When I requested stories from readers who had gone vegan after the age of 50, I expected to hear from maybe 10 or 20 people. It was a surprise—a very nice one—to have close to 100 responses within 24 hours of publishing my request. And they continue to trickle in.
I’ve been gathering this information for a book I’m writing with Carol J Adams and Patti Breitman called Never Too Late to Go Vegan: The Over 50 Guide to Adopting and Thriving on a Plant Based Diet. It will be published in 2014.
As we pull together the information for this book, I wanted to hear about personal experiences of those who went vegan a little bit later in life (as well as long time vegans who are in their 50s, 60s, and beyond).
It was interesting, of course, to hear about what prompted people to take the vegan plunge. Many had gone vegan for their health but more had made the decision for the animals. Quite a few made an immediate decision to go vegan after viewing graphic footage of factory farms, which in some cases they happened upon by accident. One respondent was reading about Paul McCartney on the internet after seeing him in concert, and she came across If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls (which he narrates). She watched it and realized that the choice to go vegan had been made for her. (Is it any wonder that Sir Paul has been my favorite Beatle since I was eight years old?)
Another was poking around the PETA website out of curiosity after hearing some derogatory comments about the organization. She came across some videos, started investigating further, and went vegan.
I also heard from a few people who went vegan with their teenage or adult children. Some were influenced by their kids while others were the ones doing the influencing. It was great to hear about those who went vegan on the family plan!
Almost everyone who adopted a vegan diet somewhat quickly experienced improvements in health, especially a reduction in blood cholesterol levels. Many lost small amounts of weight and a few lost lots of weight. Those who had already been eating more healthfully—quite a few had been lacto-ovo vegetarians for a long time—were less likely to see (or need) improvements in their health. And some continue to struggle with health and weight issues.
I asked about “joys and challenges.” Some of the responses made me laugh, like the guy who, with tongue in cheek, suggested that he has started to look like Brad Pitt since going vegan.
A recurring theme was the strain in relationships with non-vegan partners and spouses and also with kids. (The upside was that, even when family members weren’t vegan, most ended up eating far less animal food simply because there was more vegan food in the house and on the table. )
Several people noted that they don’t get invited out as much as they used to or that they often feel like a burden to friends when choosing a restaurant. This can be a problem for people of any age. But I wonder if it might be an even more difficult one for those over 50 whose decades-old relationships are suddenly stressed or re-defined.
Some stories were poignant—those about loneliness, feelings of sadness about the treatment of animals or sadness over changed relationships. But, even so, everyone who talked about hurdles in going vegan said it was worth it and many said their only regret was that they hadn’t done it much sooner. Obviously, those who didn’t think it was worth it, and had gone back to eating meat, weren’t answering my little survey. But I didn’t hear from anyone who was wavering or questioning their decision to go vegan.
There was a real sense of joy in most of the stories I read—in discovering vegan cuisine, enjoying improved health, and in being at peace with food choices. (It reminded me, though, that for some, there are real hurdles and problems in going vegan, and we need to acknowledge those and be prepared to help.)
The responses have truly made for some inspiring, heartening, entertaining and informative reading. Carol, Patti and I are exploring ways to use some of them (with appropriate permissions) so I’ll keep you posted on that. Thank you to everyone who responded and I’m still happy to hear from anyone else who has a story to share.