This ongoing series will be covering tips that I have accumulated as I have tried to reduce my reliance on animal products. I’ve chosen the word vegan here, because I ultimately want to cease use of all animal products in my own life, but these tips are effective for anyone trying to adopt the reducetarian lifestyle.
Tip 1: Be Ready to Fail
So you’re interested in going the whole nine yards. That’s right, no more meat, no more cheese, no more eggs, no more yogurt, no more ice cream… Is anyone else starting to feel like this is an impossible (and let’s be honest, undesirable) task? Every single time I’ve tried to go “cold-turkey” on the cold turkey, I’ve failed. Hard. I’m talking ordering a pizza within an hour of my decision failure (I’m not proud of it, ok). It’s like the moment I realized that I would never be able to taste the creaminess of dairy again, I decided I needed to have “one last hurrah”… that is one last hurrah that would stretch until the next time I decided I would go vegan. The moral of the story is, what I was doing wasn’t working. Even when I managed to get through a few days, I would always slide back into the warm cocoon that is cheese curds, and then just wouldn’t stop eating them. It just wasn’t sustainable for me, and I began to think maybe this wasn’t a lifestyle I could do. Full disclaimer: I’m STILL not fully vegan, but I’m writing these posts because these are things that have finally helped me make real headway toward my ultimate goal. I finally feel like I actually could imagine a future that animal products have no part of. Maybe your goal isn’t the same as mine. That’s ok. Whether you just want to be a reducetarian or want to go full-on vegan, you will find useful tips in this series for adjusting your mindset, handling external forces, and ultimately adjusting your habits.
Why Expect to Fail?
I say be ready to fail not to scare you, but to prepare you. We live in a world that makes giving up animals products no easy feat. Restaurants often only serve a meager vegetarian or vegan offering that seems more like an unappetizing afterthought. If you are from a small town, you can be lucky to even have that. Options, or lack thereof, like these can make maintaining a no meat creed hard to sustain, especially when going out to eat.
You might be one of the many people that have strong cultural and emotional ties to meat and dairy that make cutting animal products out of your diet almost impossible. I grew up at the Texas-Mexico border, and even when I was able to eat meat-free, at many restaurants, the meal was definitely guaranteed to be cooked with copious amounts of cheese and fried in lard (animal fat). Family gatherings at my house were no different. My grandmother was already personally offended that I wouldn’t eat the pot roast she had spent hours preparing. I can’t even imagine how she would feel if I excused myself from the entire meal that was cooked in butter and cream, and topped with cheese. Not to mention it can feel very isolating to not partake in family traditions that revolve around food. And family and friends will often feel bitter that you are not celebrating with them in the ways you always have.
And this of course is all ON TOP of the fact, that I like these dishes. I like eating Mexican food. I like eating my grandmother’s home cooked meals. I like eating whatever baked treat someone brings into the office or to a party without thinking about it. I like that these foods can bring people together. I like the nostalgic feeling I get when I eat warm chicken and dumpling soup. It should be emphasized that it can be incredibly difficult to resist those cravings. Our relationships to food are irrational, because they are emotional, and sometimes logic just can’t get us to change our behavior.
This is not to say that giving up animal products is a lost cause! There are millions of people who struggle with these issues but have still managed to go vegan or at least go reducetarian. Rather, my point is that there are a raft of factors that affect how successful you will be when you decide to nix the meat. So don’t be too hard on yourself if/when you fail. If you have a craving for say, a giant pizza, and you cave, that doesn’t mean that you just can’t do this lifestyle. It just means you need practice. If your family bonds over non-veg friendly meals that have been shared over generations, then by all means partake. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you “cheat” sometimes, that you might as well throw everything out and eat meat and dairy excessively anyway, since you’re “not really a vegan”. True, you won’t “really be a vegan” but by continuing to actively choose to reduce, you will be making an impact, perhaps even inspiring other to give it a try as well. And hey, maybe you can even bring your own vegan dish to the party and start a new tradition!
Remember, shaming yourself won’t help you give up animal products. I know because I’ve tried it. All it did was make me avoidant. I would avoid thinking about it so that I could avoid feeling bad. Shame is a deterrent and it just won’t help. It especially doesn’t work on the irrational mind, which is often the the mind associated with failing at veganism. Instead, embrace the fail! Give yourself that wiggle room to fail and your dietary choices will be much more sustainable in the long-run.
Let me know in the comments the factors you are currently struggling with in your quest to be plant-based!