When my daughter, Adair, vegan from the start, was three or four, we visited my parents in Florida. All ready to go out for dinner, Adair listened intently as her grandfather asked, “So, are you ready for a big steak?” She became very serious and said, “I don’t eat cow” – lowering her voice for the final syllable and emphasizing “cow” to be sure he got it.
In the years since, as I’ve spoken with and worked with hundreds of people looking to adopt this lifestyle, I’ve had the question time and again: “But what do I say to my family? How do I tell them at the office that I need ‘special food’ at the company dinner? ” When I get those questions, I think back to my little girl, now all grown up, and how she stated so simply, eloquently, and with no criticism or judgment: “I don’t eat cow.”
These days, being vegetarian and vegan is trending with a vengeance. Menus offer vegan soups, veggie burgers, and soy milk for the coffee. Even so, it’s my observation that social pressure sends far too many people back to eating animal products. It happens in all sorts of ways: Someone starts dating a meat-loving Paleo guy; or moves to a part of the country where being vegan is decidedly odd; or inherits a new HMO doc whose ideas about diet that may be old-fashioned and unsubstantiated but, coming from an authority figure, tough to argue. This is when we need to be able to, simply and without antagonism or hesitation, hold our ground. “I don’t eat cow” (or anybody else who had a face and a mama).
In order to share a conviction with someone else, it has to first be a conviction for you. Are you trying this out, or are you committed? There’s nothing wrong with having a rehearsal period, learning the ropes, giving yourself a chance to see how this way of eating and living sits with you. Getting from zero to vegan is an individual process, not a time trial, and even moving in this direction is a glorious thing. Once you determine, however, that this is the way you wish to live, you need to accept that you’ve crossed a line.
A conviction isn’t a “diet” where a little won’t hurt or you get to “cheat” on the weekends. There’s no cheating on something that you genuinely want to do. It’s like marriage: nobody cheats who’s madly in love, totally satisfied, and blissfully happy. When you’re that enamored of the healthy food you eat, the vegan shoes you wear, and the compassionate choices you make, you’ll be vegan forever after and only get more excited about it as time goes by.
All you have to do to get this kind of romance with veganism is to add more to your diet and your life than you subtract. You eliminate – all at once or over time — flesh, eggs, and animal milk; and when you do it, it can seem like a great big deal. But in return you get health and beauty and extended youthfulness. Fascinating friends, enticing vegetarian restaurants to explore locally and when your travel, as well as ethnic cuisines to explore (Ethiopian was my first, and it’s still a culinary love affair).
You get exotic fruits and veggies and, if your experience is like mine, going vegan may mean that you can stop watching your weight and start living a bigger, bolder life. You can get to know rescued farmed animals at a sanctuary and adopt a pig or a chicken or several and share in their daily joy of being alive. You can take life as it is, realizing that there is far too much suffering in the world and you can’t end all of it, but you can end of some of it and, together with others, quite a bit.