THE BLOG
08/31/2016 11:57 am ET Updated Sep 01, 2017

5 Things I Learned In My First Year As A Vegan

A photo posted by nzinga young🌱 (@veganzinga) on

Going vegan has been a learning process.

Learning the atrocities of the meat and dairy industries and living more ethically are part of it, but here are other things I learned during my first year as an ethical vegan.

Exploitation is everywhere.

I was on vacation when I realized the $5 I paid to take a picture with a python was supporting its captivity. Colored candies I bought for my niece seemed vegan at the time, but were probably dyed with bug juice. Getting my sunscreen and multivitamins right was hard enough, but every few months I learned something new.

I didn't realize how pervasive animal exploitation is in our culture.

I didn't realize how pervasive animal exploitation is in our culture until I had to become more mindful. I'm a lot better now, but I'm sure there are a few more "uh oh" moments left in me.

Vegans are nicer in person.

My experiences with vegans online and offline have been very different.

Some online vegans can be pretty intense. Honest questions from aspiring vegans and differing views from well-meaning people are subject to brutal criticism in Facebook groups. There are more great vegans on social media than unnecessarily judgmental ones, but I have yet to meet a rude vegan offline.

The people I've met have been lovely. We can discuss differing opinions without raising our voices. We may not always agree, but we honor and respect each other for being different parts of the same fight.

I'm not sure if the anonymity of the internet makes people bolder or if I'm not in the right circles, but my view of vegans changed for the better when I started connecting in person.

A photo posted by nzinga young🌱 (@veganzinga) on

Activists are trying their best.

If you maintain a consistent argument and fight for full liberation, you're called a rigid abolitionist who's too stuck in your ways.

If you work for incremental change and improved conditions for farm animals, you're called a dirty welfarist who's doing more harm than good.

And let's not get started on vegans who urge us to consider the human rights issues tied into animal exploitation.

As a new vegan, I started to believe these reviews of vegan thought leaders, but I have yet to meet anyone from differing camps who wasn't passionate about animal liberation. The methods may differ from person to person, but the ultimate goal of freedom for all animals seems to be the same.

Connecting with vegans helped me formulate my own opinion about the biggest names in the movement. I may still disagree with their tactics -- especially ones that disrespect other social justice movements -- but everyone seems to be making an impact the best way they know how.

Intersectionality matters.

With a situation as dire as systematic murder, it's easy to focus solely on what's best for non-human animals. That's why it's important to have vegan organizations with a broader perspective. Groups that understand all oppression is intertwined and remind us that fighting for animals doesn't mean disregarding other injustices.

Collectively Free protests the forced impregnation of dairy cows and the underpaid Ethiopian workers that keep your favorite coffee shop in business.

Food Empowerment Project reminds us that the factory farm employees we often vilify are also being exploited.

Veganism is certainly about animals, but it doesn't mean we disrespect our own species along the way.

Veganism is certainly about animals, but it doesn't mean we disrespect our own species along the way.

I should be doing more.

I spent a lot of this year buying vegan without being vegan. I was caught up in vegan consumerism without doing anything to inspire change. I hope my latest initiative helps vegans everywhere get those closest to them to understand the importance of a vegan lifestyle.

My goal is to have a bigger impact during my second year of veganism. For more on my initiative to get our friends and family to go vegan, visit Wanyama Box.