Making well-informed choices improves your chances of sticking to them.
I made the choice to go vegan sometime around 2012, which is more than a decade ago. And while I’d officially made the choice to completely eliminate animal products from my diet for good, it would be a good 2–3 years before I could transition into a full-blown vegan who followed it to the letter.
It’s very easy to slip up as a vegan, as many long time vegans well know. Mainstream food is so deeply entrenched in our lives, not only as a matter of culture and tradition but also of convenience, that it takes a sustained deliberate effort to constantly pay attention to what one is eating and avoid food that one doesn’t want to eat while outside.
Here are a few things you can do to stay vegan:
Know your “why”
Once the foundational reason for you to go vegan is established, it’ll be a hell lot easier maintaining it when the going gets tough. Your ‘Why’ has to be extremely strong for you to maintain any endeavour in life, not just veganism. The ‘why’ for me in this case was animal cruelty. My second reason was the environment.
I was in between jobs back then in 2012, and had nothing better to do all day than applying for jobs during the first half of the day and scrolling through YouTube videos in the second half.
I stumbled upon a slaughterhouse expose video documenting pig farm cruelty in the US. I think it was the Smithfield foods investigation. I watched a dozen more investigation videos documenting the ill-treatment of pigs in abattoirs. (I hadn’t consumed a morsel of pork my entire life, but was nevertheless stunned that such insanity existed on the same planet that I called home). Tail docking, castration, branding, gestation crates, rectangular box stalls, and dehorning were all things that had slapped me out of my teenage daydream and woken me up to the brutal reality of living on this planet; the reality that the majority of humanity contributes to these industries to go about their everyday lives.
The moment I finished watching that video, I watched another dozen videos on poultry farms and chicken slaughterhouses. Then a dozen more on dairy farms. I was so hooked to the mind-numbing sameness of it all. I watched videos on farm expose footage from around the world, including from here in India, each time hoping that they must be following a kinder method or procedure. But my hopes fell flat with every video I watched.
The standard operating procedure was the same across the globe. Only the victims were different.
The very last one I watched before making the decision to go vegan was one that documented human cruelty in slaughterhouses.
I had unwittingly fallen down a well of documentaries detailing the lies, deceit, and unimaginable corruption it takes for all these industries to exist and operate the way they did in today's day and age. The next moment I took my eyes off the screen after being glued to it for hours together, the sun had already set outside, and it was time for dinner. I had begun watching the documentaries some time post lunch, and was so sucked up into it that I had absorbed the monstrosity and madness of the global meat industry in just a single sitting. Over the next couple of months I would watch hundreds of videos on animal farming and the scale and extent of the problem, with relation to animal welfare, environmental concerns as well as human health.
Every time I had the temptation to consume an animal product, the terrifying screams of the pigs and cows from all those videos would come to haunt me, no matter how delicious those dishes were.
If your ‘Why’ is strong enough, you’ll be able to weather any storm on your vegan journey.
Have a supporting environment
Even though I’d watched close to a hundred videos on animal cruelty, it wasn’t enough to overrule two decades of habit, taste, and convenience. I would routinely stray off the path even after making the decision to go vegan. Weekends were extremely hard, since I was so accustomed to celebrating the weekend with junk food on my non-vegan lifestyle, as most of you non-vegans can well attest to. Growing up, my weekends were dedicated to carnist feasting culturally. Every weekend would be devoted to enjoying it with some kind of animal delicacy or another.
After all, there was so much variety that one couldn’t manage to complete them all over a single weekend, right? There were Shawarmas, butter chicken, mutton, kebabs with parathas, pizzas, burgers, ice creams, cakes, dessert, then the seafood dishes like fishes, prawns, and crabs, although I don’t recollect eating seafood outside much as a child.
Because I spent two decades dining this way, I’d get these intense cheese cravings which would force me to skimp on my vegan decision just for the weekend and order pizza from outside, and then I would get back on the cycle of regret all over again, much like a drug addict.
I would completely cut off animal products only a two full years from the time of that decision. This is why it is extremely imperative to know that you have a support system in place before you make the decision to go vegan. Had I had the support of my vegan potluck community and vegan friends during the years I was transitioning, I wouldn’t have fallen off the wagon as much as I did.
I would only find them a year after going vegan, where coincidentally, the first vegan restaurant of my city was taking shape at the very same time.
It came as a huge sigh of relief to someone who had gone vegan for little over a year. I needn’t sacrifice my morals and values to enjoy the good things in life anymore. Now I could enjoy the goodness of Pizzas, mock meat, ice creams, cakes, pastries, donuts, and Indian sweets without the temptation to reach for them outside. Add to that all the yummies brought by the potluck participants to our monthly potluck, and you had the full vegan experience.
Ensure you have this kind of support system before making the decision to go vegan. Else you’ll find it extremely hard staying on that horse. You’ve already heard my story.
Do some prep work. Always be prepared for unforeseen circumstances on the vegan diet. People might suddenly choose to come home. Or an event might suddenly pop up that’s going to leave you scrambling for food. It always pays to keep some vegan essentials stocked in your fridge and pantry. Order from any one of the dozen online vegan marketplaces or make them yourself. Globally, vegan milks are considered the most essential since they’re versatile and have multiple uses. But you must ensure to keep your refrigerator stocked with vegan grub that’s particular to your culture and cuisine.
Know well in advance what would be needed for you personally to stay on the diet. Not every vegan will require a nut milk maker or a baking oven. But if you possess a sweet tooth like me, purchasing an oven prior to going vegan is the best thing you can do to make your transition smooth and breezy as possible.
If you’re into milks and dairy products, make sure to get yourself a nut milk maker.
Similarly, if you’re into ice creams and dessert, ensure to get yourself an ice cream maker.
If you’re into a particular cuisine that’s vegan friendly, such as Indian or middle-eastern, ensure you know where those joints are located in your city and if you can easily access them.
An unprepared vegan is bound to fail. We are primal beings by nature, and all the willpower in the world cannot save you from going for that slice of pizza or bit of ice cream when you’re out with colleagues at the end of an exhausting work day. If you haven’t brought any alternatives for yourself from home, you’re bound to give into temptation and cheat on your lifestyle. It’s happened to the best of us.
Know that there is a middle-ground
In the unlikely event you get too frustrated with the diet and everything begins to feel like an uphill battle, remember that there's always a middle ground. If the going gets tough, know that you can shift gears down to being just plant-based instead of fully vegan.
It can feel extremely restrictive to eradicate animal products from all aspects of your life in one go. Once vegan, you cannot join your friends and family during visits to zoos, aquariums, circuses. You cannot take animal rides, or use animal by-products like leather in car seats, leather accessories such as belts, wallets and shoes, pearls, and animal products contained in makeup, skin care, jewellery, cosmetics, and personal care.
Removing animal products from so many parts of your life all in a single shot can come back to choke you in the neck.
Instead of getting frustrated with it all, and giving up everything (there are plenty of ex-vegans out there), choose to go only plant-based at first, and then gradually start trimming out animal products from other aspects of your life whenever they feel convenient to do so.
Even while eating plant-based, it isn’t mandatory that you let go of everything all at once. If you feel suffocated avoiding a certain animal ingredient because it is too difficult, try being vegan without eliminating that particular product. Then gradually start removing it from your life, one dish at a time. For example, it is easier avoiding eggs than dairy in India, so I wouldn’t recommend someone go vegan here without first figuring out all their dairy replacements.
People can call you a hypocrite or whatever. Don’t let it get to your head. This is your life and your vegan journey.
(Fun fact: It would take me even longer than those 2 years to completely phase out animal products from my life, and I was still using leather belts, wallets, shoes, cosmetics, toiletries, and personal care even though I was eating only plant-based.)
Are you a long term vegan? Did you regularly fall off the wagon during your initial years as a vegan?
What helped you stay on track with your vegan journey when the going got tough?
Do let us know in the comments section to the side.