As of this week, I’ve now been vegan for nine years! In late August 2005, I transitioned from being vegetarian (I’d gone veg at age 12), to being fully vegan. (Note: You can read more about my transition to veganism and the ethical, emotional and spiritual reasons behind it in my essay in Defiant Daughters).
This morning, reflecting on my veganism, I decided to put together a list of nine things I’ve learned since going vegan nine years ago:
1. Going vegan means becoming part of a very special community of human animals.
When I first went vegan, I was an assistant counselor teaching sailing at a summer camp on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. I was surrounded by hot dogs, burgers, mystery meat, chicken wings…typical stuff they serve at summer camps. I knew one or two other vegetarians, but I didn’t have any vegan friends. It was lonely and confusing to try to navigate going vegan by myself, but as soon as I got to college, I instantly joined vegan communities. It felt amazing to spend time learning from and spending time with other like-minded people. Now, I spend time with other vegans (one of whom is my partner) every day. Over time, this sense of community has only grown, and it’s one of my favorite things about being vegan.
2. The vegan movement still needs a lot of work.
There’s a whole lot of sexism, racism, homophobia, body shaming, and other crap in the vegan movement that shouldn’t be there. I’ve seen it from various perspectives over nine years, and what I’ve come to recognize is that not everyone approaches veganism from the same angle of trying to move away from all forms of oppression. The HSUS “hoofin’ it” hypocrisy is just another example of a mainstream “animal welfare” organization that takes a different approach to veganism than I (and many other vegans) do.
3. Veganism can be really, really easy.
I’ve been surprised by how easy it is to live as a vegan, in every way. I really don’t think about how to be vegan. It’s so second nature to me, I don’t even remember what it felt like not to be vegan. I understand and empathize with new vegans, or those who struggle to make compassionate choices in our non-vegan world, but to be honest, I really don’t struggle at all anymore. It’s like breathing. I think that’s amazing.
4. Ex-vegans may be difficult to understand, but we have to be compassionate towards them.
I’m learning to be more compassionate towards ex-vegans, including those who find it necessary to broadcast their “change of heart” over social networks, blogs, and sometimes mainstream media. I feel a lot of sadness and grief about those who no longer wish to live their ideals, or whose ideals have somehow changed to condone cruelty and oppression towards other living beings. On some level, it just makes no sense to me. Still, as a vegan movement, we really need to figure out how to stay compassionate towards non-human and human animals, and find ways to keep the door open for any who may one day choose a vegan lifestyle again.
5. Going vegan for health reasons alone usually isn’t enough to keep someone vegan.
I used to work at a raw vegan holistic retreat center, and every week I’d see a new “vegan” who did it by going fully raw or just for the health benefits. A week later, they heard about new health benefits from eating raw goat cheese or some tiny fish ground up into capsules, and they’d jettison their veganism for the latest health trend. True, there’s health benefits associated with removing animal protein from your diet, but if the only reason someone is vegan is health, that probably won’t last long. We need to be honest about the fact that you can be pretty healthy on a non-vegan or vegan diet, so if that’s the determining factor, it’s usually not enough to keep someone eating plant-based for long. As a vegan movement, we’ve got to emphasize health benefits as well as the moral, environmental, and ethical reasons.
6. A lot of people feel threatened by vegans–including vegetarians, pescatarians, paleo folks and so-called meat-eating “environmentalists”.
This is something that surprised me. I try not to push my veganism on anyone, in great part because it isn’t effective, but I won’t hide my values. It’s really hard for me to listen to high-minded talk about being paleo or a meat-eating environmentalist or vegetarian, when I know that these things still contribute to animal suffering. But I’ve also found that a lot of people who fit into the above categories just don’t want to be shown their hypocricies. They feel threatened by veganism, or just not ready to embrace it. It’s weird, but it something we need to recognize and tailor our activism to address.
7. Random people will be very supportive of veganism, even if they’re not vegan, and that’s wonderful.
I’ve been so surprised and humbled by how many people have supported my veganism, even if they aren’t vegan themselves. In my day job, I do marketing for tech startups, and a few weeks ago had lunch with an amazing CEO who suggested we eat at a local vegetarian place for our team’s group lunch meeting. He’s not vegetarian, and I didn’t even know he remembered I was vegan (I may have mentioned it once, but again, it’s like breathing to me, so I don’t even notice anymore when I’m outing myself as veg). I was the only veg person who attended the lunch, but everyone went for it because they wanted to be supportive of my lifestyle. It was incredible, and completely unexpected. My non-vegan family has been also incredibly supportive, as have non-vegan friends. It makes me feel really lucky and grateful.
8. Having a vegan partner is really, really nice.
I know there are amazing vegan-omnivore relationships. I believe it can work, as long as you share other values. Truly, I have no judgement about this. But for me personally, it’s just been so unbelievably nice to have a partner who is vegan. (Side note: You should read her blog!)
9. Being vegan means constantly learning and improving.
lauren Ornelas, Mark Hawthorne, Food Empowerment Project, and others have helped me see that being vegan means constantly improving and learning. It’s not ok to be a vegan who consumes products that perpetuate cruelty towards nonhuman or human animals (like chocolate created through slave labor, or palm oil that contributes to destroying orangutan habitats, for instance). I want to be a better vegan in great part due to those who challenge me to grow. I thank them, and humbly accept that I need to continue researching and learning and adapting my lifestyle to be as compassionate as possible, knowing I won’t be “perfect” but can always strive to do my best.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you’ve learned since going vegan in the comments.