While the movement is gaining traction all over the world, veganism can still lead to feelings of solitude and alienation.
Jumping off the deep end into the vegan lifestyle five years ago, I found myself isolated on a not-so-theoretical Island (I’m Irish); surrounded by a sea of meat-loving, cow milking, rabbit hunting omnivores. If your vegan journey was anything like mine, you probably live in a part of the world where meat is rarely off the menu. This can make socialising and casual get-togethers a little challenging, to say the least.
If, like me, you’re also on the introverted side, even picking up the courage to announce that you no longer consume animal products can be a major cause of anxiety. Don’t be discouraged though, if I can overcome these obstacles, so can you!
I live in Ireland, the home of Aran wool jumpers and cattle farmers; not exactly a vegan metropolis. Let’s be clear though, I love living here. The people are amazing, while the countryside, rolling hills and small villages can only be described as ‘breath-taking’. The ‘craic’ (fun that is, not cocaine) is unrivalled anywhere else in the world and life is simple.
My life was indeed pretty straightforward; that is until five years ago when I announced to a table of extended family during Christmas dinner, that I would not be gorging on dead bird this year.
Heating up my nut roast, kindly prepared for me by my confused but sympathetic father the previous evening, I was met with an array of dropped jaws and raised eyebrows. You see, for all its wonderful standout features, Ireland five years ago was certainly not known for its vegetarians, let alone vegans! Turning down the meticulously prepared, slow cooked turkey on Christmas day was nothing short of blasphemy and certainly not in keeping with Irish culture. Not at all!
When I turned vegan, I knew one non-meat eater, ONE! Most cafes and restaurants offered little in the way of veggie options. This, thankfully, is beginning to change and plant based establishments are popping up all around the country.
At the beginning of my journey however, many people I came into contact with viewed veganism as an unnecessarily extreme way of living and an affront to their rural lifestyle. If I had a cent for every time I heard ‘what harm can milking a cow do anyway?’ or ‘what have you got against the hard working farmer?’…you get my drift.
I knew with every fibre of my being that veganism was the only compassionate, sustainable way of living and had no desire to revert to my old eating habits, but still, I felt detached from my friends and family. I found myself declining invitations to social events, not wanting to cause a fuss with food options. I even felt embarrassed having to explain to folk why suddenly I was so interested in the back of food packages and spending all my time in the ‘free from’ section of the grocery store.
Veganism opened up to me an abundant, colourful, and vibrant way of living. It’s a lifestyle which promotes kindness for all living creatures and has transformed my life in ways I never thought possible. There is however, an adjustment period.
Don’t be fooled into thinking all vegans are from the outset, boisterous, outspoken and blessed with troves of herbivore friends. You will find your voice in the community, but it needs to happen organically.
Furthermore, the importance of staying true to who you are (cheesy, I know) cannot be overestimated.
I am categorially not the ‘stand on a podium and preach’ type. In fact, being the centre of attention in any form is hair-raising to me.
I, like many vegans, prefer to lead by example, letting my health, exuberance and compassion do the talking for me. Don’t let anyone make you feel that to be vegan, you must shout about it from the rooftops. We need those people in the movement, without a doubt, but it is not the only way!
It wasn’t until I accepted that transitioning to veganism is a unique, individual experience that I began to emerge from my shell and feel comfortable and proud speaking about the cause. This in turn led to positive conversations with loved ones, who, in seeing how happy I had become, began to mellow in their opposition and take a genuine interest in the principles behind my food choices.
Whatever your approach, know that it can take time to find your groove. Don’t stress about Saturday lunches with friends and week-day business dinners. These situations are always awkward for new vegans and while announcing your dietary habits to a room full of businessmen who just ordered the prime steak might seem horrific right now, I promise this fear passes. In time, anxiety is replaced with a calm serenity which stems from the knowing that your decisions don’t need outside validation. A quote by Gary L. Francione seems appropriate here;
‘’At some point, you have to decide who you are and what matters morally to you. And once you decide that you regard victimizing vulnerable nonhumans is not morally acceptable, it is easy to go and stay vegan.”
Related: 5 Tips From a Former “Junk Food Vegan”
Transitioning to veganism will undoubtedly mean areas of your life will change. This is unavoidable. Your social calendar may do a 360 to reflect new found interests and passions. Your make-up, toiletries and wardrobe will get a gradual overhaul as you make the move to vegan products and garments. You may even lose ‘friends’ who decide not to support your new lifestyle. You will come to see nonetheless, that these inconveniences pale in significance when compared with the contribution going vegan will make to the animals, your health and the planet.
For me, overcoming societal pressures, particularly in an agriculturally driven country like Ireland, was the most confronting aspect of my vegan journey. Even so, today, through online communities and pioneers of the movement, veganism in Ireland is taking off. I have noticed a subtle move toward sustainable living over the last five years and expect this shift to continue and gather momentum both in Ireland and further afield.
On the whole, going vegan is about so much more than me or you. It’s about recognising injustice and making a stand for something you believe in. Sure, it’s uncomfortable being the only vegan in town and at some point you will be left with no choice but to order the ‘side salad’ at the Christmas party, but when you look back on your life, you will come to realise that every obstacle overcome led you to a place of empathy, tenderness and vitality.
Claire Edmundson is a Freelance Writer, passionate vegan nature lover and Law grad from Ireland.
View more of her work at: www.claireedmundson.com.