By Leo Babauta
My wife Eva and I have been vegan for over 11 years now, and we love it. I don’t talk about veganism a lot on Zen Habits, but today I’d love to share a little about it, if you’ll indulge me.
Let me start by talking about why I’m vegan, and then I’ll share a few tips on how to make becoming vegan as easy as possible, in case you’re interested.
So the first thing is that veganism, for me, is about compassion. Yes, it has a huge environmental impact — probably bigger than anything else you can do, including ditching a car or going electric vehicle. Yes, switching to eating plants can often have a huge health impact, if you’ve been eating a lot of junk and not a lot of veggies. But for me, the reason is compassion.
Animals are fellow living beings, and even if they aren’t human, I feel they deserve our compassion. Anyone who has a dog or a cat as a loved one knows what I’m talking about, but all of us have looked into the eyes of an animal and felt a heart connection. I believe they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not as objects for our pleasure. If you agree with that, then I hope you’ll consider learning more about how they’re treated if they’re raised for food or clothing.
I grew up thinking that meat and dairy and eggs were simply food items — in the back of my mind, I knew that they came from animals, but I’d been protected from the reality of that. The animal agriculture industry is invested in us not looking more deeply than what we see in the grocery store. But it’s all horrors, if we bother to look.
So when I found the courage to face this and educate myself, I couldn’t close my eyes any more. I had to decide whether I was willing to ignore these horrors, just so I could have the pleasures of meat, cheese, eggs that I’d grown accustomed to.
If we’re being honest, these foods are for our pleasure. We no longer need to eat animal products to survive, nor thrive. I have been living a very healthy life for over a decade — I’m strong, not underweight, not anemic, not deficient on any vitamins or minerals. And it hasn’t been hard at all. It doesn’t require a ton of careful planning, nor does it feel like deprivation or sacrifice.
I love eating vegan food! I eat mostly whole plant food — lentils, greens, fruits, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, avocados, nuts and seeds make up the majority of my diet lately. But in recent weeks I’ve also had vegan pizza, burgers, fries, cookies, banana bread, donuts, pad Thai, and more. I indulge, and it’s all vegan, and all delicious.
I’m a healthy vegan because:
- I eat mostly whole plants, delicious as anything
- I exercise daily. Running, walking, strength training, sports.
- I get good sleep.
- I make sure to get the nutrients I need: a decent amount of protein for all the exercise I do, pretty much all the vitamins and minerals my body needs from my plant foods, plus I supplement with Vitamin B12, Vitamin D (especially in winter), and Omega 3 (from seaweed).
And I’m a happy vegan, because I let myself enjoy life. I don’t care about wearing leather or wool. I feel good about my choices. And I don’t judge anyone else. I just model being a healthy, happy vegan.
The Easy Way to Go Vegan
What I learned is that you don’t have to go all or nothing. If you’re interested in making this compassionate change, then I suggest the following:
- Do it gradually. Start by cutting out one thing — let’s say red meat — while learning one or two vegan recipes of something you already enjoy. We started with things like vegan chili, spaghetti, and pizza. After that feels normal, pick another thing — maybe poultry. And learn a couple more recipes. And so on. I didn’t do it all at once (cheese was the last thing I gave up, and it was way easier than I thought!).
- Don’t be afraid to try vegan substitutes. Sure, they’re processed, but so are a lot of things we eat. I don’t think of vegan products as “health foods” but more things to make it easier to switch to vegan. And the products are getting better every year — companies like Impossible, Beyond, Field Roast, Miyoko’s, Gardein, Silk, Forager and more are creating really great stuff.
- Learn how to get your nutrients. One of the most important is B12, which isn’t provided by whole plant foods, but you can easily get it in fortified foods like soymilk. I take a weekly B12 vitamin for insurance. Make sure you’re getting adequate protein by eating a protein source at every meal — beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, seitan, or some vegan meat substitute. I also recommend a daily vegan Vitamin D. It’s not hard once you figure out what works for you.
- Don’t toss out your non-vegan stuff. Being vegan isn’t just a diet — it includes other lifestyle choices like not buying leather or wool. Read up on those industries to educate yourself. But I don’t think you need to toss out all your belts and boots and go buy new stuff — that can be expensive and wasteful. Instead, when your current stuff needs to be replaced, just look for alternatives that don’t use animal products.
- Be kind to the haters. If you transition to being vegan, you’ll get lots of people who are curious about it, and some who try to argue about why it’s a bad choice. You’ll hear stories of people who tried it and got sick (it’s rare, and usually means they didn’t get proper nutrients). You’ll get lame jokes about vegans. It’s OK — don’t take any of it too seriously. I try to keep a good sense of humor, find compassion for them, and kindly educate if they’re genuinely curious. Otherwise, I just remind myself that this is just what comes with the territory when you make a change that makes others feel threatened. I remember what that was like for me, as a meat eater, and I remain gentle with them.
The main thing is to not stress about any of it, and make it as easy and enjoyable as you can. Let me know if you have questions!