At the beginning of this year, I began a vegan diet. A lot of people seem to be curious about trying it and I get a lot of questions. I thought it may be helpful to write a post about my experience, the challenges, and some of the ways I’ve adapted my lifestyle.
I’m not perfect. In fact, as of right now I’m not technically ‘vegan’, but it’s the closest term I’ve found that’s common enough to use quickly in conversation without having to explain everything. But I’ll get to that.
Why I decided to try veganism
It’s actually something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Similar to my path to pescetarianism, it happened fairly quickly and it stuck – for the most part. I consider animals with a great deal of respect and veganism is in line with my belief that animals have a right to a natural life. I believe bringing animals into the world purely for our purposes is disrespectful, not to mention the suffering endured by so many farmed animals.
The impetus this year for me was Veganuary. I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself along with a whole group of others doing the same thing. The resources were fabulous (recipes, articles, encouragement) and the community was (is) amazing as well. Everyone was so positive and encouraging (especially those who’ve been vegan for longer) and the community – of thousands of people – was a key part of my success. I’m grateful for the encouragement of Veganuary to have started on this path.
Of course, adopting a vegan diet hasn’t been without its challenges. Here are the biggest ones I’ve faced so far.
When I was a pescetarian, it was generally pretty easy to find something on a menu, regardless of where I was eating. Even if there weren’t specific ‘vegetarian’ meals, usually something qualified. But since being vegan, I’ve found restaurants and take-away much more of a challenge. If all else fails, I opt for the fries or steamed vegies – not ideal for someone who loves her food! But I just remind myself why I’m sticking to this diet and it sees me through.
Similar to eating out, travelling comes with its own set of challenges – particularly if you’re overseas, in a non-English speaking country. I visited South Korea earlier this year and again, while ‘vegetarian’ meals are not too hard to come by, veganism is relatively unheard of (even in Seoul). So vegan food is few and far between. The good news is there are some amazing Facebook groups of people with a wealth of info and only too happy to help. I also discovered Temple Food and had one of the most amazing solo lunches in a beautiful restaurant tucked away in a back street in central Seoul.
Reading ingredients lists
As a newbie vegan you quickly become accustomed to reading the ingredients list on just about everything. Does it contain milk solids? How about egg? Honey is another oft-hidden ingredient. But you quickly pick up shortcuts to reading ingredients lists that make the whole process easier. The best part? Discovering foods that are unexpectedly vegan, like Oreos!
My experience, then and now
In January when I embarked on this adventure, I knew I wanted to stick to a strict vegan diet at least for the entire ‘Veganuary’ challenge. I did accomplish this, and I’m glad I did. It allowed me to experience the full effect, and explore how I felt about defining myself as a ‘proper’ vegan. I decided to review my experience and make some conscious decisions about changes I’d make from there.
As it turns out, at the end of the challenge I decided I wanted to continue with a mostly-vegan diet (and towards a vegan lifestyle) – with a few exceptions.
Before I get to those, I’ll mention again that my reason for becoming pescetarian in the first place was that I felt animals deserved more respect than to be created and born into the world as a ‘number’. Something to be produced and consumed wholly for human benefit, without regard for their individuality or value beyond ‘the product’. This is still how I feel about animals. I believe they deserve a natural, unique and individual life. This doesn’t mean, however, that I believe we shouldn’t consume them at all. In fact, I believe it’s natural we do.
And so my position is that if an animal has come from the wild, eating its products aligns with my values. Generally, this means I eat seafood caught in the ocean (those that are sustainable), or other wild animals (though this is rare for me).
This is why I cannot strictly call myself ‘vegan’, though it’s the closest common term I can use in conversation. Given the opportunity (and interest from the other party!) I usually explain my position further.
My intentions for the future
For the moment I’m maintaining my principles of a mostly vegan diet, with the exception of occasionally eating meat caught sustainably from the wild (eg fish) – usually around once per week.
I can’t deny I’m occasionally tempted to cave in to a luscious piece of cheese or a premium scoop of ice cream – but I only have to remember what I’ve learned about the animals involved in those industries and it gives me the strength to resist. It’s my heart that helps me bust through the challenge of resisting delicious non-vegan food! This is why I believe your success depends on your individual beliefs and reasons for taking what is sometimes the more difficult path.
Other than diet, I’m in the process of assessing other areas of my life and expanding my vegan practices where I can.
Some (informal) tips
If you’re thinking about trying a vegan diet, I can’t encourage you enough just to give it a try. Particularly if your reason for not trying it before now is you think it’ll be too hard, I think you may surprise yourself! Just commit to it for one day or one week and see how it feels. Then give yourself time to develop the relevant habits and you’ll soon wonder why you didn’t take the path sooner. If it’s in line with your values, you’ll draw the line between the animals and your diet and your habits will adjust.
If you’re not ready to try a vegan diet, there are lots of other ideas to try. I explored several in a recent post.
I am not a nutritionist and the tips I’ve provided are based on my personal experience. If you plan to make changes to your diet it’s best you speak to your own GP or nutritionist!
Do you think you’ll give veganism a go? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!