When your Job Isn't Vegan
This statement regarding "vegan jobs" sounds kind of strange, I know. What do you mean with whether or not my job is vegan? Can a job be vegan or not vegan? Well, just as we did with our "when my partner isn't vegan" episode and post, I thought I'd use the same structure to discuss the dilemma some people have when they're facing their transition to being vegan, but they have a career or job that doesn't go hand in hand with their new way of eating, especially when we make this change for our love of animals. In today's episode we're going to talk about what to do when you're faced with the desire to go vegan but at the same time you're faced with realizing your job or occupation requires you to still produce, cook, serve, or work with animals for food, use animal products, use animals for entertainment purposes, etc.
Just in case this sounds vague, let me paint a picture for you. What if you're thinking of going vegan or have gone vegan, but you're a chef or cook at a non-vegan restaurant? What if you're a zoo keeper, or you work in labs that use animals for research? What if you work at a butcher shop, or at a supermarket and have to handle meat? What if you work in a farm raising animals for food? What if you're a server at a non-vegan restaurant? What if your family business is a dairy based ice cream business, or a bakery that uses animal products, or you live in an abattoir town where most of the jobs available are in the slaughterhouse industry?
Tough situation when you're thinking about going vegan right?
It sounds like many of these professions wouldn't go hand in hand with your new way of eating, and it also sounds like people in these professions would NEVER even consider going vegan, but of course, this isn't the case for all. I can't tell you how often I receive a comment or a question by one of our readers saying something along the lines of "I love your recipes and wish I could go vegan because I love animals, but I'm a chef", or, "Please help, I want to go vegan but my job requires that I still use animal products" (as in the question I answer in the podcast version of today's post above!).
So many of us are getting more familiar with what it means to be vegan and we want to make changes, but the minute we're faced with the reality of what part of our life entails (our job, or even a family tradition or hobby), we get a little spooked and we think that since we can't be perfect in all aspects of our lives, since we can't be a "perfect vegan", we're not invited to the club.
The first thing I want to say regarding this is that there is no such thing as a vegan club you need to get invited into. There's no vegan police no matter how many internet trolls and perfectionists you've seen out there, and there isn't a rule book that once challenged will mean you get kicked out. So first things first, here's some good news: it 'aint no country club! You don't have to pass a board that will then allow you to come on in and enjoy an overpriced salad.
As I've mentioned many times before, veganism isn't this end goal of purity and perfection for the sake of being vegan, it's just a path. When we navigate that path, there are certainly detours, imperfections, potholes, stormy weather and challenges we might not have expected, and we simply need to navigate this path as best as we can, understanding that the goal is to help animals, the world we live in, our fellow human beings, etc., not to be perfectly vegan in and of itself.
What if I want to be vegan but my job requires me to work with animal products?
I get it, when we open our eyes to the realities behind animal agriculture, all we want to do is steer clear from these products, it could feel for many that not eating them and still having to cook them or buy them for your business or job is akin to again covering your eyes and not being ethical, but I bet you can guess what I'm going to say next. If you've been wanting to go vegan, and you're wondering whether this can be possible for you when you work at a job that will still use animal products, the answer is YES! Of course it's possible.
Just as we sometimes feel inspired to go vegan, but we then think of our omnivore family members or partners and think we can't do it, you can be vegan even when your partner doesn't want to join you AND you can also be vegan even if the job you currently have isn't vegan friendly.
We keep going back to this same spot, and that is that we're scared to attempt any change if there is any aspect to it where we know from the start we won't be perfect. That's the perfectionism we talk about so much in our blog and podcast, where you can easily see that doing whatever you can is still 100 times better than not giving it a try, right?
Sometimes though, we need to see this with a different example to really see things clearly. Imagine your daughter, son, niece, nephew, grandkid, student, etc., was thinking about taking up gymnastics at school. Let's imagine that they, for some reason, can't do a wheel pose, but they really, really love gymnastics and are inspired to try it. Would you say, "nope, not for you, you can't do a wheel pose remember? Why even try?" Or would you say... "give it a try! So what if you can't do one pose, what about all the other poses you can do? What about all the choreography you can learn, the ribbon tossing, the dancing, the music, the community?".
I bet I know what you would say.
I remember when I was very young, my mom got me into a dance class, Spanish flamenco (even though we lived nowhere near Spain back then). She didn't want to sign me up to ballet because she was afraid that it would be too competitive, too rigid and strict. I was dancing for a while when one day I went to see this ballet at our local theater and I realized that this is what I wanted to try. This is what I felt like dancing. The problem? I was 15 years old. It doesn't take a mathematician to realize I was about 10 years too late for that party. In spite of being such a perfectionist (now fortunately a perfectionist in recovery!), I went home, told my mother I was going to start ballet, and I signed up for my first class. I knew I would never perform, I knew there would be so many things my already grown body would never be able to do, and I did it anyway. I studied ballet every day, then added contemporary dance, musical theatre jazz dance classes, flamenco again, ballet in groups, ballet with private teachers. I danced for many years, round the clock, and it was such a big part of my life. Had I told myself it was too late for me, I would have missed out on so many experiences.
When we're motivated to make a change, when the people around us, the information that is out there, a film or a book has inspired us to make this change, here's all I want to say: GO-AND-TRY-IT! Pay no attention to the external factors that will try to act as resistance. Pay no attention to that inner critic that says you won't be able to be perfect or pull it off. That resistance is nothing but fear, a very deep part of us that tells us we won't be perfect so we'd better save ourselves the trouble and the embarrassment or judgements of others or the ones we have for ourselves (which are usually the loudest).
Just go and try it!
There are so many ways in which we are imperfect vegans, not just if you are a chef or a server or work in a farm. All of us have areas in which as much as we try we're not being "perfect". The machines and technology we use all have animal products in them, the framed photos in our house have animal products in them, when we go to any store or establishment and make a purchase, we might be giving money to businesses that pay employees that will use that paycheck to pay for animal products they themselves consume. Even the fruits and veggies we buy include the killing of insects and often the use of fertilizers made with animal products. Some of us need to take medications that aren't vegan, or have people or animals under our care or family members that still consume animals. This is what it means to be a vegan in a world that is not fully vegan, and that's ok. All we can do is the best we can, and of course, we can inspire others along the way. Not giving something a try though, because you can't do it all, isn't helping the animals.
So let's address something here real quick: with every choice we make, even if we're not perfect, there is a change made for the animals, and since some simple actions usually inspire other actions (in ourselves and the people around us), any choices we make might have the potential of helping in leaps and bounds to have a better world without as much violence.
So yes, it's possible for you to become vegan even if it seems like your job doesn't go hand in hand with that. It might be hard to work with these products, especially once you've made this choice for ethical reasons, so let's explore that little side of things now.
What if working in this job, as a vegan, is causing me pain or discomfort
I know that for many people, digging into the "whys" of veganism might create a huge conflict and lots of emotional discomfort when you know the truth, and you still have to work with these products in some form. I know this can be tough and I also know that for many people it simply isn't an option to find other employment or risk losing their jobs.
If you're in a situation in which you need to work with animal products and this is causing discomfort and pain, here are some tips that might help:
- Remember that by being vegan yourself you are doing so much to help ease the world of all this unnecessary suffering. Remind yourself that veganism is not about perfection, and even when at work it feels like you're not doing a lot to help animals, you're doing so much when it comes to the products you buy for yourself, not only in not consuming or purchasing animal products, but also in supporting brands that offer vegan products that will reach more and more people as these industries continue to grow.
- Treat yourself with kindness, before, during and after work. That includes lots of loving self care, both in actions and in the way you talk to yourself. Do it always with kindness and self-compassion. Remember that even though right now you might be in this bind, you might in the future be able to find work in a place you feel totally comfortable with, and if this never takes place, do the best with what you can do, which might simply be making this choice for yourself and inspiring others.
- Never say never. So many famous chefs, cooks, and even cattle ranchers like the famous Howard Lyman have eventually made the choice to start shifting their practices to more ethical ones that eventually aligned fully with their values and food choices. It might take some time, but there is always the option for change, if you desire it and if it is within your possibilities, and if it isn't within your possibilities, there are so many ways of being part of this change for animals with your own choices and actions.
- When you have moments in which you feel bad about having to work and maybe even produce more of these products, try to see that just by being perhaps one of the few vegans in that industry or workplace, you can start planting lots of little seeds, and inspiring others. Raise your voice so that people start becoming more familiar with these issues when perhaps if it weren't for you being there, they might never be exposed to this way of eating and living. This doesn't mean you need to organize a rally outside the door after you've punched out. Raising your voice can be as simple as answering people's questions, or baking a delicious vegan cake and sharing it with colleagues, to just being "the vegan at work", even if you're the only one. If you're in a position in your workplace where you can come up with new lines of products or re-create existing ones, then you're in the best place you can be, trying to create change by creating new vegan alternatives whenever possible or at least presenting a new perspective for future products.
- Remember that no one is perfect, and that you're doing much more to help animals than many people do in a lifetime, just by focusing on doing your thing and making these choices for yourself.
Becoming a trailblazer
There might come a point as a vegan in a non-vegan job, in which you really feel a big conflict creeping up constantly for you, and this might mean a change is in order. For some people this sometimes means a job or career change, but for others, it just might mean being a trailblazer in a whole new way. It might mean that you use the time you have at a non-vegan job to learn as much as you can from the industry you want to work in and then you yourself might be the pioneer of a whole new vegan company, or a vegan product line within your company. It could happen that you take the business you're in and transform it into something that is more vegan-friendly. It could mean that you inspire other people when you're serving their pork chops and steak at a restaurant and they ask you about the chicken, that by mentioning you're vegan, a little light might go off in the mind of that little girl or boy sitting across the table. It might mean that after many "family meals" with the rest of the staff and bringing goodies around for people to share, you finally convince the owner or manager to create a veggie burger and put it on the menu. You might inspire colleagues and co-workers to give it a try, or at least make some choices and see how they feel.
Chances are, if this has been a challenge you've faced, you're probably exactly in the place vegans need to be the most, surrounded by people who aren't part of the choir, and whose eyes and hearts and minds might start opening up to the idea, simply because you're right there, exactly where you were meant to be.
Maybe you'll be at your job for just a few months, years or a lifetime. Maybe you'll decide to change and you'll feel passionately about having your job match the way you eat now, but no matter what's in store in the future, there is no question, regardless of your career, occupation or profession, if you've been feeling motivated or inspired to try this change, begin by trying, and begin with yourself, without letting that inner critic or inner judgement spook you.