I stopped eating meat when I was 12 years old. One of my two sisters had learned about the cruelties of industrial farming, so the three of us decided to cut meat out of our diets for a week. A week went by, and then two, and three, until eventually I realized that there was no need for me to reintegrate meat into my diet. I stuck with it for five years.
Then, when I was 17, I decided to try sushi for the first time. I ate fish and it tasted great. I decided that I would go from vegetarian to pescetarian, opening my diet to all animals that live underwater.
My sudden inclusion of seafood didn’t make life any more convenient. There had always been plenty of vegetarian options around. I did, however, realize a peculiar shift in the way people viewed my choice. When I would announce that I had started eating fish, some people seemed to take personal pleasure in my decision. It was like they were getting confirmation that they’d been secretly right all along. I didn’t let that discourage me, though.
Now, seven years later, I’m fully vegan. That means that I eat a plant-based diet and I avoid all products that are tested on or contain animal products. That includes cosmetics, household products, clothing, etc.
My journey has been anything but neat, with multiple switches from pescetarianism to veganism and everything in between. I’ve had a complicated journey, and I’m not here to judge you for wherever you may find yourself at this time. What I am here to do is share some of the most important things I’ve learned about the (many) transitional stages of veganism I’ve experienced.
Whether you’re a rookie vegan, a reducetarian, or a carnivore contemplating a plant-based lifestyle, these tips will help you be sustainable and optimistic in your veganism.
1 – Eat great food
If you’re trying to cut out animal products for health, environmental, or ethical reasons, you’re going to have a lot of trouble sticking with it if you don’t find alternatives to the foods that you love. That can mean trying vegan versions of your favorite dishes or discovering new things altogether.
My personal favorite is pizza, and I’ve found amazing vegan pizza all over the world. Did you know that the most O.G. kind of pizza doesn’t even have cheese on it?! It’s called pizza marinara, and it was invented in Naples in the late 18th century. The ingredients are simple: dough, tomato sauce, garlic, and basil. I personally like to mix it up by adding roasted red peppers and onions.
(Expert tip: When in Spain, be mindful of the very significant difference between pizza marinara and pizza marinera. The latter is a pizza with seafood on it— not so vegan-friendly!!)
2 – Seek out community
Whether you’re on your first step of the journey or already vegan, you might be familiar with feeling isolated at times. People might not always be supportive of your choice. You could even feel cornered into abandoning your beliefs.
That’s where the importance of community comes into play. I currently live in Tenerife, which is a small island in the Spanish Canary Islands. Before coming here, I was worried that people wouldn’t understand my choices. I was coming from Miami where veganism has entered the mainstream. I was worried that it would be a lot more difficult in Tenerife.
First of all, I was wrong. Many people in Tenerife know what veganism is and there are even some amazing vegan restaurants on the island. But since I didn’t know that at first, I sought out a community on the internet. It turns out that was one of the most important parts of my journey.
I looked up ways to get involved with activist organizations remotely and discovered an internship with The Humane League. I can’t stress how helpful my involvement with them has been in sustaining my positivity and lightheartedness. I continue to work remotely as head of the New Media Intern Research Group and I am grateful every day for the amazing support and sense of community that I get from the experience. It’s hard to believe I’ve never met these people in person!
The point is, there are plenty of ways to find support, even in places where you might not expect it. Whether you attend a plant-based picnic, join a local activist group, or become part of an online community, you’re bound to meet people who give you that sense of belonging that you might be missing.
3 – Most importantly: don’t blame the victims of an oppressive system
I believe that the only sustainable form of veganism is an overall anti-oppression approach. In the case of animal agriculture and other cruel industries, we must remember this:
The individual consumer of animal products is not the oppressor.
Actually, it’s the system itself that’s flawed and oppressive. Instead of blaming individuals for their choices, we need to focus on tearing down the system that normalizes those choices in the first place.
Remember, all humans have different experiences, conditions, and perceptions. Some people will never be animal activists and that doesn’t mean that they’re bad people. Instead of blaming people for a lifestyle that has been imposed on them since early childhood, let’s focus on what we can do to create an anti-oppression movement that sheds light on the injustice of the system.
I won’t pretend that I’ve never felt anger at people for contributing to animal cruelty. My dad is a great example. He’s intelligent, educated on issues of animal suffering and cruelty, and emotionally attached to animals of all kinds. Yet he never intentionally makes vegan choices. He eats cheeseburgers, buys products tested on animals, and wears leather shoes.
When I first became aware of animal issues, I was confused and angry at him for his choices. Now, I’ve come to accept that he’s never going to change. He’s a very rational man and the way his brain is wired tells him that his choices will never make an impact. For the same reason, he doesn’t vote. It’s not his fault that his psychology converged with his experiences to make him the way that he is.
If all fast food chains switched out cow’s meat for plant-based meat (and it tasted good), he would be perfectly happy eating the cruelty-free alternative. If household products weren’t tested on animals, he could go to the store and buy whatever he wanted without contributing to unnecessary cruelty. My dad, like so many others, is the victim of an oppressive system. He is not at fault for living according to what society considers to be a normal and natural lifestyle.
I don’t mean to downplay the importance of individual lifestyle choices and veganism outreach. There are plenty of people in the world who are ready to go vegan. It’s our job to educate them and help them make that change. As for the people who aren’t ready to make the change, don’t hold it against them. Be compassionate towards them, spread the love, and never stop fighting for what you believe is right.
If we play our compassionate cards right, a world in which veganism is the norm is right around the corner. In the meantime, do everything you can to make your transition smooth and sustainable. Be positive, spread love, and enjoy life!
That’s all for now, fellow vegan travelers!
PS: If you’re somewhere along your journey and have more specific questions, please feel free to contact us. When it comes to going vegan, I’ve been through a lot. I’d be happy if my experiences could help you in some way!
Leave a message in the comment section below and tell us what your favorite tips are for sustaining a vegan life!