By Dustin Rhodes
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I know myself too well; I’ll decide that’s a stupid reason to commit to something, which means I will talk myself out of doing something that’s probably good for me. But I digress. I know many people choose this time of year to start going to the gym (again), or quit some bad habit like smoking, and during the past decade I’ve been at Friends of Animals, I’m surprised how many people decide to dip their toes in the vegan waters at the start of the New Year. I wanted to offer some tips, so that you’ll hopefully stick with it. If you care about animals, which I know we all do, committing to veganism is the single most important way to impact the lives of all animals who are exploited through animal agriculture, human overpopulation and overdevelopment. It’s a simple lifestyle choice that has huge impact.
You don’t need to do everything at once
This advice might be obvious and/or controversial, depending on whom you ask. When I first went vegan back in the late 1990’s, I got rid of everything non-vegan—belts, shoes, etc.—almost overnight; and I also went from omnivore to vegan overnight —without even a lacto-ovo vegetarian step in-between. In hindsight, while this works for some, I set myself up for a lot of frustration and failure. Also, especially with regard to clothing and shoes, this can be incredibly expensive. My personal advice? Start by doing what you can. Get some vegan cookbooks and learn to make dishes you love. Replace items as you are able (you’ll be surprised to find that there are excellent vegan replacements for nearly everything). Don’t create a situation in your head that’s all or nothing. It’s perfectly OK to transition at your pace. Create a timeline for change using a calendar where you can map out the details of your transition in steps.
There is no such thing as a universal vegan diet
Vegans don’t eat animals or animal products … duh! … but when it comes to what we eat every day, at every meal, there is no one-size-fits-all eating plan. Learn to make what you love and what makes you feel good. This will take experimentation. When I first went vegan, I bought a bunch of cookbooks that basically replicated everything I ate as a non-vegan—which was very disappointing and not very creative.
Now, there are hundreds of vegan cookbooks, vegan cooking channels on YouTube, recipe websites, etc. We even have some cookbooks at Friends of Animals, and I cannot recommend highly enough our first vegan cookbook, Dining with Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine, for new vegans. Dining with Friends has recipes that are both familiar and unexpected, and most of the recipes feature ingredients that are easy to find at any grocery store. Also, purchase a copy of Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-based Diet by Jack Norris and Virginia Messina. It is the only health and nutrition book you will ever need.
Look to experts, but the right ones.
I have two suggestions for people who are just getting into veganism—both of which are practical and enormously helpful. The first is Never Too Late to Go Vegan: The Over-50 Guide to Adopting and Thriving on a Plant-Based Diet by Carol Adams, Virginia Messina and Patti Breitman. I loved this book. I am several years away from being 50, have already been vegan for a long time, and this book not only changed my view on aging, but also offered so much great advice for being vegan in the so-called real world, including how to navigate family, friends and every other issue. A very inspiring read. The second book is Millennial Vegan, by psychiatrist Dr. Casey Taft, which speaks to issues specific to millennials who are focused on social justice. This book also offers practical, down-to-earth advice that is rooted in science and social psychology.
You don’t have to become that vegan
I am loathe to admit that I was every stereotype of a vegan when I first transitioned, and I am sure I thought I was morally superior to most of my meat-eating friends. It’s funny to me that I became this person, because I had a vegan friend in college who was so insufferable I remember saying to myself, on more than one occasion, “I will never, ever, ever become a vegan. EVER.”
And then, of course, I did.
But you don’t have to be the jerk I was. The world doesn’t change because we become vegan. It’s still important to be kind, humble, patient, generous and friendly. Many vegans will try to excuse their aggressive behavior because ‘billions of animals are suffering,’ which is, of course, true. But if you want people to become vegan, being a jerk will not help the cause, nor will judging people. Specific to this issue, I highly recommend reading Motivational Methods to Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective—another book by Dr. Casey Taft. While the title of the book sounds impossibly dreadful, it’s really just about how to talk about animal suffering and the importance of veganism in an effective, non-obnoxious, positive and honest way. The short book is heavy on excellent content, with tips for navigating nearly any situation. I wish this book had been around twenty years ago.
If you mess up, persevere
There is something about human psychology that trips us up—makes us think if we make one mistake, it’s over; it’s pointless; makes us feel like we have to abandon ship! This is especially true when it comes to practicing veganism (by the way, I like to refer to it as a “practice,” which means I am always learning something new, and if I mess up I just keep “practicing”). There is a lot to learn when it comes to being vegan—especially about animal-derived ingredients that are completely foreign to most of us. There is no way you won’t make mistakes; I sure have. But the thing is, don’t give up. It doesn’t mean you are a “bad vegan,” much less a bad human. It’s just part of being human, period. Make the mistake, dust yourself off, and keep going.
When you have that moment of none of this makes a difference!
An issue that doesn’t often get discussed, but nonetheless plays out in real life are the moments when you feel you are not making a difference and your resolve is shaken. If you have such a moment of doubt I urge you to do several things. 1. Re-read all the books I’ve recommended here. 2. Spend an afternoon on Friends of Animals’ website, reading about the issues our organization has been addressing for 60 years to confront the myriad ways that animals are exploited. 3. Commit to doing more. It’s true: making a difference for animals does not end on your plate; really, that’s a beginning. There are endless ways to get more involved for animals, through volunteerism and personal lifestyle habits and a commitment to leading a lower impact lifestyle. Make changes that inspire you, help others and/or directly impact animals. We can always push ourselves to do more, and then let your vegan practice be the foundation upon which it’s all built.
Development Director Dustin Rhodes is charge of fundraising for Friends of Animals and is a contributing writer for Action Line. He resides in Asheville, North Carolina — a progressive, animal-loving community in the Blue Ridge mountains.