Update (2020): Veganism and plant-based diets have made a lot of headway in the US over the last decade. It’s interesting to look back and remember the time before things like Daiya, Beyond Meat, mainstream non-dairy ice creams, and other wonderful substitutes.
Cassie and I are now vegan. About 3 weeks ago we took the final step, following through on something that we had known was the right thing to do for quite a while.
Many people ask me exactly what being vegan means. Generally speaking, we try to avoid all usage of any and all animal products. More specifically, the first thing that people think of is food. We don’t eat meat, honey, milk, butter, eggs, gelatin, etc. Food is probably the most important aspect, because it serves as a cheap source of animal carcasses for everything else. But non-food animal products are also incredibly common. Clothing, shoes, and furniture are the biggest. They can contain wool, leather, cashmere, silk, fur (or fake fur), feathers/down, mohair. Bone china (which is actually made from bone), baseball gloves and various sports balls, sleeping bags, some chapsticks, and it goes on and on. It is fairly amazing when you actually think about it. Mostly, being vegan just means being more conscious of our choices and their impact on the world. Being conscious, and then opting for synthetics - which are by and large equivalent to their animal counterparts and have the added advantage of not hurting anyone.
The food part seems more difficult, but hasn’t actually been very hard. We’ve been vegetarian for almost two years and had stopped using most dairy products (cow milk, eggs, etc) a long time ago. Our only holdout had been cheese, mostly because I was addicted to it. After reading more about the reality of dairy farms though (hint: they are not happy cows), I was newly convinced that it had to be done. Since then, I actually don’t miss it at all. The cheese substitutes are very impressive - but you don’t even end up needing them. I think it is sort of like candy - the junk food kind - snickers, kit kat bars, twix, etc. I probably haven’t had any candy in 2 years or so, not that I’ve been particularly avoiding it, but just because I don’t really encounter it very often. If you see candy all of the time, you start to have cravings, and after eating some, you just want more. This seems to spiral in on itself until you think that candy is something you love, and couldn’t see yourself with out. However, the same is true in reverse. If you don’t encounter candy at all, you don’t really miss it. It just becomes like any boring food - you could eat it, but eh, you could live without it.
Cheese is exactly the same. The first couple of days after not eating it, you have heavy withdrawal. But if you just don’t buy it at the store, and reduce your other encounters with it, you really don’t notice that it is gone at all. Now, of course, if someone comes and waves your favorite candy bar in your face, you are going to be tempted, but don’t do that!
Anyway, food substitutes are pretty easy, and we almost always cook at home so that part hasn’t actually been too bad. I’ve also been working my way through Veganomicon, a vegan cookbook which is filled with delicious recipes. It has helped me learn how to cook from a new perspective; teaching me how to use beans, lentils, tofu, various oils and so forth. I’m actually blogging about all of the recipes in the book (which explains all of the food photos).
Going vegan isn’t just about food though. It’s about not exploiting animals in any part of your life. And once you start thinking about it, you realize that animal products are everywhere.
First comes the clothes. For the first time, I actually read all of the labels on my clothes, and realized that a very large percentage had some form of animal in them. Most shoes don’t disclose their materials, but looking online, most use leather. (Zappos has a vegan section though!)
And next comes everything else. This is a work in progress for us. Some of our more expensive things (hiking boots, sleeping bags) will take time to replace. Most importantly though, we no longer purchase anything new with animal products. Overall, it’s a really good thing I stumbled upon minimalism because it has made this process much easier.