Transitioning to veganism was a struggle for me, but this is how I'm making it work
About four months ago, I finally made the commitment to stop eating meat. I’m lucky in that I never really craved it, and although I was as guilty as anyone of drunken McDonald’s runs, it was more of a convenience thing than anything else. Ultimately, though, I couldn’t prioritize convenience over animals anymore. We exploit cows, pigs, and chickens for a sandwich, but almost half of all pet owners let their pets sleep in their bed. This sort of discrepancy converted me to vegetarianism, but I still feel a nagging guilt. Through eating milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products (YUM!), I’m still supporting the industry, and therefore the exploitation of animals… The answer is obvious, but transitioning to veganism is a whole other level of commitment.
In fact, researching veganism has made me wonder if it’s even possible for me. I mean, obviously, it’s possible, at least to a degree, because there are people who do it. But could it be personally possible for me?
The fact is that there are several hurdles to overcome when going vegan, but on my journey, I’ve realized a few ways to combat them.
Reading nutritional labels is tough.
Sometimes you need a degree just to understand nutritional labels. We live in an age where sugar hides under numerous different chemical-sounding names, and it only gets worse for lesser-known ingredients. You won’t find “protein obtained by boiling tendons, ligaments, and/or bones in water” on the back of a packet of gummy bears; it’ll just say “gelatin.” You’ve suddenly got to memorize lots of names like hyaluronic acid, choline bitartrate, and cetyl palmitate.
I’ve started this process as a vegetarian, but there’s a difference between no meat and no animal by-products. It’s a bit overwhelming. You end up standing in the supermarket aisle, trying to remember if caprylic triglyceride is safe to eat. Additionally, it’s not just food labels you’ve got to worry about. You’ll also have to read the backs of cosmetics, toiletries, condoms, and pretty much everything else. Because of this, becoming vegan has a sharp learning curve.
Luckily, we live in an age of constant Google accessibility.
There are several great guides to deciphering nutrition labels that you can reference in a pinch. Companies also usually go out of their way to advertise when something is vegan, so you might not have to work that hard to begin with. Some vegan labels have more legitimacy than others, so it pays to do your research all around.
Social dining doesn’t have to get awkward.
Anyone with a semi-decent social life has realized that it usually centers around food. Family holidays, birthdays, girls’ night, game day, and whatever else you participate in. There are turkeys, cakes, cocktails, and buffalo wings that everyone else will want to dig into, which can lead to some awkward situations. While you might want to keep your vegan diet a secret, you’ll eventually have to tell friends and family. Being vegetarian can be hard enough, but people have some especially negative stereotypes about vegans — the biggest being that they’re all judgey with a holier-than-thou attitude.
You can be the one to turn that stereotype on its head. It requires a certain courage, but by showing your family and friends that you do not consider yourself to be superior to them because of your diet, you might inspire them to think differently. It’s critical not to adopt a judgmental attitude here. Vegans shouldn’t shame others for their dietary choices, just as your friends shouldn’t shame you for not eating meat.
If you’re open about your decision, you’ll be surprised by how many people are willing to accommodate it.
Besides, you shouldn’t compromise your health or morals just to avoid some uncomfortable glances. Vegans have given up stuffed crust pizza, ice cream cake, and bacon cheeseburgers. Compared to that, a few off-color jokes and ignorant questions are nothing.
And that question in the back of your mind: Is it even possible?
This is probably the biggest roadblock for me. At the end of the day, with all the inconvenience that I will be loading onto my friends, with all the campfire hot dogs I will refuse, with every slice of vegan cheese that I willconsume, will I even make a difference? Can I even achieve the “goal” of veganism? That’s difficult to say.
It’s a movement that evolves over the course of vegans’ lives. The idea is to reduce environmental impact and tell big business that there is a market for meatless products.
But veganism is not as black-and-white as it sounds. For instance, there is a continuous debate within the community over honey –– do bees count as animals? Since they produce honey naturally anyways, is it wrong to take it? But it’s not just about honey — eating any fruits or veggies pollinated by bees supports the beekeeping industry, which pumps bees full of high fructose corn syrup and leaves them vulnerable to massive plagues. But following a bee-free diet is almost impossible. So where do we draw the line?
There are animal products in cars, medications, plastics, and a myriad of other items that are impossible to avoid in the 21st century. The truth is, we can’t know from beginning to end how all the products in our lives are made. I mean, you could, but it would be a full-time job in itself. Most people are not vegan or vegetarian, and thus do not even consider animal-free alternatives — and even something as simple as a pen has several steps in the creation and distribution processes. Unless you’re ready for it to completely consume every aspect of your life, being 100% vegan is impossible.
So why even try? I was pretty tempted by this line of thinking.
It’d allow me to eat whatever I wanted without giving a damn — except that this line of thinking is counterproductive to any sort of change.
Upon further inspection, I found that being vegan is more focused on reasonable restrictions, not dogmatic extremism. People go vegan for several different reasons: To lose weight, for their health, or because they want to distance themselves from the exploitation of animals. But whatever the reason, you care enough about that issue to completely change your diet, something you engage in at least three times a day.
And if enough people do that, then it does stack up to a real impact. We’re not just gonna throw up our hands at important problems. We’re willing to change our lives for a cause. And I want to be the type of person who does that.
I want to be someone who is capable of a sacrifice for a moral cause. So, despite the hassles at grocery stores and inconvenient dinner plans, I need to go vegan to be the person that I want to be. And that’s definitely a worthy goal.