It’s Not Easy Being Green: A Beginner’s Guide To Veganism

If you clicked on this article bracing yourself for an antsy vegan rant, then fear not. I don’t want to be “that” girl who sits here and preaches to all of you about why you should go vegan, complete with charts ripped from The China Study and illustrations of tortured farm animals (that’s what my Tumblr account is currently being used for). As a recently re-converted vegan, my aim is to reach out to anyone who’s curious, and to make the concept of veganism more palatable to everyone, whether you’re into chicken tenders or tofu. So let’s get on with this thing: This is “Intro to Veganism,” not an advanced seminar. I’ll leave that to my boys Campbell and Esselstyn.

A few weeks ago, after a lot of thought and practise runs in my head, I “came out” to my family. I chose a good moment in the evening—quiet, relaxed, after my dad had finished bottling his home-made wine and (very unusually) didn’t seem to have anything to do. I offered them a cup of tea. And I told them: Look, guys, I’m going vegan again. There was mild horror on their faces. My dad took it pretty well, probably because he’s used to me announcing that I am Going On A Diet and eating only lean chicken and eggs for a couple of days before finding that I start saying yes to helpings of apple crumble at the Sunday dinner. My stepmum, on the other hand, was furious. “So does this mean you are not eating turkey on Christmas Day?! Where will you get your protein?!”

Sidenote: Cringe. There are hundreds of plant-based sources of protein.

I’ve been vegan before, and I loved it. But I didn’t live in the family home then. The kitchen is at the centre of the house for a reason: We socialise and celebrate with food. And it has been drilled into me from a young age that one must Always Finish Your Plate. So of course I knew that deciding to go back to a plant-based diet was going to be controversial. But I do know that I needed to go vegan again.

Your first question: why? Well, let’s backtrack a little. In September 2012, I dared myself to go vegan. I didn’t really have a reason. I just felt like putting my willpower to the test, and challenged myself to eat an entirely plant-based diet for as long as I could. I didn’t read into the health benefits of cutting meat and dairy, nor did I put a great amount of effort into seeking out ethical reasons for my newly herbivorous diet. I just wanted to see if I could do it. I lasted two months—until I took a trip to the U.S. and, you know, Chipotle happened.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, my best friend showed me this video. I started watching vegan documentaries and reading research papers late into the night. I highly recommend documentaries like “Forks Over Knives” and “Vegucated,” or reading in-depth discussions about plant powered remedies to pretty much every ailment in the Western world at I became utterly absorbed by it all. Something “clicked.” It just made sense. I needed to go vegan again: for my health and for my conscience. Cutting out animal products made sense from both an ethical and a nutritional point of view.

But darling, it’s not easy being green. There’s a myriad of tiny problems that come with a “conversion” (if you will) to veganism—but there are solutions, too. List-lovers rejoice, here are my top three:

  • How people who eat the SAD will view you. SAD = Standard American Diet, amusingly enough. You see, while I sit and lament my #veganproblems like our dear friend Kermit, my family simply see another fuzzy green fictional character: To them, I am the Grinch, shunning all the things that are good and proper (read: turkey) during this gluttonous season. But really though; such an enormous upheaval of your deep-rooted eating habits, clothing choices and even cleaning regimen is difficult enough on its own, without being bullied by your family and friends. I am preparing to be metaphorically pooped on throughout the festive period, when the rest of my family are guzzling turkey and stuffing. At the end of the day, you’ve got to let them know that your choice affects no-one but you (and carry on ploughing through the pile of carrots and nut roast on your plate). For some reason, I’ve found that people get very angry about veganism (or, at least, highly judgmental). Be firm, level-headed and have a very well-rehearsed spiel up your sleeve.
  • How your fellow herbivores may nitpick. As a barista, my life is centred around doing fancy things with milk—it’s just milk that I choose not to drink any more. As the future wife of a die-hard, meat-eating ‘Murican, the story of my life happens to co-star a man whose favourite past-time is shoveling chicken into his mouth. I’m totally aware that these two facts don’t make me a “perfect” vegan (whatever that is), and I know that if this article was published in a serious online community of vegans, there’d be haters. But let the haters hate. My diet is my choice. As it happens, I don’t sneak a cheeky chicken meal in every now and then—but if I did, much as it would sit on my conscience, it wouldn’t be sitting on anyone else’s. So turn your back on people if they start getting nasty.
  • How it will affect your nutrition. Variety is key. If you’re eating a varied, plant-based diet, good health should come naturally.  Just bear a few things in mind: For example, remember that the caloric density of fruits and vegetables is much lower than of meat and dairy products, so you may need to eat more than you’re used to to intake the same amount of calories. Remember to get a B12 supplement, because B12 is vitally important for proper neurological functioning and it’s harder to source on a plant-based diet. Remember to get enough calcium from other calcium-rich sources. Ultimately, though, I’m convinced that a vegan diet is the way to go as far as nutrition is concerned.What irks me is that there are so many articles that pooh-pooh vegan diets with condescending tosh about deficiencies—but then they hasten to add, in small print, stuff like, “Research has shown that vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with lower risks of heart disease, stroke, and many types of cancer.” What they don’t say is that the “lower risk” is a very significantly lower risk. Because a vegan diet is good for you, period.

Despite these little everyday obstacles, I can only say good things about veganism. The wheels are in motion now and I can’t seem to find the reverse gear. Animal products just don’t appeal to me. I pay more attention to what I put into my body and I am far healthier for it. I have a renewed interest in nutrition. I just have an awful lot of whey protein to get rid of somehow.

And as for la famille, as far as I’m concerned, I feel that I’m doing them a great favour by piping down about the whole thing when all I’d really like to do is hijack the television and show them a marathon of vegan documentaries. But I’ll leave them alone, for now. I’ll let them eat cake (and chocolate, and turkey, and gravy). And I’ll carry on gorging on grapefruits ’til the metaphorical cows come home—this time, I don’t even think a carnitas burrito would tempt me to do otherwise. And that, darlings, is how I know I’ve struck gold this time.

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