Hello, world! My name is Shannon. I am a 25 year old lady livin’ in Austin, and two days ago was my nine month vegiversary. If you could tell a past version of myself (I suppose with some sort of time machine) that I’d be cutting meats, dairy, and eggs from my diet completely, past-Shannon would not have believed you. Life is funny like that. Some things shake you to your core, and your whole life changes. That’s what veganism was for me. I don’t know what it was that finally made the ideas stick; I’d certainly been introduced to them before. I read Eating Animals in college, and it spurred me into vegetarianism. When I looked critically at the egg and dairy industries, they were no less cruel than the meat industry, but people don’t see what they don’t want to, and so I chugged along with my vegetarian blinders on for over a year. Those blinders eventually wore away and I fell back into eating meat. Surprise, surprise — if you’re going to ignore the cruelty involved in half the food industry, it becomes easier to ignore it all. But for whatever reason, I decided to re-read Eating Animals, and it did the trick again. I became vegetarian for the second time, but this time the seeds of veganism were planted as well. I started following vegan blogs and read posts on online vegan communities. One viewing of Earthlings was enough to convince me of what I knew in my heart to be true: I could no longer continue to eat animal products, and so I did it; I decided to become an official vegan.
Even though I had already been vegetarian for several months, taking the plunge into the vegan pool was scary. I’m happy to report that nearly three fourths of a year later, eating vegan is a breeze. The scariest part is telling people! I became vegan in the beginning of October (the 4th, to be exact!), and even though I had nearly two months, I remember being terrified to tell my mom because Thanksgiving was around the corner. Thankfully, my whole family has been incredibly supportive, which has made the transition process easier. Nevertheless, there is no denying that food, and communal eating, are a huge part of our culture, and veganism inherently dismantles preconceived notions about the “correct” way to eat. It has been difficult to navigate social gatherings, but in all honestly, it is no more difficult than if I was eating paleo or gluten free.
That being said, I also surprised to find that simply eating a plant-based diet wasn’t enough for me. Prior to making the switch, I had been an adamant lover of leather, but as I started phasing out all animal products from my diet, it became clearer an clearer that no, I actually did not like the idea of wearing someone else’s skin. I also did not like the idea that my beauty products had been tested on mice, bunnies, and beagles. I could no longer use cleaning supplies that did not have the cruelty free insignia, and I found myself Googling everything, constantly. For example:
- Are candles vegan?
- cruelty free sunscreen
- cruelty free bug repellent
- Is [insert any number of food items here] vegan?
- vegan deodorant
Needless to say, these nine months have been quite the learning experience. Here are three of the lessons I’ve gleaned along the way:
Always read the labels, and always forgive yourself for mistakes: The second you get too comfortable is the second you slip up, which you inevitably will. And that’s okay. We all mess up, and although none of us are happy about it, all you can do is learn from your mistake and move on. For example, about a month ago I grabbed a tube of Tom’s toothpaste, flipped it over to confirm that it had the “Cruelty Free” PETA bunny (it did), and happily headed home. The next day I went to brush my teeth only to realize the kind that I bought had bee propolis in it, and thus, was not vegan. I was crushed, but I had learned a valuable lesson – sometimes brands you think are safe are in fact not, and you always, always, always have to read the ingredients.
Don’t try to force your beliefs on anyone else: In the beginning, this was incredibly difficult for me. Not so much with people I had just met, but definitely with my family, all of whom are incredibly smart folks. I thought that if I “could just explain how wrong they were” and “constantly remind them of where their food was coming from” that they would change their eating habits. Turns out that just like any other dearly held belief, people, even close family members, are not too keen on hearing the implication that they’ve been doing something wrong. My brother has been slowly adopting a vegan lifestyle, but if I am being honest with myself, I’m fairly certain my early proselytizing made him more reluctant to give veganism a shot than it did convince him to explore his options. People describe the feeling of becoming vegan as akin to the scene in the Matrix where Neo wakes up and realizes that humans are being used as batteries. It certainly feels that shocking, and it’s normal to want to “wake” people up. But just like anything else in life, it’s best to lead by example. If you can show people how easy living vegan really is, and if you are kind and thoughtful in your responses to their questions, you’ll be surprised how open people grow to the idea.
Your house, your rules: I have a really hard time doing anything that could be perceived as making someone else uncomfortable. For a while, I was hosting weekly Game of Thrones viewing parties at my house. One of my close friends would always roll in with a cheese pizza for himself to eat during the show. The first time he did it, I was kind of surprised, but did not know how to elegantly bring it up. I thought it would be unfair to ask him to keep animal products outside of my home, so I kept my mouth shut, all the while hoping it would be a one-time incident. It was not. As the weeks rolled on, he kept bringing pizzas over, and each week, they made me feel more and more nauseous. I finally decided enough was enough. I met that friend mid-week for coffee, and raised the issue in a safe environment where no food was present. After all, people can get defensive about their food choices when they’re literally mid-meal. I told him that I loved having him come over to watch the show with us, but that moving forward, I was trying to keep an animal product free home and that the pizza would not be allowed inside. Much to my surprise, the friend apologized to me and was completely okay with the request. It can be hard to stick up for yourself, but more often than not, the people closest to you will surprise you.
People ask me all the time if being vegan is hard. Does it require more planning? Absolutely. Are there times when your heart feels broken? Pretty much daily. But I don’t like to say that it is “hard” because that implies it can’t be done. It can be (easily), and I’ve found it to be absolutely worth it. For the first time in my life, I am living in a way that is consistent with my ideal version of myself. My morals and my habits are more aligned than they ever have been, and these past months have been an incredible joy.