Put on your reading glasses and bring out your notebooks, kids. Welcome to veganism 101.
In today's class, we'll be covering all aspects of veganism, from what to eat to "Girl, what even is veganism?" I'm one of those cool teachers (cue eyerolls), so there'll be no grading at the end of this course; only knowledge and wisdom. So pass that gum over here (unless it's cinnamon-flavored, ew) and listen up.
What is veganism?
To put it very simply, veganism is a lifestyle entirely free of any sort of animal product or byproduct. This term is often confused with "Plant-based," which only refers to one's diet. This means that someone who is plant-based doesn't eat any animal products, but is free to consume them in clothing and other things (ie. household products, beauty products), while a Vegan doesn't consume anything at all if one of the materials or ingredients came from an animal.
Veganism is also often confused with vegetarianism. Here's the difference: Vegetarians don't eat animal flesh, while Vegans don't eat flesh, eggs, dairy, and whatever other food product that came from an animal.
Why do people go vegan?
Reasons vary from one to another, but most come down to one thing: ethics. This means that some go vegan for animal rights (undercover investigations and reports from all over the world have proven that cruelty is standard procedure), some do it for environmental reasons (statistics have shown that the factory farming industry accounts for a third of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all other industries combined), and some others do it out of respect for their health and bodies (various studies have confirmed that consuming animal products is bad for your health and causes different conditions and shortens lifespan). So no matter where the inspiration came from, you can safely assume that that vegan you want to make fun of actually has a pretty good reason in making this drastic lifestyle change. Of course, it's never safe to generalize and, all tea all shade, there are some out there that are riding the #Vegan wave, but we just won't talk about those today.
Now that the basics are out the way, here's what you need to know if you, or someone you know, is ready to make this commendable change.
The transition to being vegan
It differs for everyone. There are those who can transition in a split second, those who take weeks or months, and those who take years. No matter which one you are or will be, remember to cut yourself some slack. This change, no matter what your reasoning behind it, goes against everything you were taught as a human being since birth. You were not taught to see your nuggets and remember that this was once a live chicken, and you weren't taught to make the connection that your cup of milk was from a cow lactating to feed her newborns. We weren't taken to slaughterhouses as kids, and if our parents are doing it, surely it can't be wrong. Right? As children, we are conditioned to disconnect entirely. That's why you can't expect to succeed in transitioning to veganism overnight (kudos if you do!), and you surely can't beat yourself up for it if you fail.
Take your time. If you try to transition cold turkey and it doesn't work, try to ease yourself into it instead. You could slowly clear out your fridge from different animal products or you could toss them out all at once. You could up-cycle your leather goods and donate that mohair yarn. You could have a friend slap that chicken strip from your hand when you're feeling weak. You could even write the word VEGAN on your forehead as a not-so-subtle reminder. Really - whatever works for you is the right way to do it. Just stick to your beliefs and remember the reason you're making this change. And if at first you don't succeed, try again. Like Cher always says, "Snap out of it!"
Now, if your friend or family member is the one doing the transitioning, your job is actually quite simple: Support. What they're doing is difficult enough, and they're already being ridiculed for it (more on that later, read on), so you need to be the one who reminds them that they can indeed do this, that they got this, and they'll make it happen. If you find yourself incapable of doing so, send them the link to this article, okay?
What to expect:
It's not the most popular decision
Let's rip off this bandaid right now: The very first thing you should expect when going vegan is the constant, relentless ridicule that will come your way. You will be the butt of the joke in a lot of social settings, there's always gonna be that one person that'll get under your skin and provoke you, and my oh my at the cyber-bullies that will have their fun at your expense. James Baldwin was not cracking jokes when he said "Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society." Those words ring oh-so-true, but it's not all bad. A few things you could do to battle this negativity is surrounding yourself with a good support system. I mean, if your friends are the ones getting you down, are they really your friends anyway? Sometimes you can't escape the haters, especially if they're family. Stand firm and set boundaries - this is your lifestyle at the end of the day. You could also join an online vegan community, or find a local one around you. You could remember what motivated you to make this change. You could focus and push through, because your beliefs should always be strong enough to keep you standing when others try to pull you down.
A change of perspective
Another thing to expect is, your view of the world will change. It's self-explanatory, but when you see that the world around you seems to not care at all about animals, or the environment, or whatever else made you go vegan... Well, it's hard not to be discouraged and feel like it's you vs. the world, right? Just remember that it doesn't have to be like that, and there are others out there who care, too. And, well, if the world won't change, at least you're no longer a part of something you're against. Sometimes all we can hope for is a good conscience.
Seemingly endless amount of questions
You will be confused, but only at first! "Wait, is this vegan?" "What's pleather?" "Are insects animals and if so, does that mean I can't eat honey?" "Where on God's green earth can I find vegan makeup products?" "What's the difference between seitan and tofu?" Calm down, ok? You'll figure it out. There are people around you who already have these answers, and the best one is a woman called Google.com that is filled with various informative resources. Do your own research, then do some more research, and take it day by day. It's all a process and you're not doing anybody any favors if you're running around bumping into things and screaming "I'm so lost" at the top of your lungs. That's my job.
You will still crave non-vegan foods
It will happen, and it doesn't make you a failure or any less vegan. This usually will happen at the beginning of your vegan journey, simply because you were eating these foods only a short while ago. Think of it as detoxing: it'll take some time for your brain and taste buds to forget about the foods you've been enjoying for years on end. Stick to your veganism long enough and you'll be surprised to learn that the food you enjoyed as a meat eater is the same food that is now making you physically sick, just by mere smell.
You'll need to eat more
The bitter bunch
Surprisingly, some of the people that will give you a hard time during your journey, are your fellow vegans. I'm mentioning negativity again because this particular group of people deserves their own honorable mention. These are the ones that generally give veganism a bad name. You know, the ones screaming "I hope you choke on that bacon" at meat eaters, or telling vegetarians "You don't really care about animals," or telling other vegans that they're not "vegan enough." They come in all shapes and sizes, from different cultures and backgrounds, and sometimes even in the form of organizations. It needs to be said that I do understand the passion and pure anger you feel as a vegan when the world just won't make a necessary change for the betterment of everyone and the planet, and for something as petty as taste preference too! I get it, and sometimes to this day I have to disconnect completely when I find myself getting angry at that woman for wearing a mink coat, or my own friend for being anti-veganism or having all her information wrong and twisted. On the other hand, I also understand that there is a very fine line between passionate and obnoxious, and a big part of fighting for a cause is how you fight, not how loud you fight.
Main Image Credits: Instagram @vaute_nyc