Veganism As a Lifestyle, Not a Dogma

[Trigger Warning: Food, mental illness]

Newsflash: Being a vegan is hard.

No, it’s not as hard as some people make it out to be. We don’t just eat grass from the yard, and there are plenty of delicious options.

But it’s still hard – on a lot of levels.

I’ve been struggling with veganism for a year now. I go through bursts where I’m the most devout vegan there is… and slumps where I want nothing more than a bacon chili-cheeseburger. And in between these highs and lows I try to swallow the guilt that comes with so strongly craving something that I morally oppose to my core. I struggle with the jokes people make when I’m vegan (and their smug “I told you so’s” when I’m struggling).

I come from a meat and cheese family, and if you had told me while I was growing up that I’d choose a vegan lifestyle, I would have laughed maniacally at you while cramming fried chicken down my throat. But like many other things in my life, I’ve changed my mind. Change is rarely easy, and my decision to pursue a vegan diet didn’t buck that trend. There are so many factors that influence your diet (whether you realize it or not), and coupling that with the moral guilt of not wanting to support cruel animal practices can be overwhelming. I’ve come to realize that maintaining (as much as I can) a vegan lifestyle is in itself a form of privilege.

I wasn’t brought up in a house where I had to eat lots of vegetables (unless it was potatoes or corn). A meal wasn’t complete without meat. If you weren’t raised in an overwhelmingly carnivorous household, you will probably still be subjected to friends making “LOL BACON” jokes every five seconds once you become vegan. For many, trying to remove animal products from their lives is the exact opposite of everything they were socialized to enjoy. Even if I am able to remain a strict vegan until the day I die, I don’t think my stomach will ever stop growling when I smell something grilling on the barbecue. It’s part of my nature. That doesn’t make the practice of slaughtering and grilling animals any less terrible. But it does make things more difficult as I continue to better myself as a vegan. It’s in those times that I must remind myself to focus on why I’ve chosen the path I’m on.

If you can get past the socialization of meat, you must also be able to afford a vegan diet. There are tons of delicious and simple vegan meals (beans & rice, anyone?), and the internet has helped people be able to find those recipes more easily. But plenty of inexpensive food is unhealthy and animal product-laden… yet oh-so-convenient. For individuals and families working multiple jobs and still living on a tight budget, sometimes the cheapest and quickest options aren’t cruelty-free. I went through a period of my life where I subsisted soley on Ramen and $1 tacos from Taco Bell. I was incredibly poor, I worked a lot, and I had loads of student debt after going to a pricy fundamentalist Christian college. Making scrumptious vegan food from scratch wasn’t an option for me then.

Let’s not forget our friends among us with various forms of illness. I’m able-bodied and have relatively few physical ailments. My mental illnesses are mostly under control. So I can’t imagine trying to maintain my vegan diet while dealing with a life-altering (or life-threatening) illness – mental or physical (this doesn’t even touch on the food-related illnesses like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating). I have struggled with depression, high stress, and anxiety through most of my life, and I’ve used food as a coping mechanism for all of those at some point. I’m not at a place right now where I need to do that. But I also can’t say I won’t be at that place at some point in the future.

I would never shame anyone for not being able to continue with a vegan diet for any of these reasons. Not only would such shaming come from a place of serious privilege, but it also isn’t the best way to help others struggling with the choice to become vegan. If one of my goals is to help the world become a more cruelty-free place, shaming others isn’t the way to do it.

I think we must begin to recognize veganism as a lifestyle, instead of a dogma, before we can truly see a compassionate lifestyle start to thrive. We must understand that there are extenuating circumstances that prevent people from fully realizing their ability to maintain veganism. We should also work to break down the barriers that make it more difficult to be a strict vegan. For example: Government-subsidized (and therefore cheaper) food is often grossly unhealthy, so lobbying for a change on that front would do wonders for making vegan-friendly food available to those less fortunate.

Until then, it’s important we remember what Colleen Patrick-Goudreau said: “Being vegan is not about being perfect, being vegan is about doing the best you can.” It’s important that we build communities for those of us seeking to live a life without animal products (despite any odds working against us!). And it’s important that we do the best we can – without expensing our own health or wellness – to live a life that promotes cruelty-free living.

If you are struggling to find support as you live a vegan life, I encourage you to check out Citizen Radio (especially #citizenradio on Twitter). Without the friends I’ve made through Citizen Radio, I wouldn’t have come as far as I have. Tyler, Erek, Camille, Marisa: You all have been amazing. My lovely vegan (or vegan-encouraging!) Skepchick friends, Elyse, Sarah & Amy, all deserve mentions as well. Additionally, I have set up a Google Group for vegans (and the vegan-curious!) where we can share recipes, support each other, and offer advice. If you’re interested in joining, click here.

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About cultofcourtney

20-something. Former fundamentalist Christian. Atheist and feminist activist. Organizer for North Texas Secular Convention. View all posts by cultofcourtney

3 responses to “Veganism As a Lifestyle, Not a Dogma

  • Chris

    Very well written, Courtney. You touched on some major points that are very important to me and all vegans alike. Thank you for putting it all out there and know you are not alone. I understand the cruel double edge sword of smelling someone grilling and thinking, damn that smells good, but we have to be strong!

    To quote a song “Sad enough to say that alone I could barely light a match, But together we can burn this place down” That’s how I feel about being around fellow vegans and the Citizen Radio family! I’m not an arsonist, just like the sentiment :)

    Keep being awesome!

  • Vegan Boot Camp | Cult of Courtney

    […] Citizen Radio linked to my “Veganism as a Lifestyle, Not a Dogma” post in their newsletter, I had quite a few people reach out to me to ask for advice on how […]

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