Most major changes we ever make are motivated by the conviction that they significantly contribute to improving our life, whether that means a better health, our personal growth as an intelligent and evolved human being or some sort of spiritual enhancement. But, despite common belief, a good motivation and a high level of determination do not imply that the implementation of these changes into our lives will be an easy task. Old habits die hard, and so do old rituals, old passions and old ways of finding pleasure and satisfaction. Going to veganism almost always comes from a shit in one’s life philosophy, but nonetheless, it is still challenging for most.
What does being Vegan mean?
Cambridge Dictionary defines “vegan” as “a person who does not eat or use any animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese, or leather”.
The Vegan Society, though, has a far more comprehensive definition of the term. In 1979, when the Vegan Society became a registered charity, the Memorandum and Articles of Association redefined veganism as “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
It’s more than what you eat
Being vegan is not just about having a certain diet. Vegans reject any product – be it clothing, jewellery or cosmetics – that may contain animal products. They also reject certain vaccines and medications, though the Vegan Society underlines the fact that it DOES NOT recommend to avoid medication prescribed by doctors, but rather try to find alternatives, medication that does not contain animal products such as gelatine or lactose.
To be vegan also means to be constantly preoccupied about the environment and avoiding any products or activities that may harm it. Many choose to ride their bike to work, refuse to wear petroleum-based products and invest in green energy. Many fight against animal testing of cosmetics or medicines and avoid visiting zoos or aquariums or to take part in dog or horse racing as they consider them to be a form of animal exploitation.
Honey, silk and other insect products are not considered suitable for vegans either, and some even choose to extend their way of life to the diets of their pets, though this is quite controversial, especially when it applies to carnivore pets, such as cats. There are quite a few vegan pet food brands, but many of them do not meet the Association of American Feed Control Official regulations for nutritional adequacy.
Veganism – some history and stats
The term “vegan” was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, a co-founder of the Vegan Society in England. The name of the society was addressed before the appearance of their first newsletter. They have thought of “Nondairy vegetarians”, but it was considered to be too long and inefficient in expressing what the members stood for. Watson and his wife Dorothy came up with the word “vegan” and members were invited to suggest other alternatives as well. Some of them were: ‘dairyban’, ‘vitan’, ‘benevore’, ‘sanivore’, and ‘beaumangeur’, but in the end it was Watson and Dorothy’s name that stood out. Later, Watson said that the word was created from the first and last letters of the word “vegetarian”, as the diet was born out of vegetarianism.
Though it was very clear for all members what the vegan diet was, in 1949 Leslie J Cross signalled the need for a definition of veganism and he proposed that it was “the principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man.” The definition went through several changes throughout the years and was last updated in 1979.
The vegan diet became mainstream in the last decade and it is increasingly popular, especially among millennials. In 1994 World Vegan Day was first celebrated on the 1’st of November, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vegan Society. 20 years later, in November 2014, the Vegan Society celebrated its 70th anniversary and proudly announced that “in the past three years, the society has experienced unprecedented, positive interest in the vegan diet, and a membership increase of 20%. Veganism is enjoying a period of media interest in the UK and US press as well as in other parts of Europe, unlike anything it has known before.”
According to a recent study, 6% of US consumers now claim to be vegan, up from just 1% in 2014, and 44% of consumers in Germany follow a low-meat diet, which is a significant increase from 2014 (26%). The study also underlines the fact that the rise in the number of vegans around the world and awareness of the impact of meat consumption are driving demand for meat-free products substitutes. Also, consumers seem to connect ethical and sustainable lifestyles with wellbeing and wellness, creating demand for more ethical prepared foods.
Other countries with high numbers of vegans are: India (27% of the population), United Kingdom (7%), Israel (5%), Switzerland (3%), Japan (2.7%), Canada (2.3%), Poland (1.6%) and Germany (1.6%).
Challenges of being Vegan
There are vegans that will tell you that it all came to them naturally, without much effort, and they’ll just focus on the benefits that the vegan diet brought to their lives, but there are also many vegans that still struggle, though they’ve make the switch to veganism years ago. Here are some of the challenges you might face, if you plan on becoming a vegan:
Giving up your favourite foods
This is the most obvious and common challenge for people that choose to go vegan. What many vegans will tell you, though, is that you have to be patient and, in time, you’ll grow to love vegan food and completely reorganize your list of favourite foods. But there will also be times when you’ll have cravings and it is perfectly normal. Do not feel guilty or ashamed! Your body goes through major changes and it is natural to sometimes be out of sync with your mind.
You cannot always do your groceries from vegan stores and when you have to go to your regular supermarket, it will definitely be harder than it used to be. You have to constantly check the ingredients, ask questions and change your dinner plans if some of the ingredients are not to be found. But don’t worry! It gets easier in time. You’ll learn the vegan products and brands, become familiar with the names of the ingredients and learn new recipes that you can joggle with. For starters, though, you’ll just have to allocate more time to shopping.
Going vegan does not mean giving up on all the friends that eat meat. You may convince them to try your favourite vegan restaurants from time to time, but you’ll also definitely need to find ways to dine in regular restaurants. But be smart about it! Check the menu of the restaurant online, give them a call if you have any questions and go with a plan! Also, talk to the waiter about your options. Sometimes to get a perfectly good vegan meal you just have to remove one or two ingredients, which, if you’re lucky, do not have too much impact on the final product.
Going to parties
Parties are where most of temptations linger. And if your friends are not vegan, probably there won’t be anything eatable for you. To make sure you resist, do not go to a party on an empty stomach! Also, bring a platter of vegan snack. This way you make sure you don’t starve or crave non-vegan foods; you’ll be surprised by how popular they can be with the other guests as well. Also, avoid talking about being a vegan, unless you find people that are genuinely interested in your lifestyle. Otherwise, stick to your little secret. Your close friends know about it and that’s all that matters.
Having to constantly justify yourself
Not all people are polite or kind and some just take your lifestyle choice as a way of you saying that everyone else is guilty of something or that you are better than them. And no, saying “veganism is not for everyone” does not help. Instead of enumerating all the arguments for veganism and trying to reject those against it, just try to avoid the subject, especially when you feel that someone is being aggressive. Vegans constantly have to deal with other people’s hostility and ridiculing. Be the better person and do not let yourself get caught in it.
Replacing dairy products
For most vegans, it’s not meat that is the hardest to give up on, but dairy products. Fortunately, there are very many alternatives and you’ll discover them all in time. You can replace cow milk with soymilk, rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk or almond milk, you can have crumbled tofu instead of cottage cheese and you’ll learn the best recipes for vegan parmesan, vegan sour cream and vegan ice cream.
Having to learn new cooking techniques
As a continuation of the above challenge, this is one you’ll have to work on a little to overcome. You’ll cook with ingredients you’ve probably never tried before, you’ll have to learn the best ways to protect the nutritional content of each ingredient and get an eatable meal at the end. But, on the bright side, your culinary creativity will get stimulated as never before. And getting a good result is incredibly gratifying! Invest in vegan cook books and sign up for online vegan communities for tips and recommendations.
Finding affordable stuff
Unfortunately, foods, clothes and cosmetics that have been labelled “vegan” do tend to be pricier. But vegan communities are usually extremely united and generous and all tips and bargains are shared. Also, you’ll find out soon enough that there are very many products accepted by the vegan diet that are not necessarily labelled as such. You just have to carefully read the list of ingredients and if you have any supplementary questions, you can always contact the brand representatives.
Finding vegan clothes / shoes / furniture / makeup / hygiene products
While choosing the right food can be a challenge, it is even harder when it comes to finding vegan clothes, furniture of hygiene products. There are certain brands that are vegan certified, but you’ll also find vegan products from brands that do not advertise this aspect. Knowing the right questions to ask can make all the difference.
Avoid eating the same foods every day
When going vegan, the tendency is sometimes to get a bit lazy and simply stick to a few easy to do recipes. But this is the worst thing you can do, as eating the same things everyday leads to boredom and that means you’ll be more tempted by non-vegan foods and more likely to give up. What you can do to avoid this is to make a weekly plan every weekend. Write down what you plan on eating every day, what ingredients you need and maybe make some notes on what nutrients each meal brings to the table. You can also find complex weekly menus in very many vegan cooking books.
Avoiding the temptation to eat unhealthy food
Giving up animal-based foods is a major shift in a regular diet and you may be tempted to replace all the foods you love with unhealthy vegan foods – deep fried, greasy or sugary. It is a common mistake to think that all vegan food is healthy and that once you’ve become vegan binging on certain foods is no longer an issue. You still have to make smart and healthy choices and while you are certainly allowed to indulge in some unhealthy food from time to time, just make sure you don’t turn it into a habit.
For some, the impact of becoming a vegan becomes visible right away, but for others it takes some time for their body to adjust and for the results to appear. If you’re in the second category, and especially if you’ve become a vegan for the health benefits, it can sometimes be difficult to continue on sacrificing the things that you love without any tangible result. Reaching to the vegan community can again be helpful, as you’ll soon find out that you are definitely not alone and that other have struggled with this issue as well and have won the battle.
Meeting your nutritional needs
There are millions of people who testify to the fact that the vegan diet helped them become healthier. But in order to be one of them, you have to properly do your homework and know what to eat so that you provide your organism with all necessary nutrients. Most specialists will say that the worry revolves mostly around the nutrients in this list:
Vitamin B12 – It is estimated that over one third (going to two thirds in some studies) of vegans have vitamin B12 deficiency. As there is no unfortified plant food that provides significant levels of vitamin B12, and supplements are many times poorly absorbed, you should be careful to include in your diet nutritional yeasts, breakfast cereals and vegan milk. Getting screened for B12 deficiency regularly is also recommended.
Omega 3 fatty acids – When you eliminate fish from your diet, the intake of Omega 3 fatty-acids may significantly decrease. Vegan sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include soy, flax, walnuts and hemp.
Protein – Though animal proteins are considered to be of a higher quality and they cannot be completely replaced, it is possible to meet your needs with plant-based proteins. These can be found in tofu, tempeh, soy, lentils, legumes, nuts, whole grains and seeds.
Iron – Iron is better absorbed in the presence of the vitamin C, so keep that in mind when preparing your meals. Sources of iron for vegans include grains, legumes, leafy greens, tofu, enriched cereals and seeds.
Calcium – A proper intake of calcium reduces the risk of osteoporosis and helps with muscle and nerve function. Calcium can be found in several vegan foods: beans, almonds, leafy greens, tofu, vegan milks, orange juice etc. Calcium supplements can also be helpful, especially for vegan women and children.
Vitamin D – Besides calcium, vitamin D is important for bone health as well, but also for the immune health, nervous system and muscle function. You can find vitamin D in vegan milks, fortified products and cereals and you can also get it as a result of sunlight exposure. For women at menopause, with a high risk of osteoporosis, a vitamin D supplement may also be necessary.