I know a lot of people who have quit smoking. In the process of quitting, they talk about how much they crave a cigarette first thing in the morning, or how they can’t imagine having a drink or watching the game without one. I’m grateful I was never tempted to smoke, because I see how difficult it is for others to quit. I admire their willpower in doing what they have to do because they know their addiction is killing them and harming their loved ones.
I look at veganism much the same way. It’s going to be difficult in the beginning to give up burgers and chicken and embrace vegan cuisine. You’ve spent years cultivating your culinary tastes: you like salmon; you despise sardine; you know yourself. And now you’ll be changing yourself. Not easy.
But the array of vegan foods is vast and varied. Most of what you already eat is vegan anyway (all the vegetables, the fruits, the grains and beans and nuts) and those plant foods that are new to you, you’ll simply want to get to know. Some you’ll love right away. Others are acquired tastes. Some will wind up as the vegan equivalent of sardines. But you keep at it. (Nothing makes a vegan more frustrated that hearing “I tried vegan food once and it was terrible!” From a taste perspective this is equivalent to someone trying gizzards and deeming all meats unpalatable.)
Any life change worth making–whether it’s quitting smoking, starting a new job or getting married–is going to be a challenge and a process. The upside is, the time comes when the idea of sucking on tobacco ash no longer holds any appeal, and when the spouse you weren’t sure you could live with is the spouse you can’t imagine living without.
When something becomes a habit it loses difficulty and is just a part of who you are. Seriously. Admittedly, it’s easy for me since I’m one of the few people walking around who’s always been vegan. I’ve never had a turkey sandwich or a glass of milk. I was raised to love animals and try my best to bestow compassion wherever possible. I’m an adult now and believe me, I don’t agree with my mom on a lot of things, but I would no more eat a cow or a pig than a dog or a cat or a human being. Being vegan didn’t stop me from dating, getting married, traveling on four continents, having an active social life, and training in highly physically demanding stunt and aerial skills (without ever breaking a bone). Not to mention, I love food. I’m blessed to live in the vegan’s culinary paradise that is New York City, but growing up in Kansas City, Missouri–yes, the KC famous for its steak and barbecue–I ate amazingly well, too. I could tell you where in KC to get the best soy lattes, mouth-watering Vietnamese noodles, the coffee house that served vegan biscuits and gravy, and the yummiest stuffed grape leaves I’ve had anywhere. I’ve toured with theatre companies and seen a lot of small-town America and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there is good vegan food everywhere. You just have to be adventurous enough to find it.
It’s a common misconception that vegan eating costs more than sticking with a meat-centered diet. After years as a struggling performer with often low-paying day jobs, I can vouch that it is possible to be vegan for cheap if I don’t rely too heavily on convenience foods. A box of 4 commercial frozen veggie burgers in NYC might cost $4.50, but for that price and a prep time of 5 minutes I can make enough Lentil-Spud Burgers to serve 12. (The recipe in Main Street Vegan, the book I co-authored with my mother, Victoria Moran.) Sadly, organic and local foods are often expensive–this is true of both vegan foods and meat and dairy products–but being vegan doesn’t force you to buy these foods. Personally, I hit the local big-box supermarket when I’m strapped for cash but shop organic whenever I can afford it. It might mean cutting back in other areas, but I consider that a worthwhile trade-off for an investment in my health.
Nutrition won’t be a problem either, provided you eat mostly whole foods and supplement B12.. (Check out Main Street Vegan to help answer your questions about living a healthy vegan lifestyle.) Sure, there’s some learning curve, but before long you won’t have to thinking about where you’re getting what nutrient: all you have to do it eat.
If you need motivation to stick to the vegan diet you don’t have to look far–check out videos on sites like www.meat.org showing the conditions of slaughter houses and factory farms (I promise your heart will go out to the animals and the workers). Read the data on the natural resources required to produce meat and how going vegan can help solve world hunger. Read about the environmental impact of the meat industry and how it’s producing more greenhouse gasses than the auto industry. Or, if you are an animal lover like me, sponsor a pig or a sheep or a chicken with a farm animal rescue organization like Farm Sanctuary (www.farmsanctuary.org) and put your sponsoree’s picture on your phone. The next time you’re tempted by that burger or that chicken wing pull out that picture and look your food in the eye. I promise it won’t look so tasty anymore.