During the past several years, the call to reduce our consumption of animal products has grown tremendously. Vegan recipe blogs have proliferated into the hundreds, if not thousands. Both the number and the variety of vegan items available in stores and online are increasing annually. New vegan businesses are opening and thriving more than ever, including cafes, bakeries, restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, online boutiques, and even retreat centers and B&Bs.
Yes, there’s never been a better time. And as the demand for vegan alternatives grows, it’s only going to get even easier.
It’s true that new vegans do tend to find themselves facing new challenges, especially when it comes to mealtimes, as our society places a great deal of importance (perhaps far too much, in fact) on food. This is particularly evident at social gatherings and during times of celebration, when the sharing of food is considered central to the sharing of enjoyment, pleasure and fun. For many of us, the solution is simply not to attend, since the presence of animal ‘foods’ is always going to be uncomfortable for a person seeing through vegan eyes.
But once we accept that veganism is an unavoidable step on the path to an ethical and authentic life, it soon becomes clear that experiences of social awkwardness are trivial compared with the significance that veganism brings. When we really look at the animal issue honestly, we can’t help but see that it is an ongoing holocaust of unimaginable scale, and standing up against it becomes a duty that we can’t ignore.
Seen in this light, veganism is very different to what many people believe it to be: a personal lifestyle choice that imposes inconvenient restrictions on us or deprives us of sensory gratifications. For those of us determined to face up to the truth of injustice no matter how ugly it may be, the guidance of our conscience is not at all something to resent or lament, but something to celebrate and be grateful for.
Of course, there are always going to be people who feel challenged by an individual’s commitment to veganism, and their attempts at discussion or debate can be intimidating or uncomfortable to experience. In this regard, the most difficult thing about being vegan is the most difficult thing about life in general: other people. But as the popularity of veganism grows, many more people are beginning to understand what it’s all about, and others are at least beginning to realize that this commitment to nonviolence is something to respect rather than ridicule.
For some people thinking about veganism, the idea is inextricably interlinked with the idea of ‘giving things up’: giving up the pleasure of one’s favorite foods or restaurants, giving up cherished items of clothing, bedding or furniture, giving up certain social experiences, and perhaps even giving up friendships and connections with those who are attached to their current perception of animals.
There certainly is an initial learning period, during which new habits are established, and the vegan newbie might be surprised or even shocked to learn where certain animal products find their way into our lives. But each time we pass up a non-vegan item in favor of a vegan alternative (or even in favor of no alternative, as many of us have done many a time) we can feel strengthened by our knowledge that we have not sacrificed our covenant with the animals for something as trivial as taste, habit, comfort, or convenience.
And as the vegan movement continues to grow, we are rewarded for our commitment with ever more delicious and abundant vegan food, an ever-increasing availability of animal-free clothing, and the appearance on the market of a growing range of vegan products of every kind.
The longer we are vegan, the more comfortable we become, until the old way of being becomes not only undesirable, but unthinkable. Maintaining our veganism becomes an imperative that directs our decisions not only toward doing what’s right, but (much more important) away from doing what we know to be wrong. As time passes, we realize it’s not that our veganism has become second nature to us, but that veganism is in fact our real nature, and becoming vegan is nothing more than dropping the unnatural behaviors once programmed into us by a world that has led us to see sentient animals like us as ‘things’ to be used by us.
Our vegan way of life becomes just ‘life’, and any perceived inconveniences pale in comparison to the peace and heightened self-esteem that comes from knowing we are living according to our values. In fact, since veganism allows us to finally be free from the inner conflict that comes from participating in animal slavery, there is a profound and lasting sense of deep relief that follows.