At the risk of reinforcing the stereotype that all vegans have to let everyone else know that they are vegan, hi –– I’m a vegan. If I’ve learned anything since I began my plant-based journey, it’s that veganism is a touchy subject for many. I generally tend to keep quiet about my own personal reasons for following a vegan lifestyle unless someone directly asks me, but despite my relatively quiet and non-judgemental approach to veganism, it’s become abundantly clear that most people have their own misconceptions and stereotypes about veganism and the vegan community as a whole. Pushy. Loud. Unnatural. Unhealthy. Classist. Annoying. Guilt pushing. Abrasive. Malnourished. These are just a few of the many stereotypes that surround veganism. In this article, I hope to dismantle some of these misconceptions and redefine veganism.
First and foremost, I want to recognize that complete veganism is not attainable for everyone. This is one of my biggest issues with some members of the vegan community, as there are several extreme vegans who hold the belief that there is no excuse not to be vegan. Excuse my language, but that is some complete and utter bullsh**. Whether it’s due to religious reasons, certain medical conditions, living in a food desert, or countless other reasons, I want to be cognizant of the fact that veganism is simply not an option for everyone. That being said, though, I think that taking any steps that you can to reduce your consumption of animal products –– for instance by incorporating “meatless Mondays” into your week or buying plant milk instead of cow’s milk –– can make a huge impact and should still be celebrated!
Now, I want to talk a bit about what made me take the leap into veganism in the first place. For a bit of background, I was raised in a predominantly vegetarian household. As a kid, my family rarely ate meat. We’d occasionally have chicken or fish maybe once or twice a month and typically only eat red meat in other people’s households, so from a young age I never really viewed meat as an essential part of my meals. In fact, I rarely even craved it. Then, when I was around ten years old, my dad decided to opt for somewhere between a vegetarian and vegan diet (he cut out meat entirely and only ate eggs and cheese on occasion) due to some major cholesterol issues he was facing at the time. To this day, nearly ten years later, my dad has still maintained his vegetarian lifestyle and hasn’t struggled with his cholesterol or any related complications since then. In all honesty, seeing my dad’s health and happiness improve within weeks after cutting out meat entirely and limiting his dairy and egg consumption, along with his strong dedication to his vegetarian lifestyle, is what largely inspired me later in life as I made a similar decision. Flash forward to around seventh grade, and this is where I first started learning about what veganism is. Like many other young, impressionable minds at the time, I stumbled upon veganism-related content on YouTube. I watched all the documentaries I could find on the animal cruelty behind animal agriculture and as soon as I had exhausted my watchlist, I made the decision to go vegan. Now, you may be wondering, “Has she been vegan during this entire time since then?” Nope. Not at all.
When I went vegan the first time, I was thoroughly uneducated about the importance of nutrition and at the unripe age of 13, the only resources I was equipped with were online platforms like YouTube where vegan influencers would tell me to eat a million bananas a day and promoted unbalanced and disordered eating (yes, Freelee, I’m talking about you). Naturally, this type of eating was unsustainable for me as a growing child and my period of veganism was short-lived for only about six or seven months. I was, however, completely vegetarian with limited dairy due to my lactose intolerance for around five years. This came very easy to me, probably because it was practically the way I was raised, and therefore I was already used to it. Flash forward again to freshman year of college. By then, I had started eating meat again about a year and a half prior. At this point, I had begun toying with the idea of going vegan again because I realized that when I wasn’t eating meat, that was when I felt my best physically, and I should be cutting out dairy anyways since I am lactose intolerant. Additionally, at this point I was already incredibly passionate about sustainability and the environment, so I came to the conclusion that it would be hypocritical for me to be preaching about sustainability yet continue to eat meat, dairy, eggs, etc. when I already had the knowledge about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. I sat on the idea for a while and began to make small changes in my life, while also researching nutrition from reputable sources like academic research papers, health journals, and via online platforms and blogs from registered dieticians and nutritionists.
Then, the pandemic hit. I was sent home from college and moved back in with my parents. I figured while I was back in my hometown, though, I should make a doctor’s appointment and get my annual check-up. I figured there would be nothing wrong because I’m young and healthy. A couple of weeks later, however, I got my blood test results back. I was shocked, and so was my doctor. At the young age of 20, my cholesterol (specifically my LDL or “bad” cholesterol) was incredibly high, especially compared to my tests from the years prior. I asked him what could possibly have been the cause of that and he concluded that ultimately it was due to an increase in saturated fats, which are derived almost exclusively from animal products. From the moment I got that answer, I decided to go vegan and eliminate animal products from my diet cold-turkey (no pun intended). This time around, veganism has come so incredibly easy to me. In all honesty, I think the reason why is that I took the time to research what a balanced meal looks like. I allowed myself to get excited about all the new recipes and foods I would get to try. Instead of focusing on what I was losing by switching to a plant-based diet, I focused on what I was gaining. I learned to appreciate cooking more, as well as the Earth from which my food was made.
If you’ve read this far, it probably means that at least some part of you has considered going vegan, vegetarian, or any form of plant-based. Welcome to the club! I know it can definitely be a bit overwhelming at first, so hopefully, some of these tips and tricks will help you out on your journey. First off, if you don’t have a basic understanding of your nutritional needs, study up! Ideally, try talking to your doctor or a registered dietitian, although there are some helpful resources online such as through the CDC and the WHO. Once you’ve got a basic understanding of how to properly nourish your body, you have two options as to how you approach your plant-based journey: jump headfirst into your new lifestyle as I did, or gradually ease yourself in by cutting out meat, then dairy, then eggs, etc. (or however works best for you). Neither method is better than the other in my opinion. It’s simply a matter of what works best for you personally.
Next, let’s talk about grocery shopping. One of the biggest misconceptions I hear about veganism is that it’s too expensive. While I wholeheartedly agree that all the fancy items like meat and cheese substitutes are insanely overpriced, if you plan correctly, a plant-based diet does not need to be expensive. In fact, since going vegan, I’ve saved a significant amount during my grocery trips. I suggest stocking up on bulk items like beans, rice, oats, lentils, and quinoa. For more tips on budget grocery shopping, check out my most recent article. I highly suggest making your meals fun and exciting so you don’t get sick of any one food. Eat through the rainbow by creating beautiful, colorful plates! Try out a new recipe (remember, any meal can be “veganized”)! Getting yourself excited about the food you eat and the dishes you can create will make the experience of transitioning to this new lifestyle so much more enjoyable. Finally, I recommend finding positive role models within the vegan community to look up to as you embark on this journey. My personal favorite vegan creators are Tabitha Brown on TikTok and Sadia Badiei from “Pick up Limes.”
As you adjust to this new lifestyle, remember to provide yourself with patience and grace. If you accidentally eat something with gelatin in it, don’t sweat it. It doesn’t make you any less of a vegan. That’s the beauty of veganism; you get to customize it to whatever is most attainable for you. There are vegans who wear leather boots, vegans who occasionally eat honey, and vegans who use makeup products that were tested on animals from before they were vegan. There is no correct or incorrect way to be vegan. As long as you are trying where you realistically can, I think that’s something to be celebrated.