Some would say it's not easy being vegan. Though I can sympathize, I beg to differ. Ok, I do realize I have it pretty good, living in sunny San Diego, where fresh produce and healthy lifestyles abound. But the majority of people here still eat animal products. I am certainly the anomaly, even in such a seemingly forward thinking and health conscious city. So how do I do it with such ease? It's simple. I go with my gut. I live from the heart. I never doubt myself. I know that being vegan is the BEST thing I can be doing for my health, for the environment, and for the sentient beings that are slaughtered every day and don't have a say in the matter.
For those who find that living such a 'rebellious' lifestyle is trying, here are some tips for living a happy vegan life, while still being a functioning part of an unfortunately carnivorous society:
Don't act like it's a chore.
My mantra is "It's easy being vegan". When you make it seem easy, because it IS, others may start to notice. If friends see you floating through your day, eating your yummy plant based diet, and making it appear hassle free, you may start to rub off on them. Maybe they will start to think they could do it too. On the other hand, if you complain every chance you get about why this restaurant doesn't offer more vegan plates, or this grocery store doesn't carry that, others will think, "wow, what a pain in the a** it is to be vegan; I could NEVER do it!"
Get involved in your local vegan community.
Hang out at vegan restaurants, look for groups on meetup.com, go to farmer's markets, volunteer at events for animal rights, attend lectures on health and wellness, etc... surround yourself with others who you can feel supported by. Of course I'm not saying to ditch all your burger-loving friends, but it's refreshing to be in the presence of others who share your views. They may even provide insight into more vegan options in your community. Even if you are shy and don't know any other vegans, just get yourself out there! I guarantee you will be glad you did!
Plant a garden.
Now, don't say you don't have a yard. There are so many options... there are the hanging indoor gardens where you can grow tomatoes in your house, there are planter boxes you can put on a balcony, or if you're lucky enough to have an actual yard, then get to digging! I have a small balcony, and I have made the best I can of the space I have by setting up a small planter box where I am growing tomatoes, bok choy, basil, cilantro, scallions, lemon grass, parsley, and mint. It is a wonderful and empowering feeling to be able to pick some fresh herbs or veggies right out of your own land, and then nourish your body with something you helped to grow. It can be meditative to work on your garden, and it will allow you time to reflect on your amazing decision to live a vegan lifestyle. As a meat eater, would a person take pleasure in going out to slaughter a chicken before they brought it to their plate? I think not. This is one of the many joys of eating plants... take advantage of it!
Share the wealth.
Spread the knowledge, the food, and the fun that comes with being vegan. When you are invited to a potluck, bring the most scrumptious vegan dish you can think of; one that will be a huge hit with ALL the guests! Show those carnivores that plant food can taste downright sinful. I often bring my go-to dish of Southwestern Corn Casserole, and almost everyone asks for the recipe. They are always surprised when they realize it's sans animals. I also never go to any gathering empty handed. Whether it's some sweet treats like chocolate chip cookies, or simply guacamole and chips, bring FOOD! Let's face it, the way to most people's hearts is through their stomach. Feed your friends and family vegan food that is delish. Show them that this is a far cry from a self-sacrificing lifestyle. When they see that you can eat cruelty free and healthy, without compromising the taste, you may just arouse their interest.
Also, never hesitate to offer up all the glorious health benefits that come with eating vegan. Some people may not realize that by eating vegan you are dramatically reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and pretty much any disease you can think of! You are also rewarded with increased energy, glowing skin, attainment of ideal weight, and plain old just feeling good!
And if they ask, educate them on the inconvenient truths of factory farming, slaughterhouses, and all the pain and suffering that had to occur to allow them to eat that artery-clogging chicken wing. I can assure you that most people won't WANT to hear this, but that's all the more reason that they should! I own a copy of Earthlings and I offer to lend it to anyone and everyone. Most people refuse and say, "Oh no I could never watch that, it's too upsetting"...Yes, ignorance is bliss, but it's still ignorance!
Don't apologize for your choice to be vegan.
When you have to make special requests at dinner with non-vegan friends, never say sorry. If anything, they are the ones who should be apologizing for feeling the need to put the decaying carcass of a tortured animal in their body, instead of fresh plant food!
Speak up and ask for what you want.
When out to eat, no matter where, if you don't see something on the menu, just ASK. Often chefs are happy to be creative and put together a little unique dish for you. If you are at a casual restaurant, be creative yourself. I recently went for breakfast at a typical 'diner' and didn't see anything on the menu outside of omelettes and scrambles. After looking at the ingredients that were available for the omelettes, I asked the waitress to bring me a bagel, with some sprouts, avocado and tomatoes. I pieced together a nice little breakfast sandwich, and the waitress even came by and said, "wow that looks really good!" Now if you happen to be somewhere to eat and they say that they CAN'T make some small adjustments for you, then just get the heck out of there! If their food is already processed and prepared that far ahead of time, then you don't want to be eating there anyway, vegan or not!
In addition to restaurants, never hesitate to ask your local grocery store to carry special items or brands that you would like to try. Most are at least willing to give it a shot, or sometimes they can even just order the item specially for you. Co-ops are particularly helpful in this matter.
Ever hear of Mimi Kirk? How about Brendan Brazier? Both are vegans that have caused quite a stir in the meat eating world. Mimi Kirk is a drop dead gorgeous woman who credits her beauty and vitality solely to her plant based diet. Did I mention she is 71 years old? Take a look at her in this video; she shows her passport to prove her age! Brendan Brazier is a professional triathlete, as well as an author and speaker, who experimented with a variety of food fads and diets before discovering that a vegan diet gave him optimal energy for his ideal athletic performance and recovery. These are people who are doing impassioned and influential things, and credit their successes to a vegan diet. How's that for a little 'kick in the butt' inspiration?
My first 'public outing' as a vegan just so happened to be a barbecue at a friend's house. I recall the grill being fired up, and everyone grabbing a hot dog or burger to cook up. When someone asked why I wasn't partaking in this, I opened my mouth to begin to explain, and defend, my new vegan lifestyle. But before I could get a word out, a quick minded friend shot out an answer for me, "She just decided it wasn't cool to eat animals anymore". I couldn't have said it better myself....
Living vegan is a life changing experience; that is not a question. But in my opinion, the most life altering aspect of it is not the exterior lifestyle changes, but it's the awakening and the consciousness that occurs within you. When you make the connection, and understand the suffering that occurs, and that you have the power to reject this suffering with the choices you make, you are forever changed. Nothing is cooler than that!
Lori Zito is a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website, or follow Lori on Facebook and Twitter.