Are you interested in going vegan? Don't start until you read this article!
Veganism is a lifestyle that omits the use of animal products at all levels of one's life. Contrary to popular belief, veganism is not a cult or a religion; it's a way of life that discourages the use of animal products in food, cosmetics, fashion and other industries. Before you go vegan, it's important to know five key things that can help you decide whether this is the right path for you. I encourage you to do your own research and continue to deepen your knowledge on vegan and plant-based lifestyles.
#1: Know Why You Want To Go Vegan
Ask yourself: why does a vegan lifestyle interest me? What have I heard that inspired me to go vegan? There are plenty of reasons why folks choose to omit animal products from their lives. One reason is for the health benefits. There are plenty of studies that show a plant-based diet can help prevent or reverse the following diseases and ailments: diabetes, heart disease, obesity, liver disease, high blood pressure, hypertension, mood swings and the list goes on. I cited a ton of great scientific studies in my article 9 Science-Backed Reasons Why Black Folks Should Go Vegan.
Another reason folks go vegan is for the animals. Factory farming is a farming practice that seeks to maximize the amount of animal products produced with the least amount of production costs. Essentially, farms these days are packing more animals into smaller cages with less sunlight and fresh air than ever before. Each animal is treated (or shall I say tortured) differently. Cows are used for milk production and are forcibly impregnated and then killed after their third lactation cycle causing the average life expectancy of a factory farm cow to be 2.5 years (1). Chickens on the other hand are one of the most abused farm animals in the food industry. 95% of egg-laying hens will spend their lives in battery cages; a small confined space that's about as big as an iPad (2). The female chickens are debeaked (their beaks are torn off) and 260 million male chickens are killed upon hatching each year (3). Naturally, people who believe factory farming practices are unethical, choose not to participate in the consumption of animal products. I encourage you to do your own research on factory farming and the inhumane ways our food system processes meat products for mass consumption. Think about your favorite animal product. If you knew how much bloodshed occurred to bring you this product, would you still purchase it?
The third major reason why folks go vegan is for the environment. One study showed that a plant-based diet has less of an environmental impact than diets heavy in animal products (4). There are many reasons to why a plant-based diet is more environmentally-friendly. One reason is animal products have a high carbon footprint particularly in the case of cows and methane production. Methane is a greenhouse gas that absorbs heat energy and radiates it back to the Earth (5). Methane trapped in the atmosphere causes a heating up of the planet and the "global warming" effect that so many scientists having been warning us about. Nearly 63% of all greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere come from animals in the agricultural sector (5). The warming of the planet is causing sea level rise and more dramatic environmental disasters. It is not unreasonable to think that if we change what is on our plates, then we can help reduce the environmental impact we have on the planet.
The question remains: why are you going vegan? Is it for health, animal or environmental reasons? Are there other reasons we haven't discussed?
Reason #2: Know the Difference Between Plant-Based and Vegan
Plant-based and Vegan are two terms that have been use interchangeably. However, they represent two different lifestyles and it's important to know the difference between the two.
A plant-based lifestyle is a diet-based lifestyle that implies someone is getting the majority of their food from plant sources. The keyword here is "majority". A vegetarian lifestyle is considered a plant-based lifestyle. A vegetarian may eat dairy and eggs but the majority of their food sources are from plants. A pescatarian can also be considered a plant-based eater since the majority of their food comes from plant sources with the exception of the occasional fish product here or there. Plant-based eaters can still consume animal products and may still purchase products that contain animal ingredients like that found in clothing, cosmetics and foods. A plant-based lifestyle is much less strict in terms of the omission of all animal products than a vegan lifestyle.
A vegan lifestyle goes beyond the food consumption; it is about the justice aspect of eliminating animal products from one's lifestyle at every level. Vegans stand firmly against the use of animal products. This includes no animal products in one's cosmetics, clothing or food. A vegan will not eat cheese or drink milk and they won't wear a leather jacket and use goat's milk soap on their face. Some vegans won't consume honey products because honey comes from the exploitation of bees.
Contrary to popular belief, there are several ways to be vegan. Many people think it's an all or nothing kind of lifestyle. I don't believe in this binary. There are plenty of ways to be vegan that can fit your lifestyle. Here are a few ways plant-based and vegan can blend to form a grey area of the two lifestyles:
Dietary Vegan: Someone who does not consume meat, dairy or eggs; but is not focused on animal-free clothing or products.
Ethical Vegan: Someone who does not consume meat, dairy or eggs; but does avoid all animal-based products in clothing and cosmetics.
Raw Vegan: Someone who eats a strictly plant-based diet with food that has not been cooked over 115 degrees Fahrenheit
Plant-Based Vegan: Someone who does not eat meat, dairy, eggs or processed foods like faux cheese and meat (from soy products and other processed sources).
VB6: Someone who eats a strict vegan diet before 6pm then consumes whatever they like after 6pm. This is a great option for someone who is transitioning but can't quite give up animal products overnight.
Paris Vegan: Someone who eats vegan on a daily basis but is vegetarian when dining out with friends and family. This is also good option for someone who is feeling the social impacts of going vegan and feels a strain on one's relationships since going vegan.
Weekday/Weekend Vegan: Someone who chooses specific days such as weekends or weekdays to eat vegan.
Virtually Vegan: Someone who avoids the consumption of animal products as much as possible. There may be situations where vegan options are unavailable. Be kind to yourself and eat plant-based when possible.
Travel Vegan: Eats vegan daily but experiments with local cuisine when traveling the globe.
As you can see, there are many ways to be plant-based, vegan or a blend of the two. Neither plant-based or vegan is "better" than the other. It is really up to you and how you would like to reduce or resist the use of animal products in your lifestyle.
#3: Know What Your Nutritional Needs Are
One of the things that really dissuades folks from going vegan is the topic of nutrition. There's a misconception that folks who eat plant-based or vegan are unable to get enough protein, calcium or Vitamin D. It is simply untrue that animal products are the only sources of protein, calcium, Vitamin D and a number of other nutrients. It took me a whole semester in a nutrition class to understand that the nutrients the human body needs to function are found in all sorts of plants products. Next time someone asks, "Where do you get your protein, calcium or vitamin D from?" Tell them this:
Plant products that contain a ton of protein include: tofu, spinach, asparagus, beet greens, mustard greens, swiss chard, bok choy, tempeh, lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, oats, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and so much more.
Plant products that contain Calcium include: tofu, sesame seeds, collard greens, spinach, cinnamon, cabbage, green beans, oranges, parsley, cumin, garlic, romaine lettuce, leeks, fennel and so much more.
Plant products that contain Vitamin D include: mushrooms (shiitake, portobello and maitake) and fortified vegan foods like plant milks and yogurts. You can also sit in the sun for at least 30 minutes a day or more and your body can produce its own Vitamin D.
The only vitamin that is not easily found in plant products is Vitamin B12 and that's because this nutrient comes from the soil and B12 varies based on the soil in which its grown. Many mass agricultural farms have depleted levels of B12 in their soil which in turn limits the amount of B12 found in the food we eat. However, Vitamin B12 is now fortified in several plant-based milk products and can be easily found via store bought vegan products or by taking a vitamin regularly.
Your nutrition is no joke. This is what separates a healthy vegan from an unhealthy vegan. I encourage you do your own research on what someone your age, body type, and lifestyle needs to fulfill their health needs. If you are a nutrition nerd like me, you may wish to find reliable sources for nutrition information. My favorite website is WHFoods.com. It stands for the World's Healthiest Foods. I've been following them for years and have never been let down by their user-friendly nutrition information that is scientifically backed and regularly updated.
#4: Listen To Your Body
It's extremely important to listen to your body when you're beginning your vegan journey. When you wean off of meat, cheese, eggs and dairy products, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. You should talk to your doctor about this and make sure you are transitioning safely.
Many vegans make the mistake of ignoring their body when it's craving certain foods. Don't get me wrong, listening to your cravings doesn't always lead you to make healthy choices. There's a lot of research that is examining how your cravings and gut health may be leading you eat unhealthy foods (6). However, I found out that improving my gut health improved the my skin and the overall health of my body. I write about my experience clearing by acne by improving my gut health in my article, How I Cured My Acne: PH Balance, Veganism and this 1 Simple Ingredient.
If you want to improve your health, you must listen to your body. For example, when I was in Europe, I came during the Fall season. In Fall, there is so much less sunlight than the summer. For weeks, I felt like something wasn't right. Then one day, when I was grocery shopping, I spotted a good sale on portobello mushrooms. My eyes lit up and I immediately bought them. I was eating portobello mushrooms three times a week for several weeks after that. I didn't know why. I don't particularly like mushrooms but I was listening to my body and it was telling me to eat mushrooms. As mentioned above, mushrooms are a great source of Vitamin D which my body was desperately asking for. I suspect it was the lack of sunlight that was causing some serious Vitamin D imbalances in my body. I listened to what my body needed and found the sources of food that would help me get the Vitamin D I needed.
I encourage you to listen to your body's cravings. Identify whether or not they are healthy and what your body could be telling you. Never ignore your body if you are feeling weak, malnutritioned or fatigued. This could be a larger nutritional issue that you should see your doctor about. If you feel that you aren't getting enough nutrition from your food for whatever reason, try supplementing with a daily vitamin to fill in the gaps. But whatever you do, listen to your body.
#5: Find Your Tribe
One of the ways I have been able to stay plant-based for this long (3 years vegan and 3 years vegetarian before that), has been to find people who support me on my journey. There's nothing like being the only vegan at a family function and having no food or support from those around you. When I was younger, I struggled as a vegetarian because I was surrounded by meat eaters. They always felt sorry for me and very rarely accommodated to make me feel included. That was hard emotionally and caused me to consider quitting a few times. I stuck to it and branched out to other communities of people that shared my dietary habits.
I was so happy to have a fellow woman of color in my life that was vegan and showed me that the movement is possible for us. After finding one woman of color, I found two, then three and now I have a whole community of hundreds of women of color online and in-person that support one another on the journey.
Community is key and that's why I formed Afro Feminista Vegan. I wanted to surround myself with other vegan women of color so we could inspire each other to stay motivated and committed to living a healthy vegan lifestyle. I know there's plenty of folks that don't have the luxury of a vegan community where they live. That's why we're building it right here.
Afro Feminista Vegan started the Vegan Do It Program in 2018 to build a community of women of color who wish to go or sustain a vegan lifestyle through the use of community, coaching, nutrition education and motivation. We can be your community and support you along your journey. Anyone can join the community. Seasoned vegans and ones that are just getting their feet wet. We could all use a bit of support to stay motivated and that's why we're here.
Want to Go Vegan? Now is the Time
It's a new year and there's so many opportunities and resources to get you started. Once you find out why you want to go vegan, what kind of vegan you want to be, your nutritional needs, what your body is telling you and who your community is, you should be good to go! If this article helped you in any way, share it and leave a comment below.