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The process of becoming vegan is incredibly rewarding... and sometimes challenging. As you change your lifestyle, you will probably begin to feel a lightness of heart and pride in knowing that you are living according to your beliefs and standing for something greater than yourself alone.
But I remember being a new vegan and feeling that just when I understood one concept about veganism and the food industry; an entirely new and related subject would arise. It was like the kid's story of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie...
For example, when reading about pesticides in our food supply, I learned about genetically modified foods. That brought me down an entirely new path with a new list of brands and types of foods to avoid in the store.
Maybe you've just decided to stop eating factory farmed eggs, and as you begin to research cage-free and free-range eggs, you find out that neither term really means the chicken is living a better life. And all of a sudden, before you realize it, you've decided to stop eating eggs entirely, on your way to becoming vegan.
Try not to get overwhelmed at all the new information, and just absorb and decide what works best for you. Everyone has to decide for herself where she'll draw the line with what she wants to support.
Some people settle for ensuring they're not eating animals, and others want to be positive nothing they eat was ever in a facility that shares machines with animal products. Either way, it's up to you and you alone have to approve of your choice.
It's crucial not to be incredibly hard on yourself as you are becoming vegan. In many cases you're completely uprooting everything you thought you knew about food and you are teaching your body all over again. If you make a mistake, there are no vegan police who will come after you. The only judgment of your actions that really matters is your own.
If you feel a craving for an old favorite food, relax, think about why you really want that food, and if you decide you must have it, slowly try just a small amount and see how it makes you feel. When you're first becoming vegan, it's often better to give yourself a reminder of what you're not really missing rather than completely depriving yourself.
Never forget that becoming vegan doesn't mean you are now forced to eat the same peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or hummus-on-bagel-with-sprouts every day for the rest of your life. Embrace the colors and flavors of a well-balanced vegan lifestyle and enjoy every minute as your taste buds realize how much more there is to food than meat and cheese.
And, if you can, try to learn to cook. Or at least learn to cut up and prepare fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans.
I often have people ask me why I decided to go to the "extreme" of being a vegan vs vegetarian, and for me the answer is simple; for all the reasons I wanted to be a vegetarian, I had to be a vegan. I loved animals, and being a vegetarian doesn't prevent animal abuse. I wanted to be healthy, and a well-balanced vegan diet is the healthiest diet. I want to protect the environment, and the egg and dairy industry creates environmental hazards.
Many people go vegan after they learn about standard practices on factory farms. From a young age, we're taught a double standard about animals. Our parents read us books about Old Mac Donald's farm and all the sounds animals make, but then we start eating solid food and we're told to eat chicken, fish, and cows. We're taught to love all beings, but then we're forced to eat meat "because it has good protein." For many, all it takes is a little knowledge about what happens on real farms, and then they go vegan.
We're certainly never taught about what really happens to those chickens and salmon on the factory farms where they're raised for food. In fact, most of our parents and teachers don't know about those amazing cruelties. I feel confident that if most people knew what happened to animals on animal agriculture farms, they would be vegetarians.
Other times, people become aware of veganism through education about some of the serious environmental consequences of the animal industry. More greenhouse gases are produced by animals raised for food than all of the transportation industry combined. So, for a real environmentalist, it doesn't do enough to simply give up SUVs and incandescent light bulbs.
Sometimes an anti-vegan person will try to say that I care more about animals than humans, which is simply not true. I care about all beings. In fact, I could argue I care more about humans than most people, because in my perfect world, humans would start eating what is natural for their bodies and would stop developing needless degenerative diseases.
Along with the travesties to the environment, people suffer from animal agriculture as well. Small family farmers are being pushed out of business by large corporate monopolies who make it nearly impossible to compete with the prices they can offer grocery stores and restaurants. I highly recommend supporting local farms at farmers' markets, CSAs, and pick-your-own establishments.
Millions are going hungry while simultaneously agreeing to clear-cut their food-rich forests to make room for grazing animals that will eventually go to feed wealthy, fat countries. Because the farming industry destroys the environment, severe weather phenomena is increasing and causing land to erode, and floods and tidal waves to destroy entire countries.
Some people choose the diet simply for the health benefits of being vegan, perhaps because their doctor recommended it, or because they heard about what it can do for their body. Others start with their personal health in mind, but sustain their vegan diet by learning more about the meat industry's affects on the world around them.