It’s coming up to two years since I went vegan, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for reflection and to share what I’ve learned on my journey so far.
Here at Intentional View, I talk a lot about all the wonderful benefits of veganism – whether it’s caring about animal welfare, reducing your environmental impact, or taking responsibility for your health. But today, I’d like to share some of my personal lightbulb moments since taking the plant-based plunge.
So wherever you are on your own vegan journey – from the vegan-curious to struggling newbie vegans and beyond – I hope that this post resonates. Remember, you’re not alone!
Lessons I’ve Learned After 2 Years of Veganism
Vegan Lesson #1: Your vegan journey is unique to you
Some people (like me) start with an interest in the health benefits of a vegan diet, then switch to a fully vegan lifestyle after learning about the ethical and environmental considerations.
Others will start with ethics. Others environment. Some will go vegetarian first. And others will go vegan overnight. That doesn’t make any one of them the ‘best’ or ‘superior’ gateway into veganism. I mean, I was a pescetarian for a whole damn year before transitioning to veganism. What I’m trying to say is: your plant-based journey is your own. And no matter how messy or non-linear it is, it really doesn’t matter.
Veganism, like minimalism, is a process of personal growth that is less about the destination than the journey of growing consciousness.
However, once you’ve reached the vegan promised land, I know from experience that it’s so easy to start judging non-vegans harshly. ‘How can’t they see what I see?!’ you quietly despair. I’ve found that it helps to ground myself in these moments by reminding myself just how long it took me to come to my own realisations.
Vegan Lesson #2: He who has a why can bear almost any how
Ah, this Nietzsche quote is one of my absolute faves.
When I was first contemplating veganism, I genuinely didn’t think I’d be able to do it. I was the sort of person who liberally trotted out the phrase ‘I couldn’t live without cheese’ (and believed it).
The truth is, I really did love cheese. And I wasn’t exactly the world’s best cook, so the thought of having to contend with tofu, soy milk, and other ‘weird’ vegan ingredients was a major initial stumbling block.
But as soon as I watched Earthlings (amongst other vegan documentaries), my meat and dairy eating days were like the closed chapter of a book. Because no matter how much I had to learn or how much of a sacrifice it would be for my tastebuds, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be eating animal products ever again.
I’m now a firm believer that the key to change is understanding your ‘why’. If your reasons are solid enough in your own mind, then you create unshakable foundations to build on in any area of your life.
Vegan Lesson #3: Just because everyone does something, doesn’t make it right
Going vegan, more than anything else, has taught me to question received wisdom rather than simply digesting it as gospel.
As children, we’re like sponges. We grow up with societal norms drilled into us. But just because something is widely accepted culturally, doesn’t automatically make it moral or okay.
In theory, this should be fairly obvious. We don’t have to look back very far over the previous century to see the tidal wave of opinion change when it comes to social movements like women’s suffrage, black liberation or gay rights. Wherever we find ourselves in history, it’s always our responsibility as individuals to challenge the status quo.
Just because something is normalised by your parents, teachers, friends, society – even the current legal system – doesn’t mean you shouldn’t interrogate things and come to your own conclusions.
Vegan Lesson #4: Personal integrity is everything
In a 21st-century society, it’s so easy to be obsessed with your image and how you’re portraying yourself to others on social media. But what I’ve learned from going vegan is that the number of ‘likes’ (i.e. external validation) you get is largely irrelevant. It’s all about your own personal choices, convictions and actions.
For me, it’s never a question of whether I’d sneak some stilton behind closed doors when no one is watching. Because what matters is what I think of myself. In this sense, you learn to be your own biggest cheerleader rather than relying on the opinion of others, or just doing what looks good on the outside. Veganism helps you to move the locus of control back to yourself.
Vegan Lesson #5: Long-term alignment with your values trumps instant gratification
Moving on from my last point, veganism encourages you to live a life in alignment with your value system.
If you’ve ever picked up a perfectly portioned pack of mince off the supermarket shelf and felt a vaguely niggling guilt about factory farming, then you’re likely well-versed in stuffing down your intuition and emotions in favour of short-term gratification. I know this is how I felt for a long time before educating myself more fully on the horrors of animal agriculture.
The easy option in life is rarely the right option. And while veganism isn’t always a walk in the park, there is so much more long-term satisfaction to be gained from choosing to live kindly than by blindly following the instant gratification of your tastebuds. This is a lesson that can be transferred to any area of your life.
Vegan Lesson #6: You can teach an old dog new tricks
According to psychologists, at least 40% of your actions as an adult aren’t conscious decisions. Instead, they are habit-driven behaviour. Basically, we rely on the familiar neuro-circuitry that has developed over our childhood and young adult years to navigate the world.
It therefore takes a lot more effort to make changes as we get older.
A great lesson from going vegan is that you absolutely can make changes to your life at any age, if you’re open-minded and committed enough to do so. Veganism isn’t something that was even a part of my general vocabulary, let alone on my radar, for the most part of my life. But after doing the necessary inner work, I’ve been able to radically disrupt my habitual patterns of thought. It now seems crazy to me that there was a time when I wasn’t vegan.
So always know that change is possible.
Vegan Lesson #7: You can be vegan, healthy & stylish
Disclaimer: I used to assume these were mutually exclusive terms.
Vegans were barefoot hippies wearing handmade hemp clothing (probably waving some Tibetan prayer flags for good measure). Not that I’ve got anything against these things, but the image I had in my head didn’t exactly match my style.
Fortunately, I needn’t have worried. Veganism is rising in popularity and I’ve never had to compromise on style when it comes to my wardrobe.
I had also been fed loads of vegan myths throughout my life, like ‘you need to drink milk to get enough calcium’ or ‘you’ll be deficient in protein if you don’t incorporate meat in your diet’. So it was nothing short of a revelation to do my own research and find out that none of these things are true. In fact, a well-planned plant-based diet has actually been proven to be one of the healthiest in the world.
In other words, there aren’t a huge amount of compromises other than the obvious – missing out on the taste of real meat, fish and dairy.
Vegan Lesson #8: There is an abundance of ethical brands out there
Piggybacking off my last point, veganism has spurred me on to shop more ethically in every area of my life – whether it be my pantry, my wardrobe or my cosmetics.
I never realised before venturing off the well-trodden and familiar high street that there are so many wonderful brands worthy of support. You just need to know where to look.
With an explosion of plant-based products popping up in supermarkets, as well as vegan clothing brands and online stores, going vegan has opened up a whole new world to me. One of opportunity, not restriction.
Vegan Lesson #9: Vegan doesn’t automatically equal healthy
I’ve also learned that just because you’re a vegan… doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any healthier! No matter your chosen diet, if you rely on overly processed vegan junk foods and carbs then you’re not looking after your long-term health.
Developing an understanding of healthy food groups has been a hugely practical lesson in nutrition – one that has helped me to structure my diet on a daily basis. I’ve used Dr Greger’s free Daily Dozen app for this – a checklist which I’ve pretty much internalised now!
Vegan Lesson #10: Cravings are totally normal
Let’s be real here – plant-based products can be a sacrifice on taste. I’m not saying that there aren’t some excellent vegan substitutes now (I’m the first to get excited about these!), but let’s not pretend that vegan cheese is real cheese. Or that a tempeh steak is a real steak. Because it just isn’t. And to say anything else is disingenuous.
I’ve found it much easier when I’m honest with myself.
Unless you grew up in a vegetarian or vegan household, you probably will have cravings as a vegan. It’s easy to beat yourself up about this – after all, how can you crave something when you’re simultaneously so disgusted by it?! But remember that the reason most of us go vegan later in life isn’t because we don’t like the taste of meat or dairy. We do so for ethical reasons.
What I’ve learned is that these two feelings can coexist harmoniously. You can crave the taste of something and consciously choose not to act on this impulse. In many ways, this takes more strength of will than those who never knew the taste of animal products. So cut yourself some slack, because cravings are to be expected (and you can overcome them).
Vegan Lesson #11: It is hard, but it gets easier
When you start your vegan journey, you may find yourself thinking things like ‘This is just too hard’ or ‘I can’t spend an hour reading labels every time I go to the supermarket!’ Alternatively, you might overly glamorise the situation and assume veganism is going to be the cure-all pill for your problems.
What I’ve realised is that being vegan doesn’t suddenly make your life perfect. If you’re expecting glowing skin and a stick-thin figure in two weeks, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
In reality, veganism sits somewhere in the middle. It’s hard, but it gets easier.
Your initial transition may feel overwhelming or even impossible at times. I lived on falafel wraps and salad for a good few weeks because I had no idea what to put in a sandwich that didn’t involve meat or dairy (mind blown when I discovered Buddha bowls). What started as an hour’s trip to the supermarket eventually got whittled down as I started to understand food labels. And then one day I realised that I didn’t even need to check.
You’ve just got to stick with it and trust the process.
Like anything, veganism is a road that gets easier the longer you stay on it. After a few months of grappling with change, the hard times will quickly be relegated to memory.
Vegan Lesson #12: Activism comes in different forms
I used to think that all vegans wore masks and stood in the street with TV screens showing the horrors of abattoirs.
Whilst activism is a powerful tool to shock people out of their habitual ways of thinking, it isn’t the only way to advocate for veganism.
In fact, I think that sometimes these graphic methods can actually alienate people more than inspire positive change.
Conversations do need to happen, and we should never shy away from these. But the personal is also political. Simply voting with your wallet and opting out of purchasing animal products sends a strong message that challenges consumer demand. So does talking to your friends and loved ones in a non-threatening way about your vegan lifestyle choice.
It’s easy to feel shamed, even within the vegan community itself, for not doing more. But sometimes, the best way to get through to people is via genuine conversations.
Vegan Lesson #13: There’s nothing to apologise for
Last but by no means least, veganism has taught me to stop being shy about taking up space.
When I first went vegan, it felt easiest to diminish myself by continually apologising for being vegan and inconveniencing people.
But what I quickly grew to realise is that veganism is something I’m actually really bloody proud of. It’s a big part of my identity and something I love about myself. So I’m slowly getting used to being comfortable in my own skin – it’s okay to be the odd one out in the room!
What Have You Learned on Your Own Vegan Journey?
I hope that this post has given you some insight into my realisations (and struggles) when it comes to embracing a vegan lifestyle. I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself and grown as a person throughout the process.
If you’ve recently gone vegan yourself, then I’d love to hear from you – what have been your ‘aha’ moments so far? And how has veganism helped you to grow? Similarly, if you’re a long-standing vegan, then please share your wisdom!
For those looking for more practical tips and advice on veganism, then check out my ultimate beginner’s guide and comprehensive checklist below (the resources I wish I’d had when I first went vegan two years ago!).