6 Keys to Living Your Purpose

Beautiful autumn scene with colorful leaves
Photo by Lucas Calloch on Unsplash

Becoming vegan has been a path of personal transformation for me. When I learned about factory farming and awoke to the immense suffering of farmed animals, I became determined to make changes in my own life to reflect compassion for all sentient beings.  I also wanted to help others move toward and sustain a healthy and compassionate plant-powered lifestyle.

This led to me finding a deeper sense of purpose than I had ever experienced before. I saw that in the choice of what I ate daily, I had power to say No to cruelty and oppression – and “vote” through my choices for a kinder and healthier world.

I also found my Voice. As an introvert, I’ve generally lived a quiet and private life. After becoming vegan a little over 4 years ago, I was trained as a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator through Main Street Vegan Academy (an educational experience I highly recommend). This gave me confidence to share my vegan values with others. I started a blog and website about 3 years ago and began research for a book on the transformative power of a vegan lifestyle. I now speak and teach about the benefits of compassionate vegan living for our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

It gives such deep meaning and fulfillment to live our purpose. And through each of us living our purpose, we contribute to healing our world.

Living our purpose doesn’t mean we will be happy all the time. When we awaken to suffering and injustice, it can be really painful. And yet, research (and personal experience) shows that making choices that are aligned with our values and being guided by our higher purpose is more fulfilling than simply trying to “feel good” all the time.

Here are some keys to living your purpose in a way that is healthy and impactful.  You may want to have a journal to write in as you reflect on these ideas and questions.

1) Notice – what are your passions, what do you care about deeply, what intrigues you, and what makes you curious?

2) Also notice what makes you angry – what feels unjust or not right? What problems in the world around you are most upsetting to you? Where do you feel most called to make a difference?

3) Make a list of your gifts, abilities, and skills. Think of all the different areas in your life where you have shared your gifts. Ask others for input – they may see gifts that you overlook because they come so naturally.

4) Where is the intersection between your passions, your gifts, and the issues that most concern you? Create a list of ways that your gifts can be applied to help the causes you care about. Write down all the ideas you can think of… and then see where you feel the most energy and excitement. Choose one idea to start, take one step forward – and see where it leads. 

5) Don’t forget your own self-care in the process. When we are empathetic to the suffering of others, we can forget or neglect our own well-being. But to be a sustainable and truly impactful advocate, we must include healthy lifestyle practices, have a good support system, and remember our own limits. We are most effective when we take care of ourselves emotionally and physically.  Consider what daily practices will help you stay healthy and well.

6) It helps to be connected to something larger than yourself – whether that be your love of nature, your deepest values, spiritual faith, and/or sense of connection to a Higher Power.  For me personally, a strong spiritual faith and trusting my inner guidance have been integral to finding and sustaining my purpose.  I also have found that it helps to visualize the compassionate world I hope to see – this helps me to stay connected to my larger vision, even during difficult times. To be even more impactful, connect with others who share your vision – we can accomplish more when we collaborate with others.

The vegans I have met through my research have found countless ways to bring their unique passions and gifts toward their vision and purpose.  This includes: Cooking and sharing great vegan food, working for animal protection organizations, coaching, mentoring, activism, gardening, volunteering, creating vegan businesses, artwork, writing, nutritional guidance, and educating others about the benefits of veganism and plant-based living.

There are many ways we can make a difference. Our individual steps may feel small – but when we work together, we create momentum and synergy.  As each of us shares our individual gifts, we are part of a greater whole.  Together, we can envision and create a more compassionate, healthy, and sustainable world.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist and transformational coach. She is passionate about empowering people to create healthy, purposeful lives that nurture mind, body, spirit, and the planet. Dr. Crawford is certified as a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator (through MSVA), and has a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate (T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at e-Cornell). She is currently doing research for a book on the psychological and emotional impacts of a vegan lifestyle. She serves as a psychology advisor for WeDIDit.Health, an on-line community that shares the benefits of a plant-powered lifestyle. She is also a supporting psychology expert for Compassion Rising, a compassion-based educational program. She hosts a YouTube channel, The Vegan Transformation. For additional resources to support your veg journey (e.g., books, websites, documentaries), CLICK HERE.

Awakening Compassion

Mother hen feeding baby chick
Photo by Andrea Lightfoot on Unsplash

We are wired for compassion and empathy.  In spite of all the news stories that display the seemingly uncaring aspects of humanity, compassion for others is part of our biological and psychological wiring.  Indeed, most of us are deeply concerned when others are suffering – and when possible, want to lessen their suffering.

This includes caring for animals – it breaks our hearts to see animals being harmed or abused.

We adore our companion animals, who are beloved members of the family.  We do whatever we can to ensure their well-being, often spending a great deal of time, energy, and money toward this end.

And at the same time, we’ve been conditioned to turn away from the suffering of farmed animals who are part of our food system.

We become numb, desensitized, or blind to the inherent cruelty and suffering of this system.

For most of my life, I was blind to what happened to the animals that became my food.  I didn’t allow myself to think about it – perhaps because I didn’t believe I had a choice.  I thought animal-based foods were necessary for my health – after all, that is what I was taught in school, by authority figures, and in articles I read. 

It wasn’t until I had the experience of eating delicious plant-based food at a conference center that I realized that eating vegan was not only possible but also could be highly enjoyable.

A few months later, I learned about the horrors of factory farming.  At that point, I was no longer closed off to learning about what happened to “food” animals – I was deeply compelled to read everything I could about this topic.

I’ll never forget reading Diet for a New America early on my veg journey.  As the author, John Robbins, described the conditions in which farm animals lived, the slaughter process, and the health and environmental consequences of animal agriculture, I was greatly distressed.  I wondered, how could I have not seen this or known this before?

I made the decision to go vegetarian, and then years later, vegan, and haven’t looked back.

My heightened awareness of the plight of animals in our food system (and other systems such as research) has caused me emotional distress – especially when I acknowledge the scope of suffering caused by animal agriculture (i.e., about 80 billion land animals slaughtered per year worldwide).  And yet, awakening my compassion has brought so much that is positive.

I feel more alive, authentic, free, and true to myself since opening my awareness and compassion – and choosing to become vegan.

Many other vegans also report this experience.  I have been surveying and interviewing vegans as part of my book research on the emotional, social, and spiritual impacts of a vegan lifestyle.  This awakening of empathy and compassion was noted by my research participants as a major factor that has contributed to greater overall psychological well-being. 

As expressed by one participant:  “My daily life is filled with peace, compassion, and equanimity, knowing that I am not harming other sentient beings.

Another noted, “I’ve become my best self through empathy.”

Benefits of compassion

Compassion is not only good for those we want to help – but is beneficial for us as well.  It is linked to numerous positive psychological outcomes:

  • Increased happiness
  • Decreased depression
  • Greater resilience
  • Improved social connection
  • Better relationships
  • Decreased burn-out and PTSD symptoms
  • Better mental health

In addition, compassion toward animals can be an important indicator of how we treat other humans.  There is recognition in the mental health field that animal cruelty is a predictor of violence against humans, while compassion and tenderness toward animals is associated with healthy prosocial behaviors.

What blocks our compassion for farmed animals?

Given that compassion is beneficial, and that we are wired to empathize, what blocks our compassion for farmed animals?  Below are some of the contributing factors. (To delve into this question more deeply, I encourage you to read Dr. Melanie Joy’s book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows).

  • We often don’t see the plight of farmed animals.  Most slaughterhouses and factory farms are well-hidden from public view.  Further, there are ag-gag laws that prevent journalists from taking photos or videos inside these facilities (except for those who courageously film undercover videos).
  • We are raised and conditioned to develop relationships with certain types of animals, but not others.  For example, we are taught to care about the birds who visit our bird feeders but not to think about chickens or turkeys raised for food.
  • We learn to dissociate animal “products” (e.g., a package of meat in the supermarket) from the living, sentient beings they once were.
  • Many of our educators, doctors, parents, leaders, and other authority figures have instructed us that we need meat and dairy to thrive. 
  • It can be painful to connect with our compassion and to witness the suffering of others.  It moves us out of our comfort zone.

How do we awaken compassion for the animals in our food system?

Below are a few suggestions:

  • Visit a farm sanctuary.  This gives the opportunity to meet farmed animals close-up. You discover firsthand that these sentient beings have personalities, intelligence, feelings, social relationships, and preferences (just as our companion animals do).  For me personally, Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY has played a huge role in awakening and nurturing my compassion for these rescued animals (and for their brothers and sisters in the food system). 
  • Connect with healthy, positive vegan role models – who show that veganism is not only possible and sustainable, but also transformational.  If you don’t know any vegans in your immediate network, join vegan or plant-based groups locally or on-line.  Once we have vegan supports, and we learn how to thrive with a plant-based lifestyle, it is easier to open our compassion for the sentient beings in the animal agriculture system.  This also empowers us to inspire others to open their hearts as well.
  • Be compassionate to yourself.  It can be challenging to connect with the pain and suffering in the world – and sometimes it can feel like too much.  Especially for empaths, who may be greatly impacted by animal suffering and feel responsible for stopping the suffering.  Include yourself in your circle of compassion, and prioritize healthy self-care, a good support system, and sustainable ways to act on your compassion.  There are many helpful groups and resources to help you with self-care and self-kindness on your journey to living and expressing your compassion.  Check out my resource list for books, podcasts, and educational resources.

Reconnecting with my natural compassion was one of the greatest gifts that being vegan has given me.  Experiencing compassion for all sentient beings brings more meaning and fullness to our human experience – and moves us toward creating a healthier, kinder, and more sustainable world where all can flourish. 

NOTE: An adapted version of this article was published on the Main Street Vegan blog 4/18/2023.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist and transformational coach. She is passionate about empowering people to create healthy, purposeful lives that nurture mind, body, spirit, and the planet. Dr. Crawford is certified as a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and has a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at e-Cornell. She is currently doing research for a book on the psychological and emotional benefits of a vegan lifestyle. She serves as a psychology advisor for WeDIDit.Health, an on-line community that shares the benefits of a plant-powered lifestyle. She is also a supporting psychology expert for Compassion Rising, a compassion-based educational program.

The Healing Power of Vegan Values

Trees in forest, with sunlight streaming through
Photo by Jacek Smoter on Unsplash

Like many of us, I have always loved animals.  As a child, I adored my pet cat, and I had a family of stuffed dogs that I took with me everywhere.  I also didn’t like to see any animal (or insect) suffering – I remember once rescuing a grasshopper that was floating in the lake where I was swimming.  I let it jump onto my raft and brought it back to shore.

Even though I loved animals, I was raised to believe that meat and dairy were necessary for my health and well-being.  I enjoyed the meals my mother cooked, which generally involved some sort of meat, potatoes, and vegetables in a cheese or butter sauce.

I had little awareness of the animals who were bred, raised, and killed to be part of my daily meals.  Growing up in Midwestern farm country, I only saw the cows grazing in the fields.  I never saw the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) – aka factory farms – that were kept out of sight.

In fact, I rarely thought about the fact that meat comes from animals.  If this thought did cross my mind, it was fleeting.  I did not see any other option.  I had no idea what to eat if I stopped consuming meat or dairy.  I was not the healthiest eater – often choosing what was convenient, easy, and comforting – fast food, microwave meals, chips, and sweets.

It wasn’t until I was 40 that I had my awakening. I saw a program about meat processing plants that shifted my awareness of the whole animal agriculture process – and I realized I did not want to participate in this anymore.

It was freeing – an epiphany that allowed me to live by values that I had long held.  I was able to embrace my compassion.  I no longer had to turn away from the truth about animal suffering – so that I could have a hamburger or fried chicken.

And far from being depriving as I had feared, a whole world of abundance opened for me.  The very next day after watching that program, I tried out a recipe for roasted red pepper and artichoke lasagna. It was delicious, full of vibrant colors and sumptuous flavors.  Wow, who knew I could cook?

I began trying spices, ingredients, and condiments I had never used before.  I expanded my food palette and found new freedom, joy, and creativity.

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 an inner weight I hadn’t known I was carrying. 

I was freed to find my voice and a deeper sense of purpose.

In more fully living my values of compassion, peace, health, wellness, and sustainability, I become more authentically me.

The peace and freedom that I found through living my vegan values is shared by many other vegans.  In fact, in my book research on the transformative impact of a vegan lifestyle, the number one positive impact reported by survey respondents is “being true to inner convictions and values.”

My research participants reported a cascade of positive outcomes from aligning daily choices with vegan values: 

  • Greater peace
  • Confidence
  • Integrity
  • Happiness
  • Purpose and meaning
  • Satisfaction
  • Harmony
  • Contributing to something greater
  • Doing the least harm
  • Freedom from inner conflict

Far from being limiting, restricting, or depriving, becoming vegan often brings a surprising sense of empowerment, fulfillment, and freedom…and the hope that we can unite our common values to create a healthier and more compassionate world.

May you enjoy the peace of embodying the values you hold most dear.  And in honoring our shared values, may we create a world of greater health, compassion, sustainability, and flourishing for all.

Note: This article has also been featured in New Mexico Vegan Magazine, January 2023.

For more on my vegan journey, check out my earlier article: How Veganism Inspired Me to Find My Voice.

The research referenced in this article is based on my book research on the emotional, psychosocial, and spiritual impacts of a vegan lifestyle.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist and transformational coach. She is passionate about empowering people to create healthy lives that nurture mind, body, spirit, and planet. Dr. Crawford is certified as a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and has a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at e-Cornell. She is currently doing research for a book on the psychological and emotional benefits of a vegan lifestyle. She serves as a psychology advisor for WeDidIt.Health, an on-line community that shares the benefits of a plant-powered lifestyle.

Speaking from the Heart: Keys to Effective Communication for Vegans

Bowls with salad and vegetables on table
Photo by Victoria Shes on Unsplash

See if you can relate to any of these scenarios…

  • It’s time for the annual family Thanksgiving dinner, complete with a turkey in the center of the table.  You are newly vegan, distressed about how turkeys and other farmed animals are treated…and wonder how you will handle this.
  • You decide at the last minute to go to a colleague’s social gathering.  Once you are there, you realize that all the food being served is laden with meat or dairy products, and there is nothing vegan for you to eat.
  • You are passionate about the benefits of veganism – for animals, the planet, and human health – and want to share this with others. But you find that most people don’t want to listen and maybe even get annoyed at you for bringing it up.
  • Your coworker ridicules you for eating “rabbit food,” and constantly wants to debate you about veganism.

How do we handle these challenging situations?  Each situation requires us to connect with what we truly want and need…and to take actions that move us toward meeting these ends.

In each situation, heartful communication is key.  Communication that connects us with our selves and with others in meaningful and impactful ways.  Communication that creates a space for true connection and true transformation.

Research in the areas of social science, psychology, and biology shows that we are literally wired to need connection with others.  And because of our wiring, the fear of being rejected by others is deeply ingrained in us. Even if we aren’t conscious of it, that fear can lurk in our psyche at some deep level and make us reluctant to speak up when there may be conflict or disagreement.

Countless studies show how important social support is for our well-being. In fact, loneliness and isolation can be as detrimental to our health as cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, or lack of exercise.  In addition, studies of the Blue Zones find that positive social connections promote longevity and quality of life.

For all these reasons, it’s important that we learn healthy relationship and communication skills.  And yet, as vegans, we often face unique social situations that can challenge our sense of connection with others. 

Let’s face it – conversations about veganism can elicit strong emotions on all sides.  For many non-vegans, social conditioning around food habits, along with the carnistic belief system that permeates our culture, contributes to strong emotional reactions when talk about diet comes up.   And for vegans, heightened awareness of the suffering inherent in animal agriculture often drives intense feelings.

When a conversation triggers strong emotions, it can be hard to access our wise brain. Under these circumstances, it’s typical to go into fight-or-flight mode.  Consequently, our blood flow is not going toward the parts of our brain that can respond in nuanced ways, but rather toward our more primitive brain, preparing us to fight or flee. This can play out in wanting to prove our point at all costs (fight), or at the other extreme, shutting down communication (flight). In either case, it’s unlikely that a meaningful conversation is going to happen.

Maybe you’ve experienced this in your communication as a vegan. Think about the scenarios at the beginning of this article. If you’ve been in similar situations, how have you expressed your feelings and perspectives? And how has the other person (or people) responded? If you are like many of us, you may have felt very frustrated and not heard. When we feel not heard or understood, we may find ourselves raising our voice or using more attacking language in how we communicate. And when we express our feelings from that state of mind, often the other person becomes defensive, and the conversation does not lead to any productive solutions or resolution.

We need to have ways to shift out of fight-or-flight mode back into our Wise Brain, so we can integrate mind, body, and spirit together into our words and actions.

How do we do this?  The authors of the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High suggest that we can shift to our Wise Brain by reflecting on our deeper intentions for the conversation.  By connecting with our deeper intentions, and communicating accordingly, we create a greater sense of safety in the interaction.  This sense of safety helps to lower defensiveness, and supports a meaningful, impactful, and mutually beneficial conversation.

Here are some tips for creating safe space for effective communication:

  • Connect with your intentions for the conversation. Ask yourself questions such as: What is the message I want to express? What do I hope to accomplish? What do I want for my relationship with this person? How might I best communicate or express myself to reach my purpose? Asking these questions can help to shift you out of reactivity to your emotionally intelligent Wise Brain.
  • If you start to notice that you or the other person are becoming defensive, arguing, or shutting down, shift your focus to restoring mutual safety, calm, and connection. This is important, so that both of you can calm your nervous systems and return to meaningful, generative communication. When people feel defensive, or are in fight-or-flight mode, they are not engaged in the part of their brain where learning, change, or productive communication can happen.
  • To help restore safety, you may want to express your intentions for the conversation, such as creating an environment where you and the other person are each able to express your feelings and perspectives and come to a mutual understanding. 
  • Pay attention to your tone of voice and body language, as these are central to creating safe space for healthy communication.
  • Once a sense of safety is reestablished, you can return to the topic at hand, as space has now been created for meaningful dialogue.  The other person will likely be more open to your message, and perhaps even curious to understand more.
  • When you express yourself, use I-messages, sharing your own story, feelings, wishes, and needs. No one can argue with your own story and feelings, and this way of sharing allows your listener to feel less defensive, with more curiosity and openness.
  • Draw on reflective listening, allowing for a flow of information and sharing.  Being curious to understand the other person’s perspective (rather than judging or attacking) may bring you to a greater mutual understanding.
  • Agree to disagree, if needed.  Come to a mutually workable agreement, where possible. Recognize that if there isn’t immediate agreement, sometimes you may be planting seeds that lead to new understanding and transformation down the road.
  • Check out great resources for vegan communication, such as Dr. Melanie Joy’s books, Beyond Beliefs and Getting Relationships Right.

Learning healthy communication skills is an ongoing process.  When it comes to emotionally laden conversations, our success starts with calming our nervous system, connecting with our Wise Brain, and creating safe space for dialogue to occur. 

Effective communication is key to thriving as a vegan – and to creating a more compassionate, healthy world.  Heartful communication allows a flow of information and sharing, and a meeting of hearts and minds.  And in that meeting of hearts and minds, true connection and transformation can occur.

Note: This article is based on my recent keynote presentation for www.WeDIDIt.Health, available on YouTube.

A version of this article was later published in New Mexico Vegan Magazine, January 2023.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist and transformational coach. She is passionate about empowering people to create healthy, compassionate lives that nurture mind, body, spirit, and planet. Dr. Crawford is certified as a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and has a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at e-Cornell. She is currently doing research for a book on the transformative impact of a vegan lifestyle. She serves as a psychology advisor for WeDIDIt.Health, an online community that shares the benefits of a plant-powered lifestyle.

The Transforming Effects of a Plant-Powered Vegan Lifestyle

Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash

Highlights from my interview on the Healthy Lifestyle Solutions Podcast

I had the honor of being interviewed on the Healthy Lifestyle Solutions Podcast with Maya Acosta.  We discussed my vegan journey, the transformative effects of a plant-powered lifestyle, and how to inspire healthy lifestyle change.  We also discuss definitions of vegan and plant-based, and reasons for a vegan lifestyle. Below are some excerpts from the interview.

Tell us about your journey to a plant-based, vegan lifestyle

For most of my life, I was not a healthy eater.  I ate a lot of comfort foods, microwave meals, sweets, and processed foods.  I didn’t like to cook.  Although I exercised a fair amount, I didn’t eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. 

What opened my eyes and led me to eating more plants was when I learned about how animal agriculture works.   I saw a TV program about workers in a meat processing plant, and many of them were immigrants. They had frequent injuries from this difficult work, and were so financially vulnerable that they couldn’t speak up.  They didn’t have power in this system.  It made me think about how my food got to me.  At that time I was working in a pain management program that helped injured workers. That TV program made me think about what meat processing workers were going through.

And then I started to think about all aspects of it, including the treatment of animals and what was actually going into my body when I ate animal-based foods.  I started reading everything I could. I went to the library and read every book on vegetarianism and veganism.  I learned about the health benefits for reversing heart disease from Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.  That really hit home for me because I have a strong family history of heart disease.  I learned about the impact of animal agriculture on animals and the environment.

After watching that program, I started cooking. The very next day, I bought my first vegetarian cookbook, and made vegetarian lasagna.  I had to buy all these new pots and pans because I never cooked.  It was a great experience and I found that I loved to cook – once I switched to plant-based. 

So many doors opened.  I tried new spices. I tried new ingredients that I’d never thought of before.  I started trying a new recipe or two every week. And over time, I gave up meat entirely. A few years later I started to give up dairy and eggs.  I found that after releasing dairy from my life, my seasonal allergies – that I thought I would always have – just went away.  Some skin conditions that I struggled with went away too. 

So here I am 15 years later, in my mid 50’s, with good health and a lot of energy. I feel good about the way I’m eating, knowing that it is kinder to animals, the planet, and my own health. So it feels good on all levels.  And now my food choices are so much more varied and interesting and nourishing than they used to be.  I would never go back.   

(To read more about my vegan journey, check out my blog article:  How Veganism Inspired Me to Find My Voice.)

What is the difference between vegan and plant-based?

Veganism at its core is an ethical way of living that seeks to avoid harm or exploitation to animals.  People who identify as vegan avoid buying anything that has animal products, including food and other items as well (clothing, shoes, household items, cosmetics, etc).  

A vegan diet excludes all animal products (meat, fish, dairy, or eggs).  A vegan diet can vary in terms of healthiness.  For example, fruits and veggies and beans are vegan, but so are Oreos and potato chips.  In general, a vegan diet that favors whole plant foods (fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds), with fewer processed foods, brings optimal health benefits.

A plant-based diet is a more general term, often used interchangeably with vegan diet.  Most often, it refers to a plant-exclusive diet. However, it should be noted that sometimes the term “plant-based” can refer to a diet that is predominantly plant-based (e.g., 80% to 90%). 

A whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet is a plant-exclusive diet, focused on whole plant foods, as minimally processed as possible.  This way of eating has been associated with health benefits, and is high in nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber.

Why do people choose a plant-based (plant-exclusive) lifestyle?

One reason is health.  Eating more plants (and eliminating animal products) helps to prevent and even reverse certain diseases that are common in Western countries, like heart disease, diabetes, certain forms of cancer, and autoimmune disease.  Plant-powered nutrition also supports better fitness and overall health and energy. 

There are also ethical reasons, which I touched on when sharing my experience of learning about the slaughterhouse workers.  When I realized that I didn’t like how the workers were treated, it occurred to me, well, what about the animals?  So many of us love dogs and cats, but we don’t give a second thought to other animals and what that they go through. When we awaken to realize that cows and pigs and chickens matter too, the obvious choice is to no longer consume animal products, to no longer contribute to the suffering of these sentient beings.

A third reason for becoming vegan is caring for the environment.  Animal agriculture, especially the way it’s expanded into factory farming, has had an increasingly toxic effect on our environment, from the use of land and water, to greenhouse gases, as well as cutting down rainforests to create more feed and grazing space for the animals grown for food. All of that has a huge impact.  One book that I found really helpful is Eat for the Planet by Nil Zacharias and Gene Stone.  The authors show that by eating a vegan diet, you save 1500 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, and 30 square feet of forest per day. Simply by eating lower on the food chain, you save all of that, along with lowering your carbon emissions by 50%.

(For more information about the reasons for a vegan lifestyle, check out my resource page Why Vegan?

Tell us about your book research on the transformative effects of a plant-powered, vegan lifestyle.

One thing that really intrigues me as a psychologist is how what we eat affects our mental health, our emotional well-being, and even our spiritual well-being.  I’ve been collecting surveys and doing interviews with vegans on this topic.  My goal with this book to convey the changes in mind, body, and spirit that many people experience as they eat in ways that nourish their body, and that are aligned with the deeper values that they hold.  There’s the nutritional benefit of giving our body the nutrients it needs. And then there are psychological benefits of living aligned with our deepest values — caring deeply for our own health, living lightly on the earth, and causing the least harm to other sentient beings. There are amazing shifts that people are reporting, including more interconnectedness with all of nature.  As we eat in this healthy way, there’s a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and peace in honoring our values through our daily choices.

To listen to the full interview, check out The Healthy Lifestyle Solutions Podcast.

(Note: For this article, the interview transcript was copy-edited and some points expanded upon, to improve clarity).

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist and transformational coach. She is passionate about empowering people to create healthy lives that nurture mind, body, spirit, and planet. Dr. Crawford is certified as a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and has a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at e-Cornell. She is currently doing research for a book on the psychological and emotional benefits of a vegan lifestyle. She serves as a psychology advisor for WeDidIt.Health, an on-line community that shares the benefits of a plant-powered lifestyle.

5 Ways Veganism Transformed My Life

brilliant sunset over dunes and ocean
Photo by Angela Crawford, Cape May Point, NJ

I have always tended to be an introvert.  I relish solitude.  I prefer small groups to large crowds.  I’ve lived a quiet life, not often sharing my views and opinions publicly.

But then 15 years ago, I had an awakening that was so meaningful, compelling, and life-changing, it has continued to impact me and to make me more fully human, more fully me.  It revealed my deeply held values.  And over time, I came to realize that these values are universal and encompass our 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.  I realized that I had to find a way to share this life-changing discovery.

My awakening happened in stages.  It started with learning about factory farming and the treatment of animals. I realized I would never want a dog or cat to go through that suffering.  Why was it okay for a pig, cow, or chicken?

I read everything I could, filling my Kindle with e-books on vegan topics.  Through my research, I learned about the healing benefits of a plant-based diet for many diseases that plague Western society. I also learned about the devastating effects of animal agriculture on the planet.

But I was most impacted by the suffering of animals treated as commodities rather than sentient beings.  Gradually, I broke through the deep layers of social conditioning that kept me emotionally disconnected from their plight.

Much to my surprise, becoming vegan did not seem like a sacrifice.  Rather, it turned out to be an experience of abundance and fulfillment, transforming my life in unexpected ways.

1. Veganism inspired me to find my voice

Veganism connected so many dots for me.  I wake with a deep sense of purpose each day.  Through my daily food choices, and my efforts to educate and raise awareness, I can be part of the solution for many causes that matter deeply to me: caring for animals and the planet, food insecurity, justice, and human health. Although I still think of myself as an introvert, my passion for veganism compels me to discover how I can use my voice and my gifts to make a difference.

2. Extending compassion to all beings

I have always viewed myself as an empathic person.  However, for years I ate meat daily, and was seemingly unaware of the animals who suffered as a result of my choices.  When I had my vegan awakening, I became aware of my connection with all life.  I developed a deeper appreciation for the complexity and beauty of nature and the animal kingdom.  Gradually, I realized that the kindest way of living and eating was also healthiest for me.

Recent visit at Farm Sanctuary

3. Greater peace 

There was a sense of freedom, a weight lifted, when I began living in a way that was truly aligned with my values.  An inner conflict that I had not even been fully aware of was resolved through the choice to not eat animals.  This brought a sense of peace and inner wholeness.

4. Appreciation and gratitude

My world opened to greater abundance and appreciation when I became vegan.   Yes, there is awareness of pain and suffering that is very difficult at times. But there is also an expanded sense of awe of nature and all life.  There are the delicious vegan meals I’ve learned to create, with vibrant colors and delectable flavors.  And there is appreciation for my body’s resilience and health, which has been strengthened by my plant-powered cuisine.

5. Connecting with like-hearted people across the globe

I have had the amazing experience of connecting with vegans around the world.  Through groups, collaborations, and trainings, I have met courageous and compassionate people from across the globe.

There are challenges being vegan in a world that is not yet vegan.  As someone who prefers harmony, it has not always been easy to live in a way that is at odds with the status quo.  And yet each time I meet others who embrace and live by vegan values, I feel inspired and uplifted.  And each time my example inspires someone else to consider the vegan path, it makes it all worthwhile.

Veganism is a path of listening to our heart’s guidance to extend kindness to all beings.  Through our daily choices, we join others to become a movement that seeks a world of compassion, sustainability, and flourishing for all.

Note: This article was originally published on Main Street Vegan Blog on November 23, 2021.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist and transformational coach. She is passionate about empowering people to create lives that nurture mind, body, spirit, and planet. Dr. Crawford is certified as a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and has a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at e-Cornell. She is currently doing research for a book on the psychological and emotional benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

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. 


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.