Maybe you've seen Tal Ronnen on Oprah, or Jonathan Safran Foer on Ellen. Maybe you saw Alicia Silverstone on The View or Kathy Freston on Extra!. Maybe you saw The China Study's T. Colin Campbell on Larry King Live or you saw Dr. Oz turn a meat loving cowboy vegan. Maybe you say Zooey Deschanel on Top Chef or maybe your daughter bought you The Kind Diet for Christmas (yeah mom, I'm talking to you). And of course, there's probably no one that hasn't heard of or read Skinny Bitch. If you haven't seen or heard about at least one of these things you have probably been living in a hole for the last several months. Veganism has hit the media big time. With all of the mainstream talk about veganism maybe you've decided to give it a try for yourself.
You may have bits and pieces of information that make veganism appealing to you. It's likely you've heard something here or there about a plant based diet being optimal for your health. You've probably been made vaguely aware of the effects our meat eating has on the environment. Chances are you saw the PETA coverage of downer cows on the news and promptly turned the channel. Aside from these snippets that we see on our television or read in our morning papers many of us never take the issue to heart and continue to do our own research. We think veganism is just another "fad diet".....after all wasn't it just a few years ago when Dr. Atkins told us that we should eschew all veggies and carbs and live solely on meat, cheese and dairy (this remember was before he died after suffering a heart attack, congestive heart failure and severe hypertension), surely something easier than quitting meat will come along, right? Sure we think, factory farming may cause pollution, but so what, right, we've got to eat. We've seen the PETA coverage and either don't care, after all they're just stupid animals, or we ignore what we see because we fear that if we "know" we'll actually have to examine our behaviors and attitudes around our diet.
Maybe with the start of the new year you've decided for the first time (or maybe for the 15th year in a row) to actually examine your diet and examine your attitudes about food and the environment and give up animal products for good. If going vegan was your New Year's resolution (or goal) it's likely that on Day 4 you're still doing pretty well. But with 361 days left in 2010 (and hopefully a lifetime left for your new lifestyle) how do you make this change permanent?
Below are my tips for adopting a vegan diet and making it stick.
1. If you are switching to a vegan diet from a diet of meat transition slowly. Big changes don't happen over night, and you shouldn't set yourself up for failure by eliminating all animal products from your diet in one fell swoop. This works for some people, but doesn't seem to be the case for most. My recommendation is to forgo dairy before all else. It's well documented in Dr. Neal Barnard's book Breaking the Food Seduction that dairy products produce casomorphins when we consume them. A chemical akin to the drug morphine, that causes a physical addiction to dairy products. In order to eliminate dairy from you diet it's best to treat it as you would a serious drug addiction. You wouldn't slowly wean yourself from narcotics, expecting to have a little here or there and actually kick the addiction. The same is true with cheese, milk and yogurt. Every bite serves to feed the addiction. If you are serious about eliminating dairy then by all means, just say no.
Once you've managed to kick the dairy habit (which seems to be the hardest step for anyone adopting this lifestyle) move on to eliminating the flesh foods. This can be done either all at once or in stages. For me, taking it in stages worked best. I eliminated all but chicken and seafood, and then slowly eliminated chicken, and finally seafood. There are many abolitionist vegans who disagree with me claiming that all animal consumption should be eliminated, period. And while that's surely the goal here, I happen to think that some is better than none, and that even slowly reducing your flesh intake raises your consciousness to a level that will eventually lead to the elimination of all animal products. Plus, by not allowing yourself any leniency in the beginning, it's my opinion that you are just setting yourself up for failure. Which, leads me to tip number 2.
2. Don't beat yourself up over your mistakes. Changing the diet you've been eating all of your life isn't always easy, mistakes happen. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and commit again. That said, once you've committed to any one step of eliminating animal products don't give yourself the ok to "cheat" and then call it a mistake. A commitment is a commitment after all, even when it's tough. Reduce mistakes by learning to read labels, learning where animal products are hidden, and being vigilant.
3. Don't let your food choices become an issue in social settings. For instance, you will undoubtedly be invited to a friends house for dinner or out to a restaurant. Don't let your new lifestyle prohibit you from going. Politely let your friends and family know of your diet changes and make sure they know that it isn't necessary for them to go out of their way for you. Ask in advance what the menu is and then offer to bring a dish so that you know you will at least have something to eat. They choose to go to a steakhouse? Assuming you aren't ethically opposed to others having free will to make their food choices go along, you can get salad anywhere. So what if it's not the best meal you've ever eaten, going out to dinner isn't really about eating anyway, it's about socializing, you can eat when you get home. Allow yourself to have fun and not fret over the fact that the menu is seriously lacking in appropriate choices. More often than not you'll find that your friends are more than willing to pick a place that's suitable for you, so lighten up and don't let your lifestyle hold you back. And, speaking of friends.........
4. Know that your friends and family will probably not have the reaction you were hoping for (unless of course your daughter is already vegan and she's so super proud of you....yeah, you again mom!!!). Many of your friends and family are likely to feel attacked and offended by your new choices. They tend to internalize your decision and feel that your veganism is somehow an attack on their choices and their lifestyle. Remind them that your choices are not about them, that what you have chosen is what you feel is the best way for you to live your life. Eventually they will come around, I promise, and if they don't then it's probably worth asking yourself if you need them as a friend anyway.
5. Educate yourself. I think one of the easiest ways to make veganism a lasting change is to educate yourself. My favorite thing to say to people is "Once you know you can't not know", and that "knowing" is all that it takes for me to be committed to a cruelty free way of life every single day. Being educated also won't hurt when you are bombarded with the millions of questions and comments you will undoubtedly receive. The more you know, the more confident you are in your choice and your response, the more effective you are in opening the eyes of others.
There is no lack of information available about the vegan diet and lifestyle. Do a web search, go to the library, check out some blogs. The information is all there for the taking, all you've got to do is open up your eyes, open up your mind, open up your heart and READ!! There are many great books available, following are my recommendations:
For your health:
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell is absolutely necessary reading. If you ever questioned the role of diet and health this is a must read.
The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. This is a very easy read and her style of writing is very personable. I have a few issues with this book, but for the most part it is good, with a great message. My only complaint is that she makes veganism seem hard to nearly impossible for people not living in NYC or LA. I live in the midwest and don't have access to some of the ingredients her recipes use, and even so have NEVER had trouble being vegan. So, if you read this book, don't be discouraged by her SuperHero plan.
For the Animals/Environment:
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer is a must read. This book is excellent in describing how in order to change the effects of animal agriculture it is absolutely imperative that we stop supporting the animal products industry. He's not necessarily a proponent of veganism, but very clearly makes the point that if you disagree with any aspect of animal agriculture the only way you can change it is by boycotting it.
Diet for a New America by John Robbins. This book really touches on all aspects of veganism, but particularly on Environmental and Animal Cruelty aspects.
For Spiritual Growth:
The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle is an absolutely necessary read if you are interested in how our diet is connected to our behaviors. I HIGHLY recommend this book.
6. Make your choices about something other than yourself. After all of the research you've done you'll know that the Standard American Diet (aptly given the acronym SAD) is killing us, and not only is it killing us it's killing everyone who adopts our Western way of eating. Cancer and diseases of the heart are taking our lives at an alarming rate, an there's very good evidence that all it takes to stop the madness is to stop the consumption of animal products. More importantly you'll know that the meat industry is one of the largest polluting industries (second only to the military) around.......our meat eating habit produces more greenhouse gas than the entire transportation sector combined, this includes cars, buses, trucks, planes and trains! You'll know that the animals are not only born in horrific conditions, but treated in a cruel and brutal manner their entire lives. They are subject to cruel and unusual treatment every single day of their lives. Once you know that by changing your diet you can change so much there's no temptation to ever go back.
For me, being vegan isn't about me, it's not about my health. It's about the health of my children, it's about the health of the planet I want my children to enjoy, the health of the planet that I want future generations to have the pleasure of experiencing. It's about the lives of millions of animals that are needlessly and senselessly abused and killed every single day just for the selfish enjoyment of our tastebuds. It's about knowing in my heart that when I don't fill my body with the fear and violence involved in producing animal products I am in a better place to reduce the amount of fear and violence our world is experiencing. And, with all of these things at stake, how could I ever go back? I've heard from countless other vegans who feel exactly the same way. Make the choice for something bigger than yourself and it will all make sense.
7. Finally, find support. Find vegans in your community. Start a vegan support group. Join the amazing vegan cyber community on Twitter and Facebook. You are not alone in this!!
Go vegan for you, for the animals, for the planet, for PEACE!!!