I would have loved to tell you that when I decided to go from vegetarian to vegan, it was an absolute breeze! That I changed my diet and lifestyle overnight, and woke up a totally successful vegan heroine in every possible way. That every new vegan recipe I tried out worked instantly, and I didn’t notice a single difference in the taste or texture of the food.
I would have loved to tell you that going out for meals as a new vegan was a total joy – that not once did any restaurant or café even so much as bat an eyelid at my special requests. That when I told my friends and family about veganism, they all agreed with me instantly. That they couldn’t think of a single reason why they shouldn’t turn vegan too, so they did – every single one of them!
I would have loved to tell you that, but to be honest, it just wasn’t quite that easy…
Going cold tofu
My transition from vegetarian to vegan was a gradual one with some blurry edges. I hadn’t expected to make the vegan connection when I did (well who does?) and still had lots of vegetarian food in the freezer – so I thought I’d eat that up first. I also didn’t even call myself vegan to start with. Confused? Upset? You bet I was…
A gradual transition may be very helpful for some people, but it wasn’t helpful for me at all. Looking back, I think going “cold tofu” would have been much better for me, and would have saved me a lot of angst.
Instead of having a clear cut-off point, changing gradually and having different rules for different situations really messed with my head. I learned that I couldn’t be blurry about being vegan. It was confusing for me, my conscience, and the rest of the world. Becoming a “proper vegan” was a real relief and much easier than expected. Once I made a solid commitment – I felt really great about it too!
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Another challenge I had in the transition phase was the belief that if people bought me non-vegan presents then it was ok. Totally silly and lame, I know – especially as they had been paid for by someone, thereby still funding cruelty! This also made overcoming cravings for old foods like chocolates, cakes, etc. incredibly difficult. I felt very awkward refusing gifts from well-meaning friends and family members, many of whom had been very supportive of my almost lifelong vegetarianism
Having conviction, consistency and compassion has really helped me to be clear about my lifestyle. Explaining this change to my loved ones and finding vegan replacements for non-vegan goods was so easy once I’d made a firm commitment to veganism.
Buying friends and family lovely vegan gifts helped them (and me) discover what I liked. These days, it is easy to find vegan alternatives for almost anything, and I think that the vegan alternatives are in most cases even better than the non-vegan originals.Things like vegan chocolates, make-up, shoes, pet food, and even cleaning products.
Facing my fears
In retrospect, the main difficulties with my vegan journey were my own fears, attitude, laziness, and ignorance. I assumed family and friends would argue with me and it would cause all kinds of problems. Going out for meals as a vegan was though at the beginning as I had always relied on vegetarian options. Vegan options were (and still can be) rare or non-existent, and I would get very frustrated at not being catered for, and make a right fuss.
In reality, most of my friends and family respected and supported my decision and have tried many new vegan foods and products themselves. In terms of eating out, if I am going to a new restaurant – ringing them in advance enables their chef to prepare. Meaning I get a fab meal specially cooked for me. Just turning up and then complaining they don’t have anything suitable is not helpful. If I’m not able to call in advance, politely offering suggestions to tweak available meals helps too – avocado, olives or vegan hummus instead of cheese, butter, eggs or meat etc. Having a positive attitude and some imagination really helps.
Disasters in the kitchen
I love cake! And the one thing I couldn’t buy anywhere at the time was vegan cake. I struggled with awful cake recipes for years, going to all the trouble of baking it – excitedly waiting for a yummy cake creation, and then getting a soggy, heavy, splodge of disgusting goo instead. I seriously thought that my cake munching days were over and was pretty upset by that, actually I was VERY upset!! After making that firm commitment to a vegan lifestyle it seemed so unfair that being conscious was going to mean being cake-less … forever!
Then, I discovered a book called “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I think they are vegan cake pioneers to be honest – old school vegan cake heroes who I believe created innovative change in the world of vegan cake!This book freed me from the torment of “disappointing cake syndrome” for good. Omnivores now ask me for my vegan cake recipes! Is that spreading the vegan love or what? Few sights are sweeter than seeing my home made vegan cake being happily devoured by a vegan or non-vegan cake hole.
The four stages of learning
If you are new to veganism, it can be helpful to understand the four stages of learning that apply to learning anything.
1. I’ve just bought my first carton of soya milk.
Wahey! This first stage is known as ‘unconscious incompetence’ – you make the decision to go vegan without realising you know so little about the vegan lifestyle. This new found decision is often accompanied by feelings of excitement and lots of enthusiasm. You are going to change the world – all by yourself!!
You may feel a little (or a lot!) disconnected from non-vegans, but you don’t care. You may start preaching at and/or mocking all non-vegans at this stage too and feel incredibly self-righteous. However, preaching, mocking, self-righteous superiority, and hasty vegan tattoos saying “I hate necrovores” blazoned across your forehead are not obligatory and can be omitted according to taste…
2. I really miss [insert animal-based product here].
This second stage is ‘conscious incompetence’. You realise how little you actually know about the vegan lifestyle and may still crave some non-vegan foods. Yikes!!! You may realise with some sadness that many foods and products that you used to love are not going to be part of your life anymore. You might try some recipes that don’t work out as well as you expected (cue “vegan cake hell”), etc.
Many people feel bad about their mistakes, cravings, and screw-ups, doubt their ability to stick with it and give up at this stage. Trial and error is the most challenging but most important stage of learning. Be kind to yourself. Get plenty of support and education – The Vegan Woman is here to help!
3. I’m finding it alright, actually, this vegan thing.
The next stage is ‘conscious competence’ – you learn how to live a vegan lifestyle, but it still takes some active focus (you find yourself reading labels a lot). You are actively searching for vegan alternatives to your fave things and having successful results (cue “vegan cake heaven”!). You are learning about the ethics and far reaching impact of veganism and making many vegan connections with others. You may well feel a sense of warm and fuzzy love for your fellow vegan buddies, and the urge to slap people who ask you “where you get your protein?” is much easier to control now.
4. I’m a fully-fledged vegan hero!
‘Unconscious competence’ is the last stage. Congratulations, you are a fully-fledged vegan hero! Your vegan lifestyle is second nature, effortless, and fun! You will probably find that your palate completely changes and you no longer crave any of the foods you used to “love”. You know how to seduce omnivores with your delectable vegan delights, you can knowledgably answer questions calmly – most of the time – and you can’t believe you were ever not vegan.
Remember why you are vegan. Veganism is a constant process of education and adventure. Every step we take enables us to learn, grow, and develop in all kinds of unexpected ways.Each one of us saves innocent lives every day, and motivation to change doesn’t get any better than that.