Being a Vegan Emissary

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Yesterday our new intern pulled me aside to ask me about going vegan. She seemed interested and eager to learn more since finding out that I was vegan a few months ago. She loves my vegan oat milk coffee creamer and told me she’s even started using it at home because she likes it so much. I was so happy that she felt she could come to me with questions, but at the same time I was immediately tense and anxious about how to respond.

This is not the first time that I’ve been in this uncomfortable situation. Many people have come to me for help when beginning their vegan/vegetarian journey. I thought I would get better at offering that help as I became more comfortable and confident in my own veganism, but it seems like it’s actually the reverse. I am so far removed from the normal meat-eater’s lifestyle that I no longer understand their questions half the time, let alone know what the most beneficial response would be. When people ask me things like: what do you eat? I can’t help but stare back dumbfounded for a few moments. What do you eat, I want to ask. I eat fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts. You know… food. The bulk of what any reasonable diet should already consist of.

There is such chaos and turmoil inside of me when I find myself having to give vegan advice. Part of me is overjoyed, part of me is annoyed, part of me is panicked. Overjoyed because my veganism has influenced someone to try to live a more compassionate life. Annoyed because their questions remind me just how far the majority of society is from doing that. And panicked because of the pressure I feel to offer the perfect answers to their questions. I want to make veganism sound easy and appealing to them. I’m afraid my response could potentially prevent more animals from suffering but that I will fail those same animals if my response instead causes the person to turn away.

My mind starts racing, trying to decide what parts of the encyclopedia of information I have inside my head is the most important, useful, or impactful. I have so much knowledge to offer. To break it down into the most relevant and easily digestible pieces seems like an impossible task. After these random encounters, I always feel disappointed in myself. I kick myself thinking I should have done better somehow, even though I’m never sure exactly what “better” would have looked like. At this point it’s impossible for me to remember what would have been most helpful to me when I first became vegan.

I wanted to write this post today to address people on both sides of the aisle. To the aspiring vegan: Don’t expect the vegans in your life to take you by the hand and make this transition seamless and easy for you or expect them to have all the answers. To the vegan being asked for advice: Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is no perfect response that you can give to make someone else change their behavior. All you can do is try your best, be friendly, and be open.

With that said, here is what I would like to say to anyone interested in going vegan: It’s going to be a hard transition. Being vegan isn’t hard at all, but changing is. Especially when you are changing something so integral to your culture and day to day life. There is no amount of information you can gather or questions you can ask preemptively that will make this transition easy. If you’re waiting for it to be easy, you’re going to be waiting forever. Change is never easy. Learning how to live a new lifestyle is never easy. One way you can make it easier though is being gentle with yourself while you’re still learning. I think a lot of people either avoid or give up veganism because it’s too daunting to imagine never eating meat or dairy again. That’s a scary concept in the beginning. You find yourself thinking, what about all the traditional holiday foods I’ve enjoyed with my family my entire life? I can’t have turkey on Thanksgiving? I can’t have a Christmas ham? I can’t eat cake for birthdays? It seems like a huge sacrifice. And some militant vegans will say it’s something you’ve just got to accept and white-knuckle your way through. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with identifying as a vegan or vegetarian and still making exceptions for yourself in the beginning. I also think it’s okay to essentially go vegan without adopting the label if that lets you feel less restricted. What matters is doing our best to cause as little harm to other beings as possible. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even vegans can’t help but avoid doing harm entirely. It’s just about trying. So if the only thing holding you back from veganism is Thanksgiving dinner, let yourself not be vegan on the holidays. If you’re having a really hard day and you can’t resist one of your favorite comfort foods or don’t have time to cook and don’t have the time, energy, or accessibility to find a vegan alternative, you don’t have to cast the vegan lifestyle aside because you caved and ate meat. Just try again tomorrow.

You can also start slow. Try making a vegan dinner once a week. Make one meal a day a vegan meal. Test out some vegan menu options the next time you go out to eat. These small steps matter. They still have an impact. And if this is the best way for you to make the transition and feel confident and comfortable enough to stick with it, I think it’s an excellent way to do it. There is no one way to live a vegan lifestyle. It is going to take some time and experimentation to discover what works best for you. Your body and mind are going to need time to adjust. There are going to be days when you “screw up” and can’t live up to your own expectations and that’s perfectly okay. I still have those days over 10 years later. The important part is that you’re trying. That alone is a beautiful gift to the animals, your body, and the Earth. That alone is something to take pride in. And for that alone, I for one, thank you.

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Veganniversary

Nine years ago today, on my eighteenth Easter, I began the transition to a vegan diet. It’s always tough for me to know what to say when people ask me about when I became vegan. I probably wasn’t actually fully vegan until a couple of years later. More like a vegetarian, trying to make it to vegan. But I still want to give myself credit for those years I spent figuring things out. I’m not sure if other vegans count that transitional period as part of their vegan life or their pre-vegan life. I suppose some people might not have stumbled so much in the beginning like I did either.

My point is that I think intentions matter. I’m not trying to justify the support I gave to a monstrous industry out of personal weakness. I’m just saying that as an online community, vegans can be pretty ruthless to one another. I use to be one of these more ruthless vegans. I couldn’t help but lash out at vegetarians or vegans with “cheat days.” When it comes to such a serious and heart-rending issue as the lives and wellbeing of billions of animals, it’s only natural to get a little heated. However, it is also easy to turn a blind eye to our own past failings.

This post isn’t about calling out other vegans or myself. It’s about reminding myself and other long-time vegans out there not to forget where we came from. After nearly a decade adapting to this lifestyle, it can be easy to forget how impossible the change once seemed. Even though now it can be frustrating to hear people asking you the same ridiculous questions that they always have, keep answering them kindly. Keep being patient, even when you’d rather scream. A kind, thoughtful answer may not make the questioner go vegan, but a harsh response is guaranteed to turn them away from the idea entirely.

If you’ve read my other posts you may wonder why I even bother to care anymore. After all, I’ve said many times that I believe it’s too late to save the planet and life on earth as we know it. So why continue being vegan? Why do I care if other people go vegan or not? The simple answer to that question is suffering. I have always been sensitive to the idea of suffering. The mere existence of it is what caused me to lose my faith in a loving, all powerful god. And if there is no god to protect the innocent, I will. Or at the very least, I’ll do my best not to contribute to their suffering.

The crazy thing is that it doesn’t even feel like a conscious effort any more. I think one of the hard parts about going vegan is making that mental connection each time you decide what you’re going to eat or buy at the store. In the beginning making the right choice causes you pain because it makes you reflect on your impact in the world and the immense suffering and injustice that exists all around us. It is tempting to turn away, fall back into old habits, avoid thinking about it entirely. However, once veganism has become that comfortable, familiar habit, these painful feelings are reversed. The other day someone asked me if I would ever eat meat again. The idea alone left a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t even bring myself to look at the meat section in the grocery store. Those “foods” are a painful reminder of the atrocities humanity perpetrates on our innocent brethren. To eat a piece of meat is to eat a piece of flesh. It would be a willful decision to cast aside everything that I believe in in a way that it never was before going vegan. It would be simply impossible for me, painful even.

This drastic shift of consciousness that a vegan lifestyle elicits can make it hard for us to relate to the meat-eating masses. It’s tempting to try to forget that I was once one of them. When people ask me, I want to tell them that veganism was never a difficult choice to make, that it was always easy. But I am always honest instead. I tell them that it was hard for a long time. I tell them that I initially transitioned for selfish reasons, not out of a moral obligation to the animals I was eating. I tell them about the foods I miss eating and haven’t been able to replace. I let them know all of this. But I also let them know that despite all of that, becoming vegan was worth it. Becoming vegan was the best decision I ever made in my life. I would say I’m proud of that decision, but it just seems ridiculous to take pride in not harming others when that should be the default.

So if you are reading this post and you are not vegan, know that I don’t harbor any hatred or resentment towards you. I certainly don’t consider myself better than you, like a lot of people assume vegans do. What I hope you take with you from reading this is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Choosing a salad instead of a steak at a single meal is a reason to rejoice. Deciding not to add cheese or a creamy dip or adding a non-dairy creamer to your coffee or switching to a plant based milk at home, these are all wonderful, meaningful steps to take that make a difference. And I don’t mean make a difference for the world necessarily, I mean they make a difference for the animals. It may seem like an abstract statistic when we think about meat and dairy sales, simple facts and figures. An output two digits smaller than the year before may seem utterly insignificant, but just remember that those numbers are lives, sweet, precious babies, like the pets your have at home. And these small choices make a difference to them. So just do your best. Do whatever you can, no matter how small. If a mentally ill, eighteen-year-old can go vegan on Easter and still being going strong nine years later, anyone can do it.

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The New Year

Last year, I got blackout drunk on New Year’s Eve, slept with a random guy, which I only have vague flashes of memory about, and didn’t get home again until the afternoon. I felt sick and sad and, to be honest, it was a good harbinger of what was to come in 2020. A lot of poor decisions. A lot of regret. A lot of sickness, sadness, and anxiety. I can only hope the ways things went yesterday will be equally as prophetic.

Last night I managed to only have a few drinks. I was sober enough to drive home around 11, and I did. I didn’t embarrass myself. I didn’t sleep with anyone. I just had a lovely dinner with my friends, smoked and drank a reasonable amount, then went home to my babies and slept in my own bed. I even managed to wake up at a decent hour. Part of me was kind of sad to leave so early, before the New Year had even truly arrived. It made me feel old and unfun. But in the end, I’d take being old to being a drunken embarrassment any day of the year.

I hope that even though I’m still feeling pretty hungover this morning, that today can provide that shifted perspective that I’ve been needing. I still have this desire for today to be the first day of a new life. I always get so scared when the time finally comes to actually sit down and figure out exactly what that means though. I don’t know what I am so afraid of. I guess I’m afraid of taking a hard look at myself. I’m afraid of what I’ll see, of what I’ll have to face in order to change.

I know I can do it though. I won’t look away this time. I’ll be here for myself no matter what I find. Plus now that it’s finally January, I can call a psychologist’s office on Monday and make myself an appointment. Then I can have another person to support me in this journey as well. Hopefully they’ll have some more helpful strategies than what I’ve been able to come up with.

Even though nothing is really different this morning that yesterday morning or tomorrow morning, I still enjoy this illusion of having a fresh start. I plan to have fun with it, to make the best of it. It’s exciting, not scary. I have everything I need to start living the life I want to. All I need to do is decide what life that will be.

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Making Plans

There are only a handful of weeks left to us in the hellacious, year of our lord 2020. It is around this time I feel it’s appropriate to start making plans for the new year to come. I know most “New Year Resolutions” fall to the wayside and are forgotten after a few weeks at most. But there is something deliciously invigorating about the illusion of a fresh start, a clean slate. It may not ultimately help you follow through with or achieve your goals, but it does make it a hell of a lot easier to feel inspired enough to a least make a plan for yourself. And that is worthwhile and important in it’s own right.

I personally am in desperate need of a plan for myself. I have been drifting listlessly for what seems like a very long time now. Every time I think of making a change, it just feels hopeless. Why bother? However, knowing I’ll have a few months to mentally prepare myself makes it seem more manageable. (Not to mention still getting to enjoy a hedonistic holiday season.) Don’t get me wrong, it’ll still feel daunting when the day finally arises at my doorstep, but I’ll at least hopefully feel more ready. Having a clear plan in mind is always helpful.

So what kinds of things do you want to change in 2021? Start a new habit? Kick an old one? Spend some of this waning time in 2020 to get a clear idea of what you would like to do and how precisely you plan to do it. Having a detailed plan is key. Vague goals are the most slippery. Much too hard to actualize.

Maybe even more important than making your plan specific is making it incremental. Don’t expect yourself to wake up on January 1st 2021 and lead an entirely different life. That isn’t going to happen. I’ve always been afraid of being “too easy on myself.” I worry that if I’m not strict and rigid, I’ll fail. But perhaps that is exactly the reason I have already failed so many times in the past. I think it’s more important to be kind to yourself along the way. You will mess up. You will have days, maybe even weeks, when you feel like you’ve given up, that you’ve failed. But there are no rules to follow in this life. There are no disqualifiers. Keep playing. Start again as many times as you need to.

There is no shame in what we perceive as failure. Only an opportunity to rest. To collect ourselves. To be gentle with ourselves. And begin again with new strength, new determination, new wisdom. So make your plans. Make the small improvements something to take pride in. Expect to mess up. Expect to start again many times. But remember one thing above all else. These are your goals. You are the only one invested in the outcome. And do you know why? Because beneath it all, it is your self-love that moves you. The belief you have in yourself. The deep desire for you to be happy, healthy, prosperous. You’re doing this for you. Inspired by pure love. So don’t forget. Be kind to yourself. As you would be to a child that you only want the best for. Comfort yourself when you fall, and help yourself back up again.

It is time for another transition. It is time for change.