When a friend in user experience asked for “tips on moving to veganism,” I realized I have a lot to say. So this is my story. It’s not advice. I only know what works for me.
Look for the Levers
In my late thirties, I was overweight and out of shape with high cholesterol. I entered a 5K on a whim. It was fun, and afterwards, my sister-in-law inspired me to try a 10 miler. Around the same time, a film on factory farming left me uneasy about my diet, so I read Eating Animals. The book changed my life by arousing a physical and moral revulsion to industrial animal agriculture from which I will never recover. Disgust is a mighty lever.
But it’s not the only one. I credit my endurance to the embrace of multiple motivations. I am veganish for all the reasons: health, animals, environment. A plant-based diet helped me finish marathons and triathlons. It’s why I’m healthier in my fifties than in my thirties. My diet is selfless and selfish. Eating plants is How Not to Die.
On the Spectrum
Classification is dangerous, especially when the objects are subjects. That’s why I don’t call myself a vegan. The category implies purity. I say I’m high on the vegan spectrum. It may be clumsy but invites curiosity and is closer to what the Buddha called right speech.
At first, I called myself a flexitarian. I cut out meat, mostly, but I couldn’t imagine giving up milk, cheese, or eggs. Years later, I found the move to oat milk surprisingly easy. Now the idea of cow’s milk turns my stomach. Disgust is a lever for making good habits stick.
Still, on occasion, I sneak cheese and eat eggs from our hens. While I am a sympathizer, I’m not an abolitionist. I’m with Voltaire: “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Once in a while, I need a vacation from myself. To go the distance, compassion to self is vital.
Honesty and Humility
How I treat animals is who I am. It’s an uncomfortable truth. I am kind. I am cruel. All too often, I look the other way. Guilt is integral to being human. It hurts, and that’s okay.
My main regret in becoming veganish is using unkind words to shock family members into dietary change. People get angry. Heels dig in. It never works. And as Maya Angelou warns, “people will never forget how you made them feel.” I learned that the hard way.
I also learned not to hide. Upon being invited to dinner, I tried not telling my hosts. I ate what they served. And it was bad. Not the food, but the fraud. While it’s uncomfortable to impose one’s dietary preferences upon friends and family, it’s worse to stay in the closet.
What I Eat
My wife is horrified by my diet. It’s healthy yet monotonous. Breakfast is granola with fruit, nuts, and flaxseed in oat milk; and black coffee. Oh, and I pop a B12 from time to time to ward off the brain rot. For lunch and dinner, I rotate bean and rice burritos, vegetarian chili, and broccoli stir fry. Occasionally, I’ll have beans on toast with fried egg or an impossible burger or spaghetti bolognese with vegan sausage. I know from dining out that vegan food can be delicious and diverse. But I’m a lazy chef.
I could go on. I’m an animal philosopher. I’m writing a novel about our relationships with animals. But I’m mindful of the jokes. How can you tell if someone’s vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you, again and again and again. So I’ll keep it short. That’s my story of gentle change, and I’m sticking to it. Your veganishness may vary. Good luck!