“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Chapter 5 has a series of questions for the reader to answer before diving into the challenge. Here I reflect on more of these questions: before I started the vegan journey, my experience during the first six months, and how I would answer the question now.
Now, the final three questions, with my thoughts.
What am I most afraid of or anxious about?
Before: I think I was anxious about almost everything, which is why I originally gave myself an out clause – I would only commit to vegan for a year. I had no confidence that I was doing the right thing. I didn’t really know what I was doing or why. I was overwhelmingly ignorant. Wouldn’t it be terrible not to eat eggs, cheese or sushi? Would I never bake again? Did I even want to know ‘the truth’ about my food? How could a vegan diet possibly be healthy? I did ‘free-range’ – that was okay, wasn’t it?
Transition: Almost immediately I found myself living in an alternate universe. Everything looked and sounded the same, but the world around me no longer felt normal, my habitual thoughts, behaviours and ways of relating to people, and of those around me seemed increasingly crazy. As my thinking changed, I could no longer rely on ‘what I used to do’. I started to notice connections and things I had never seen before. Now, that I was no longer compromised by my animal consuming behaviours, the walls compartmentalising the contradictions within my own mind quickly started to crumble. I was no longer trying to deny learning, rather I was seeking out new information – I felt driven to know. Yet, I still didn’t know what information to trust.
It wasn’t just my own mind that made me anxious. I became socially anxious. I didn’t really know what to say to people. I didn’t really know how to behave. Eating with people was difficult and emotionally fraught. I was no longer just seeing food on the table. I was looking at death, and nobody else seemed to even notice. Yet, neither had I for over 40 years. How was that possible? Even as a vegetarian, I had never seen it like this! My wife was still eating and enjoying meat and dairy; she spent money on leather. How was I going to living comfortably in my own house?
Now: There are still things that I feel uncertain and anxious about, but they are becoming far fewer.
The key is self-education and practice. Knowledge gives me confidence to move forward, to find solutions, to be okay with what I am doing, especially when other people question it or make comments. I know more than they do. I can see the problems with what their opinions, claims and lines of reasoning. Even it I don’t respond, inside I have the confidence not to second guess myself based on their ill informed commentary. If they do raise something I don’t know then I just add it to my list of things to investigate. It no longer makes me start to question the whole ‘project’. I am confident that I am on the right road.
I still find situations awkward, and have moments of being uncertain about what to do. However, based on my experience over the past six months – I can just do it. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. I remember when I first faced the problem of what to eat in restaurants. Now, I know what to ask. I figured out how to do it.
What am I anticipating being the most challenging aspects of these 30 Days?
Before: I thought that the the challenging aspect would be the practical logistics and letting go of certain foods, in particular eggs, feta cheese, cheese in general and sushi. [But a year was not a life sentence, right?]
Transition: Surprisingly, the least challenging aspects were the ones I thought I would have the most difficulty with. Letting go of the foods I once loved was surprisingly simple. Once I honestly faced up to what my food really was and what it contributed to, I no longer wanted to participate. Once I started looking at eggs and thinking backwards to the chickens and the industry eating eggs supports, I wanted to have nothing to do with it. The thought of doing it filled me with self-disgust. The other day I cleared out the bookshelves and took many of my cookbooks to the Hospice Shop; some of these were old friends I had had for many, many years. It felt good. It was a tangible symbol that I have let it go.
The practical logistics turned out to be fun. Once I took animal products out of my diet, a whole world of food opened up to me. I found new foods, new recipes, new approaches to food and cooking, I found new shops, new products and new things to try. Just starting to read the labels on my food was a whole education by itself!
What has proved to be the most challenging are the social, relationship and emotional aspects. I discovered how much of our social life and connection with others revolves around food. Eating with people becomes fraught. There is that awkward first conversation, where it feels like you are rejecting their food or passing judgement on them. There is the emotional pain of watching people eat what was once a living being who wanted to live; a being who was brought into the world for one purpose only, who lived under horrible conditions until he or she was brutally killed to fulfil that horrible purpose.
Now: I still find the relationship aspect challenging. I don’t really know how to have a balanced ‘vegan’ conversation with people, but I am working on it. The emotional upheaval is, I think, over. I have started to integrate this new understanding of the world into the furniture of my brain. It doesn’t make what happens any less terrible or sad, but I no longer feel overwhelmed by it. Rather, I feel intensely committed to not being a part of it and to figuring out how to communicate that to others in a meaningful helpful way. People I am close to are getting used to me being vegan. I am getting used to it. And I am learning how to keep my commitment and cope with social situations.
What am I anticipating being the most exciting aspects of these 30 Days?
Before: I didn’t really expect anything to be exciting. I was anticipating a more detached. intellectual journey. Doing my time as vegan, reading and thinking, and then at the end of the year reaching a reasoned, measured conclusion.
Transition: Over the past six months, there are two aspects of the journey that I find exciting or satisfying. Firstly, there is all the novelty and trying new things. I fell in love with cooking again. I discovered new foods and new things to do in the kitchen. This was fun!
I also started to reconnect with myself. Being vegan enables me to truly live more in alignment with my values and the things I value about the world and humanity. Whenever I feel the resistance to ‘knowing’ something new about the world I am learning to not turn away, not distract myself, but to give it attention. I guess I am becoming more open. I feel kinder. I feel less like pushing people away. I am feeling like I want to connect more with all aspects of the world.
Now: What I am excited about going forward is continuing to learn more; to stay on this path, and to see where it takes me. I want to get out and meet other vegans living in New Zealand. Eventually, I want to find a way to contribute more to the vegan movement in New Zealand (small as it is). But for now, I need to consolidate my own understandings and behaviours.
One specific thing that I find exciting is vegan nutrition. When I first started going vegan, I decided that since I was changing my food habits anyway, why not also try to make some healthy changes at the same time. I wanted to find out how to make a vegan diet as healthy as a ‘good’ healthy diet that included eggs, dairy and fish. What I never expected to find was that certain kinds of plant-based diets may be turn out to be THE healthiest ways for humans to eat. I want to explore this possibility more. I am a not particularly healthy, middle-aged woman heading towards the years when people get sicker
As it relates specifically to the 30 Day Vegan Challenge, I am excited about two things. I am looking forward to going through all the recipes. My goal is to cook them all at least once. Last weekend, I made the creamy leek polenta, and it was delicious. It will make great comfort food for winter. The recipes all seem relatively uncomplicated and the type of food I like to eat. I am looking forward to the having a whole new batch of ‘staple’ recipes.
I am also anticipating that the 30 Day Vegan Challenge will give me a foundational framework and the practical tools to live this way,vegan, for the rest of my life. This book covers all the bases. It has recipes that make me want to get into the kitchen. I think completing the 30 Day Vegan Challenge is the next best thing I can do for myself on my journey towards living an ethical, compassionate and happy life.