Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How to Go Vegan

Considering the path on “how” to go vegan differs for everyone, perhaps this post is better titled “tips for going vegan.” But these pointers can help stay the compassionate course, no matter your journey.

Immerse yourself in veganism
This might sound like an obvious point, but really: stick your big toe in the wide lake of veganism. Wiggle it around over a good book like “The China Study” or discover how veganism is similar to some movements or groups already near and dear to your heart. I’ve packed this site full of resources to get you thinking about how and why people go vegan.

Ask yourself if you are emotionally ready to go vegan.
Not everyone is in the right mental state to go vegan. Let me tell a story: my husband, upon knowing my enthusiasm for this lifestyle, decided to go vegetarian. I was thrilled. He told me how in the back of his mind, he “sort of, kind of knows it’s a healthier choice.” As he’d make joke after joke at the lunch table about how much he misses chicken, how the desire to eat meat runs in his DNA, I knew: he wasn’t ready to go vegetarian. It wouldn’t matter if I made him watch Earthlings or talked about his cholesterol risks. If a person isn’t ready, they’re not ready. And that’s okay!

Here are a few reasons you might not be emotionally ready to go vegan:

  • Someone else is pressuring you to try this lifestyle; but you’re not too sure about the whole thing quite yet (at which point, go back to tip one, stay there for a while, and keep reading. It’s cool. We’ll be here when you get back).
  • You think you’re already a healthy eater and you don’t see how veganism will help you improve much. To this, I respond the following: just try it. Try it for a meal. Or a day. Give it a full week. You don’t have to say you are a vegan—you’re simply trying it out. And as you ease into veganism, it certainly doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Some meals you can be vegan; others not. Some days you can be vegan; others not. And gradually, maybe soon, you’ll be vegan every day. But if not, no big deal. Veganism is a process; not a destination. If you’re willing to give it a college try, you’ll likely find results better than you anticipated. That will serve as motivation to keep going.
  • You can’t see yourself explaining your new choices to others. Hate to break it to you, but veganism can’t be kept a secret from others forever. At some point, you’re going to have to say, “Yeah, I’m vegan,” and explain what it means… even if you don’t want to. You’ll have to explain it when you turn down sharing a milky dessert after the other person asks why you can’t just have a few bites with them. You’ll have to explain it when you either don’t eat a main dish at a family gathering or when you cook with different ingredients for others. Don’t get me wrong—you don’t have to preach veganism, or try to get everyone you know to do it with you. You just have to come up with something short and sweet in response to the inevitable questioning or as a way of averting social awkwardness that might come from a meal. If your mind shuts off just thinking of doing this, you might not be emotionally ready to go vegan.

Write down your motivation to go vegan.
At this very moment, you might be super-excited about engaging on this new diet/lifestyle. You’re ready to go out there and rescue stray dogs, make a nice dish of vegan curry, and maybe throw in some exercise regime.

But… yes, but… there will be other days. There will be days when your family is going to Shree Mithai for the weekly sohanpapdi and you think how amazing those taste. You’ll be thinking about your auntie’s delicious yogurt-filled biryani and will be inexplicably irritated the whole day thinking how you “can’t” eat that anymore. You’ll wonder what was so bad about being just veg; wasn’t that enough?

To get you through “those” days—which all of us have had, especially starting out—you need to write your motivation. Do it now, while your enthusiasm is sky-high. Because when you pull out that list on those not-so-great days, you’ll feel yourself rekindling that moment of excitement. You’ll need that feeling. Trust me.

As a side point, I keep my own list of motivation for starting this blog. I think to myself, “will anyone actually read this,” or, “am I capable of accomplishing these lofty goals?” Yup. I re-read my motivation. Gets my head out of the rut every time.  

Emotionally connect your choices with strong visual reminders.
Your visual reminders will differ depending on your motivation to go vegan. If you’re gung ho about the animal rights aspect, a picture of an abused chicken might be incredibly strong dissuasion against eating eggs in the morning. If weight loss is your reason, put up a picture of you at your thinnest. This imagine will be crucial for those days where you look in the mirror and think, “I don’t really need to diet—I’m looking alright as is, aren’t I?” Sure, you might look alright. But you could look better. If it’s to improve your heart condition to live a long life for your kids, put up your cholesterol rate next to their photo. The only guidelines about making a visual reminder is that it must be for a reason that sways you emotionally at your gut level. If you could care less about the ills of leather production, then don’t put a picture of leather shoes. That won’t mean much. You’ll also come to view veganism as an obligation instead of a conscientious, loving choice.

Write a list of your favorite non-vegan foods… and replace them with vegan substitutes.
I have fondest memories of non-vegan food. I remember cereal treat bars with butter; macaroni and cheese; hot dogs at the baseball games. However, I also learned how easy it is to find substitutes. In the States, there’s tofu hot dogs and mock cheeses I used to help me transition. There are likely just as easily vegan substitutes for your favorites here in India thanks to soy milks, soya paneer, olive oil, etc.

Yet again I suggest learning these recipes and perfecting them while your enthusiasm is high. When you’re craving these foods and feeling blue, you’re much less inclined to learn how to make the substitutes—you’ll want what you perceive as “the real thing,” on the spot. If you learn the substitutes now and realize how delicious it tastes, here’s how your thinking will go when you crave the non-vegan food down the line:

You: “Wow, I could kill for some chicken tikka masala. Literally, kill.”
You: “Yeah, but I know how to make cauliflower soya tikka masala, which I learned tastes pretty much the same.”
You: “Hm, good point. Do I want to get up and cook it?”
You: ….
You: “Eh. Guess I don’t want it that much after all.”

At this point your craving goes from deliciously forbidden to no big deal.

When 100 percent isn’t possible, go for 90 percent instead of 0.
Here’s what I mean by this: let’s say you’re at a restaurant. You’re starving. And this restaurant seems to have very few appealing vegan options (like, you’d be stuck with a fruit salad or nothing). You’re going to spend the whole dinner irritated and wallowing in self-pity if you have to order this fruit salad. This is where you should compromise with yourself: don’t throw your hands up in the air and order your favorite mutton dish. Look for another dish that might not be vegan, but has significantly fewer animal ingredients than the one you’d normally get. Say, the veg curry that you know has a bit of ghee. Not vegan, but better than the lamb and you can still enjoy the meal. Again: veganism is a process. Baby steps. Gently get there without hating yourself or your life.

Devise a list of “go to” vegan foods.
You likely find some vegan foods delicious already. Make a list of them and save it. Actually, make a list of every vegan item you find tasty. You will want this list when you think, “I’m so incredibly bored with my food. I have nothing to eat.” When you pull out that list, you’ll come across that pumpkin soup you made two months ago and loved, but have long since forgotten about. These dishes will be a lifesaver when your current eating habits become bland and monotonous.

Always carry healthy snacks with you.
Filling up on vegetables carries one small drawback: you might get hungry. Often. Even if you ate only an hour ago. This is why I recommend taking the bag of nuts sitting in your kitchen, doling them out in small baggies, and putting them in your backpack, purse and/or briefcase. Yet again, I suggest doing this now. It’s so easy to put off, but you’ll be so grateful when you’re starving and have two hours to go until lunch. “But there’s a shop that sells nuts and fruit just across from the office,” you think. “I don’t need to pack them.” Yes you do. Because you know what might be even closer than across the office? The egg-filled sandwiches down the hall. Or your coworker offering you milk chocolate. Just throw those nuts (or fruit!) in your bag instead and thank me later.

Assess your support network.
Life is either a lot easier or a lot harder, depending on your support network. This is true in life; true in veganism. Some people will be incredible about your choice—they’ll ensure you have a salad made just for you at the gathering, or they’ll stick up for you by rattling off plant-based sources of protein before you get the chance to open your mouth.

Others… won’t be. They’ll cluck about your extremism; they’ll call it an eating disorder and claim that “they’re just so concerned” as the excuse to gossip. Though they might be talking about you, they’re not reflecting your problems. They’re reflecting their own issues, whatever they might be. It’s not for you to figure out, so let it be.

I suggest getting an accountability buddy. If you’re not familiar with Tumblr, set up an account and look for others who are posting under the tab, “veganism.” Contact one of them and explain your situation. More than likely, a fellow vegan is happy to act as your cheerleader by emailing you or asking how your day is going. If only online, take advantage of any support network you can.

Clean out your closet.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, solidify the occasion by cleaning out your closet/bathroom shelf/pantry and getting rid of the non-animal products. Do not throw it away; give it away instead. Sure, someone else is consuming the animal products. But in this country of incredible need, you’re making someone else’s day who doesn’t have the same privilege of choosing to go vegan. (Yes, veganism is a privilege). It would be one thing if they could afford your old 250-rupee shampoo and you are therefore influencing their purchasing decision for the future, but if they can’t, then you’re really just doing a nice deed. Wasting animal products by throwing it in the trash is, to me, just as bad as using it yourself.

Remind yourself that veganism isn't rocket science.
Veganism might seem like this overwhelming undertaking. I have a secret to share, though, one you might already know--there are some really stupid vegans out there. I'm acquainted with a few. I don't mean this disparagingly... I just mean to say that if they can be 100 percent vegan for years, so can you. It's great to take pride in going vegan, but it's also very helpful remembering how many people have walked down this path before you. Some of these people aren't the most ambitious; they don't make a lot of money; they're socially inept; they got poor marks in math. My point is that it doesn't take a person of incredible wit, grace, intelligence and good looks to go vegan.

I know this cliche advice might not help much right now, but here's the other thing--it gets easier. After 7 years of being vegan, I can safely say I don't crave non-vegan foods. In the back of my mind, I know they taste good... but I don't want them. I don't need any willpower whatsoever to deny them. If you are eating a nutritionally sound vegan diet (ie, no deficiencies), you won't have cravings once you've been doing this for long enough. And I don't consider myself the most disciplined of people, either. I wish I was, but I wouldn't say it's a strength of mine.

Go easy on yourself. It’s a process; not a destination.
The attitude you want to have towards veganism is one that makes you think, “this is amazing! I feel so great! Why didn’t I go vegan earlier?” NOT, “I feel like I’m stuck in a mental prison where every day is a battle to do the moral, ethical thing.” If veganism isn’t a joy (on most days, anyway), then you’re making it completely unattractive for anyone else to consider. If you don’t love what you’re doing and people see you miserably eating a carrot stick, guess what? You’ve just convinced 10 other people that eating meat is the best lifestyle choice ever; you affirmed that life is not worth living without a good piece of chicken. The misery on your face tells them that veganism sure must be difficult and a chore… ie, not worth doing. You become a ringing endorsement for why people should eat meat. If veganism isn’t serving you, choose a diet that does. Ideally that will include less meat and/or dairy than what you’re having now, but go easy on yourself. If going 100 percent isn’t working for you, then try other methods and gradually work your way to where you ultimately want to be. Hopefully that’s vegan!

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