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  going & staying vegan

Need help going or staying vegan?
Here's some tidbits that may help on your way to your new lifestyle. If you have any tips you'd like to share please let me know!

Figure out WHY you're going vegan
If you can't summarize your reasons for going vegan right now then stop what you're doing and figure it out! If you don't have motivation for doing something then you will one day find yourself wondering "why am I doing this?" and possibly give up. Take a few minutes to really decide why you want to live a vegan lifestyle. Take more time if you need to do some soul searching.
Is it ethical? - do you wish to avoid causing suffering and death to other living creatures?
Is it health? - do you want a diet that will benefit rather than overtax your body?
Is it environmental? - do you want to stop participating in a lifestyle that causes world hunger, massive environmental destruction, and impoverishment for so many?
Your answer(s) to that question will help gauge what YOU will need to stay within a vegan lifestyle. If your reasons are ethical you will find solace and unwavering motivation in learning about the conditions which animals are tortured and killed in. The same will be true if your reasons are driven by health, the environment, or anything else.

I would highly suggest getting "The Vegan Sourcebook" and "Being Vegan" from the library or book store and at least flipping through chapters that you are unfamiliar with. When I first went vegan I got the Sourcebook and was amazed at the things I didn't know about the ramifications of veganism. I didn't know the horrible way dairy cows and laying hens were treated, or that world hunger could potentially be eliminated with a global vegan diet (see World Hunger: 12 Myths), or that there are tons of health misconceptions that people have thanks to whitewashing on behalf of the meat & dairy industries. Now that I know these things my vegan lifestyle is a breeze. My resolve and knowledge are strong enough that I'm not tempted to "cheat" and I could never imagine going back to a lifestyle that I feel is so deplorable. Knowledge and an open heart are the best tips out there : )

Read up and get your learn on
Beyond the obvious changes to your diet and lifestyle, one of the most amazing things you'll notice is that you are going to learn A LOT as a vegan. You'll be a more informed consumer, you'll start thinking about everything that you put into your body (see this massive Animal Ingredients List), you'll learn about new concepts in nutrition, and a wide array of problems that your vegan lifestyle is helping to alleviate. I've been vegan for several years, and am an avid reader, but I'm still finding out new and amazing vegan information! You'll also be surprised when you start seeing all the ways that you've been coerced and tricked by meat/dairy industry advertizing. It's important to me to be an aware and informed consumer so, although I deplore half truths in advertizing, I do enjoy being able to see through them. (A very contemporary example is the "Happy Cows" campaign, which depicts California dairy cows as living freely on a large farm. Having all ready learned that most dairy cows never see the sunlight except for the day they are shipped to slaughter made me shake my fist at the TV the first time I saw one of the ads. At least PETA sued the dishonest California Milk Board because of it.)

Anyway, the two most important things to learn about are;
1) The way animals are tortured and killed to become "food" (or drink, or clothing, or test subjects, or entertainment...)
This is going to help you make ethical AND informed decisions about the lifestyle you choose. It's also nice to have answers when omnivores pester you with questions like "what's wrong with milk?" and "where do you get your protein and calcium?".
2) How you are going to eat a healthy diet and get all the fuel your body needs
This is obviously very important because a vegan lifestyle wants to do the least harm, and that includes humans like yourself! You won't be a very good example if you're making poor food choices and damaging your health. The majority of people all ready believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet is not sufficient enough to be "healthy", so looking like a sickly sack of bones isn't going to convince anyone otherwise. You owe it to yourself to make meal plans that make up a balanced diet and keep you in good health. But it's not all just research, you'll be learning about and eating delicious, interesting new foods. Make yourself a copy of the vegan food pyramid, crack open the Vegan Sourcebook (or any other great book you find with veggie meal planners), and get ready to discover some cool stuff.

Talk to other vegans
Having a support group or at least one good vegan friend will definitely be helpful. It's a nice feeling to share interests with people, especially ones as large as lifestyle choices. You can start by looking online for groups like the ones on Yahoo or the message boards at VegSource or Vegan Represent. There are also Veg*n Dating sites, Vegan Meetups, and local chapters of Animal Rights or Vegan groups. Vegan social networking sites are becoming more popular so why not post your profile at Vegan World, Vegan MySpace, or Vegan Passions?

In the real world you can either join or found a vegan club at your school, attend a dining club, eat at veggie restaurants, go to local lectures or animal rights demonstrations/protests, and just keep your eyes open. You might see a relevant sign on a telephone pole or be standing in line with another vegan at the whole foods store. I like to try and start conversations with people who wear veggie message t-shirts because I know we all ready have something big in common.

Find the strategy that works for YOU
Chances are everyone has tried to stop a bad habit, but what works for one person isn't going to work for everyone. One smoker might quit slowly, while another stops by quitting "cold tofu" (Har har). The same is said for making the change to a vegan lifestyle. If you feel that quitting all non-vegan food and activites all at once is the best solution for you then great! If you need more time to let yourself adjust to veganism by slowly cutting out items then that's OK, too. Veganism is not just a diet, and it not meant as a short-term solution as most diets are. Veganism is a lifestyle that affects almost every aspect of your life and should be treated as a life-long decision. Whatever you need to do to ensure that you can make that commitment throughout your lifetime is fine, as long as you don't hurt yourself or others in the process. (i.e.- starting a vegan diet immediately without any nutritional information is a good way to make yourself sick, and could possibly turn you off veganism because your body feels unhealthy and unsatisfied.)

If you don't enjoy cooking then make sure to stock your kitchen with pre-made vegan meals (available at health/whole foods stores) or find local vegan-friendly restaurants. If you do enjoy cooking then just make sure you have lots of ingredients and recipies to experiment with. If you find yourself tempted by certain foods then learn more about where those foods come from. After seeing and hearing footage of animals being beaten, boiled and "bled" while alive, having body parts amputated and being castrated without anethesia, being unable to lay down or turn around in tiny crates, being unable to stand due to untreated disease and genetically altered body proportions, and screaming out during all this torture... the "food" you once craved quickly becomes less appetizing.

If you still have questions or are having difficulties adjusting to your new vegan lifestyle then feel free to e-mail me. I get a lot of letters so sometimes I am slow to reply, but I will always be here. Trust me, it just gets easier and more fun

All text by LK, except where noted. Distribute freely, but please link back to Vegan Info.
Disclaimer: Research is good for you.
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