I’ll start off by saying I’m not a vegan. I eat vegan at home, try to when I’m out, and when I do buy animal products, I do so locally and consciously.
Basically, though I’m not vegan, I see the health, ethical, and environmental benefits to a plant-based diet. I think the amount of education and cultural interest in veganism, as well as eating local and organic, is fantastic.
I also, however, think pro-vegan education has some pitfalls that don’t help to dispel anti-vegan attitudes that still proliferate despite its trendiness. Attitudes like the idea that “real” people (especially men) eat meat, or that vegans are bleeding heart hippies without any grounding in reality, or that it’s silly to privilege animal life over human life.
Current awareness and advice is great in helping coax those already leaning towards a plant-based diet into commitment. But there are those who find it hard to let go of their cheeseburgers. I’ve always loved my vegetables, but when I first felt the stirrings of desire to give up meat, I felt a little like someone losing their faith: panicked, confused, worried about losing forever the pleasures of steak still kicking. I clung onto fish for a long time due to a deep love for sushi, and have only recently given it up. So meat-eaters: I understand. I do.
This is why I have a list of better tips for decreasing meat and increasing plants. Ones that will help you realise that the world doesn’t begin and end with cheeseburgers.
(Disclaimer: I’m neither a nutritionist nor a health expert, so obviously, listen to your body and your doctor. Thanks!)
1. Remember: it’s about diminishing your impact.
Sometimes, with all the health stats and recipes for homemade tofurkey, it’s easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal of veganism: diminishing your footprint on the environment and animal suffering.
What does that mean? It means that it’s great to go full vegan, but any steps towards improvement help. I like Graham Hill’s weekday vegetarian idea; try being a weekday vegan! Don’t give yourself license to have Saturday-night cheese binges, but you don’t have to claim the vegan lifestyle 24/7. More helps more – but a little helps too.
2. No one is 100% vegan.
This is a big myth of veganism that you only get privy to once you join the club. Maybe there are some gold-star vegans out there who haven’t touched an animal product since conversion, but I haven’t met one. All of the vegans I’ve met admit they’ve made mistakes, been left with no other options, or been dumped and ate an entire cheese pizza. We’re human – it happens. Living an ethical and healthy lifestyle isn’t about being perfect. It’s about doing your best in an imperfect situation.
3. Use your common sense, and your personal sense.
I read once about a baby who died from malnourishment. She wasn’t breastfed because the parents were vegan and instead fed her watered down soy milk. Yeah. This is an extreme example, but illustrates the whole “missing the point” aspect (not to mention a lack of knowledge of the vegan formula options available). Veganism is about preventing exploitation and harm to the environment, not about categorically refusing all animal products regardless of context.
Your personal beliefs work into this too. For example, I don’t think bugs and molluscs, if farmed and harvested sensibly, are problematic. I don’t get a vegan badge, but I’m still making a difference where it counts.
And if you’re having a baby, do lots of research before making dietary decisions!
4. You don’t have to be a master chef (or eat tofurkey).
Yes, it would be nice if we all created master meal plans and made a different fresh, healthy vegan meal every night. But do meat eaters even do this? I work up the energy every once in a while to make something fantastic, but most of the time it’s one-pot meals, salads, and sandwiches. Fast, easy, simple.
Here’s your vegan grocery list: vegetables, salad greens, hummus, tofu, pasta, canned beans, bread, and nut butter. From this, you can make an easy salad with veggies, beans or tofu. You can make hummus or peanut butter sandwiches. You can make one-pot curries, pastas and stir fries. I try to make one new meal a week, but other than that it’s my old standbys and I’m no more bored than I was when I ate meat.
5. Veganism is about sacrifice. Deal with it.
Let’s be real: most people will miss cheese and meat and ice cream. Both vegetarianism and veganism are sacrifices, but that’s kind of the point. The reason we’ve gotten ourselves into this environmental mess is the unwillingness to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of the planet and the other human beings and creatures on it.
It doesn’t mean it’s not difficult, but starting as a “most of the time vegan” can make those sacrifices seem smaller. It’s not as if you can never eat cheese again – but do you really need to eat it today? You’d be surprised how those days add up to mostly never needing cheese!
Educating yourself on the issues is great, but it takes more than the facts to start affecting change in your life. Hopefully using these tips and attitudes towards veganism will help in adopting a plant-based diet.
Image via tomatoes and friends Flickr