. Feel free to add a comment.
Happy New Year!!