Yikes! I clearly have not followed through with my ever-lofty intentions for this website, but I'm gonna swallow my pride and resist the urge to delete my previous posts to show how long it's been since I've posted. ;) (damn squarespace template not letting me remove the dates!)
I digress. You're here to read a post! My first veganniversary (love any excuse for a good word combo) passed in November, so it's been well over a year now and I thought I'd share a few of my key takeaways from the first year. I'm sure most of these are pretty universal experiences for us vegans, but hopefully you'll get a few laughs or shout an "amen" or two.
1) It's not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.
Yes, it takes intentionality and planning, and can be inconvenient, especially in certain places. And yes, I have the privilege of living in a city with a Whole Foods, a few vegan restaurants, and a handful of other places that make it easy to eat out vegan without having to analyze the entire menu to come up with two items that pass muster. I know I can't pretend to know exactly what it would be like to live as a vegan in a place without all that stuff, but I do know that A) so much can be ordered online now, and B) most of that stuff is just vegan icing on the cake, not anything that's necessary to eat a balanced and delicious diet.
I get that there are people who go vegan primarily or initially because of health reasons and want to stick with more of a "whole foods" diet. I certainly crave and eat my share of veggies and whole grains, but I also gladly enjoy rich, indulgent vegan foods —and because of that, I don't feel like I really gave anything up. I still regularly eat delicious burgers, tacos, queso, cookies, brownies, ice cream, pizza, etc. So when people find out I'm vegan and say, "that must be really hard, I could never do that," I just smile and say "I never thought I could either, but when I figured out I didn't have to give anything up and just had to change which version of things I eat, it became pretty easy."
2) Still, there are all kinds of things that I'm continuing to learn, and that's okay too.
The most obvious thing when deciding to change my day-to-day behaviors to stop abusing animals was to stop eating them or eating their secretions that cause as much as (arguably more) harm than eating their flesh. That was already a big step, since in the past I bought into the "happy cow" myth ("They don't actually have to hurt or kill them for the milk, so I'm gonna happily enjoy my cheese, thanks"... boy was I wrong), and I also really didn't relate to fish, so I justified eating them because they are so different from me that they seem like they're from another planet. (As I quickly learned, wrong again. Okay, marine animals were out, too.)
But even after making the change of not eating animal flesh and secretions, I had to continue learning. Leather and fur (ew, never did fur thankfully) were obviously out, but shouldn't wool be okay, since they don't have to kill the sheep? Yeah, if you're alright with knowing that the pressure for efficiency means that the sheep are often abused. But surely silk is fine, right? It's just what the silkworms make and leave behind? (Oh wait, we actually boil the warms alive to harvest the silk, since they "ruin" the fabric if they hatch from the cocoon.) Honey seems to be a trickier issue, but hard-line vegans maintain using honey and beeswax is exploiting the bees' work and stealing from them, and we should find a way to support beehives without having to doing this. (I generally avoid honey, but want to continue to do more research about how vegans can support a healthy bee population.)
As I got more comfortable with the basics of being vegan (i.e. checking ingredients for gelatin, dairy, eggs, etc., checking shoe labels for leather or wool), I started learning more about animal testing and only buying "cruelty-free" products not tested on animals. (Literally my old thought: "It doesn't hurt a rabbit to put blush on it, right?!" OMG stop me.) And I know I will continue to learn even more (like how stearic acid in a lot of candles is made from animal fat... but good ole Yankee candles are fine!)
I know it sounds overwhelming, but you don't have to go out and replace everything. Most vegans are of the mindset that if you already owned something made from/tested on an animal, it is wasteful to just get rid of it and have to buy more stuff. Of course, some folks just aren't comfortable wearing a leather jacket anymore so they donate or sell it and buy a cheaper faux leather one, just as one example. But on the whole, it's fine to keep your old stuff, and when you need to replace it, buy a vegan version.
3) Vegan travel is super fun.
I've always primarily looked for two things when traveling: good nature and good food. Yelp has helped me uncover the best food in cities I've never visited. And now as a vegan, great food is an even more exciting part of travel, since different cities have widely varying local vegan or veg-friendly options, which are easy to find with Yelp or especially Happy Cow. A dear friend just came back from an incredible-looking vegan cruise, and while it's a stretch for most of us to leave the country for 10 days on a cruise, it's just one example of the quickly expanding vegan-friendly travel market.
4) Most of all, it feels amazing to live in alignment with my values.
I love animals, and I don't believe that being at the "top of the food chain" (arguable, go ask a shark) entitles us to use, abuse, exploit, or kill animals. We are not so different, but pretending we are keeps us comfortable with doing these things to them or paying others to do it for us so we don't have to see it. I never want to give veganism a bad rap by coming across as self-righteous. I'm not better than anyone, and I spent the first few decades of my life blindly doing all the things that most people do: eating animal products, wearing their skin, using products tested on them, and enjoying circuses and zoos. "Waking up" and facing the full reality of animal suffering is painful, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
I admit there is still much I can do and need to work on in order to live in alignment with all my values. I certainly want to do more with animal advocacy, and I want to work on reducing my waste and getting involved in criminal justice reform. But overall, the steps I've made over the past 16 months have been big ones that I'm really proud of. I know most of you reading this are probably already vegan, but if you're considering it and have any questions or concerns, please reach out to me. I'd love to help. And if you have suggestions for me getting more involved in the issues I mentioned above, I'm all ears!