"It's purely a realignment: a change in mindset and an openness to changing your routine.
You don't think twice about it: Googling a restaurant your friends have suggested and crossing your fingers there's a vegan option on the menu; Reading the label of every item that passes through your hands, hoping you won't see the word MILK plastered across in bold; Getting far too over excited when you see the Free From section has expanded from 2 shelves, to a whole area of the Supermarket. (Let's not even talk about your reaction when you notice they've stocked a new brand of dairy free cookies!) It's all part of a normal day. Well - a normal day in the life of a vegan. But to the majority of those around us, the daily choices vegans make can seem pretty... odd. I can honestly say, if I had a penny for every time someone commented how it simply wasn't "normal" to stop eating meat and dairy, I'd be rolling around in a bottomless pit of vegan cookies right about now. (Okay, I promise I'll stop talking about vegan cookies now.) But those small decisions we make every day that seem so insignificant, can leave those around us feeling baffled. And so vegans everywhere are faced with that daily challenge - how do we demystify veganism?
I think it's safe to say, most people have a pretty set preconceived idea about vegans. I know I certainly had very little understanding towards vegetarians before I watched Cowspiracy and had my life flipped upside down (Yes, that was a Fresh Prince reference.) For those unaware of the ethics or reasoning behind the movement, veganism can definitely seem "extreme" or just plain bizarre. It can be difficult to wrap your head around the idea of boycotting so many traditional foods and produce that most of us have been encouraged to consume since we were born. To drastically adjust the way you view something so normalised in our society, and begin to look at it from an entirely new perspective, can seem challenging at first. But to me, that's all veganism is. It's purely a realignment: a change in mindset and an openness to changing your routine.
When I became vegan, a lot of things in my life changed. I realised I wanted to teach myself some new habits and research more about the effect my choices were having on the world. But along with my excitement about starting this new chapter, there was always that nagging concern about what the people around me would think. As much as I would love to say that I have never worried about what others think of me, it did bother me that my friends and family wouldn't understand my choices. But after months of experiencing an abundance of positive and negative responses, I've reached the conclusion that the best we can all do is just try be free of judgement.
I decided that instead of constantly banging my head against a brick wall and trying to explain the ins and outs of veganism to people who really weren't interested, I would try taking a different route - and show instead of tell. I decided to introduce my friends to those insanely delicious ice cream desserts (Hello Tesco cones and Swedish Glace), show them all the amazing vegan restaurant options they can enjoy, have them round for dinner and whip up something tasty in the kitchen! (Okay - I'm not the best chef but I can order a pretty good take out.) I've come to realise after all these months, that as passionately as I may feel whilst giving my animal agriculture speech, there really is a time and place for political debates. I've learnt that there are different ways to approach the topic with the people around me and that sometimes I can receive a far more positive and open minded response by showing, rather than telling, how easy it can be to make the switch. (I still always recommend a documentary or two though. I can't help myself.)
My Dad is the perfect example. He has always felt pretty strongly against the idea of going vegan. (He was raised with a "We've eaten it for years... Lions eat meat... Circle of life... Protein though..." kind of mindset). But as my sister has continued to demonstrate how easy and scrumptious vegan cooking can be, and my mum has gradually sneaked more and more vegan produce into the kitchen, he's suddenly commenting on how delicious those meat free chicken pieces are! Everyone is on their own journey, and cramming it down throats really isn't always the answer. Let yourself be a walking example of how easy and awesome veganism really can be, and let others see that it isn't quite as bizarre as they once thought.
I'm lucky enough to have an extremely supportive and open-minded boyfriend. I literally went from having chicken and burgers every night, to suddenly announcing I was cutting all meat from my diet. He didn't ever question it. He listened to the changes I was making, and my reasoning behind it, and he supported me in every way. He spends our weekly shopping trips reading every label on the shelf, finding new lunch options I can take to work, and cooking me a separate vegan meal every night. To me, this shows how being vegan doesn't have to change your relationship with anyone around you. Your friends, your family, even your partner - nothing has to dramatically change, you just have to have some minor adjustments. I don't need everyone in my life to suddenly flip a switch and change just because I have. All I can do is demonstrate how easy a vegan lifestyle can be, and after they've tried out some Moo Free chocolate bars, I'm pretty sure the whole thing won't seem so strange to them after all!
Veganism, to most of us I'm sure, is not about being right or wrong. It's not about making others feel guilty for the choices they have made, or trying to force a different opinion onto the people around us. It's purely about trying to see the world differently to how we've always been taught to view it. It's about taking a chance to change tradition, and opening our minds to the possibility of questioning what we've been brought up to perceive as 'normal'. To me, veganism is about making a positive change, and if we can all show just how easy it is to go cruelty free, vegans really won't seem like such a mystery after all.