There seems to be a never-ending list of justifications people cite when attempting to explain why it’s hard for them to go vegan, but the truth is actually much more simple.
Ultimately, common excuses like “there are bigger problems in the world” or “human lives are worth more to me than animal lives” are not the real reasons people consume animal products. A person may truly hold those opinions and beliefs, but they’re not actually what motivates them to consume something that isn’t vegan over something that is.
Why is it hard to go vegan for so many people, really?
When you peel back all the layers, the answer is as simple as four little words:
Let’s examine each of them.
Yes. Meat, dairy, and eggs taste good.
Now that we’ve gotten that obvious statement out of the way, we’re free to look at other things that taste good too.
That’s because so many of the flavors we enjoy actually come from ingredients that are naturally vegan. Herbs and spices — the building blocks of any good dish — are plants. Lots of the sauces, dressings, and marinades we regularly use are already vegan or can easily be made vegan. Various cooking techniques like grilling or smoking instill their own flavors into foods and are totally vegan.
Sure, some vegan foods aren’t very good at all, but the same can be said about some non-vegan foods as well. Delicious vegan foods do exist. It’s simply a matter of having fun exploring and learning what tastes good to you and what doesn’t.
But what if I don’t like the taste of vegetables or other plant foods?
I’ve got good news for you: You can train and develop your palate to crave different flavors.
I know it seems impossible right now because you’ve gone so long liking what you’ve been liking, but you actually have a lot more control over what your body craves than you may think.
Just like people can develop an acquired taste for wine, beer, scotch whiskey, dark chocolate, and coffee, you can develop a taste for vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lots of other vegan foods.
In this way, going vegan doesn’t limit a person’s choice of flavors — it actually expands them.
Humans are creatures of habit.
Studies show that approximately 40% of our daily activities are habitual.
Yes, our brains are powerful, but lazy. The human brain loves cutting corners. That’s because it’s trying to be efficient, but it doesn’t always succeed in doing so.
We learn a way to do something that works and we keep doing things that way because it’s harder to learn a new (potentially more beneficial) way to do things than it is to keep doing things the way we’re already familiar with.
And so, habits are formed. And, just like the gradual wearing down of a path, the more we do them, the more ingrained those habits become.
This is every bit as true for our diet and lifestyle habits as it is for any other habits we may have. In fact, the foods we eat are dictated more by habit than anything else. We have our familiar watering-holes, favorite restaurants, regular grocery shopping list, favorite recipes, and more.
Thankfully, we can change these things if we want to. We can form new habits that replace the old habits. We can find new watering-holes, new favorite restaurants, create a new regular grocery shopping list, and so on.
All it takes is the willingness to change and to take on that task one day at a time.
Let’s say I hypothetically chose to go vegan. How hard would it be to break my current habits?
Habits can be tough to break, and a lifelong habit can be much tougher.
The good news is it takes about 21 days to create a new habit or to kick an old one, though it can take anywhere between 2 months to a year for that new habit to feel completely automatic.
Breaking the deeply ingrained habit of eating animal products means relearning how to cook, how to shop, and in many ways, how to interact with the world — things you’ve already spent your entire life up to this point learning about your non-vegan diet (whether you realized it or not).
You’ll have to learn the same things all over again, except vegan this time.
It’s going to feel like a crash course. It’s going to feel overwhelming. You’re going to feel like quitting and you’re going to mess up — and that’s okay. Those feelings fade away more and more with time. Soon enough, you’ll have newer, better habits that will feel every bit as natural to you as the ones you spent your entire life developing before you chose to go vegan.
There are also plenty of resources to help new vegans or anyone who’s curious about reducing their reliance on animal products.
I won’t lie to you and say that being vegan is more convenient than simply not caring at all about what you eat, wear, etc.
In the short term, not caring about something will always be more convenient than caring about something, regardless what that something is.
That being said, it has never been more convenient to be vegan than it is right this very moment, and it’s only getting more convenient each year.
Vegan foods are literally in every grocery store produce section (hooray for fruits and veggies) and vegan meat, dairy, and egg products are constantly being added to grocery stores and restaurant menus at an increasing rate.
You also get better at skimming ingredient lists to the point where it takes only a few seconds to determine whether something is vegan (thanks to your newly acquired vegan powers), and once you learn which products are vegan, it becomes just as easy to shop for them as it is has been to shop for non-vegan products.
But being vegan is expensive, isn’t it? That’s not very convenient.
Veganism can certainly be expensive. But veganism can be cheap too.
Look at it like this:
You’re going to pay a premium for a high quality steak in the same way you’re going to pay a premium for high quality organic produce or vegan meats.
Similarly, you’re going to pay next to nothing when shopping on the McDonald’s dollar menu in the same way you’re going to pay next to nothing when shopping in bulk for beans, lentils, rice, and more.
The difference is that being a cheap vegan is much healthier than being a cheap non-vegan, which conveniently means fewer medical bills down the road. How convenient is that?
Traditions are important. They ground us in the memories of our family and connect us to the history of our culture.
Traditions are often based around the telling and remembering of stories, which humans have been doing since long before recorded history. They’re not only a vital part of our evolution as a species, they also play an important part in shaping our identity as individuals.
We need to follow traditions strictly, because that’s how traditions work, right?
Chances are, the traditions you may follow have already been altered throughout history anyway.
The original Thanksgiving feast may not have included turkey, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie at all.
Studying the history of the origins of Christmas reveals that the now Christian holiday likely started as a pagan holiday which was hijacked in a sense, in an effort to bring pagans to the church by adopting and absorbing the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. The Christmas tree hadn’t even become a thing until 1,600 years after Jesus walked the earth (or um… water).
Some traditions weren’t so jolly. Foot binding was a painful ancient Chinese tradition that stretched back almost a thousand years and only stopped in the 1930s.
The point is, traditions are historically much more fluid and flexible than we have been taught to believe. Some traditions even stop completely as society grows and evolves to become more civil and ethical toward its various members.
But what if I enjoy celebrating my traditions?
Don’t worry. No one is telling you to stop celebrating your heritage or to stop honoring your past. That would be wrong on a variety of levels.
But because traditions are fluid, you can actually make new traditions, and your new traditions can be ethical traditions.
For instance, some orthodox Jews celebrate their New Year (called Yom Kippur) by performing Kapparot, an ancient ritual in which a rabbi says a prayer while waving a chicken over a person’s head. This is supposed to transfer that person’s sins from the previous year onto the chicken, who is then sacrificed, supposedly enabling the person receiving the prayer to enter the new year with a clean slate. A newer, more ethical tradition that many Jews now use is donating money to charitable causes as a way to cleanse their sins from the prior year.
Traditions can and do change for the better. The key is to stay true to the spirit of the tradition.
We don’t have to do things exactly the way previous generations did. In fact, improving our society requires us to do things differently. But we can still observe traditions by focusing on the meaning behind those traditions.
Let’s make a new tradition of compassion for all humans and animals.