Choosing to live without using the products of animal exploitation is healthy and compatible with enjoying a wide variety of delicious foods. Replacing old foods with new may be simple, but transitioning vegans can encounter challenges as they begin trying to change their diets. With minimal practice, food selection and preparation become second nature, and many experienced vegans consider relationships with non-vegans to be the greatest challenge to living as a vegan. Consider the following suggestions to help instill confidence in transitioning to veganism and when navigating relationships with others.
Choosing to live without using the products of animal exploitation is easier than it seems. It’s healthy and compatible with enjoying a wide variety of tasty foods. At any rate, to those individuals who, due to family traditions and long term behaviors encounter some difficulties when transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, reminding themselves that any major life change presents challenges can be encouraging. Most of us grew to adulthood eating animal products without much consideration, consuming the diets of our parents and peers. Due to this, significant dietary changes can require that we interrogate old behaviors and adopt new and unfamiliar habits. Replacing old foods with new seems simple, and for some, it is, but the process can be complicated by a number of factors as we begin trying to eat differently.
The tactics for grappling with challenges are, in some ways, unique to individuals. However, a pragmatic approach, amenable to individual preferences, is to embrace veganism with clarity of intention and personal responsibility. Being clear why we should be vegan and acquiring the knowledge necessary to make dietary changes help ensure challenges are met with confidence and strength. In addition, credibility as a vegan role model invites others to consider veganism and ultimately helps animals.
Some types of frequently encountered challenges can be met successfully without significant effort. These include ensuring a healthy new diet, learning to cook differently or eating away from home. For many undertaking veganism, however, a more significant challenge occurs when encountering objections and hostility from other people in personal relationships, when consulting with medical professionals or within workplaces.
So, how will you eat? The extent to which this can be a challenge for transitioning vegans will depend on prior eating habits and the strategy of the transition. Some will move quickly, while others will begin crowding out animal products, progressing to eating 100% vegan.
At this time it can be helpful to consult one of the many available vegan food guides, the best of which illustrate pictorially how simple it can be to design a flexible and healthful vegan diet. The most recent iterations include a visual representation of a dinner plate, colorfully divided in to food groups and servings per day—fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. By building in allowances for personal preferences, these guides illustrate how to plan a day’s worth of healthy meals with ease. Similarly informative and easy to follow are The Plant Plate, designed by Ginny Messina, RD; The Vegan Plate from Brenda Davis, RD and USDA Guidelines 2015: The Sustainable Power Plate as depicted by The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). All are science-based and have been accepted and published worldwide. In addition, to being extremely helpful for new vegans, they are simple to share with inquisitive friends, family and concerned healthcare providers.
Once you can envision a new way to eat, you can begin filling your kitchen with plant foods, taking advantage of ready-made animal-product substitutes if you desire. Many countries have seen increases in vegan-friendly restaurants, and these can serve as sources of inspiration for your own cooking or act as mainstays for those who dislike cooking or feel insecure in the kitchen. However, proactively honing your food preparation skills allows better control of your food intake at home and improves your abilities to analyze menus and question servers and chefs when dining out.
Travel adds an extra layer of complication, depending on mode of transportation, but the same principles of self-sufficiency apply. Packing food, simple or sophisticated, for car trips saves money and time. Use your own discretion when flying. Vegan options in airports continue to improve. Anyway, planning ahead and providing your own food can be smart and useful sometimes. In some cases, bringing your own food may be the most satisfying option, though that depends on your preferences.
With minimal practice, food selection and preparation become second nature, and many experienced vegans consider relationships with non-vegans to be the greatest challenge to living as a vegan. When we make personal dietary changes, independent of actively advocating for veganism, it brings into relief the beliefs and behaviors of others, highlighting them and sometimes producing cognitive dissonance. The emotional discomfort may cause them to attack, undermine or attempt to sabotage any threat to the status quo.
Consequently, moving veganism from the private sphere to the public, even as far as close friends and family, adds a perceived level of stress some vegans initially seek to avoid. As with learning to design a vegan diet, allowing oneself some time to acquire the knowledge to speak confidently about veganism might be necessary, but declining to speak up or apologizing for possibly causing someone inconvenience will not facilitate acceptance or increase respect for animals. As our knowledge increases, our discomfort with discussion and respectful debate will likely diminish, and, ideally, we can progress, from merely justifying why we don’t use animals to advocating for animals, from explaining why we are changing our diets and our lives to convincing others about the reasons to change theirs.
The Frequently Asked Questions About Veganism, found on this website, can help to alleviate any doubts about why and how to reject animal exploitation. It can also be used as an introductory text for studying and sharing with others. In addition to defining veganism, it answers questions such as why we should respect all sentient beings and live as vegans, how different animals (including invertebrates such as bees and bivalves) are harmed when they are exploited, whether or not bacteria and other organisms are sentient and how it is that, by being vegan, everyone can make a difference. One of the most frequent questions asked of new and transitioning vegans concerns the sentience of plants, and the FAQs explains this issue as well.
Perhaps the most significant section for new vegans encountering objections is Responses to Doubts and Defenses of the Use of Animals. A multitude of issues, surrounding the ethics of raising and killing animals for food that all vegans should be comfortable discussing, is addressed in this section.
Consistently educating ourselves and others about the harms done to animals will serve to combat unconscious and unacknowledged speciesist attitudes adopted and cemented over lifetimes. Every challenge to our veganism encountered and overcome strengthens our resolve to increase respect for and treatment of animals.
Davis, B. (2020) “The vegan plate”, Brenda Davis RD, 19 May [accessed on 8 May 2020].
Gaber-Unti, C. (2020) “Vegan guide to air travel”, The Vegan Word [accessed on 6 May 2017].
Messina, G. (2020) “The Vegan for life food guide”, The Vegan RD [accessed on 22 October 2020].
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (2020) “2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Recommendations”, Good Nutrition, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine [accessed on 15 April 2020].