Things you wanted to know – but were afraid to ask
Almost five years ago, armed with a single vegan book, some information from the internet, and little knowledge (but a steely determination to succeed) I decided to go vegan overnight. It’s genuinely been a life-changing choice, and the best decision I’ve ever made, but it hasn’t been without its bumps in the road.
Everyone’s experience is different, but I thought I’d round up a few of the things I’ve learnt along the way, in the hopes they may be useful.
But I don’t know any other vegans…
This was the case for the first couple of years. In fact, I didn’t even know that many people who knew what veganism was, including an editor at a previous job (it’s safe to say he knows now…) This meant the first time I actually met some other vegans while researching an article, I was ridiculously over-excited. It is becoming easier and easier to get involved with vegan causes now, and the internet is your best tool for doing so, whether through social ‘meet ups’, or various campaigns, festivals, or social media groups.
The food is not the hardest bit
In fact, the food element isn’t difficult at all. You can stroll into any mainstream store and take your pick from a plethora of plant-based milks, you can get rice-based cheese in a high street pizza chain. To quote Jo Tyler: “The hardest part about being vegan is coming face-to-face with the darker side of humanity and trying to remain hopeful.”
The best advice I have here is to remember you were (probably) once a non-vegan yourself, which will help you understand the behaviour of your nearest and dearest. It is always possible to be informative and helpful, without being too overbearing – and this is often an effective tool in engendering change in others.
Sometimes you will have to accept that being vegan in a non-vegan world is hard – you are likely to find it difficult exposing yourself to the horrors of the many ways society abuses and exploits non-human animals. It’s important to try and maintain your own emotional health, while doing all you can (whether that is pro-active activism of some sort, or simply continuing your own vegan lifestyle) to help animals.
The smart-asses come out of the woodwork
A genuinely difficult one to deal with: you might as well accept everyone is suddenly going to a) have a degree in nutrition, and b) pretend to care about your health when you become vegan.
They don’t genuinely care, or in all likelihood know, anything about your macro and micronutrient intake, and impact thereof. The reality is, they are just being strikingly unoriginal because they are morons. If you have any reason to have real concerns about your own food intake and health, it is something to discuss with a professional, not some random guy.
In addition, you might have to fight off ‘concerns’ about being weak and unhealthy. Whatever – the only person I know who’s run multiple marathons is vegan, loads of world class athletes are vegan, and I’m about to run my first half marathon – powered totally by plants.
People hate a ‘do gooder’
Many vegans subscribe to the theory that meaters hate them because they are made to feel guilty about their own carnivorous choices. And there is actually a little evidence to suggest that could be true. A study carried out in 2010, by psychologists at America’s Washington State University showed that apparent acts of altruism can alienate other people. Volunteers were put into groups and given tasks involving tokens for meal vouchers, some were told to make deliberately lopsided exchanges – either appearing greedy by hoarding the vouchers or making a show of altruism by not taking their fair share. They were also told that giving up vouchers would improve the group’s chance of receiving a cash reward to be shared between them. After the experiment, the volunteers were quizzed. On the whole the groups didn’t like the selfish players, but also didn’t like the altruistic ones, with a common refrain being: “They made me look bad.” So maybe your veganism does make other people feel guilty (but don’t be smug about it, that’s not going to help any animals).
You will have to deal with some absurd vegan myths. A quick checklist:
- No, Hitler was not a vegetarian. Do some research – his personal biographer has stated he repeatedly ate meat.
- Yes, I do care about humans as well as animals – veganism is better for humanity for a number of reasons, including the environment.
- No, cows would not simultaneously become extinct and over run the world if we became vegan. Because we won’t all go vegan overnight.
- No, you don’t only eat meat from ‘humane’ sources because no meat is humane, and it’s impossible to get the full back story on where and how the animal was reared and slaughtered (unless you did it yourself…)
- No, plants don’t feel pain. Responding to stimuli is not the same as having a central nervous system.
- No, it’s not normal to drink breast milk from a cow’s teat. Just actually think about it for one second, then berate yourself for being brainwashed by society into thinking something so bizarre and repulsive is ok…