Why bother going vegan? Aren't there a million more important things to worry about? What about world peace? What about poverty? What about human suffering? What about plant suffering? Vegans just seem like misguided idealists; moreover, isn't veganism extreme, inconvenient and ultimately only for people who are hippies, animal rights nut jobs or elitist liberals trying to explore a new fad diet?
We know what you're thinking: I try to buy "humanely" raised meat; what's wrong with that? Aren't local and organic meat and dairy products great for the environment? Can't I be a vegetarian (come on, no milk and eggs and NO cheese?) Cows and hens don't have to die for it? Can't I be a pescetarian (fish don't have feelings, right)? Or maybe a flexitarian, or "veganish" (Oprah approves of it)? How will I get my protein? What about calcium? I love the taste of meat and doesn't vegan food taste like feet? How will I ever be able to experience joy in my life knowing I can't eat steak, drink a milkshake or wear a leather jacket? Why, oh why should I even consider this?
You're curious and you know deep inside that this is something you need to think about. It could be because you have a pet and wonder if there's a difference between him/her and the pig that turned into the bacon you ate for breakfast. Maybe you saw an eye-opening video about society's treatment of animals. Or maybe you have been reading about the environmental impact of industrial animal agriculture or the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Whatever the reason may be, the fact that this seems mildly interesting to you means that you have already taken the first step towards thinking vegan. Don't panic! That's a good thing and is reason enough to not turn back now.
The good news is you don't actually need to eat animal flesh or drink animal milk to lead a happy, healthy and productive life, and you certainly don't need to wear animal skin to look good. You can still enjoy the taste of meat, creamy desserts, snacks and stock up your fridge and pantry with all kinds of delicious food. More importantly, you can get enough protein, even calcium, without any animal having to suffer or die for it. Worried about your health? Really? You think not consuming animal products that are full of saturated fat and cholesterol will do your body harm? As long as your idea of vegan food is not eating potato chips, Twizzlers and vegan cupcakes all day, you'll do fine (but trust us, you should eat a good vegan cupcake every now and then).
If you're still concerned, take a supplement or two (which you probably do on any diet). Worried about losing your sense of style if you can't wear leather boots or fancy cashmere sweaters? You can buy all kinds of clothes and accessories, including designer coats and handbags, and fashionable shoes that not only look and feel great, but also won't dampen your karma or your style. Think about it; the only reason we eat and use animals is because we've been doing it for eons and animal-free alternatives did not exist. It is 2011, people; we need to get with the program and evolve!
Veganism is not hard; ever noticed how picky almost every person placing their drink order at Starbucks is? Being vegan isn't that different. So, you'll probably need to ask a few questions while ordering food, read a few labels while buying stuff, deal with a few raised eyebrows and answer a couple of questions about protein and calcium. So what! You don't have to go vegan overnight if you don't want to, but you have to be certain that you're ready to get started. Do some research on recipes and start with a few vegan meals a week. If after a few weeks, you find that your body and mind haven't descended into the depths of hunger and depression, respectively, you can consider doing this long-term and going completely animal-free. Take the time you need, and you will realize that veganism is not a huge sacrifice, but just a matter of making some adjustments to how you cook, shop and order at a restaurant.
Now remember that veganism is more than food, because you don't want to be that person talking about making ethical and ecological food choices while strutting around town in a fur coat, or wearing makeup that's tested on animals. Again, don't obsess over it; just do some basic research into vegan alternatives to various products you use and when you feel comfortable enough, make the switch to the animal-free version. Worried about having to throw away all your leather, wool and other clothes? Don't! No one says you have to get rid of it all the moment you decide to go down the vegan path. If you can afford it, donate your non-vegan stuff and go ahead and embark on a shopping spree. However, realistically, very few can do that, so just wear them out and discard or donate them when you feel like you're ready for a replacement. Relax; the vegan police is not going to fine you!
The amazing part is, your vegan journey has already begun! Why? Because we're pretty certain that you don't exclusively consume animal-based foods for all your meals and don't intentionally buy clothes and other products because they are made with animal ingredients. From our perspective, you're on your way -- you're a part time vegan already. Of course, it may seem convenient to not try harder and accept things the way they are today, but that doesn't make it right. On the other hand, you don't have to turn into a poster child for veganism overnight, either. Just start looking at the bigger picture and make conscious choices that will reduce your overall demand for products that are ecologically and ethically irresponsible. This is exactly why you don't need to be an animal lover, a health freak or a treehugger to think vegan.
Start where you want, but remember that all those Meatless Mondays, humanely raised Tuesdays, organic, cage-free, flexitarian, pescetarian or lacto-ovo vegetarian days are just stepping stones on the path to reducing and ultimately eliminating your consumption of animal products.
Once you acknowledge that with every lifestyle choice, you can help build a smarter future for people, animals and the planet, you will realize that choosing not to think vegan is, in fact, an inconvenient burden to live with.
Follow Nil Zacharias on Twitter.
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Follow Nil Zacharias on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zachariot