I just want to start this post off with a couple of caveats. Firstly, I consider myself a vegan, but if we get down to the brass tacks, plant-based might be a more appropriate term, simply because I still consume honey, and some of the non-food items that I purchase, namely makeup, are not always vegan *but I’m working on changing that! Secondly, I am blessed to be with an open-minded partner, who is extremely supportive (humble brag :P). I am stating this as a caveat simply because I know that while many people do have supportive partners, when it comes to what one chooses to eat (or not eat) feelings can easily bristle, and it can quickly become a loaded topic. So many questions can arise simply from what we put in our shopping carts and on our plates; from shared or differing values, to “will-power”, to how you perceive inconvenience, to how you deal with criticism, questions, or attention from others about your choices. Navigating all of this on our own is tricky, let alone doing it in a partnership; it can easily lead to moments of tension or full-on arguments. My intention with this post is simply to share my experience, and what I’ve learned over these last few years, in hopes of potentially helping anyone else embarking on the same path, either with or without a partner. The third caveat is that I did not necessarily follow my own advice. These are tips that I’ve gleaned mostly from hindsight and self-reflection. If only I was this thoughtful in real time!
Tip #1: Focus on yourself and focus on the positive. To be a little more specific, I recommend that you start by sharing your intention and what you want to gain from these changes with your partner. Whether your intention is to feel more aligned with your values, or to move towards greater health, whatever your reasons may be, I think that sharing your goals, and in some cases – as in mine, your vulnerabilities, helps your partner to understand why this change is important to you. By focusing on the positive changes you want to make for yourself, you save your partner from feeling like they are going to be implicated against their will. When I first started talking about going vegan, it was simply in hopes of curing my skin issues. I knew about some of the ethical, and environmental reasons as I had been a vegetarian for a few years in my teens, so those were in the back of my head too, but in reality, what spurred this move in was pure vanity. I’ve had issues with acne since puberty and I thought that giving up dairy would cure this. (*Side note, this sadly hasn’t been the case and I am still working towards healing my hormonal imbalances, figuring out the food connection, the emotional connection, the root causes, but I can share more on this in another post). I told James that I wanted to try out veganism as a means to heal my skin, and he was very supportive and empathetic toward this, and didn’t mind if we stopped cooking with and consuming animal products at home. To sum up, the important part here is being open, and authentic and not making it about what the other person should or shouldn’t do. You are the one making the changes after all, so focusing on this helps to reinforce both yours and your partners autonomy.
Tip #2: Don’t try to force someone else’s learning or change their opinions. Shortly after I decided to try a vegan diet to heal my skin, I started watching documentaries (as you do) about plant-based eating and I was soon reconnected with my feelings of empathy for all animals, particularly those raised in factory farms. I was also beginning to learn so much more about the environmental, political and economic implications of animal agriculture. As I was learning these things and as my conviction to stop participating in this system anymore was growing, I was getting fired up and I wanted very badly to share with my partner all these things that were surprising, appalling, and disturbing to me. I really wanted James to watch the docs that I’d watched, to learn what I learned, and to feel what I was feeling! Being passionate about this new lifestyle was fantastic for me, but sharing the points that I felt were compelling with my partner felt pushy to him. He didn’t want to feel like he was being pressured into making fairly drastic changes to his own life, simply because I’d watched a few documentaries. Funnily enough, he did come around to making these changes on his own, after I had stopped talking about it. What I wish I would’ve realized back then are that changes are not sustainable when they are built off of secondhand information or secondhand experience; you must let others make their own decisions and come to things in their own time. Be patient and respectful of where others are at and be open to sharing when the other person is open and expressing their own interest.
Tip #3: Let the food and the experiences speak for themselves! James and I started eating vegan at home, simply because I did most of the cooking, and when he cooked, he kindly made vegan dishes for both of us to enjoy, as opposed buying and cooking meat for himself to eat. However, he still consumed meat and dairy here and there, like if someone brought food to share at his work, or if we went out to eat. As I mentioned above, it wasn’t until after I had transitioned to a vegan diet, and well after I had stopped trying to convince him of the benefits of going vegan that he decided to transition on his own in a very organic way. It had been a few weeks since he’d consumed any meat or dairy, when one day he decided to get a burger for lunch. After not having eaten meat for quite a while, he noticed a marked difference in his mood and his temperament after eating it; he felt sluggish and even irritable. After that experience he decided to consciously start cutting meat and dairy out of his diet for good.
Now here are the finer points to this tip: In order to let the food and the experiences speak for themselves, you do need to be eating complete, satiating meals. Vegan food is just as filling and delicious as non-vegan food, but you can’t simply swap out animal products for their faux-meat counterparts. Yes this works for a while when you’re just getting started, but it doesn’t really lead to exciting, delicious meals that you’ll want to come back to again and again. I find that a typical Western diet meal is centered around the meat and sides dishes, whereas vegan food tends to be more integrated. You want to think of complete dishes rather than say, chicken breast with a side of green beans and potatoes. Instead you can make things like sweet potato and black bean enchiladas, veggie lasagna with tofu ricotta, buddha bowls, dhal with rice, chili, veggie stir fry with marinated tofu, bahn mi sandwiches, homemade veggie burgers with roasted sweet potato fries, tofu scramble with sauteed mushrooms and kale, you get the gist… My point here is simply to get comfortable in the kitchen and be willing to try new things, try new ingredients, take inspiration from different cuisines. It may take a little extra time to learn what your new staple meals will be and how to prepare them, but I promise it’s worth it. It doesn’t have to be expensive, complicated or take a lot of time once you have the recipes down. You can make a dhal for literal pennies and it can take you as little as 20 minutes to prepare. It’s the same for veggie stir fry, or throwing a quick buddha bowl together if you’ve prepped some of the ingredients beforehand.
Veganism is not a deprivation diet; it’s an exciting and wholesome way of approaching cooking. I became a lot more passionate about cooking since going vegan… hence the creation of this blog ;). I hope these tips were helpful and hopefully interesting. Leave me a comment if you have any tips of your own to share!