In my first year as a vegan, I feel as though I’ve learned a tremendous amount about myself and about other people. As I’ve heard many people say over the year, there was a time in my life when I never could have imagined myself living this lifestyle—but then again, I really had no idea what that even meant! I think I’ve proven to myself that following my heart and instinct is always the right way to live.
Over the course of the year, I’ve co-founded this blog with my husband and friends. I started writing for the first time since I was a kid, and I’ve read several important books that helped me to learn more about the treatment of farm animals, our skewed dependence upon them as a food source, and the desperation of food producers to sell these animals as commodities. I’ve put a lot of these things together in my head and on paper for the first time in my life, and I realize that this path to veganism was always how I was meant to live.
I’ve had the opportunity to be more reflective on all of my choices as a consumer. My family and I have decided this year is the perfect time to join a CSA; and I bought a refurbished Vitamix to help me blend up some smoothies with some of the bountiful produce we’ll receive as members. I feel as though I’ve been fairly conscious about my choices in the past—but now I read food labels, and I’ve taught my teenage daughter to do the same.
I’ve also modeled the behavior that I expect from my daughter. Four years ago, we decided to follow my husband’s lead and become vegetarian. I’ve made an effort to include her in our discussions and interviews and help her decide that veganism is best for her as well. I’m not one of those parents who’s going to let me kid dictate her diet to me; while she lives here, she will consume a plant-based diet free from animal products. She is a tremendously compassionate person, and very aware that her choices can influence companies and her friends as well.
I’ve done more cooking and baking, and I’ve tried to share this food with non-vegans whenever possible. I don’t throw my veganism in people’s faces, but I don’t hesitate to tell someone that the brownie they’re eating isn’t made with eggs or answer their questions about food substitutions. I’ve shared recipes with many people and have seen my mom change her eating habits after so many years of struggling with her weight.
I’ve lost about 15 pounds and I’m exercising more than I have in the past. I’ve felt run down a few times (especially this spring, with my allergies) but I haven’t been sick or gone to the doctor for antibiotics for the first time in many years. I’ve successfully cut down my asthma medication and I’m working on continuing to do that in the next year. My lungs and throat are generally clear and I’m not struggling to breath. The single best thing I’ve done, as a person with asthma and allergies, is to give up milk products. I believe this has lead to having clearer lungs and slow, steady weight loss. I’m not trying to lose weight—I have learned to listen to my body.
I also feel as though I’m part of a community. Most of the people I’ve met during this journey have been refreshingly bright and friendly—and unfortunately, I’ve seen and heard many negative comments and attitudes towards my lifestyle as well. That’s where a strong community helps to support me when I run into these obstacles. A few people have asked about tips on going vegan or even just changing their lifestyle. Off the top of my head, here’s a general list of things to keep in mind if you decide to become vegan or change your lifestyle. Please feel free to share things that have helped you along the way!
1. Try not to be overwhelmed. Everyone does this at their own pace and in their own time. It may take you more time to cut out dairy than your friend, but sustained change is what you’re seeking. This isn’t a sprint to see who’s fastest–it’s a marathon.
2. Ask for what you want—speak up! So many restaurants will do their best to accommodate your needs. The food may not be gourmet, but you’ll be able to partake in it.
3. Make the best decisions you can and don’t beat yourself up. Everyone can think of something they could do better. The important part is that you got started.
4. Create a support system. Friends are so important to this process. Find a meetup group or create your own. It’s really important to have people who know exactly what you’re going through and can listen to your struggles.
5. Keep gathering information. Find great blogs and listen to podcasts. You’ll learn things you’ve never known and that will help you continue to make good choices.
6. Learn to talk to non-vegans. Even though it can be difficult, it’s important to know some facts when talking to people who don’t understand why you’re vegan. It’s also ok not to know everything.
7. Plan for future goals. You don’t have to clean your closets out the second you become a vegan. The Vegan Police do exist, but who cares? The point is that you can always make better choices. That’s part of the process.
8. Make a commitment to become better at food shopping and cooking. It’s empowering to make your own food and you also know exactly what you’re putting into your body.
9. Support animals and good health every day. Retweet great articles or post them to your FB account. You’ll be surprised how many of your non-vegan friends will comment.
10. Become active. You’re now an activist, get used to it. Even if you don’t go to Veg fests or farm sanctuaries, your food choices are a political statement. Along with your political activity, remember to include some physical activity as well. This is a vital part of creating a healthy lifestyle.
Thanks to everyone for your support throughout this process. Please know that I’m here to support you, too 🙂