GUEST POST: Written by Sara
On September 1 of this year, I set out to try to change my diet to one that is plant-based, avoids animal products, and is generally conscious of how my choices are affecting not only my body and health, but also the environment. By definition, this would be called a vegan diet. But how can someone who spent her entire life gleefully consuming meat, eggs, milk and cheese flip a switch and all of a sudden become vegan?
The answer: She can’t. Some of you out there may be thinking, “but I did!” And good for you. Really! But when discussing diet, we often forget one important thing: one solution does not fit all. When we try to adhere to strict rules that we’ve seen work for others, even though they may not be the best fit for us, we fail, and we fail miserably.
I knew that cutting these things out of my diet cold turkey (pun intended) would not only cause me to run screaming to Five Guys, but would probably make me sick. I’d read about Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6 diet before, and I decided it might be fun to give it a go. The rules are pretty simple: every meal and snack before 6 p.m. should be vegan. After that, eat whatever you like, but in moderation. Reviews of the plan explained that you’d find yourself eating less and less meat and dairy products after 6 p.m., because you were used to living without them. Eventually, you’d be using meat or dairy as just a tiny part of your dinners, rather than the main focus.
Mark Bittman also warns against not beating yourself up when you mess up. If you have cheese with your lunch, try to have a vegan dinner. If you don’t, try again tomorrow. He says:
You can be VB6 for a month, two months or three months and then you can have a week where all hell breaks loose and things fall apart. Why would you say, I’m done? I failed? You haven’t failed — you took a week off, big deal! It’s just not that big a deal.
I love this. Because when it all comes down to it, treating yourself badly because you slipped up isn’t doing anyone (yourself, mostly) any favors. It’s so so important to be kind to other people, animals, the earth… but it’s equally important to be kind to yourself.
So I went on with my life, eating mostly vegan meals. I didn’t even buy any non-vegan groceries, so on days when I didn’t eat out, I was eating 100% vegan. If I went to dinner or on a trip, I tried to order a vegan dish but sometimes I didn’t. I felt great, I felt good about how I was treating my body and the environment. I splurged on a Bucco Burger (a burger with bacon, cheddar, and barbecue sauce) at a Pirates game last week. And it was fine, because the next day for breakfast I was right back at it with a pumpkin smoothie. I was cheating, but I wasn’t cheating every day. And for me – at this point in my life – that was enough. This felt sustainable; something I could continue forever, and hopefully one day I’d be able to switch to complete and total veganism.
And then I read this article: “Why I Cheat on Veganism.” “Oh, cool,” I thought. “Someone who eats like me.” The article made a lot of sense – the author didn’t worry too much when her roommate wanted her to try a bite of cake she’d just made, or with worrying if there was butter on the veggies she ordered out at dinner with friends. But other than that, she was eating all vegan meals.
Then I scrolled down to the comments (which is a poor life choice 99% of the time). And I found mean, mean, MEAN people writing things like, “This is so annoying. YOU’RE NOT VEGAN.” “Stuff like this makes me irate.”
I thought, “Is this how all vegans are? So rude to people who are trying to improve their lives and share their story?” One comment confirmed:
All these arguments you have here are exactly why I quit being on the board of the Vegetarian Club at Penn State. One word: *elitism*
I felt terrible. What was I? Part-time vegan? Sort of vegetarian? Still an omnivore? Did it even matter?
I decided that it doesn’t matter. Why do I have to label the way I eat? Why do I have to adhere to a set of rules in order to be taken seriously? If some strangers on the internet are going to have a heart attack because some other stranger on the internet added a little bit of local, grass-fed, raw milk to her tea, so be it. They obviously have pretty great lives if this is their biggest concern.
(Internet strangers, here are some better ways to use your energy to save the world than by shaming someone who is obviously making pretty good choices already: volunteer at an animal shelter, help fight factory farms, go through your makeup bag and get rid of all products that are tested on animals and vow to never buy them again, research ways to make your commute more environmentally friendly.)
One of Bianca’s favorite quotes is, “It is not about being perfect. It is about doing the least damage and most good.” Let’s all take more time to lift up those around us who aren’t perfect, but are still doing good.
So where to from here? I’m going to continue making similar choices I’ve been throughout September in an effort to improve my life. A gradual change is what I need. If it’s what you need, too, then you have a support network here. Promise.