Now Vegan Me, Meet Year One Vegan Me: Lessons Learned through the Years while Being Vegan
Sometimes Carlos and I have these super fun brainstorming sessions over beers or veggie burgers in which we make a list of topics we want to cover in videos, podcast episodes and blog posts. I love getting his perspective because he always gets these awesome ideas that are really helpful and in line with the many questions we get from all our readers and listeners. Today's episode and post is entirely his creative baby. A few weeks ago we were talking about how differently we see things now, a few years into being vegan, as opposed to our first year, and he jumped up and said: "oh my God! You should make a podcast episode where your now vegan self meets your year one vegan self and gives her a slightly different perspective, based on all the lessons learned through the years!".
I know... genius right?
So that's what we're doing today, our current vegan selves are going to share how different things are now, from how we see and understand veganism now, to the kind of content we share, to the way we advocate, to the worries that were eased with time, the social situations that were handled better with time, and how they got so much easier and much more.
I think we ultimately learn by going through this journey ourselves, by making the mistakes, by taking a few stumbles, but I would have loved some insight when I got started into how things would change for me, and the things that helped. Especially when it comes to my perspective of what it means to be vegan, which has of course changed through the years.
Sometimes all we need is a little reassurance that even when we're going to slip and stumble 50 times, it's perhaps number 51 that will give us the insight to create the change we need, whether in habit or in mindset.
That first year
I remember in year one, I was so upset over the images I had seen and the information I had learned on what happens in the animal agriculture system that I wanted to tell everyone about it. When someone asked me questions about why I was vegan and I explained, I had a much harder time understanding why they didn't "just get it and change". I was also so much more nervous when I had to answer people's questions, and especially when I had to explain why I was vegan.
Social situations with my former barbecue buddies were always a source of stress because I'm not particularly keen on being the center of attention, and I felt all eyes on me when someone asked me a question and everyone was looking. In that first year, all those social situations felt harder because I wasn't as confident, as I've mentioned many times before in this podcast, veganism was like someone throwing me in the deep end of the confidence pool. Turned out I had to pick something that made me really swim against the current for me to really find my confidence and be able to be myself. That first year this was only just beginning, but it would soon get so much easier!
In that first year my meals looked more similar to each other, and all there was in terms of vegan cheese was one awful brand of vegan mozzarella, which we just didn't like. I was also just in the beginning stages of figuring out how to veganize my favorite recipes. I hadn't found where to buy nutritional yeast, not to mention the fantastic vegan stores that were already starting to appear in my city but that I hadn't found yet.
In year one I was so worried about making everything I bought the perfect choice, how to find vegan cosmetics and beauty products, and I was so worried about what I had to supplement, or f I was getting the right balance of nutrients. I also believed it was the only healthy way to eat, I believed it was the magic panacea to all ills, and that it just wasn't enough if you didn't become a 100% pure vegan. Meaning that all the almost vegans, the 99% soon to be vegans, the I'm almost there vegans, the vegetarians and the people who just needed to go at this at their own pace didn't fit in my definition, and boy was I wrong.
When I asked Carlos this question of what his "now self" would tell his "year one vegan self", he remembered how in year one he was filling his facebook feed with slaughterhouse videos, and engaging everyone in conversation about it, trying to make people question their choices at the table, two things that didn't inspire a lot of people. In fact, the opposite approach ended up being much more motivational.
Not all was harder that first year though. Since my motivation had always been an ethical one, in that first year I was much more in touch with the true meaning of veganism, and the dozens of micro vegan diets or ways of eating clean or pure hadn't crossed my radar yet, even though they soon would and would cause a lot of harm. That first year, the eating itself was very peaceful, very centred on what I truly enjoyed with no rules attached, and it was delicious of course.
If I had to sum up what that first year was all about, I would say that it was about finding my sea legs, but partly through the incorrect notion that the goal is being the perfect vegan, i.e. never letting a single ounce, hint or molecule of animal products find its way to you. Veganism was the goal in that first year, but in fact veganism is never the goal. My goal was helping to create a kinder world for animals, doing my best to help the environment, to help the people who work in these industries and those who don't have enough access to food. All of these things were the goal, not eating animal products was one of the most fantastic ways to get there, but it didn't have to mean perfection.
I've always told you that I see veganism as a little winding road, full of twists and turns, which will help us create those changes we're in such deep need of in this world. It's those changes we want to see that are the destination at the end of that road, not being a perfect vegan.
This might sound like an unimportant difference, but it is VERY important, because all along that path we'll be sharing time with friends and family, we'll be making choices along the way that others will use as examples of what being vegan is actually like, and in my experience, the way we react or answer in those situations, for example with more flexibility and seeing the bigger picture, the more people we'll inspire along the way to make as many changes as possible.
So needless to say my "now vegan self" has a few life lessons to share with my "year one vegan self", and we're going to get into those now:
"Year one vegan self", "now vegan self" has some little words of wisdom for ya...
- Veganism is going to change dramatically a few years from now. It will grow and stretch far and wide, so much so that all these restaurants you feel you can't go to anymore, will eventually add items that are vegan to their menus, and a few years after that, they will appear as vegan on the menu! Yes, people will actually know what that word means! You'll see waiters that previously scratched their heads when you said your were vegan, actually ask you if you are, so they can recommend some of their favorite vegan dishes or make sure no dairy is added. Where there are now two vegan restaurants you go to every weekend there will be dozens in just a few years. Eating the same meal twice when you go out will actually be challenging! Be patient, and also, you don't have to be so patient, because this enormous change will feel like it happened overnight and it will continue to multiply every year.
- Your local supermarket will soon have shelves and shelves of vegan products, their prices will be lower than they once were, the selection of non-dairy milks will be so unbelievable it will feel like an SNL skit. You won't have to eat Tofutti mozzarella forever because there will soon be a magical creature called Violife, and so many others. Sausages will get 100 times better and you already like those, so get ready. Vegan burgers will get "impossible" (in the best possible sense of the word), vegan roasts will look and taste like something grandma made, and you yourself will learn how to make so many incredible recipes and meaty dishes you'll never be without a truly hearty and satisfying meal.
- Along the way you'll find many people recommending to restrict further. To eliminate oils, to reduce all processed foods, to eat raw, or without gluten or soy, to eat clean and limit portions. Don't listen. These will take you to a place of unnecessary restriction, when in fact veganism is quite simple, and you'll be able to find a balance with your food and eating, but this process will not go hand in hand with additional restriction or rules. It will come to you thanks to the powerful practice of getting back in touch with your internal signals, and leaving the diet mentality behind, eating for satisfaction and pleasure as well as for nutrition. In fact, you'll start a whole podcast mostly about finding this sweet spot and balance that is full of kindness towards yourself and others.
- Start feeling more confident about your choice to eat vegan, let other people's comments slide, and realize that they're much more about them than about you. Do your thing, you don't have to be perfect (in fact the stumbles you'll take through the process are going to help a lot of people find their path some day!). Remember that what goes on your plate is entirely your business. The more you make choices with confidence when you're around family and friends the quicker they'll go from being a bit defensive or opinionated, to simply letting it be a non-issue. You need to make it a non issue first and confidence is the master key that will open that door.
- Don't post images or videos of slaughterhouses on facebook, especially without a trigger warning, or talk about what happens to animals while you're eating at the table, these will cause the opposite effect. It's true that the truth needs to get out there but you'll soon learn that the moment in which people receive this information is sometimes the most important catalyst for change. When people are curious they will ask questions, and that's the golden moment, make it into a dialogue, not a class. Ask them questions too. Ask them what they're wondering about specifically, remember that you don't have to do any convincing or preaching, you can simply inspire with your actions and by telling people about some of the issues they're curious about. Invite people over for delicious vegan food, and watch them immediately connect some dots and ask you questions. Answer with kindness, and ask what they're concerned about specifically and start there. It doesn't have to become a 2 hour class on animal rights or nutrition, sometimes it's just a question answered simply that will open all the doors.
- I know you're very worried about nutrition and supplementing and doing it right, and you're correct in this needing a little learning curve. Find a good resource like the book Vegan for Her, or Vegan for Life, and stick to those. Reading many different resources will feel so overwhelming. Find a resource or a dietitian that can support you on your journey without it being a point of worry for you, it's all about learning some basics which will then become second nature. If possible, book a consultation with a dietitian nutritionist who understands vegan nutrition well, but who also has a weight neutral approach, so they can truly help you heal your relationship with food, especially when a lot of diet-centric vegan messaging is going to come your way. A fabulous one can be found here.
- Don't let veganism or food become your whole world, your whole day, your whole focus and hobby. Find your sea legs and learn to set it aside so you can fill your day with all the other things that make you happy.
- Don't get frustrated with loved ones who just don't get it. I understand how upsetting it can sometimes be to see friends and family disregard your thoughts or beliefs on these issues. Instead, try to remember that we're all on our own journeys with food. You were also once a meat eater that wanted nothing to do with this way of eating. Give it time, and continue to inspire by being an example of how you can be vegan and still be yourself. Don't rely on the outcome, in fact, most of the people you know won't go vegan, but some will, perhaps others will with time, and others will begin to make small changes. Welcome them, and show them how this way of eating is about kindness, not rigidity or perfection.
- Don't confuse veganism with weight management, a diet, a way to get thin, or a way to control your food intake. See it as the kind lifestyle that it is, and show yourself some of that kindness by accepting your body the way it is now, shifting the focus from a weight centric approach, to an approach that lets you live your life, eat foods that are nourishing, and foods that are there to give you pleasure. Read the book Intuitive Eating, the book Body Kindness, the book Health at Every Size and the blog Whole Green Wellness to understand why it's so important that kindness starts with you, because there is another path to health and well being that will take your body exactly to where it's meant to go.
- Remember that food is meant to be nutritious and health providing, but that health also includes feeling pleasure, satisfaction and delight with meals, and that means you'll be able to find a balance if you release the belief that certain foods are bad and that others are magical. All foods can have a place, and your body will find its place of balance if you start listening to internal cues of how it feels, as opposed to external rules when it comes to food.
- Find yourself some vegan friends, and friends who support your choice even if they aren't vegan. Go and enjoy some delicious vegan grub at a vegan or vegan friendly restaurant together. You are just as entitled to suggest a restaurant with vegan options that you can all enjoy. It's not true that because you might be the only vegan in your group of friends, you're the one that needs to settle with what others decide, show them some good vegan grub and they'll love it!
- Don't isolate yourself. I promise social gatherings will get easier and easier. Be confident about the choice you've made and people will begin to understand and respect it.
- Have people over for yummy vegan food, nothing will change more people's minds than seeing what vegan food is actually like.
- Don't think that little changes don't matter. Perhaps grandma or husband or girlfriend won't want to go vegan with you, but they might change the milk they use and then take another little step. Every little change makes a difference, celebrate other people's changes no matter how small.
- Always remember that perfection need not be a part of this equation, in fact, on many occasions it will make you trip 5 minutes later. Remember that being a perfect 100% pure vegan is not the goal, making as many vegan choices as you can is just a part of that winding road that will help you create the changes that inspire you.
- Don't sweat the small stuff, you'll find your sweet spot and realize that there is no food police, no vegan police, and that you can find your own way down this road.
- You will make lots of mistakes along the way, and you'll still be on this path many years from now, feeling great and so proud of how far you've come and that you stuck with it, not in absence of the stumbles, but because of the confidence you gathered when you found your own way. Your own way to fill your plate, your own way to live your life, your own way to talk about veganism and inspire others, and your very own vegan sweet spot.
These are just some of the lessons I think would have made a big difference had I known them in my first year of being vegan, many of which are the inspiration of our many posts and podcast episodes, but of course, James Joyce said it best when he said "mistakes are the portals of discovery", and I know "year one vegan me" is the only person that could have brought me to this very special place I'm in today.