Going vegan was the best New Year’s resolution I ever made. To be honest, it wasn’t really a resolution. It was more of a quest that unfolded over time.
I discovered that going plant-based is a transformation that leads to so much more than a surface level change in diet. It brings the joy and freedom of living aligned with deeply held values, eating food that nourishes physical and emotional well-being. Through veganism, we begin to create the world we want to see. We join others to become a movement seeking a world of health, compassion, peace, and sustainability.
Moving toward the values embodied in veganism holds answers for many of the challenges we face globally and collectively. Although there is much in our world that we cannot control, we can choose to eat in ways that create positive change.
If you have been considering a plant-based diet or going vegan, there is no better time than now. Whether your goal is better health, enhancing your fitness, helping the planet or animals, or lessening the likelihood of future pandemics, moving toward a plant-powered lifestyle has benefits for mind, body, and spirit.
Planting seeds and opening up possibility
While the shift to a vegan lifestyle can occur “overnight,” often it involves a more gradual process of awakening. For many years, I was not ready to consider plant-based eating. I didn’t understand why it would be beneficial. I believed what I had been taught—that I needed meat and dairy for my health. I didn’t know about the Blue Zones, cultures where people eat a primarily plant-based diet, and live long, active, and healthy lives free of many of the diseases that plague Western nations. I didn’t know about Dr. Dean Ornish’s research showing that heart disease can be prevented and reversed with a vegetarian diet. I didn’t know about the elite athletes who have thrived on a plant-powered diet.
And I was deeply disconnected from the process of how meat and dairy products arrive in their packages in the grocery store. I was not in touch with the toll that this increasingly industrialized process takes on its workers, or the unspeakable suffering, pain, and cruelty endured by animals bred and raised for food. I also didn’t know about animal agriculture’s devastating impact on greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, aquifer depletion, dead zones in the ocean, and water and air pollution.
In addition, for many years, I couldn’t imagine making healthy dietary changes. During my teens and twenties, it was not uncommon for me to eat a huge bag of chocolates in one sitting. Even when I stopped that pattern in my early thirties, I still ate plenty of sweets and convenience foods.
But gradually I opened up to the possibility of change. I became more invested in health and fitness, and began to eat more fruits and vegetables. And after eating delicious plant-based meals at a conference, I became receptive to the possibility of a meat-free diet.
Many of us initially have blocks to considering a vegan lifestyle, including fears about whether we will get all of the nutrients we need, reluctance to give up foods we enjoy, or concerns about how we will handle social and family gatherings. How do we overcome these resistances and fears? Most of us need a deeper reason for making this level of change. Sometimes a health issue, something we read or see on TV, or information shared by a friend sends us into readiness to consider change.
Whatever the impetus for considering veganism, once the seeds of possibility have been planted, we need to nurture them by seeking out information to inspire and guide us. We don’t yet need to know all the “how-to’s” but we need enough knowledge for change to feel possible and desirable. Documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, What the Health, The Game Changers, and Vegucated, as well as books like The China Study and Food Revolution can catalyze and galvanize this discovery process.
Many vegans describe a process of awakening. For some, it’s the realization that despite the confusing information in the media about nutrition, there is actually a simple answer for how to eat in a way that is healthy and nourishing, a way that makes a lot of sense. For others, it is the realization that if we care about climate change and the environment, the most meaningful action we can take is to eliminate animal products from our diet. And for some, it is awakening to an awareness that the whole system of how farmed animals are bred, raised, and slaughtered is incredibly inhumane. Most of us care about animals, and are deeply concerned if we learn of abuse toward a dog or a cat, but somehow we’ve been taught to disconnect from this inhumanity when it applies to species of animals that we think of as “food.”
My awakening occurred in stages, first through watching a program about slaughterhouse workers, which increased my awareness of how meat was “produced” and the inherent violence and suffering involved. However, for many years, I did not connect with the full scope of animal exploitation. It felt too overwhelming. I found myself pulled into the trance of eating in ways that were socially accepted and familiar. Watching the documentary Earthlings dissolved any remaining ambivalence and disconnection. Although what I saw in the film was deeply upsetting, I felt lighter, freer, and clearer afterward. It strengthened my commitment to honor my deeper knowing and values, even when it was difficult.
During this period of awakening, it can help to have support from others who are vegan, to share your discoveries and to process the feelings that come up. There is excitement, joy, and freedom embarking on this new lifestyle, but it also can feel overwhelming and disheartening when taking in the realities of animal suffering. Consider finding a vegan mentor or support group, such as that offered by Vegan Outreach.
Preparing for your vegan transition
When you have taken in enough information to decide you are ready to move forward, it can be helpful to set a date for making the transition. How much time do you need? Some people are so impacted in the Awakening stage that they literally become vegan overnight. For others, it’s a process of taking gradual steps toward becoming more and more vegan. This is the time to discover delicious new recipes. Learn how to “veganize” your favorite meals, develop vegan baking skills, and try out new, healthy ingredients to stock your pantry and refrigerator. For guidance, check out The 30 Day Vegan Challenge, Main Street Vegan, The VegNews Guide to Being a Fabulous Vegan, or The Vegan Starter Kit.
Finding your vegan groove
To stay strong in your vegan commitment, it helps to continue learning about plant-powered living. There are a multitude of resources to support you, including countless websites, on-line support groups, books, documentaries, and podcasts. (Check out some of the resources that supported my vegan journey). In addition, social support is key to successful, lasting lifestyle change. Continue to build connections with other vegans, and educate non-vegan family and friends, so that they are on-board with your new way of eating.
It’s normal to have ups and downs, times of strong commitment, and times of questioning. Have self-compassion, recognizing that it can be difficult to make a change that may be challenged by family and friends. It takes time to learn how to adapt to the social and practical implications of this new lifestyle.
Trust that with commitment, knowledge, and support, vegan living becomes second nature. Over time, it becomes part of our identity, and for many of us, it is also part of our contribution to the greater well-being of all beings and the planet. It goes beyond being a diet or lifestyle, connecting us with a deep sense of meaning and purpose.
Awakening to our highest values is an act of courage and inner transformation. We are freed from bondage to unhealthy foods as we eat life-nourishing foods. We embark on a path of self-discovery that frees us to be our authentic selves and to discover and express what truly matters to us. And as we do so, we contribute to a more sustainable, just, and compassionate world.
Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist, transformational coach, and vegan lifestyle educator. Her work includes coaching those who feel called to help others, animals, and the planet, empowering them to discover and share their gifts, express themselves authentically, and live in ways that nourish body, mind, and spirit. She also writes and teaches about thriving emotionally with a plant-powered, vegan lifestyle.