Last week, I got an e-mail from a reader from Saudi Arabia:
I am not a vegetarian or vegan but I have played with the idea for some time. I admire people who are able to give up meat and stick to it. I consider myself the healthiest junk food eater ever. I take my vitamins, make my smoothies and I enjoy almonds and almond milk, fresh veggies, grains and herbs are easy to come by here (I live in Saudia Arabia) but I have a weakness for some meats and sweets. Where do newbies begin? Do I have to change my entire life? The soaps, lotions, detergent? My husband no longer eats meat for health reasons. I have read your introduction and a few posts keep up the good work.
I can answer some of these questions, but before I do, let me ask any readers from Saudi Arabia to chime in and offer some region-specific advice in terms of restaurants, AR groups, etc.
Now, let me start with what I see to be the key question here, one that I sums up the trepedation a lot of people have about going veg: “Do I have to change my entire life?” The answer, in short, is yes. For the change to be meaningful and lasting, I think going veg does have to feel like a life-changing experience.
The problem isn’t changing your life. If you spend your entire day kicking babies and one day you decide to stop, that’s a life-changing event, but it’s not one that should feel like deprivation. It’s a change in your life that’s positive, one that that you can embrace and feel good about. And that’s what going veg should be. If you focus on all of the things that you’re “giving up,” it’s going to feel like a sacrifice, like you’re missing out on something. What you’re doing is making a declaration about what it is and isn’t OK to eat, wear, and use. One thing I’ve noticed is that meat is no longer a food to me. I would no sooner eat a piece of chicken off of someone’s plate than I would eat their napkin. It’s just not food.
That said, do I think you need to go vegan all at once? It depends on the type of person you are. I think some people can only get to their end goal if they go from 0 to 60. If you can do it, it’s the best way to go. It ends the suffering now, no waiting.
But I know that if I had tried to go vegan when I first stopped eating meat, I think I would have given it up quickly and gone back, defeated, to my omnivorous ways. Why? Because I was a dummy and had no clue what I was doing. In time I learned, and once I did, I realized how important it was to go vegan, and that allowed me to make the change one that will stick for the rest of my life.
I realize that may not be a popular response, and I’m not fully happy with it, but I’d much rather see someone go vegan after being vegetarian for a few months than someone who jumps into veganism unprepared and then gives up and becomes one of those annoying “ex-vegans.” (That said, please don’t label me as in favor of anything that could be labeled an “incremental” step — for example, I don’t think free-range/cage-free/grass-fed/etc. does any good whatsoever in promoting veganism.)
Educate yourself. Learn about why it’s important to stop using animal products in your cosmetics and toiletries. Learn about how eggs and dairy not only inflict the most terrible of suffering but also directly result in the death of baby animals. Learn about new foods, nutrition, and cooking techniques. Immerse yourself from the start and it will become second nature before you know it.
I think you’re off to a good start. It sounds like you’re making food choices that are easy for you — the grains, herbs, vegetables, nuts and seeds, etc. that are part of your diet anyway. Plus, with a spouse that’s vegetarian, you have support from your partner which a lot of people don’t have when they decide to make a change like this. Find some support locally and online to keep you and your spouse from feeling like you’re alone. You can do it. Rah rah.