What is the hardest part of being vegan?
Missing cheese? Really wanting those leather shoes? Not being able to chow down on a greasy hotdog?
The easy answer to all those questions is: absolutely not. (And “yuck!”).
For me, it’s when I meet someone who used to be a vegan, but isn’t anymore. “What? Why?” I try not to splutter at them too harshly, remembering that I’m in public and (hopefully) not insane. I really want to understand. I want to understand how someone can take this compassionate leap and then, for whatever reason, go back to eating animal products.
The main reason I hear over and over again involves claims of feeling weak, tired or unsatisfied. Okay, let’s unpack this! My first thoughts are “what were you eating?” and “were you eating ENOUGH?” A vegan diet can be unhealthy, just as a carnivore diet can be unhealthy, which is why it’s so important to be putting good things in. Also, because fruits and vegetables are lower in calories, you need to eat a lot more of them to feel satisfied, which can be daunting for some.
There are enough people in the world (including star athletes, body-builders, and a certain former President!) who are walking, talking, thriving examples that a plant-based diet works. Thousands of people have cured life-long ailments and diseases cutting meat and diary from their plates and are now living healthy, happy and spunky lives! To be a glowing vegan success story, you can’t live on pasta, bread and chips. Make sure you’ve researched how to eat a balanced diet and you won’t run into problems (I highly recommend “Skinny Bitch” by Rory Freedmen and Kim Barnouin.) Also depending on how unhealthy you were before and how healthy you’re eating now, you may experience detox symptoms, which can be unpleasant, but are a good thing and will pass.
To be honest – I don’t believe this is the reason why people fall off the wagon. All you need to do is type “vegan” into Google and there is a wealth of brilliant books, websites and research about how to go vegan properly. So, assuming your motivation is in place and your health is not suffering, what accounts for a new vegan deciding to bow out?
The truth is: it is just hard sometimes. It is hard to stay a normal, functioning member of society when you suddenly know so much and have to turn a blind eye to the dead animals, greasy hamburgers and chocolate milk surrounding you.
Suddenly – maintaining your friendships, going to your favourite coffee shop and working your job can all be problematic. Maybe your favourite coffee shop doesn’t stock soy milk? Maybe your job is waitressing at a steak house? Or worst of all: maybe your friends don’t understand your decision and are judgemental?
It’s okay to admit that going out for dinner just isn’t the same when you have to take an extra few minutes scrutinising the menu while your girlfriends chat away about man problems. And that’s before you glance at the waiter who is trying so hard not to roll his eyes and blurt out “stay home, vegan! Cook your own food!” Thankfully – this isn’t so much of a problem in 2013. Demand for vegan food is shooting through the roof (yay!) and most restaurants provide some options without complaint. But haven’t we all daydreamed about being able to say, “I’ll have the special” without worrying what’s in it?
I think this cocktail of stress can account for why some new vegans fail. It can seem exhausting and I understand longing for simpler times when food was just food.
But guess what? The old “cup half full” attitude definitely applies here and it’s only a stress if YOU decide that it is. When you feel your friends’ watchful eyes and the “what can she order?” question, like a giant elephant sitting at the table, USE these moments to demonstrate how easy being vegan is. Steer your friends to restaurants you know are vegan-friendly and pick the most delicious thing on the menu. I call this: sneaky vegan power!
It’s really important to have a support system of some kind. If you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by loved ones who will accept you for who you are and what you want to eat then the vegan transition will be a breeze. If your family are making you feel like a criminal, maybe not so much! Find a cool meet up group in your area, join an online site for support, or best of all, get your most compassionate mate, shout them a mocha and say that you are struggling and need them to support you through this change.
You are not alone out there! More and more people are becoming aware and the vegan movement is growing every day. We are all working towards a sustainable, cruelty-free future and if you’ve already made that leap then you are a part of something bigger than any socially acceptable situation.
Now, go bake some vegan cupcakes, Google the latest in animal rights and relax with a cup of tea! Oh, and feel mighty proud of yourself.