You might be one of the 400,000+ people who tried Veganuary this year. And like many people who pledge to eat plant-based for a month, you may have decided to stick with vegan living once January was over.
Your reasons might have ranged from cruelty to animals – we kill 70 billion land animals for food every year, most of whom live restricted, extremely confined lives on factory farms, and die violent deaths – to environmental concerns, as we recently became aware, through research from Oxford University, that dropping meat and dairy is the single biggest step we as individuals can take to help halt the climate crisis. Whatever your motivation was, if you’ve stuck with vegan living past Veganuary, chances are you’re thriving – after all, it’s easier to be vegan now than ever before.
But every lifestyle change is an adjustment, and you might have come across a few struggles. Here are five of the most common ones – and how to solve them.
Not having enough information.
Going vegan is a lifestyle change, and as such, it requires some reading up. Too often we hear about people trying plant-based diets and then giving up because they didn’t take the time to get clued-up on their new lifestyle. Learn what foods have which nutrients – there’s more to vegan nutrition than just vitamin B12 (but brace yourself for questions from pretty much everyone around you on that one), and getting all the info on the right things to include in your diet will keep you feeling healthy, happy and energised. The Vegan Society has a very comprehensive guide to different aspects of vegan nutrition, as does Nutritionfacts.org.
Being unaware of hidden animal-derived ingredients lurking in food and products.
Aside from the WTF moment of discovering that milk powder is present in the most unexpected foods (why?), there are things like casein and whey (proteins found in dairy), albumen (egg yolk), and gelatin (derived from animal bones).
A trip to the makeup counter might find you label-reading for carmine (made from crushed insects – yes, really), tallow (rendered animal fat), squalene (extracted from shark liver), and gelatin again. Makeup is, in some ways, trickier than food because some ingredients can be vegan or not, and you have no way of knowing when you’re in the shop. For example, glycerin, which is present in a lot of beauty and skincare products, can be vegan or made from animals.
The best way to be certain that you are buying a vegan-friendly product is to look out for vegan certifications from PETA or the Vegan Society – or simply get in touch with the company and ask for a list of their vegan products.
Communication when travelling.
Travel plans might be postponed at the moment due to the coronavirus crisis, but on the chance you might find yourself in a location where you don’t speak the language, it can sometimes be hard to explain to food establishments what exactly you eat and don’t eat – and that’s how you might find yourself with cheese or butter on your plate. Not all places and cultures have an immediate understanding of what “vegan” means, so it might be advisable to explain that you don’t eat anything that comes from animals, instead of assuming that asking for “vegan” options will suffice. An unmissable gem on your plant-based voyage is HappyCow, a website and app that lists all the vegan restaurants and shops (including omnivore ones with vegan options) near you.
Hands up if you’ve had to live through the awkwardness of going to a party and realising that you cannot eat any of the food. Or had to have the “plants have feelings too” argument over dinner with your extended family. Social interactions are some of the biggest struggles of both new and long-term vegans.
Greg McFarlane, Director of Vegan Australia, says: “I find it shocking that veganism is one of the few areas where it is still socially and legally acceptable to be discriminatory. It is also common for family and friends to join in the denigration of vegans.
“Dealing with this is not easy and can sometimes cause rifts in relationships. Things I try to do with those closest to me is to avoid the subject as much as possible, to remain calm and to add humour.
“Also I try to find points of agreement, such has how we both don’t like the suffering of animals.”
The online experience of a vegan can be just as tricky as the offline world. Communicating strong opinions or positions on the internet today is no easy feat. Whatever your stance, you may be met with resistance on the worldwide debate forum that social media has become.
Announcing that you are now vegan – and especially outlining the reasons for it – might land you in hot water with everyone from family members and distant acquaintances to random strangers. Talking about your lifestyle often makes people feel like their choices are being questioned, even though that might be the furthest thing from your intention.
The trick is often to engage in calm dialogue – and disengage if the other person gets aggressive. Or just don’t respond at all. Greg McFarlane says, “Find other vegans to socialise with, so you don’t feel like the whole world is against you. In a way it is easier to talk to people you don’t know about veganism than to those closest to you. There is less invested and you don’t have the extra baggage that a closer relationship includes.”
Join a vegan group on Facebook such as What Broke Vegans Eat and Vegans in Australia to find like-minded people, connect with other vegans both online and offline, and you will soon find that being vegan can be a great way to bring new connections and friendships into your life – online and IRL.
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Feature image by Ella Olsson.