My three vegan tips are a bit unconventional. Why?
This puts me in rare company, but I actually wouldn’t consider myself all that hardcore of a vegan, despite my seemingly-rigid adherence.
Not eating animal foods and avoiding the purchase of things that contain their parts doesn’t seem radical to me so much as a logical choice, and no more surprising than the decisions to not smoke and avoid kicking puppies, or a refusal to bulldoze virgin rainforests when your boss asks nicely.
But when someone recently asked me how I’ve managed to stay vegan for 12 years, I hemmed and hawed for awhile, speaking about avoiding the nutritional pitfalls that derail some vegans. Then I talked about the data supporting superior long-term health outcomes and the fact that I get better athletic performance in the package deal. I mentioned that I’d once suffered from a crippling intestinal disease called colitis, which a raw vegan diet has helped me keep at bay, and that I’d dropped more than 60 pounds.
But I honestly wasn’t satisfied with my answers. These are logical explanations for why some people might choose to become vegan, but many people aren’t driven by logic, and find it a poor motivator in the face of stress and divergent desires.
So the better question becomes: how and why does your average sane person stick to veganism in a world where the values underlying it aren’t universally respected, and are often derided? Why make the effort to stay vegan when things need to be done in your life and you’ve only got so much effort to give? If one was looking to stick to veganism long term because they think it’s a good idea, how might they go about it?
After much contemplation, the answers I came up with are a bit unconventional. I’m not going to lecture you much about food choices, morals, or how to explain to bumpkins where your protein comes from.
These tips are as much a guide to being more of the person you want to be as they are a specific guide to staying vegan. Still, I don’t think I could be the person I am today – veganism included – if I hadn’t approached my life a bit differently.
Vegan Tip #1 : Don’t Decide To Stay Vegan
(Check In With Yourself Instead)
Why do you want to be a vegan? What does it mean to you? Why do you even care?
The answer to that question (Or the “I don’t want to be a vegan!” rejoinder) isn’t static, and never will be. It’s not an eternally-accurate list you can reel off like some ingredient label describing your thoughts on the matter.
Why am I vegan today? Today, I’m vegan because of a 100-year-old pecan tree, or at least because of what that tree signifies to me. I layed under it in the baking 100-degree heat of a summer afternoon in Austin and wondered at how cool it was under its canopy. I looked at the way the light played off its leaves and filtered down to me as the wind gently rocked its branches. I enjoyed the knowledge that it was cleaning the air, producing oxygen, and sequestering C02. I looked forward to the fall, when it would drop its harvest of delicious nuts.
If someone had offered me $10,000 to cut that tree down, I certainly would have refused.
Not getting me? I expect many aren’t, and that’s my point.
How does this tree relate to veganism? For someone like me, who knows well the environmental ramifications of consuming animal products, desecrating that wizened old tree wouldn’t be so very different than starting the chain of events that begins when a purchase of animal foods. This purchase sends out a minor economic signal which – when combined with thousands of others from other meat eaters – leads to large swaths of the Amazon being bulldozed to create grazing and crop land for use by animals; not to mention a lot of C02 production and excess nitrogen pollution.
That’s just one reason. I see the spillover connections in the realms of environmental degradation, my desire to reduce the amount of harm I do in this world, and my determination to achieve the highest levels of health, vitality, and athletic performance I’m capable of.
I don’t pretend the things which make me value veganism will mean much to you, or even that they’ll resonate with me forever. But if you’re interested in veganism, there is an impetus outside of labels, rigid ideology, and what you’ve been lectured on in some documentary.
Regularly connecting to that ever-shifting impetus because it feels good to know your actions align with what you hold dear will do far more to keep you on track than a guilty conscience or the shrill admonishments of vegans on youtube.
How Do You Connect With Yourself In A Meaningful Way?
I try to connect with myself daily by quieting my mind through meditation, but I also make a particular effort if I’m feeling off emotionally. I simply sit in a quiet place away from distractions and ask myself: what is the source of this (insert negative emotion here). If nothing springs immediately to mind, sit quietly with it for awhile and feel it out. You might be surprised with what you discover
Some potential answers:
- Unsatisfying relationships in your life
- Your diet is monotonous or boring, or otherwise lacking.
- Life isn’t exciting or challenging enough.
- You’re overwhelmed by something going on.
- You’re not living in the part of the world or type of housing you’d like to be living in.
- Feeling like you’re being stopped from moving toward your goals.
- You’re not in alignment with the person who you’d most like to be.
Merely becoming aware of the source of these emotions is powerful. But if you’d like to take things to the next level, then I suggest you try what I call a, “10-Year Meditation.” To avoid me having to describe it, I’m linking to a slight variant of the version I prefer.
I’ve been doing this meditation at least once a year for more than a decade, and it’s played a big role in gaining an understanding of myself, how I can better live in accordance with my desires and values, and where I’m headed.
The version I play around with variably uses longer or shorter time frames (I often talk to a me who is 10 or 15 years older or younger), and I prefer to talk to my past self before my future self. Talking to your past self about your values and choices, and then asking your future ideal self how they handle things in those realms, can really clarify what you’re doing and why.
As you use these simple tools you may find that *gasp* veganism doesn’t match up with your values, or perhaps that veganism itself isn’t the issue, but rather that your health isn’t ideal (which you may decide to blame on veganism), or you’re tired of monotonous food choices – all things that can be addressed.
I won’t tell you must stay vegan, but rather that I rarely find people living significantly differently than the general population for long who aren’t very connected to their values and desires. If you aren’t, whatever the general population is doing will likely be your default.
Vegan Tip #2: Upgrade Or Regress
Over these past 12 years, I haven’t struggled to stay vegan, but I can totally see how it could have slipped had I not been willing to change based on the feedback I was getting from connecting with myself (tip #1).
One thing I’ve seen a number of times with my coaching clients is that when things start to become clear due to improved health and mental clarity, or through connecting with yourself via techniques like those listed above, they’re often left with a choice: fix what’s wrong or start regressing.
If you’re willing to take the feedback you’re getting and change, you’re often able to maintain your gains and stick to what you’ve decided is important. But looking in the face of your own desire for growth or change and saying “no, that would be too uncomfortable, inconvenient, or scary,” will likely lead to regression and a collapse of the things you hold dear.
If you know that something is off in your life and you don’t act to change, your life becomes a very uncomfortable place. When in emotional discomfort, many people try to bury the emotion rather than addressing its underlying cause.
Burying emotion often takes the form of eating really unhealthy fatty food (usually not vegan), because it’s hard to feel your pain when you’re in a food coma. Another option is seeking escapism via drugs or endlessly binge watching of netflix or sensationalist news coverage.
So if you’re not satisfied, you must change or regress:
Leave that deadbeat lover * Move to where you want to live * Find a more satisfying social circle * Get a job that doesn’t suck the life out of you, or create your own job that feeds a passion. * Say no to more of the things you despise and yes to more of the things you love.
Vegan Tip #3 Take Care Of Yourself
I’ve known several vegans who got so wrapped up in “fighting for the cause,” that they end up getting burnt out in a few years. Ironically, despite their initial zeal and foaming-at-the-mouth hatred of animal cruelty, many of them end up eating animal products again.
A life of fighting against what is – as opposed to trying to create something new and better – isn’t going to be a happy one. But whether or not you feel drawn to fight to convert the unbelievers, I highly suggest you take the time to take care of yourself.You’re unlikely to have the energy or passion to work toward your goal if you neglect the best part of you.
- Spend at least 15 minutes meditating every day. Here’s my free guide to meditation if you’re new to the idea. Nothing else I do leaves me feeling as clear-headed, focused, and in touch with my passions.
- Some might tell you to exercise to stay healthy. I’d prefer to tell you to engage in vigorous physical play. For some, that might be dancing, running, or Crossfit. For me, it’s definitely partner acrobatics, which brings a great deal of joy to my life. If you can marry physical exercise and creativity, you will be so much better for it. Enough endless grind on the elliptical machine!
- Don’t be a junk food vegan. You’re highly unlikely to feel your best unless you’re sticking primarily to whole foods and a limited amount of fat. Lots of raw fruits and veggies will leave you feeling amazing, and energize you to do the things you’re passionate about, as well as keep your weight where you want it. A based around raw fruit has done wonders for me.