Is it Easy to be Vegan?

I was watching the video in which Ellen Degeneres describes her reasons for being vegan. Since a number of articles have put the spotlight on the health aspects of Ellen’s diet, it was nice to hear her talk about ethics and animals as her sole reason for choosing veganism. But, at the end of the interview, she uses the dreaded H word—saying that it is “hard,” and “takes a major shift” in one’s life to forego all animal products.

Around the internet, there is often discussion about whether it is okay to ever admit that being vegan can be “hard.” After all, most people are already convinced that a vegan diet is difficult deprivation; we don’t need to reinforce that belief.

But people who perceive barriers to going vegan need to have their concerns acknowledged, not dismissed. Here’s the thing: Giving up whole categories of food that you love and that are familiar and that you know how to prepare and that have always been a part of your family and social celebrations is not necessarily easy. At least not for everyone.

Depending on where you live and what your social circle is like, being vegan can feel isolating. Traveling can be a challenge. Feeding picky-eater kids can be a trial for newly-vegan parents. Most of us have been in situations where we are forced to choose between betraying our commitment to veganism and hurting someone’s feelings. There is nothing easy about that. We need to be willing to admit that these issues exist if we want to have any credibility as vegan educators.

The idea isn’t to reinforce concerns and pre-conceived ideas about veganism, but to recognize them, and then help people find ways to work through them. That’s what nutrition counselors do; we identify the right starting point for working with an individual and try to find that perfect balance that lets us motivate (and educate) people while still being sympathetic to fears, weaknesses, and legitimate hurdles. In nutrition counseling and public health education, we would get absolutely nowhere by refusing to admit that challenges and barriers exist, and I think the same is true for vegan outreach.

I’m surprised at how often omni friends tell me that they can’t go vegan—or vegetarian—because they “really like meat.” Somehow they must think that veganism is doable only for a certain group of people—those who find it easy to give up meat, dairy and eggs. That suggests that sharing our own struggles in going—and staying—vegan can actually be reassuring to others. Hearing that we faced barriers, but still successfully went vegan, can help newbies realize that they can do it, too. Saying “oh no, I just went vegan overnight and never looked back,” might make them think that since they aren’t like us (ie, a superhuman who effortlessly accomplishes any and all lifestyle changes), maybe they just aren’t cut out to be vegan. So being able to say, “yes, it’s sometimes difficult for me,” can ultimately make us better, not worse, advocates.

 

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14 Responses to Is it Easy to be Vegan?

  1. kipwinger June 21, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    Great post. I give Veganism 101 presentations/discussions to high schoolers and the "H" word does come up from time to time. I think it's worthwhile to acknowledge the effort involved, but I still stray from using the term "hard". I went vegan 15 years ago, before health food sections and now post-health food sections, but I've never felt the effort was problematic enough to warrant labeling it "hard". I always say that it simply involves effort.

    Further, during my presentations, I've begun turning the paradigm around and instead of classifying veganism as "hard", I point out the problematic nature of our culture instead of our dietary choices. I try to place the blame on our culture for making healthy choices difficult, not the diet itself.

    As an example, I ask the kids to consider if they were dropped from the sky into a grocery store, what would be the chances they would land next to fresh, whole, unpackaged foods and what are the chances they would land next to processed, preserved and packaged foods. It's our cultural perception of food that makes things hard, not the diet itself.

    Regardless, good points.

  2. Rand(Om) Bites June 21, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

    It's funny that I came across this post today. I have been experimenting with the vegan diet for several months now and after a Jivamukti Yoga Retreat on the weekend, which encourages a vegan lifestyle, it finally hit me. I love cheese, but I love animals more.

    Thanks for the great blog! Look forward to reading through your archives.

  3. Dustin Garrett Rhodes June 21, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    I am really guilty of repeating the mantra, "it's so easy to be vegan!," and then, in actuality, I have plenty of moments in real life where I find veganism plenty annoying—and I live in a major metropolitan city, around lots of other vegans.

    The issue of travel sucks. What else can I say?

    Also, I have learned since becoming vegan that I am a major snob when it comes to food. I abhor processed, gross food, and it seems like many vegans are happy with some fake hotdogs, soymilk and Daiya. I find that whole approach to veganism disgusting, and I am surrounded by it. I think every vegan restaurant in Washington DC is gross, and I would not recommend any of them to anyone. If I want a good restaurant experience, I have to go to an omnivorous restaurant, with a real chef who knows about cooking. I find this incredibly annoying, and, yes, "hard." Hard because I just don't understand why so many vegans set the bar so low.

    And, yes, it's "hard" living in and amid the dominant culture which is the opposite of vegan. I have been in the animal rights movement for more than 10 years, and it feels like we've moved forward and back, simultaneously. That's frustrating. It's also no easier to travel.

    I am not vegan for my health either, but I am not in it to destroy my health—which I think many aspects of fast food culture veganism sets us up for. I can see how and why people leave veganism, and claim to feel awful, etc., because we are really doing a disservice to the cause by thinking and advocating for a vegan version of the standard american diet.

    That said, many aspects of veganism are very easy, too. Surely, it's very easy to learn to cook and create healthy vegan meals. Indeed, that's one of the great pleasures of veganism. Not only that, there's an indescribable thing that happens to many vegans that, simply by virtue of becoming vegan, one's quality of life improves dramatically. I hesitate to use the word spiritual, because I think it's icky, too, but perhaps that comes closest. In any case, at risk of sounding crazy or maudlin, I think there's something very life-affirming about veganism, and it doesn't, at least not in my experience, go away. And that makes up for everything that's hard.

    Dustin

    • Pat Meadows December 15, 2013 at 11:02 am #

      Hi Dustin, Soy milk is not a fake food. I make it in my kitchen, from whole soybeans, and I know, therefore, that it is not a fake food.

      I flavor mine with a little (and I want to emphasize the word ‘little’) maple syrup and vanilla. Neither of those is a fake food either.

      I do not think soymilk deserves includion in your list of fake foods.

      Cheers,
      Pat

  4. Matt (My Veggie Kitchen) June 21, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    You were awarded a Sunshine Blog Award at my blog! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Matt
    My Veggie Kitchen

  5. The Valley Vegan June 22, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    Great post!!

    My blog "The Valley Vegan" is all about how to dine in mainstream restaurants as a vegan. It can be challenging to find suitable food at a "regular" place, but vegan food IS there and my goal is to instill confidence in vegan diners and those they dine with!!

    As for feeling isolate from family & friends because of food choices… well, my mother's family is Italian. Imagine the horror of having a vegan in the family who won't eat the homemade sausage, the fresh cheeses… It is isolating at first, but once you show confidence & compassion to those around you, you get that in return!!

  6. Suasoria June 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    Anything we're new at tends to be hard at first. Knitting is hard at first. Archery is hard at first. But when it comes to health choices, people don't want to do anything if it's "too hard." Ohhh sorry; I forgot that meaningful changes have to be easy all the time.

  7. Laura June 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    Great post. I typically say that being vegan is easy for me, and for the most part it has been. But I also have found that when people give the "I could never do that, I love meat" response, and I mention that I was also once a meat lover, it does kind of move the conversation along nicely. It's worthwhile to point out that many veg*ns did not become such simply becuase we didn't care that much for meat to being with. Being able to say that I liked meat once and gave it up anyway focuses attention on the fact that the change was necessary, worthwhile and very manageable.

    Acknowledging that there are challenges can feel disloyal though. It's great to be reminded that ignoring them won't help someone who is just getting started. Thanks for the post!

    Laura Orban

  8. Meg June 22, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

    This is an excellent post!

    I've had a lot of people tell me, "Well, I could go vegan, but I love cheese" (or bacon, or leather, or other animal products, but usually cheese). They seem almost surprised when I say, "So do I. But I'm still vegan." I tell them that I loved meat and cheese and leather and silk and going to zoos and all those other things when I first went vegan. And yes, it was hard at first to give those things up even though I knew it was the right thing to do.

    But, it got easier. I found other foods to eat that I liked. I found where I could buy vegan personal care products. I tried new brands. I made new habits, like checking labels on food and clothing and everything else. And the more I learned about animal exploitation and thought about it, the less I missed those old animal products.

    I also learned to stand up for myself (and the animals) and be o.k. with being different and saying "no". That was probably the hardest part since not everyone was as accepting of my choices and I used to be a people pleaser. My husband and I still get flak from family, but even that isn't so hard to deal with anymore.

    The hardest part now is simply realizing what a mess the world is, how many people think it's o.k. to exploit animals and being reminded of that with so many ads and people walking by wearing leather (etc.) and seeing captive animals and people eating animals… it can be very sad. But, I'm still glad I "took the red pill", so to speak.

  9. vasilisab June 22, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    Thank you for bringing this up. I am one of those people who went from eating meat and everything else to being vegan overnight. And that is the way I typically present it.

    And yes it might be hard in the very beginning. But once a few months or a year pass you no longer think about it. It is part of the habit. And parents and friends grow to accept and even understand it.

    Also a lot depends on the level of commitment. If a person is determined to no longer eat anything that harms animals, then he will be able to overcome some hardships that come along the way. And if he is shaky about the reasons for his veganism, than anything that can sway him back to the former lifestyle/diet will do so.

    In any case, your point is taken. There is no need to sugarcoat it and it is better to approach this topic in our advocacy realistically.

  10. queerveganrunner June 28, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

    great and timely post! my parents just gave me a graduation party and were a bit taken aback (at first) when i insisted that it be all vegan! they understood when i explained that any celebration in my honor would have to honor my values – those of respecting animals and trying to live as cruelty free as possible. my friends and relatives who came to celebrate were open to the "new" food (mostly new proteins tofu and seitan – i hope all of them were familiar with the veggies!). and each had different favorites. and no one had any complaints about the delish chocolate cupcakes!

    my friend has a blog (http://chooseyourownfoodchain.blogspot.com) in which she interviews different people along the vegetarian spectrum about their food choices and how "hard" they have been. nearly everyone acknowledges that at first, like any significant change, it was hard. i think honoring the difficulty is important to bring to light exactly how entrenched our society is in the dominant food culture. ask anyone who has lived abroad about culture shock. that's what i initially experienced. my family is jewish and italian. food is BIG. to not participate or to have to alter my participation in my family's culture was a shock. and hard. but that's when sticking with your values is the most important. when it's hard. when the majority disagrees. it may be hard on us, but we have a voice, we have agency. animals do not. it is harder for them.

  11. NinaV August 22, 2010 at 6:07 am #

    I tell them that if someone had told me I was going to go vegan 4 years ago I would have told them they were nuts! I try to explain that it took about a year for me to start to feel comfortable with being vegan. And that for the first few months I put mock cheese sauce on everything! That learning what to eat was a challenge. But now I'm used to it – being vegan isn't so challenging anymore. That you just get used to knowing how to navigate through food and then it becomes easy.

  12. Robert January 22, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    My last blood tests revealed that my serum uric acid was 519 umol/L. The desired range for men is 200 – 440 umol/L Cutting sardines (very high in purines) out of my diet (among other things) and drinking more water was my first step. Will a vegetarian or vegan diet lower my serum uric acid levels?

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  1. Ginny Messina on Making Veganism Easy - February 3, 2012

    […] money quote: I’ve written before about the importance of acknowledging people’s fears and perceived barriers about going vegan. […]

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