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.