The first time I met a vegan was in 2010.
I was 19, and having grown up in a household without any dietary (or lifestyle) restrictions, the concept couldn’t have been more foreign. In my first introduction to the idea, a flurry of questions came spilling out of me, and luckily the person I spoke to was gracious enough to answer them all. The conversation went something like this:
“No meat? No cheese? What about leather?”
“No, nothing that comes from an animal or is an animal byproduct.”
“I could never! How do you survive?”
Little did I know, just a few years later, I would be on the receiving end of those questions.
At the beginning, veganism seemed radical and impossible. Through the power of research and education, my inner activist took over and I delved deeper and deeper for answers. From unethical animal treatment to the environmental damage that comes with the agriculture industry and the health benefits of reducing meat and dairy, continuing a non-vegan lifestyle seemed impossible.
Slowly and inadvertently, by 2012 I cut out red meat — which resulted in lessening my consumption of chicken, eggs, dairy, honey, and other animal products. Many saw it as a change towards a “cleaner” way of eating, and while it is, not all that is vegan is always healthy (surprise, french fries are vegan!). By 2015, I felt dietary changes alone weren’t in line with the vegan lifestyle; it encompasses animal products as well, so my fashion choices needed to be reevaluated too. When pursuing a career in an industry [fashion] where leather, feathers, fur, and beauty products tested on animals are the norm, this was tough but I’d stopped seeing these items as desirable having known how they’re made.
My parents thought it was a phase. I was, in their eyes, like many young women in college, out in the world, exposed, and trying things out before inevitably reverting to her comfort zone. Three years later, after officially joining the #Vgang, I’m still learning and adjusting, especially in Dubai. Like any lifestyle change, whether it’s moving, starting a new job or getting out of a relationship, there are many factors I didn’t know I’d be facing — body, mind, and soul included. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Veganism Does Not Equal #Healthy
Fries, ketchup, chips — all vegan, and all unhealthy in excess. Vegan junk food is real, and it can make you gain weight real fast. Yes, plant-based foods are great, but for those who have allergies, anemia, or a specific dietary complication, making big food changes isn’t always the healthy option and should be discussed with a specialist. Not all vegans are the pinnacle of health, because while the desire to treat your body like a temple is there, so is the desire to visit by Chloe and stuff your face with as many sweet potato fries and cinnamon rolls as humanly possible. It’s called balance.
It Really Is a Lifestyle
Most think that “vegan” only relates to food. A vegan diet is “plant-based” ideally (though it’s hard to describe french fries that way). Some might eat this way and still purchase leather, and so when I say “lifestyle”, I mean “life” and “style”. Leather, silk, feathers, fur, or anything else made from animals isn’t a part of the agenda. Products tested on animals, such as makeup, lotions, toothpaste, and anything else you can think of, need to be substituted with cruelty-free options. Non animal-tested home supplies, leather-free couches, and even avoiding the zoo fall under the vegan umbrella.
It Is NOT a Weight-Loss Strategy
We’ve all heard of people switching to a plant-based diet and losing a dramatic amount of weight; it’s the perpetual myth we all deal with. It happens to many, but it’s not a guarantee. Though there are great health benefits to eating cleaner, trying to lose weight is not a good-enough reason to go vegan — especially when taking into consideration the afore-mentioned vegan junk food. I thought that, once I became vegan, it would instantly impact my physical appearance — when in reality, that doesn’t happen. Maybe it’s the fact that Ben & Jerry’s now offers delicious dairy-free ice cream, but let’s not point any fingers.
"What Do You Eat?"
“What do you eat?” is perhaps the first question that I get asked. With a plethora of veggies, fruits, legumes, and grains to choose from, finding something to eat isn’t an issue. However, knowing how much to eat can be. Most fruit and vegetables are lower in calories, so it’s important to consume a higher volume to make sure you’re getting the necessary nutrients. Learning what to eat (and how much) in order for your body to have energy is key. Restaurants, however, don’t always provide suitable options, so guess who always has to carry a snack? Me.
There Will Be Gas
Without protein from meat and eggs, beans and nuts are the substitute. With these options, plus cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, which are high in fiber, gas becomes a real issue — and that can sometimes be a nuisance, to say the least. Bloating and flatulence are just the reality of it in the initial stages, but the body is a beautiful thing and will adjust accordingly.
You Catch More Flies With Honey — Er, Agave — Than With Vinegar
At first, I wanted to change everyone. After realizing the atrocities (ethically and environmentally) of the agriculture industry, I was shocked at how blissfully unaware I was. How does nobody else know this? Why isn’t anybody doing anything? Surely, if people knew, they’d want to change. However, speaking to others about this proved difficult, and I quickly realized there is a right way and wrong way to talk about it, so my interactions with people changed. Oftentimes, I’m the only vegan in the room and that leads to questions — but I’m happy to bring awareness and take away the stigma. I might not be able to change people, but I can give them knowledge — which is power.
There Are Challenges Everywhere
When asked about the hardest part of veganism, many instantly think of food. Yes, it’s tough to go out with friends to restaurants where your only options come from the side menu, but I take it as a Top Chef-esque challenge at this point. The biggest challenge in reality is interacting with others. Some don’t understand, others choose not to understand, while a rare few take my viewpoint as a challenge for them to debate with me. From avoiding animal exploitative tourist spots to figuring out which airlines offer vegan meals, traveling can also be tough (but not impossible).
There's Always Something to Learn
Did you know that marshmallows aren’t vegan? One of their main ingredients is gelatin, so knowing how to read labels becomes the norm. Understanding how things are made and with what is a learning process that can’t be achieved overnight. With so many details and hidden ingredients, being in the know is how you continue to make real change.
Lastly, It's Not About Perfection
Hidden ingredients and a lack of transparency in the food industry make it impossible to be perfect. There will be days when mistakes are made, and that’s okay. When starting out, it’s natural for your good intentions to take over and to want to try to change the world instantly. I’ve slipped up when reading the labels sometimes (hot Cheetos have milk powder in them, FYI), but getting upset and feeling guilty won’t change anything, so I use it as a learning lesson. Often, I am made to feel as though I can’t make a change alone, since the majority of the world is non-vegan. However, just because I can’t make a big change doesn’t mean I’m willing to stop trying altogether.