By Jason Stahl – Sharing a few of the lessons learned from a decade of veganism – This week I will have been vegan for 10 years. That's right, beginning in early February of 1997, I stopped eating all meat, dairy, and egg products.
Additionally, I gave up clothing made with animal products, such as leather and wool. Normally, I'm not one to discuss my "vegan-ness" with others unless asked. However, I thought since I now have a decade of experience with the subject that I would offer some advice on the subject – to both meat eaters and vegetarians/vegans alike.
First, some tips for my meat-eating friends:
Tip #1: I'd love to talk to you about why I'm a vegan, but only if you promise not to ask while I'm eating. Honestly, would you like to be interrupted in the midst of eating your dinner with 20 questions about what was on your plate? I thought not. So, if you wait until I'm done, we can have a nice nonjudgmental conversation (on both sides) about why we both eat what we eat.
Tip #2: Most fake meat (and tofu) is delicious. Yes, some of it looks gross. But really, you should try some – it might surprise you.
Tip #3: Fish is an animal – this is why I don't eat it. No matter what anyone told you, fish is meat, not a floating vegetable.
Tip #4: I'm not judging you. Really, I'm just not. Maybe if you were talking with me in 1997, I would be judging you and the fact that you eat meat, but now it is the furthest thing from my mind. If you knew me in 1997 and I was judgmental about the chicken on your plate, I'm sorry for this. In 1997, I was a stupid kid.
Tip #5: Just because I'm not judging you doesn't mean that I wouldn't love it if you stopped consuming animal products. If you're thinking about this possibility, I'd love to talk about it (just not while I'm eating).
Now some tips for my vegan (and vegetarian) friends:
Tip #1: Read the tips to meat eaters above. Note that you have to play an active role in many of these tips as well – especially #4. Remember, don't be a young me – nobody likes a smug kid lecturing them about their eating habits.
Tip #2: Do your best to cook fantastic food for meat eaters. Don't just have potlucks with your vegan friends – invite over meat eaters and cook good food. E-mail me for suggestions if you need them.
Tip #3: Eat a balanced vegan diet with enough protein and be sure to exercise regularly (cardio and weight training). There is no better advertisement for a vegan diet than being and looking healthy. If you look sickly, no one will take dietary advice from you.
Tip #4: Be open to the idea of dating a meat eater. I know this position is anathema to most vegetarians and vegans, but if the meat eater and you are both tolerant human beings, it can actually have positive outcomes. For instance, my wife eats meat, but I do all the cooking. This means that instead of her eating meat a lot (as when we first met), she now eats a diet that is about 95 percent vegan. How is this not a good thing?
Tip #5: Don't say that being a vegan or vegetarian is "more natural" – it just isn't. If we could go back to some mythical "state of nature" we'd probably be eating whatever we could get our hands on – be it plants or animals. Instead, the better explanation is that being a vegetarian/vegan is both required and made possible by modernity. One of the reasons I'm vegan is that modern factory farming is both cruel and inhumane. However, I can be vegan because modern food-delivery systems can bring all sorts of products right to my local grocer.
Tip #6: Contests over who is the "most vegan" are for losers and waste a whole lot of time and energy. In other words, I don't care that you don't eat honey. Moreover, chastising someone for giving up "only" most meat in their diet is not a good thing. We all do what we feel comfortable doing.
That's it – all of my best tips from 10 years of veganism. I should also mention in closing that the University has a great organization working on issues of animal welfare, which seems to understand the tips I've outlined above. Since I came to the University as a graduate student, I've been immensely impressed with the work of the campus group Compassionate Action for Animals. I'm not affiliated with the group in any way, but their website (www.exploreveg.org) seems like a great place to start if you want to find out more about being vegan or vegetarian.
This story was permitted for reprint by The Minnesota Daily. The Minnesota Daily is an independent, student-produced newspaper on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. The paper is published Monday thru Friday during the fall and spring, and on Wednesdays during the summer. The author, Jason Stahl, welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.