As you know, the imperfect vegan series is meant to help give you a new perspective on what it means to be vegan. It’s meant to help clear the clutter and all the information that is out there regarding this lifestyle, as well as hopefully give you a much gentler approach, one that isn’t based on rigid views that don’t allow for missteps or nuance, but instead gives you an approach that allows for the wonderful imperfections that make us who we are.
There comes a point in almost every new vegan’s life in which something unplanned happens: we decide to go vegan, and we suddenly eat something that isn’t.
Understanding that we’ve all been there
Here’s a very specific story from my first week as a vegan.
It was my hubby Carlos’s birthday and I had already decided I was going to give veganism a serious try (after one or two half-tries with not a lot of information, many years prior). I was faced with the dilemma of whether I should go vegan that minute or wait until after his party at our favorite Mexican restaurant where cochinita pibil was the specialty (yes, I know, I had already seen all of the horrible images of what animals go through in the food industry and my decision to do this was fully an ethical one, yet STILL I was tempted by a taco I loved, that has a name which basically translates to “little piggie”). After lots of contemplation and postponing of the decision until I was at the restaurant with the menu in my hand, I decided that would be my last non-vegan meal and start the next day. We ate, we sang happy birthday, and we called it a night.
The next day I woke up so excited about my new eating life ahead, and although I was still open to the possibility that I would fail, not find anything to eat, miss meat or sushi too much, quit or find it too difficult, I was ready.
Can you guess what happened two days later?
We went to a concert, then to our favorite diner, and I ordered a turkey club, vowing to restart the clock again the next day. I did, and a few days later at a friend’s wedding, I couldn’t resist the shrimp cocktail they had placed at our table right in front of me, and I had one jumbo shrimp with cocktail sauce, eating the rest of my meal vegan. At that point I saw a pattern and I made a decision. This was something I wanted to do for the long haul, so I promised myself I would try my very best, but I didn’t restart the clock, I just kept going, taking these moments as part of the learning curve, until my rebel side calmed down, until I found how to make the meals I loved and that would satisfy all the cravings I had, and until I found my sweet spot. It’s odd but after making that decision, after accepting that there was going to be a learning curve, these moments happened less and less and dwindled without me even noticing when or how that happened.
It’s what we do next that counts
Early on in my journey I had learned, but not internalized, that veganism wasn’t about perfection or about passing a vegan purity test. I had learned the important difference between seeing veganism as that pass or fail test, and being vegan as a means to help animals, imperfections and all. I had learned, but understanding it with every part of me, was a different story.
It was many years into my own vegan journey, that I understood that being vegan wasn’t really about me. That the way I ordered, purchased and ate was really all about the animals (and our environment, health and well being and that of our fellow humans too). This meant that it was more important to look at the big picture, and not get discouraged by small mistakes, small amounts or small missteps.
I’ve told you throughout this series that the biggest question that will help you when facing a vegan conundrum is: “what will help animals (or your specific motivation) the most?” Many times the answer isn’t what you’d expect. Being able to portray and show how being vegan can be easy and simple and not about being perfect, will help many more animals in the long run, both because you will stick to it with ease and joy, and because others will be inspired by these changes in you and how you’re an imperfect human just as they are.
Another great question I’d like to add to this one is:
“If you have a moment or a meal in which you ate something that wasn’t vegan, what are you going to do next?”
It’s what we do next where our attention needs to fall, not on feeling guilty or ashamed about a choice we made, taking it to mean that this way of eating is impossible and not for us. It’s what we do next that matters.
I’ve been vegan for many years now, with these small missteps happening only on occasion and sometimes by accident or by not knowing, but what would have happened if with that turkey club, or with that one shrimp at that wedding I had taken it to mean “that’s it. Not for me. Too hard. I gave it my best shot.”? I wouldn’t have found this wonderful way of eating that has made me so happy. I wouldn’t have studied cooking professionally. I wouldn’t have had the creative experiences I have when I take old time favorites and create a recipe that is vegan so it doesn’t have to be a part of the past. I wouldn’t have found this great connection to animals or our fellow humans or our environmental resources. I wouldn’t have created Brownble. I wouldn’t have helped all the thousands of students and listeners and readers that have come through our doors, who might be each inspiring thousands more. I wouldn’t have met the incredible colleagues, students and readers that feel like great friends even though I’ve never met some of them in person before. Instead of saying no after a misstep, instead on focusing on it as a failure, I brushed myself off and I said, “ok… try again… keep on going”.
I know many of you who have just decided to go vegan might be going through something similar, and I wanted to tell you that this isn’t something that is happening only to you, it’s part of the universal experience of falling off your bike and then dusting yourself off, hopping back on, and eventually finding the smooth delicious ride that comes with practice and experience. There is no doubt that a long term, imperfect vegan, does a thousand times more for the animals, for their health, for the environment and our fellow humans than someone who ate something that wasn’t vegan, and decided to leave it all behind. There is no food police, no badge that will be removed, there are just long winding roads with detours, life stages, boulders in the road, and it’s what you do next that matters.
We’ll be here hopefully lighting your way, and I give you permission to switch off any alarms or flashing lights that have made this feel like a pass or fail test up to now. There is another way. One that puts you in the driver’s seat and lets you make as many mistakes as you need to and learn from them.
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