Much of what you might hear in terms of veganism is food-related. That makes sense to a certain extent, but veganism goes far beyond your meal plan. It’s a lifestyle, where you not only pass on eating animal products in favor of plant-based foods, but you also don’t wear or purchase anything made from animals, such as wool or leather, as well as choosing to opt out of activities that exploit animals, including some circus events or zoos.
Woof. That might be a lot to take in, right at the top. If that sounds too extreme for you, then maybe just starting with your food is the best way to go for now. I still wear my leather boots and purses that I bought almost 10 years ago, and I don’t see myself getting rid of them any time soon. But will I buy more leather in the future? Not if I can help it.
The vegan journey is different for each person taking this path. It’s not about perfection, but progress. I’ve been at this for about 15 months now, and I’m sure my views and practices will look different with another 15 months under my belt. The goal isn’t to deprive yourself or shame you; the goal is to make more conscious and kind decisions moving forward.
The goal of veganism is to live and be kind to all forms of life
You accomplish these goals over the course of steady progression, changing things here and there as you go and finding your own ‘why’ for choosing to live a vegan lifestyle.
If you’re wondering why, or how, someone would ever decide to live in a way that feels so countercultural to our society, there are three main reasons that define why someone would become vegan: for your health, for the planet and/or for the animals.
(1) For your health
I started cutting animal products for my health long before I decided to become vegan. First to go? Dairy. Around the age of 21, I started noticing feeling terrible after I ate cheese and milk-based creams and sauces. I would sneeze incessantly, my eyes would water and puff up, and I’d go through a box of tissues per day, blowing my nose until it went raw. It was weird and sad.
When I cut those things out, I felt like I could breathe again, that life was more colorful and that I was living in a Claritin ad, happily frolicking through fields of daisies. I’d say 80% of my symptoms went away in as little as just a few days.
So, after years of being mostly non-dairy — I still ate ranch, ice cream and non-vegan baked goods — I started wondering if cutting meat out would get me the rest of the way. Cue sitting in a local barbecue restaurant in January 2018, looking down at my plate of meat and deciding then and there, “I’m not eating meat anymore.”
At the time that I made that decision, I had done zero research on the benefits of veganism for your health. “You completely drop cholesterol, it has a great effect on high blood pressure, and also helps address a lot of issues with Type 2 diabetes,” Julia Simon of Nourish Charlotte said. “In every way, it’s a beneficial diet. You end up feeling a lot better, a lot lighter.”
“If you’re feeling really lethargic and you’re not sure what’s going on, if you’re feeling really inflamed and kind of feeling puffy and not sure why you don’t just feel your best, I’d say give a vegan diet a try for three weeks and see how you feel,” Simon said.
You can seek additional help from a nutritionist and/or a doctor who specializes in vegan diets.
(2) For the planet
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the EPA, animal agriculture creates more greenhouse gas emissions (24%) than all of transportation combined (14%). It’s also responsible for a lot of deforestation, water pollution and more.
When it comes to making the environment better, going vegan is one of the best things you can do for the planet. Reading the reports from the UN and the EPA, as well as watching documentaries like Cowspiracy on Netflix, can really open your eyes to our current practices and the drastic changes it would take to reverse these effects.
By 2050, it’s estimated there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish, due to our use of plastic and our current fishing demands, according to The Washington Post. We’re removing fish at a rate faster than they are able to repopulate, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization.
Using the vegan calculator, based on facts courtesy of cowspiracy.com, in only a year you can save 401,500 gallons of water, 14,600 pounds of grain, 10,950 square feet of forest, 7,300 pounds of Co2 and 365 animal lives.
(3) For the animals
I wouldn’t call myself an animal lover. Maybe that’s a strange thing to hear from a vegan, but it’s true. I really love cats, and that’s about it. For the most part, I take the “aunt approach” to animals. I’ll pet them and tell them they’re cute, but if I can help it, I won’t be the one cleaning up their poop, bathing them or taking care of them in general.
That being said, I don’t want to eat them, either. Just because I don’t “love” them enough to want to brush their teeth and trim their nails and muck out their stalls doesn’t mean I want to see them killed, harmed, tortured or exploited. You can be an advocate for another being’s life without loving or wanting to personally care for them.
Find community and get involved
Maybe you’re feeling the same conviction I did, and after coming face-to-face with your new reality, you have some concerns. How do you handle life with family and friends who don’t understand your choice, who don’t know what’s happening to animals or who think it’s all a lie?
Kelsey Joseph, a regional organizer for The Humane League and Co-Organizer for the Charlotte Vegan & Vegetarian Social Club recommended picking up a copy of The Animal Activist’s Handbook for some advice, as well as finding community with others who share your beliefs.
“It can be really soul-crushing to learn about animal agriculture and the ways in which animals are treated, so it’s really helpful to have a supportive community and to get involved. And I think that helps, too, with not being frustrated with your family and friends who maybe haven’t made the connection yet and don’t understand why you would want to go vegan,” she said.
The Humane League, an international nonprofit that works to end the abuse of animals raised for food, hosts monthly webinars on a variety of topics, a lot of which deal with the social aspects of being vegan to help you navigate any relational tensions you might be experiencing, while also teaching you how to get involved and make a positive impact.
“When you’re working to make the problem better, and you’re around people who understand your beliefs, it can lessen the hopelessness that many feel after learning about factory farming,” Joseph said.
They’re also connected with the Charlotte Vegan & Vegetarian Social Club that hosts meet-ups around Charlotte at local vegan restaurants, including Jyoti’s World Cuisine, as well as some nontraditional vegan go-to’s, in the hopes of encouraging more restaurants to include vegan options on their menus. You can also join groups like Vegan City Charlotte on Facebook and attend events like VegFest Jr. coming up on April 18 at GoodYear Arts.