Becoming an ethical vegan can feel daunting and mistakes inevitably come with embarking into new territory, but they needn’t trip you up. To save you from some of the mishaps that many a vegan has gone through before, here’s my guide to some of the common mistakes new vegans make and tips on how to avoid them.
1. Forgetting to Check Labels.
Although this one seems obvious, there are certain products out there that are deceptively un-vegan. For example, after about a week of being vegan and eating healthily I decided to reward myself with a bag of dill pickle Doritos (don’t judge). About halfway through the bag it occurred to me to check the label for milk products. Sure enough, there it was right on the label in all its distasteful antipathy: milk powder. Ugh. Mistakes like this are easily avoided by, duh, reading the label. It may be tedious at first, but soon you will come to know by heart which products are vegan friendly and which to leave on the shelf.
2. Taking criticism personally.
I’m not going to lie, being vegan suddenly makes you an open target for criticism and questioning. You may find yourself on the receiving end of backlash from family members and strangers alike, based on your vegan presence alone. Some may feel the need to justify their way of living and, in doing so, take it out on you; others may not understand your choices and condemn you for being different.
Just remember: none of it is personal – It’s about the latent guilt or misapprehension the person is experiencing when faced with your veganism. It would serve you best to forgo the impulse to defend and retaliate, even though the urge is completely natural. Each time you feel attacked or criticized, if you can take a moment to remember that it’s not personal you will be much more effective in your response.
3. Expecting to get it perfect straight away.
You are human. By default, that means you are prone to making mistakes. So make the mistake, learn from it and move on. No need to dwell or beat yourself up over your blunders. It’s ok if you don’t get everything perfect. So you’ve slipped up and devoured an entire cheese pizza – just remember why you’re going vegan, reaffirm your convictions and buy yourself some Daiya cheese to prevent future slip-ups.
4. Expecting friends and family to change with you.
After you’ve educated yourself on all-things-vegan and go on to share this information with those closest to you, it’s only natural to think or hope that they too will act on their new found understanding and decide to follow suit. It’s disheartening to see a loved one take in the horrors of factory farming, yet continue to support it through consuming meat. It’s still beyond me how anyone can watch Earthlings and not become vegan, but the fact is, we all let the truth in to varying degrees and some of us have stronger defenses than others.
The most you can do is share what you know with those around you. Hopefully one day they will snap out of their culturally hypnotized state, but until then, try to let go of your expectations.
5. Assuming that everyone knows what vegan food is.
“Oh you’re vegan. Great, let me cook for you!*”
*Makes a meal with lots of veggies, then adds butter.
There are many well-intentioned folks out there who will gladly make you a “vegan” meal. If you don’t check in first to clarify the specifications of a vegan diet you may find yourself in the undesirable situation of being faced with buttered vegetables or unknowingly eating soup made with meat stock. Have the confidence to be clear at the start with friends and in restaurants as to what a vegan diet entails.
6. Taking shots at meat eaters.
Sometimes I have fantasies about bursting into a steak restaurant and screaming at the top of my lungs “Meat is murder!!!!” but what would that really prove aside from convincing everyone in the restaurant that vegans are a little unstable?
We all know that most people don’t respond to criticism well. As temping as it is, try to refrain from taking shots at meat eaters. There are much more effective ways to get your message across. Having an honest dialogue, if the other person is willing, is a great place to start.
7. Neglecting nutrient intake.
Another one that seems obvious but we’ve all heard the story about the vegan who reverted back to eating animals because they ‘just didn’t feel good’. Transitioning to a vegan diet can be one of the healthiest things you’ve ever done, but you’ve got to do it knowledgably. Educate yourself, know where to get your vitamins and nutrients and make sure you eat a balanced diet. Don’t become a negative vegan statistic.
8. Not learning how to cook.
Don’t fall into the I’m-hungry-but-I-have-no-idea-what-to-make trap. Eating tofu out of the container is not fun, nor is subsisting on salads, or even worse, vegan junk food. Vegan recipes abound in both books and online and many are quick and easy for those whose kitchen skills are less than stellar. Check out Pinterest and vegan food blogs for endless ideas, or invest in a good cookbook. And don’t forget – herbs and spices will be your best friend as you step into the world of vegan cooking.
9. Failing to speak your truth.
I get it, you don’t want to inconvenience anyone or become a bother with your new way of living – but silently joining a group dinner to a questionably vegan-friendly restaurant will leave you feeling nothing but awkward and hungry when there’s nothing on the menu for you to eat. It may be difficult at first to state that you’re vegan and ask about your food choices, but with practice you will learn to do this confidently and unapologetically.
It’s not about being self-righteous and forcing the group to dine where you want to (although you could always make a suggestion), but speaking up for yourself in a positive way and being open about what you do and do not eat.
10. Dwelling on the negative.
Learning of the brutalities animals face worldwide every day is a lot for a compassionate, sensitive person to take in. It’s shocking, horrific, heart wrenching and even traumatizing. The feelings such images or accounts evoke are most likely what lead to you going vegan, and indeed, it’s important to keep an open heart to the suffering of all living beings – but being compassionate and continual worry are two separate things. Our compassion can help motivate us to make positive decisions and take positive actions, while worry serves no purpose but to make us sick.
So watch the videos, feel the pain, cry as much as you need to, and take all the actions you feel comfortable taking, but then let go of your worries. Remember that as unkind as the world is right now, things are slowly getting better and the treatment of animals is beginning to improve – don’t forget that you are playing a major part in this positive change by going vegan!
Cover image: Shutterstock.