Three Pieces Of Wisdom To All The New Vegans Out There
We oldies have seen it all and have just the right advice for you.
So, you’ve just gone vegan. Congratulations!
“Peace begins on your plate” or so goes the popular saying. But regardless of why you chose to become a vegan; whether for human rights, animal rights, the environment, or for personal health reasons, there are a few things you need to be aware of before immersing yourself in the plant-based world.
After all, you’ve navigated your entire life being a conformist in some way or the other, either consciously or subconsciously. Some of us are so conformist in our likes, dislikes, behaviours, and mannerisms that we only get to know how inconsistent they are with our beliefs when seen from the perspective of a non-conformist.
Veganism destoys that conformity bubble for you when it comes to food and lifestyle. You don’t have to specifically practice veganism to feel the socially debilitating effects of being a non-conformist. Any action which is not in line with the homogenous path followed by the masses will be fraught with the very same hassles and difficulties of being vegan in a non-vegan world. Following a specialized diet, using less polluting modes of transportation like cycles and ride sharing, shopping only at thrift stores, saying no to single-use plastic, and eschewing fast food are all actions which are not in line with the most dominant ways, and those engaging in them find it hard to navigate the world on a daily basis.
Akin to all other decisions you take in life, going vegan is a political one which will invite the wrath and applause of society in equal measure, but sometimes more of the former than the latter.
Vegans, old and new alike, face a lot of scrutiny and criticism once they go public about their lifestyle. No one is spared from the brutal onslaught of political, religious, moral, and lifestyle-based questioning once they declare amongst a new subset of people that they’re vegan. Even animal slaughter, the one aspect of veganism which most people agree upon and agree is cruel and unnecessary, has its own adherents who assert that animal slaughter is intrinsic to human survival and that it must only be done in civilized and humane ways.
Most vegans know how to take such assailments in stride and arm themselves with the latest information in order to be prepared for such inquisitions. But many do not. They get panicky, they get the jitters, they say the wrong things, and sometimes even end up conceding defeat out of sheer frustration.
While there are a multitude of ways in tackling such social situations and a range of methods in dealing with a diverse set of people, some are just not worth engaging in in the larger interest of your health and sanity.
Here are three mistakes you can avoid making as a new vegan:
Don’t be absolutist about the diet
Don’t make the mistake of starting out veganism on an absolutist path.
If our experience with the lifestyle over the years counts for anything, it is that its a pointless and futile endeavour to be absolutist about it every single time. You’ll either spectacularly fail at it or fry your brains trying to do so. In your frantic pursuit of perfection, you’ll lose sight of the bigger picture and why you went vegan in the first place. It isn’t good for your mental health and is unsustainable in the long run. There’s absolutely no harm in eating from eateries that also serve meat. We do it all the time. There’s also no harm in eating from the very same pan in which a dairy-based item was just prepared. Sometimes it’s the only option you’ll have!
Don’t ever forget that veganism means causing the ‘least amount of harm possible’. Not avoiding it altogether at the cost of your own health and sanity.
This is why when it comes to choosing between being an absolutist and maintaining our sanity, we always choose the latter. People are never going to understand the diet and its specifics the way we want them to. You’re not going to be able to find vegan restaurants everywhere you go. Waiters will keep screwing up on you. You’ll find it disgustingly hard to keep explaining yourself over and over again, especially while travelling. So instead of going through the entire circus of “veganizing” stuff, explaining yourself a 100 times to the waiter, or commuting an additional 10 Kilometers to a vegan restaurant, you just learn to make do with what you already have.
There’s only so many times you can tolerate restaurants messing with you, and waiters screwing up on your order. That’s why the most sensible ones amongst us dine only at known places, research well in advance before travelling somewhere new, or stick to only packaged food and fruits while travelling. This is the best way to maintain your inner peace and sanity in the long run.
Let me explain this point with just one example.
There was this one time I asked the waiters not to top off my curry with cream like how it is traditionally done at upscale Indian restaurants. And guess what? They did the exact opposite.
This left me red-faced and embarrassed in front of my guests, who were family friends I was meeting after a very long time. It was pretty awkward as I had to send the dish back and then wait for it all over again because no one else wanted to start dining without me. Being vegan will put you in such situations more often than not. There’s a dozen more stories where that came from. I’ve almost lost it at some restaurants in the past. It took me quite a while to realize that its a futile endeavour to go around expecting restaurants to understand your dietary preferences the way that you want them to.
Outdoor dining will become a nightmare once you go vegan. Be prepared for it.
Don’t try explaining yourself to people
The second biggest mistake made by newbie vegans is explaining themselves in detail to people whom they think care about the movement as much as they do.
Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t receptive to the vegan message as much as you would have imagined them to be. The conversation will, more often than not, not play out the way it did in your head when you imagined telling everyone about it. For this reason, it’s wise to always play it safe in the beginning and see where peoples loyalties lie before you can open up to them and explain everything in detail.
I’m not asking you to completely ignore their “so why did you go vegan?” question. Rather, pat them off with a one word reply or a sentence at most. Instead of kick-starting your brain and taking them on a long, winding tour about how you discovered the plant-based diet and what inspired you to go vegan, keep your answers as short and concise as possible. You could say, “oh, I did it for health reasons”, or “I did it because I care about animal rights”. If they prod you to further elaborate on your answer — and especially if their tone of voice sounds confrontational — you could tell them that you’re in no mood for a discussion and that they should just look it up online.
Trust us old timers when we say this, but there’s really no point in racking your brains arguing with someone over what’s vegan and what’s not, especially if the other side is doing it purely for entertainment.
Not everyone has the time, patience, or energy to sit down with non-vegans and argue about what’s right or wrong like Joey Carbstrong does:
Don’t waste your breath. It’s easier convincing a frog there’s heaven in the afterlife than getting a hardcore meat eater to understand the principles of veganism, especially if they’re hell-bent on convincing you otherwise.
You’ll ruin a perfectly good day for yourself by getting into a debate you know is going to end badly. Hardcore meat eaters who have been subsisting on flesh food since decades will do anything to preserve the legitimacy of their diet and prove you wrong. They’ll not only waste your time, but also ruin your mood for the rest of the day, preventing you from getting that much-needed rest and recuperation you were looking forward to.
The best way to end conversations you know are going to escalate into debates is to say, “hey you know what? To each his own”, and then just go on your own separate ways.
Don’t incriminate yourself. Don’t dilute veganism to suit your audience.
I see newbie vegans doing this a lot, especially the introverts who hate talking.
They’ll agree on a fact just to avoid getting into intense discussions with a militant meat eater, and later end up regretting it badly. As an introvert, I’ve indulged in this avoidance tactic myself. It doesn’t end well, usually. It’s always a good practice to stick to your guns, regardless of the time or occasion where you’ve been put on the spot. Someone’s always watching. The very people you chose to avoid by agreeing upon a certain fact will hold it in their memory and throw you on the ironing board later. They’ll use your own words to justify consuming meat, and they’ll do it to your face.
What’s worse? Standing by your convictions in the first place, or getting pushed around later?
Take a look at these statements:
“Factory farming is horrible for the environment”.
“Nowadays, animals are pumped up with a bucket load of antibiotics”. “Gone are the days of small family farms”.
Notice anything weird about them?
On the surface, they look benign and innocent. They even seem to be supportive of the vegan movement. But dig a bit deeper, and you’ll see where the problem lies. Each and every single one of these statements are neutral in nature, and don’t address the core philosophy which veganism was founded upon, which is avoiding animal use altogether, not improving their living conditions so that they can be butchered for meat.
And because these statements have more to do with animal welfare, the environment, and the quality of meat, rather than avoiding the commodification of animals altogether, they can easily be twisted to suit the narrative of your meat eating friends. A militant meat eater hell-bent on proving you wrong can easily start rearing his own animals at a family farm in order to eat them.
It’s better not to dilute the idea of veganism just to momentarily get off the hook. Unless you’re vegan for reasons that don’t include animal rights, it would be wise not to use any of the above three explanations when making your case with meat eaters. People aren’t stupid. They go home and research on everything you’ve told them.
Avoid the awkwardness of facing up to them later. Stick to your guns right from the very beginning. Even if it feels uncomfortable!
Before embarking on the plant-based path, one must not only take into account the practical challenges one might face, but also the psychological and social obstacles that come with it.
Have you ever made one of these mistakes as a newbie vegan? How did you handle yourself in such situations?
Do let me know your thoughts in the comments section to the side.