Being vegan in a society that is not can, at points, be demotivating because you might feel unsupported, discouraged, and, even, attacked. But do not be discouraged. There are certain things we should keep in mind:
The journey might be challenging but it is not impossible. Take one step at a time. Learning about foods that you choose and do not choose to eat can help you navigate the sometimes choppy waters into smoother ones.
Be honest about your choices and let people know without forcing your views; some people might feel attacked even though that might not be your intention. For instance, a family reunion might be nerve-wracking the first time but be patient with the process and be proactive; this might mean bringing your own food, that is okay. This might even encourage some family members to try something new which they might love!
In social situations, do not take things personally -even though some might actually have that intention in which case the most powerful tool is to ignore them! It is not worth discussing things that are close to your heart with narrow-minded people who are not willing to have an enriching conversation and who, equally, might not be ready to hear the ‘uncomfortable’ truth. Some people might feel attacked because your choices conflict with their beliefs (for example, you rejecting to eat turkey might trigger their inner knowing that they’re eating an animal even though they love animals; this internal conflict might make them feel uncomfortable.)
Think about what is available to you. If you live in a food desert where there are limitations to the food you can get, do not feel discouraged. Being vegan does not have to mean eating marinated tempeh, avocado toast or mango smoothies with hemp seed milk, for instance. You can eat lots of beans, rice, pasta and whatever fruits and veggies are available to you.
Social media, though an inspirational tool, can sometimes be dangerous if we start comparing ourselves to others. Keep in mind we are all unique and our social and economic situations, to name some, might be very different. Someone living in a big city, e.g. London, will have access to an abundance of vegan restaurants whereas someone living in a rural, traditional town might struggle to get some products in the supermarket and might even be highly criticized by their family and friends as veganism may not yet be as spoken of where they live. Again, choose the vegan food that is available.
If you do not feel supported in your society (this could mean your friends and family for example) there are always lots of vegan groups online of loving and compassionate people you can lean on for support, guidance, and celebration of the vegan lifestyle. This will, most likely than not, make you feel more supported and less alone in your journey and you might end up making lots of new friends for life!
Veganism Among Men and Women
Whereas it has become socially more accepted -or less surprising- for women to be vegan, if a man says he’s vegan, some people might be shocked, make fun of them or, even, attack their masculinity.
Men and meat seem to have traditionally gone hand in hand as gender identity: to be a real, strong man, you need meat; eating meat is manly, men eat steak, and so on and so forth. On the other hand, if a woman does not eat meat, it is highly unlikely someone would ‘condemn’ her choices of not having any animal flesh, maybe because traditionally women have been perceived (or portrayed) to be less strong and as not in need of having to eat animal protein to ‘bulk up’. All these stereotypes have been traditionally emphasized and exacerbated in the media: from adverts to movies, men are shown to be the ones who have to protect women and, for that, they have to be strong and powerful; these men would not give up their steak or their chicken, would they?
As a result of the social and cultural beliefs, if a man chooses to go vegan, his masculinity is, most likely than not, going to be challenged by some people who might still cling to the very traditional perception of what a ‘proper’ man should do, say, act as and eat. There is a real pressure to conform to traditional masculine stereotypes and anyone who ‘dares’ step outside that socially accepted area might be heavily made fun of, judged, and even threatened.
Nevertheless, this outdated notion has increasingly been challenged by many men who do not believe being vegan is a sign of weakness, on the contrary, they believe being vegan shows power, strength, and deep confidence in their masculinity. Some examples of famous men who are vegan are actor Joaquin Phoenix, ex-US President Bill Clinton, singer Jason Mraz, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Formula 1 World champion Lewis Hamilton, actor Woody Harrelson, movie director James Cameron, boxer David Haye, actor Peter Dinklage, bodybuilder Barny Du Plessis, and Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Yahcob Farris, among many other men who have chosen veganism despite the social prejudice that surrounds veganism and men.
Even though the number of vegan women is much higher than men, this number is growing as more and more people realize that the traditional stereotype of what ‘real’ men eat, has become increasingly outdated and is not an accurate reflection of the diversity of men in the world nowadays.
Veganism and Children
For as long as the vegan diet has been around, there has been fear (if not panic) around raising children as vegan due to the mistake that a vegan diet does not provide enough (or the right) nutrients. But this is not correct. A vegan diet, if done well, is accurate for all stages of life, including babies and children, hence nutritional inadequacy should not be a concern.
Of course, this means parents have to be very well informed and be mindful of how they are feeding and nourishing their children as, otherwise, there is a risk of insufficient nutrients -which might also happen in a non-vegan diet. Contrary to popular belief, nutrient-deficiency is not exclusive to vegan diets: any diet that is not done properly and mindfully might have a negative impact on children’s health.
Once again, deep awareness of the right nutrients to provide babies and children in different stages of their growth should be at the forefront.
Because vegan diets tend to be less calorically dense, it is paramount that children eat larger amounts for them to have enough energy. However, due to their small appetites, it is important to be clever about how to provide enough daily calories. This could be done by adding healthy oils in their food which would not only provide key calories but also, these oils would stimulate the production of fatty acids, essential for brain development.
Some of the key nutrients that parents need to consider in their children’s diet are:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: important for brain development; found in walnuts and chia seeds, for example.
- B12: important for red blood cell formation, found in fortified foods such as cereals and plant milk as well as available in supplement form.
- Calcium: fundamental in maintaining healthy bones; found in plant milk such as oat, almonds, and tofu, just to mention some.
- Iron: key in the formation of red blood cells; found in dark leafy greens, pulses, and wholemeal flour, for instance.
- Vitamin D: essential for calcium absorption; found in fortified foods and also available with healthy sun exposure.
- Fiber: found in dried fruits, for example.
- Protein: key in the overall development of a child; found in pulses, grains and nut butter, for example.
All in all, it is very important to remember that a vegan diet, if done well and conscious of children’s needs in their development, can be absolutely safe and healthy for all stages. Children can thrive on a vegan diet.
The Future of Veganism
It could be said that veganism as a movement was born in 1944 in England when Donald Watson founded The Vegan Society. But even before that time, there were already many people around the world who had been vegetarian and vegan (even though that ‘label’ was not known as it is nowadays) for a very long time. This is connected to a considerable amount of people throughout the ages who have regarded animal cruelty as completely unacceptable and have refused to eat animals and its derivatives in any shape or form. Veganism as a principle of compassion to all beings is not new but it is true that it has become increasingly and widely known in the last decades, hence many people mistakenly believe that it is a modern concept.
Whereas in the past, refusing to eat meat, eggs or any type of dairy was seen as strange and even shocking and unacceptable to some people, nowadays things are quite different and this shift in mentality keeps expanding. It is worth mentioning though that these changes in mentality depend on societies and cultures: being vegan in a meat-loving society is not the same as being vegan in a society that has an open mentality towards veganism, that has vegan-friendly restaurants and lots of options for vegan products in supermarkets. Whereas some cities and countries are increasingly more open to veganism and are catering for vegan needs, always trying to learn more and more, some other cities and countries might be more negative towards it because the philosophy of the movement is in direct conflict with something that they have done for hundreds of years, for example, hunting, fishing, farming. Not everything is black and white though. In each society, there might be pockets, spaces where people are actually trying to learn and keep an open mind, for example, in Denmark most traditional dishes contain a combination of meat and potatoes, but there has been a rise in vegetarian and vegan cafes and restaurants. This means that there has been an expansion in consciousness with many meat-eaters understanding non-meat eaters, for example, are not a ‘threat’ and that different lifestyles can coexist within the same society.
Another important aspect to consider is that more developed countries are ahead of the game in terms of the development and production of vegan products which resemble the non-vegan ones; for instance, it is very easy to find a range of vegan cheese and ice-cream in London but very difficult (if not impossible) to do so in Argentina. Nevertheless, one can easily be vegan in Argentina if an unprocessed diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains, and legumes is considered. More and more, people are learning that there is no one type of vegan, rather a plethora of vegan lifestyles and the situation will continue evolving and expanding with the rapid spread of news and information on animal suffering and abuse as well as our impact on the planet and how a diet of meat, eggs, and dairy impacts our health. People will choose to become vegan for different reasons (their health, the environment, the animals) and continue spreading the message from different angles. This means that this message is multi-faceted and, more likely than not, an increasing number of people across the globe will find it interesting, compelling, life-changing.
Moving forward, the number of vegans around the world will undeniably continue growing and we might get to the point where the resistance towards veganism will diminish considerably and where an understanding of our effect on the environment and our health as well as compassion for the animals will be at the forefront of societies’ message.