Wednesday, April 3, 2013

5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Went Vegan

1) The variety of foods you eat will increase substantially; not decrease.
When I first went vegan, all I could think about was how many foods I'd be giving up: cheese, meat, eggs, my favorite grilled chicken parmesan. People still joke about how "I can't eat anything" because of my diet. And yet, almost 8 years later, I'm amazed at how many incredible foods I've tried because of my diet. Foods that, prior to veganism, I had outright ignored in my repetitive day-in, day-out mechanized way of eating. It started small enough by getting reacquainted with forgotten produce like cucumbers, eggplant and zucchini. I slowly noticed the difference in taste between the types of tomatoes from beefsteaks, romas and heirlooms. Then, I tried kale, champagne mangos, exquisite dried pears, carob, bitter gourd, seaweed salads, and nutritional yeast. And now? I've tried foods that very few people know. While members of the vegan community might be quick to recognize sea buckthorn, kombucha, rainbow chard and kelp noodles, I guarantee you that 9 out of 10 people on the streets couldn't identify these foods. I'd say the average vegan has tried a wider variety of foods than some of the most specialized omnivorous epicureans. While our meat-eating compatriots might look at our pantries with a look of pity because they assume our vials of agar agar are a crutch, vegans know better--vegans know that their dietary choices have resulted in a massive expansion of taste. Veganism upped my culinary sense of adventure considerably. I sure wish someone would've told me this, as I was salivating over a tuna sandwich in my first week of veganism. 

Vegan... but not healthy!
2) You can eat more foods than you think... but that doesn't mean you should.
I remember the first two months of veganism: I assumed fruits and vegetables were the only vegan things I could eat. After I dropped weight and felt uh-mazing, I then erroneously assumed, "as long as it's vegan, it's healthy!" Because hey, that's what I read in the books--a vegan diet's super-healthy. Then, I realized most pasta's vegan. And bread. And potato chips. Oooh, and vegan cookies! When the pounds began to pile, I realized that not all vegan food is healthy. In fact, there's a lot of vegan junk out there. 

I typed in "ambassador" into Google-image for
point #3, but only this came up. I decided to keep it.
3) You represent all vegans in the eyes of your family, friends and community. Use the power wisely, grasshopper. 
My father-in-law only knows one vegan really well. My mother only knows one vegan really well. My husband? Yup. I'm the only vegan he knows, too. The same applies for people with whom I'm not even close, like my neighbors or that family friend I met for dinner. For better or for worse, people will make assumptions about all of veganism based on the vegans they meet. And considering that's like, 1 percent of the total population, it's really likely that I'm the only vegan they may ever know. I recognize that my diet is such a peculiar thing that other people might talk about it: "Hey, I met this girl who doesn't eat meat, eggs, cheese, or even milk! She eats nothing!" It's the sentences that come after this part that are important. It's up to your personality if they say, "she looked really tired and wasn't very friendly, though," or, "she was just glowing with energy and was really nice. Maybe I should try what she's doing." For better or for worse, the assumptions people make about something grow way larger if they don't have much information to work with in the first place. This means how you act, even over the course of half an hour, forms a massive impression about their view on veganism and its feasibility.  It's sort of like meeting one person from Djibouti--if they're open and friendly, the brain just assumes everyone from that country shares those traits.Then, any subsequent thing one reads about Djibouti is framed to conform with the impressions garnered from that short single meeting. Our brains are just irrational that way. Put back into the perspective of veganism? A person may read an article on the health benefits of veganism, but they're less likely to buy its credibility if the single vegan they met seemed tired and irritable.  Unfortunately, what gets published about veganism tends to be overinflated, radical self-righteousness (in US media, anyway). It's my deepest hope that maybe the people in my life will think, "Hm, well, the vegan I know isn't like that."

4) People will try goading you to act in a way that fits their negative expectations of vegans.
A lot of people assume vegans are humorless and uptight in their vigilant quest to fight for the rights of animals. I can't begin to tell you how many people develop a joking, defensive posture about their dietary choices once I tell them I'm vegan. As if I'm going to write them a morality ticket payable to the Judgment Court or something. As I mentioned in point number 3, people don't like changing their perception about something once it's formed, no matter how little evidence formed said perception. I truly believe this is why people who assume vegans are radical militants based on some media gimmick post obnoxious comments when they read anything related to veganism--they're just trying to affirm their original perception by trying to make me act like a radical vegan. If I acted against their preconceived notions by responding with empathy and kindness, then they'd have to do something really, really hard for humans to do: re-evaluate their perspective and possibly--gasp--change their minds! Had I known all of this before going vegan, I probably wouldn't have gotten into such impassioned arguments that ultimately benefitted nobody. 

5) Being vegan doesn't make you a good person, and eating meat doesn't make you a bad one.
This sounds like common sense, right? It wasn't for me when I first went vegan. I sort of hoped that I could find a ton of vegan friends, and I even considered dating only vegans. What I realized, though, is that veganism is a pretty small aspect of a person's personality. While I definitely made vegan friends, I found that I had less in common with several of them than with some of my meat-eating friends. As for dating vegan guys? The values behind what someone puts on their plate only goes so far in the compatibility compartment. And actually, I got in trouble more often than not when I made false correlations based on his veganism: like, "he's vegan, so surely that means he's going to be more trustworthy." Goodness knows I'd have a lot of trouble in my marriage if I thought, "he's not vegan, which means he's going to be more selfish and less charitable." Yes, I tend to assume vegans are more inclined to care about the environment and animal welfare. That's about as far as my preconceived notions go.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this- so much of it rang true with me, thanks for sharing!

  2. I agree 100% with what you shared here. I especially appreciated reading your 5th item. There was a time when I thought that all animal rights advocates must be trustworthy. I wish it were that easy to know who you can trust and who you can't. That's just another example of a prejudice. I quickly learned that people are people and that there are no easy identifiers of good versus bad. My dear hubby is a meat eater, and as much as it bothers me that he cares about animals but still eats them, overall he's a really great guy. I do enjoy attending my local vegan Meetup group where I am around mostly like-minded people, but I also appreciate my non-veg friends.

    And regarding the healthiness of vegan food, I'd be able to stay at my target weight if rice and bread (oh, and walnut oil, and Veganaise, and Earth Balance butter spread) didn't exist. :o)

  3. It's interesting that your statement about the greater variety in a vegan diet is exactly what I've been telling people about vegetarianism in general for decades. I don't think they believe me, though. I can only hope that those seeds of doubt I planted about their stereotypical thinking sprout and take root someday.

    I've been a vegetarian since the 1960's, but a vegan only in the past few years. I was just thinking tonight how the concept of eating an intelligent mammal's flesh seems no different from cannibalism to me now. I think it's true that being a vegan changes you spiritually. It seems to change the way wild animals see you, the rabbits and doves on my property don't seem to be afraid of me at all.