Becoming vegan can take days, months or even years. Let Veganuary be the start of your transition but don’t put undue pressure on yourself or others when making the necessary long-term changes.
While scrolling though Instagram late one night last year, I came across a post from someone I have been following for years but have very little interaction with. At most, I’d say I’ve “liked” one of her posts in the last three years. I can’t recall the details, but have a strong feeling the picture had a puppy in it. We’re connected only through other friends and I probably should have hit the unfollow button at least 18 months ago. However, as it stands, I am updated intermittently about her life and have seen more pictures of her underwear than I would have liked, but that’s where we currently stand.
It was fortuitous, however, that I am following her posts as I would otherwise be unaware that we are currently enjoying Veganuary, the month where meat eaters across the Westernised, capitalist world appease their guilt surrounding the amount of food they have eaten over the festive season and have the opportunity to tell everyone about their new life as a temporary vegan. Perhaps I’m a little cynical, but if people are participating by going meat and dairy free for a month only to then carry on as before, or celebrating the beginning of a new month by gauging on a dripping slab of meat, then please, do it quietly. If you are approaching this January with the intention of test driving a new lifestyle, and are open to understanding the benefits – not just to yourself but to the environment as well – of veganism then, by all means, take this month to begin the transition.
The road to following a plant-based diet for the rest of your days has to start somewhere, as the founders of Veganuary intended to instigate when starting their well intentioned project in 2014.
Back to the Instagram post for a moment: The picture I saw was familiar to me; it was a cook book I’d been gifted a few years ago, Keep it Vegan: 100 simple, healthy & delicious dishes by Aine Carlin. The in question had a caption along the lines of “Preparing to take part in Veganuary and hoping to keep it going after that. If anyone has some tips on how to make the transition I would be greatly pleased”. Normally, as previous cynicism may indicate, I would have kept on scrolling, hoping to see what Alaksa Thurderfuck is up to instead, but this person sounded like a someone approaching Veganuary as an opportunity to get to grips with the vegan lifestyle and was in genuine need of advice on how to keep it going.
As a vegan of around six years, I thought I should impart some wisdom: “Glad to see you’re giving this a proper go. Sainsbury’s has a great many choices to get you started and please read up on the importance of B12. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up now and again. Take time to source new alternatives to your old favs and you will soon enjoy them just the same” were my intended words of encouragement.
As I tapped to open the post, I saw some comments in a similar vien, wishing her well and offering some guidance. One comment, though, I found to be most unhelpful. And it read something exactly like this: “There is no transition. Just stop eating meat and dairy. And you better throw out your leather boots while you’re at it!”
Now. Of course it is difficult to gauge the tone in moments such as these and this commenter could well have been a close friends joking around or poking her chops (is that an idiom?). “Stop doing it! Stop doing it right now”, I thought, might be sage advice for a an alcoholic where, literally, if you continue doing that you will die, lose your children, or at the very least, lead a deeply unhappy life. Meat consumption, however, is not an addiction. It is learned behaviour that most of us are brought up to maintain, unquestioningly, as the base of our diets (a norm which Veganury is trying to challenge, incidentally). Transitioning away from this could perhaps take months or years as your mind and body readjust. As you get more information you will be able to make long-term, informed choices which keep you healthy. It takes a while to learn that you need to include a variety of beans and pulses in your diet as they contain vital sources of zinc which are essential to maintaining your immune system. Transitioning also entails finding the correct multi-vitamin which will supplement your new diet. This will ideally include a high dose of B12 which, if you are deficient in, can cause anemia or even damage your nerve system.
There is always more to learn in order to ensure you are living a healthy vegan life and it should be a responsibility of other vegans to show this example to others in order to make veganism a viable and approachable option for all.
My own transition lasted for around a year after. I wasn’t quick to call myself a vegan, and for a long time I would just simply tell others “oh, I don’t eat cheese” or pass on the offer of veggie pizza. Or, when I was a guest at someone’s house, I would accept the offer of an egg spring roll or eat a bowl of soup containing butter as I didn’t want to be seen as picky or ungrateful. This kind of behaviour soon passed. The longer I was vegan on my own time, the more difficult it was to accept the offer of something containing dairy and the more my friends and family knew not to offer it to me.
The transition also included making non-leather shoe choices and checking labels for wool, down, and silk when buying new clothes. You don’t need to throw everything out immediately, who has money for that? Become aware of how supporting the animal skin trade impacts upon the environment. Tell your friends about it and phase out these purchases.
This Veganuary, take the time to begin your transition to becoming a vegan for the rest of your life. Janurary has become a time to market changes: fix your body, stop drinking, and now testing out veganism, too. But remember, long-term changes will last a lifetime, and can begin any time of the year.
For more information on Veganuary, a have look at their website and take the time to consider the benefits of going – and staying – vegan.