Going Plant-Based: A Revelation for Body, Mind, and Spirit

Brightly colored vegetables
Photo by Chantal Garnier on Unsplash

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. 

Awakening

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.

Vegan Thanksgiving

Colorful wild turkey with full plumage
Photo by William Stark on Unsplash

My past Thanksgivings were centered around a feast shared with loved ones, in which a turkey was the central part of the meal.  When I adopted a plant-based diet nearly 14 years ago, it changed how I view Thanksgiving and what this holiday means to me.  I still look forward to the shared meal with family.  But now I see the true meaning of Thanksgiving as a celebration of values such as compassion, appreciation, and gratitude.

Here are some ideas for enjoying a compassionate Thanksgiving:

  • Rather than eating a turkey, “adopt” oneFarm Sanctuary (which has shelters in New York State and California) offers the option of symbolically adopting a rescued turkey by making a small donation.  The funds provide food and care for turkeys who live at the shelter.  Farm Sanctuary sends a certificate that includes the picture and story of your adopted turkey. 
  • Visit the Celebration for the Turkeys (also offered by Farm Sanctuary).  In past years, it has been an in-person celebration, where guests ate a vegan meal, and served a meal to the turkeys as well.  This year, the celebration was held virtually.   Check out a video of the festivities here.
  • Enjoy an abundant feast from the plant kingdom.  For Thanksgiving meals shared with family, I like to create vegan versions of traditional favorites.  This year, my husband and I will be contributing roasted garlic mashed potatoes and parsnips; mushroom gravy; cornbread stuffing with mushrooms, nuts, and dried fruit; cranberry-orange relish; and chocolate pecan pie.  There are many great vegan Thanksgiving recipes available on-line.  Here are a few websites to check out:
  • Consider a meat alternative.  Gardein, Tofurky, and Field Roast offer plant-based holiday roasts you can enjoy.  I personally find that I am full and satisfied with all the great home-cooked dishes, so I don’t always include this.  But these options can provide a satisfying centerpiece to replace the turkey.
  • Connect with your reasons for eating plant-based.  Some of us go plant-based for health, others for ethical or environmental reasons.  I was influenced by all of these considerations, but the reason I have stayed plant-based is due to compassion for all sentient beings.  According to a 2017 statistic, approximately 45 to 46 million turkeys are bred and killed each year in the US for Thanksgiving alone.  Commercially raised turkeys are bred to be much heavier than wild turkeys, live in confined conditions, and are slaughtered at only 12 to 19 weeks old.  Taking in these realities (and discovering the abundance of delicious, healthy plant-based options) made me realize that I no longer wanted or needed to participate in this. 
  • Consider what Thanksgiving means to you.  Take time to explore your deeper meaning for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Many of us follow old traditions out of habit, rather than making a conscious decision about how we want to enjoy our holidays.  This may be a perfect year to reevaluate your holidays, what they mean to you, and how you want to celebrate them.  Maybe you will want to keep some old traditions, modify others, and create new ones.
  • Practice gratitude.  I am reminding myself this Thanksgiving to appreciate all the blessings in my life, and to share that appreciation with others.  Even in the midst of what is a challenging time for so many, we all have reasons for gratitude.  And there are many health and psychological benefits of making a daily practice of acknowledging our blessings.
  • Make kind and compassionate purchases.  One way of appreciating our blessings is to pass them on to others.  While we may be more limited in our social contacts (and our finances) this holiday season, we can still find meaningful ways to give back.  In addition to donating time or money to causes that we care about, we can extend compassion to sentient beings and to workers by researching fair trade, cruelty-free, and health-promoting choices for our food and gift purchases.  Our decision to extend compassion to others is a win-win situation, because ultimately it brings more health, fulfillment, and joy back to us.

WISHING YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES A HEALTHY, JOYFUL, AND COMPASSIONATE THANKSGIVING!

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist, transformational coach, and vegan lifestyle educator.

To learn more about my plant-based journey, check out this article.

For vegan resources, book suggestions, and websites, check out my resource page.

Navigating Social Challenges on the Vegan Path

Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash

I was at a birthday gathering with my husband’s family only a couple of weeks after going vegan.  After several years as a vegetarian, a series of awakening experiences led me to adopt a fully vegan lifestyle.  But it was still new to me.   I was still coming to terms internally with all that I was learning.

I found myself at a loss – how do I graciously decline the birthday cake, without making a big scene?

I was committed to this path, but I was still processing everything I had learned….about dairy cows, egg laying hens, and the cruelty inherent in the animal “products” we use in daily life.  I didn’t feel ready to verbalize any of it – especially at a birthday party.

I had been vegetarian for 12 years for ethical reasons, and my decision to not eat animal flesh had been accepted by my loved ones.  From early in my vegetarian journey, I limited dairy and eggs, primarily eating them only in social situations.  But after opening my eyes and heart to the many forms of cruelty to animals, I committed to living as compassionately as possible in my choices of food, clothing, cosmetics, and household items.

And now, as I approached the birthday gathering, so soon after my vegan decision, I wondered how I would handle the inevitable cake made with eggs and dairy.  Even though I was deeply committed to all that veganism represented, I couldn’t say the “V” word.   I found the word “vegan” frozen on my lips. 

I wondered why it was so hard to say it aloud to people in general, much less my loved ones. It seemed that it shouldn’t be so difficult.  But, in reflecting, I realized that I was still overwhelmed by what I had learned:

  • The lives of dairy cows, so far removed from the bucolic scenes shown on milk cartons
  • The reality that cows don’t just “give” their milk—it’s meant for a baby calf, who is taken away soon after birth
  • The crowded and cruel conditions for commercial egg-laying hens (even those advertised as “free range”)
  • The slaughter process that is the end fate for all of these animals

All of these images still burned deeply in my mind.

I didn’t know what to say or how to explain it to others. I didn’t want to ruin the party. I didn’t want to stand out and be different. I didn’t want to make things difficult for others. I didn’t want to come across as judgmental. I didn’t want to be judged by others who didn’t understand veganism.

At that particular birthday party, I was not yet ready to speak up.  With my husband’s support, I managed to avoid eating the cake, and no one else seemed to notice.  However, while I succeeded in abstaining from the non-vegan cake and at the same time avoiding potential conflict with others, I became aware of an internal conflict…between the desire to live consistently with my values and the desire to fit in socially

I realized that in order to successfully live a vegan lifestyle, I would need to develop a plan for handling social situations.

In those early weeks and months of being vegan, I found myself going through a process of ambivalence and re-commitment to my path.  I would read something or watch a documentary, and be deeply distressed about what I was learning.  But then, in social situations, I would be drawn to the path of least resistance, remaining silent.

Almost as if in a trance, I would fall back into old, familiar ways of thinking—and lose connection with my deep values and commitment.  And yet, as I observed my inner struggle with compassion, ultimately I was able to stay committed to making this change.  I realized that ambivalence and the desire to return to what feels familiar are often part of the process of lasting change.

For another social event, about a month later, I had time to prepare my approach.  I spoke to the hostess ahead of time, and explained my decision to go vegan.  I let her know that I would like to bring something vegan to the gathering.  I was anxious initially, not sure how she would respond.  But she was very supportive, and even expressed admiration about my lifestyle.

Through those early weeks and months, I learned to come to terms with my identity as a vegan.  I committed to honoring my values, even when others didn’t see what I saw, even when I felt isolated or misunderstood, even when it was inconvenient.  There was an internal transformation that was necessary before I found more ease in sharing my food and lifestyle choices with others. 

Research suggests that I am not alone in my fears about challenging the status quo. Social stigma and negative perceptions from others are very real concerns among vegans. And yet, mastering these fears and learning to speak up with others are essential to thriving as a vegan. 

Here are some tips for navigating the social waters:

  • Stay connected to your reasons for going vegan.  Most of us have been conditioned to eat animals and to view this as “natural, normal, and necessary”.  It takes time to undo this conditioning, and it takes courage to walk a new path that others may not understand.  Watching documentaries, reading books, checking out vegan websites, and connecting with other vegans will provide support and encouragement as you embark on this new way of living.
  • Recognize that your needs matter.  I had fears about being seen as difficult or demanding by eating in a way that was different than others.  Gradually I realized that my personal needs and desires mattered, too.  We help no one by negating our own well-being or deeper values.
  • Identify the situations that are most challenging for you and develop an action plan.  Social events, travel, and eating out can be difficult for new vegans.  Rather than leaving it to chance, or figuring it out in the moment, be proactive in planning a strategy.  For example, instead of hoping there will be something you can eat at that social event, bring delicious vegan food you can eat and share with others.  When eating out, call ahead or take the waiter aside to ask about vegan options.  When travelling, bring healthy snacks, just in case. 
  • Find the right time and place to share your veganism with others.   Not everyone will be open to your discoveries about animal cruelty, or about the health or environmental benefits of plant-based eating.  And sitting at the dinner table is not the best time or place to share these discoveries with others. Consider sharing about your veganism prior to the meal or gathering, or in a private conversation at another time.
  • Learn good communication skills.  Beyond Beliefs, by Dr. Melanie Joy, is an excellent book about initiating constructive conversations with others.  She also teaches the importance of having vegan allies, people in your life who may not be fully vegan, but who support you and stand with you in your decision.
  • Others may surprise you in positive ways.  Many of my fears about others’ reactions were unfounded.  When I shared from a place of authenticity and non-judgment, others were supportive.  In fact, it often led to interesting conversations and greater closeness, even when the other person was not personally ready to embrace veganism. Many later asked for guidance on how to eat more plant-based.
  • Bring joyfulness to your vegan journey.  Whatever your reason for going vegan, whether out of concern about animals, the planet, or your own health, there is great peace, joy, and freedom that comes from honoring your deepest values.  Rather than deprivation, many vegans experience a surprising sense of affirmation, abundance, and possibility. And this is something we naturally want to share with others.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist, transformational coach, and vegan lifestyle educator.

Need support on your plant-based journey?  Check out these resources, websites, and book recommendations for guidance and information.

Boost Your Mood with Plant-Powered Nutrition

Person sitting on bench, looking downcast, with sunset in the background.
Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

For many of us, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented stress—from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives, to extreme weather and natural disasters, to racial injustice and political divisions. Rates of depression in the US have increased more than threefold since the onset of the pandemic in March.  Levels of anxiety and stress have also escalated.  

What can help us maintain emotional equilibrium during this challenging time?  In addition to seeking professional help when needed, there are also many lifestyle changes that can support us in feeling better emotionally.  For example, exercise and meditation are well-known practices for reducing depression and improving mood.  Social connections and engaging in pleasurable activities are also beneficial.

The impact of nutrition on mental health is often overlooked. When I became vegan, I wondered if a plant-based diet, which has been shown to prevent and reverse many physical diseases, also had an impact on emotional well-being.   As I dove into the research, I discovered that the same plant-strong diet that contributes to a healthier immune system and that lessens risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer is also helpful for improving our mental health and emotional states.

In brief, here are some of the research findings:

  • Several studies found that individuals who ate more servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis scored higher on measures of emotional well-being, life satisfaction, and happiness, compared to those who ate lesser amounts. The high intake of fruits and veggies was also associated with less depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. These studies suggest that 7 to 10 servings per day may be optimal.
  • Fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with greater emotional flourishing, including sense of meaning, purpose, curiosity, and creativity.  In one study, young adults who ate more servings of fruits and veggies scored higher on these measures than those who consumed less.  And the same individuals reported higher levels of these positive mood states on the days they ate more fruits and vegetables compared to the days they ate lesser amounts.
  • Cross-sectional studies that assessed mood states in vegans and vegetarians found lower levels of depression, anxiety, and emotional distress compared to omnivores. 
  • Omnivores who were asked to eliminate meat, poultry, and fish had improved mood scores after two weeks on a vegetarian diet, compared to control subjects who continued eating meat.
  • In yet another study, participants who ate a vegan diet as part of an intervention for health and weight loss not only had improved health measures, but also had decreased depression and anxiety and improved emotional well-being compared to control subjects who did not change their diet.

Why does a plant-based diet seem to help mood?  Research suggests that the nutrients and antioxidants in plant foods promote a healthy balance of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain.  In addition, plant foods have been shown to be anti-inflammatory, which appears to have a beneficial impact on mood.  In contrast, meat, eggs, and dairy are associated with higher levels of inflammatory compounds, which may negatively impact mental and emotional states.

So maybe we should be “prescribing” 7 to 10 servings of fruits and veggies per day (along with other plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds) to lessen the risk of depression and anxiety, as well as to improve our capacity to cope well emotionally with daily life challenges.  

On a personal level, I have enjoyed greater overall happiness since starting a plant-based diet many years ago.  I believe that part of the benefit is due to a much healthier, high-nutrient diet, with fewer processed and inflammatory foods, as the research above would suggest. 

But there are also benefits beyond the biochemical effects of my food.  Choosing not to eat animal flesh or products, and to eat only plant foods has added joy, freedom, creativity, and peace, along with a sense of lightness and inner alignment.   (For more on my plant-based journey, see this article).

There are many things we don’t have control over that may impact our stress level, our mood, and our coping.  But we can make choices each day to support our emotional resilience and well-being.   We can create a lifestyle that includes exercise, meditation, social connections, and positive activities.  And we can make a conscious choice to increase our daily intake of nutrient-dense plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, while decreasing foods that promote inflammation.

I invite you to a challenge—if you are eating less than the recommended amounts of fruits and veggies, how about committing to eating more over the next two weeks and see how this impacts your health, energy, and emotional state?

Brightly colored vegetables in produce department
Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

Consider tracking your daily intake of nutrient-dense fruits and veggies with the Daily Dozen app created by Dr. Michael Greger. 

Wanting to eat healthier, but concerned about food costs?   Check out these resources for plant-powered eating on a budget.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist, transformational coach, and vegan lifestyle educator.

Note: A revised and updated version of this article (Flourishing Emotionally with Plant-Powered Nutrition) was published on the Main Street Vegan Blog (March 30, 2021).

How Veganism Inspired Me to Find My Voice

Three cows with tags on their ears
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Throughout my life, I have been an introvert.  I’ve always relished solitude, and preferred small groups to large crowds.  I dreaded public speaking and hesitated to express my opinion, especially if it conflicted with others.  This is a story of how I transformed from someone who avoided public speaking to becoming empowered to express what matters deeply to me.

I initially chose a career in journalism because of my love for writing.  However, I discovered that news reporting did not fit my reserved nature.  I was fascinated by psychology, and changed majors in the middle of my junior year of college.  I went on to complete a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology.

Now, a few decades later, I am grateful for this heart-guided choice.   I found work that I loved and that fit with my interests, gifts, and introspective nature.   However, the day-to-day demands of my work as a psychotherapist didn’t leave much time or energy to pursue my dream of writing.  And looking back, perhaps I was not yet inspired to overcome the perceived obstacles.

An Awakening

But then I learned about something that became so meaningful, compelling, and life-changing, it has continued to impact me and to make me more fully human, more fully me.  It gave me a sense of purpose and passion to make a difference.  And over time, I came to realize that it impacts all of humanity, including physical health, emotional and spiritual well-being, and the survival of the planet.  No longer could I keep this to myself as a private revelation.

This discovery started in December 2006, a few weeks after my 40th birthday.  I was watching a program on PBS which had a segment featuring workers in a meat processing plant.  These employees endured difficult working conditions and frequent occupational injuries.  They were coerced not to report their injuries but rather to continue working or face the threat of losing their jobs and income.  The program did not show any gory details of “meat processing,” but I was deeply unsettled.   Maybe it particularly struck me because at the time, I was employed in a pain management program, working with patients who suffered devastating emotional, physical, and financial impacts from work-related injuries.   

I also recognized that if I didn’t like how the workers were treated, I would be appalled if I saw the slaughter process or how the animals were treated.  For the first time in my life, I began to consider the systems that produced my food.

Obviously, on some level I knew that meat came from animals and that they were killed in order to become what I called food.  However, like many of us, I was very disconnected from this process.  Although I grew up in Iowa, surrounded by farms, I didn’t know about factory farming.  I knew only a few vegetarians, and I didn’t understand why anyone would choose that lifestyle.   At that time, I wasn’t much of a cook, and I ate a lot of microwave meals and comfort foods.  I couldn’t imagine taking on the effort of cooking and meal planning, much less learning how to eat and cook in an entirely new way.  

After watching the PBS program, a door of possibility opened.  The very next day, I went to Barnes and Noble, bought my first vegetarian cookbook, and tried out a recipe for roasted red pepper and artichoke lasagna.  Because I was such a novice at cooking, I had to drive to K-Mart mid-way through the recipe to purchase appropriate pots and pans.  The lasagna turned out to be delicious, full of vibrant colors and sumptuous flavors.  I shared it with my boyfriend’s family, and it got rave reviews.  Wow, who knew I could cook?

I went on to read every book in my local library about vegetarianism.  I read about plant-based nutrition, to make sure I was covering all of my nutritional bases.  I also read about the ethical and environmental impact of animal agriculture.  I found myself captivated, and at times horrified, by what I was learning.

At first, I still ate meat when it was served at social gatherings.  However, at home I was eating vegetarian, and for the first time in my life, found that I enjoyed cooking.  I realized I had never liked handling meat, but thought that it was necessary for my health and well being.  I began going to the health food store and buying spices and condiments I had never used before.  I expanded my food palette and found new freedom, joy, and creativity.

I continued reading about vegetarian ethics and lifestyle.  Gradually, I took in that despite what my upbringing and culture had taught me, I did not need meat to thrive physically.  I learned that plant-based diets have been shown to reverse heart disease, diabetes, and many forms of cancer and auto-immune disease.  But what impacted me the most were the stories about how the animals are bred, raised, and slaughtered, and the cruelty and pain inherent in every step of the process.   At that point, I knew I needed to speak my truth: “I’m no longer eating meat.” 

A Deeper Commitment

Over the months and years following my decision to be vegetarian, I came to understand that all forms of animal products involve pain and cruelty.  I started to limit dairy products, and discovered that I was free of chronic seasonal allergies when I did so.  I knew that becoming vegan was the right next step for me to more fully honor my deepest values.  And yet, in spite of my desire to embrace veganism, at times a kind of hypnosis took over, where I felt myself pulled back into eating what was familiar.  And since dairy and eggs are often “invisible” components of baked goods and other foods, I found it hard to explain my decision to not partake in these foods at social gatherings.

I knew I needed support, and so once again, I turned to reading.  Books such as  The 30 Day Vegan Challenge and Main Street Vegan helped me with many practical skills for living a vegan lifestyle:  How to make delicious breakfasts and baked goods without eggs; how to find cruelty free cosmetics and cleaning products; and where to buy shoes and coats not made from leather, wool, or down.  I also learned skills for communicating with others about my choices.

I took in the reality that the living conditions for dairy cows and egg-laying hens are as cruel as those endured by animals raised for meat, and that at the end of their relatively short lives, they go through the same slaughter process.   Gradually, I broke through the deep layers of emotional disconnection and social conditioning.  At that point, there was no going back.

Finding My Voice

Speaking up does not come easily or naturally to me.  Yet my passion for veganism, for animals, for our health, and for the environment compels me to do so.  Most of all, I long to share the freedom and joy I have found through a plant-powered lifestyle.   When I stopped eating animals and embraced the bounty of the plant kingdom, I became freed in ways I hadn’t anticipated.  I was freed from past food preferences, habits, and addictions that weren’t healthy for me.  I was freed from the subconscious weight of killing sentient beings for my daily sustenance. 

Veganism is a path of listening to our heart’s guidance to extend compassion to all of creation.  We have the power to vote for what we believe in through how we spend our money and what we choose to eat.  Each day, through these choices, we can honor our deepest values of vibrant health and well-being, a thriving planet, and compassion and justice for all.

An array of brightly colored vegetables
Photo by Chantal Garnie on Unsplash

Interested in moving toward a plant-based diet? Check out these resources and book recommendations for guidance, information, and support.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist, transformational coach, and vegan lifestyle educator.

The Stages of Becoming a Compassionate Vegan

Photo by Leon Ephraïm on Unsplash

Growing up in Iowa, farm country, I had not given much thought to how the food I ate was produced.  Like many of us, I had been raised to believe that meat and dairy were necessary for my health and survival.   I only knew a few vegetarians or vegans, and didn’t understand why someone would choose a lifestyle that seemed so difficult and restrictive.  I was unaware of factory farming. I saw the cows that grazed in fields…I didn’t see the large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and slaughterhouses that were kept out of sight.

How did I go from “I can’t imagine being vegan—and what do they eat anyway?” to becoming an ethical vegan?  And what supports me (and others) in maintaining this lifestyle in a society that is often at odds with our commitment?  An approach that has been helpful for understanding the process of health and behavior change is the Transtheoretical Model of Change, developed by psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente.    The stages identified in this model are:  Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance, and Termination.

Until 13 years ago, I had no real impetus to shift my way of eating. This initial Precontemplation stage is often overlooked, and we may expect ourselves or others to be ready for immediate action.  However, most of us, at one time, were NOT READY for change.  Perhaps we didn’t have awareness of the benefits of a plant-based diet.  Or perhaps the perceived burden of change outweighed the potential benefits.

Often, there is some information or life event such as a health scare that awakens us into greater readiness for change.  My shift into the next stage, Contemplation, occurred when I watched a program about workers in “meat processing plants.”  These employees described frequent occupational injuries, and felt coerced to work even when injured, due to fear of losing their jobs.  The program did not show any gory details of the slaughter process.  However, the glimpse into the lives of the workers was enough to make me re-evaluate my food choices.  The next day I bought my first vegetarian cookbook.  From there, I went on to read every book in my local library about vegetarian and vegan issues, and learned about factory farming and the treatment of farmed animals.  I also learned about the health benefits of plant-based nutrition.  I did not become vegan (or even fully vegetarian) right away, but I began to try out new foods and new ways of cooking.  

My movement into Preparation occurred when I had taken in enough information that my commitment to change outweighed the perceived negatives.  I now had a strong enough emotional connection to my reasons for going vegan to overcome years of cultural conditioning.  For me, the biggest challenge was handling social situations where vegan food wasn’t readily available.  I prepared by strengthening my communication skills, and problem-solving how I would meet my needs in those situations.

In the Action stage, we learn how to shift old ways of doing things.  We foster supportive social networks and modify our environment to remove tempting triggers that may undermine our commitment.  For me, this included meal planning so that I had healthy plant-based meals and snacks always available, joining a local vegetarian group, and continuing to read and learn so that I stayed connected to my reasons for a plant-powered lifestyle.

We may believe that once we have taken action, we are set.  However, in order for change to be lasting, we must create structures that will nurture our new lifestyle through times of stress, when we are most at risk for falling into familiar, unhealthy patterns of coping.  The keys to Maintenance include preparing for situations that challenge our commitment, learning from setbacks, and celebrating the positives of our new lifestyle.

In the final stage (Termination), we have mastered challenging situations and have built the confidence to navigate them.  We’ve learned to provide for our needs in daily food choices, and to handle travel and social situations.  Now our commitment is so ingrained, it’s hard to imagine any other way of living. 

As imperfect humans, our progress may be incremental, and we may cycle or re-cycle through these stages.  Setbacks are a normal part of the change process, and we can view them as learning opportunities instead of failures. For me personally, it was difficult to stick to my intentions when I was in challenging social situations, and I was a vegetarian for several years before becoming fully vegan.  However, no matter where we are in the process, we can always commit and recommit to honoring our deepest values.

NOTE: This article was initially written for the Main Street Vegan Academy Blog