Going vegan is damn hard.

Via Ann Halsig
on Aug 7, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

Vegan Sages: Jonathan Safron Foer {Volume One}

People care about animals. I believe that. They just don’t want to know or to pay.

~ Jonathon Safran Foer

First, a couple of clarifications:

  • >> Jonathon Safron Foer is not, to my knowledge, a vegan. He is, however, the writer of a moderately important work of nonfiction regarding the consumption of animals, apparently responsible for turning at least one celebrity vegan.
  • >> Sage, as per the Merriam Webster definition, means: one (as a profound philosopher) distinguished for wisdom. The efforts Foer went to in the development of his book—both in terms of personal soul searching and external research into the subject—I think qualify him for that status.
  • >> Volume One, because I intend to follow this up with more, so stay tuned.

A few more disclaimers:

I realize this article is not going to be read by vegans alone, so examining this quote properly means honoring those two perspectives—that of the ethical vegan, and that of everyone else.

Having said that, please don’t think for one second that I personally don’t appreciate and applaud the efforts of everyone everywhere to eat more consciously—from buying locally, organically, and vegetarian. It just so happens that I’m writing about ethical veganism here.

Finally, if I seem like I’m walking on eggshells (no pun intended), I am. I think it’s really important in these conversations that we honor and respect one another. To that end, I’ll endeavor to choose my words as carefully as I choose the food I eat.

Back to that quote.

As simplistic and straight-forward as it is, I firmly believe that it’s very important for two reasons.

First, the idea that “people” generally and genuinely care about animals is the thing that keeps ethical vegans sane quite a lot of the time. It’s our hope in the dark—not that the world will turn vegan in our lifetimes, but that our relationship with the other sentient beings on the planet will shift dramatically in response to a global awakening to the value of all life.

Secondly, I do agree with what Foer claims, but only to an extent. I think that people care about animals insofar as they’re given the chance to do so. People in global minority countries, like those of North America and Europe, do care about animals. We love our pets. We love (most of) nature’s fauna. We even love our image of Farmer John and his happy cows and chickens. However, I’ve lived in other countries where the way in which humans and non-humans interact is quite different, owing to so many things the subject would warrant an entire book of its own. So let’s say, for purposes of this article, that I agree with Foer’s first point…to a point.

But the second part of of the quote, contained in the third sentence, is equally important, predominantly for its potential to raise hairs.  It will quite likely be the point of contention for those sitting outside the ethical vegan box. No one wants to be told that by nature of their willful decision to remain either ignorant or cheap they are betraying something they care about—in this case, animals. Let’s be honest—no one wants to be told anything about what they eat. Still, from my personal collection of the million-or-so things “people say to vegans,” a few classics:

I would totally be vegan if I didn’t like cheese so much!

I know I should stop eating meat, but it’s just too much work.

As well as the ones Foer’s already covered:

I could never watch those videos—I don’t want to know!

Being vegan’s just way too expensive!

So should the quote read, “…They just don’t want to know or to pay or to give up their favorites or to try harder?” Or can these additons be covered by redefining “know” to include knowing how easy it really is (sometimes) and “pay” to include paying for the choice by way of sacrificing the things we love?

Whatever the case, I don’t buy it. I refer back to my hope in humanity, and that hope lies in my view of human beings as creatures trying, by and large, to do the best they can in the face of a whole barrage of obstacles. Our species does not consist of a majority who are willfully ignorant, lazy and greedy (inability to pay is something else entirely).

The fact is that going vegan—while far easier now than it was even just a decade ago—is still damn hard.

Particularly if one doesn’t live in a huge metropolis. Particularly if one is trying to raise a family on a limited budget and with limited time. And facing the realities of the meat, dairy and egg industries is profoundly difficult. It doesn’t just mean giving up foods that are ostensibly easier and cheaper to come by—it means living with that knowledge every day. It’s a lot of weight to carry.

I may not believe that the world will turn vegan in our lifetimes, but I have to hope that more people eat less animal products by the very nature of the fact that I’m an ethical vegan. For some vegans, that means trying to convert others; for some—me included—it means trying to find realistic ways to help people reduce the amount of meat they consume. For the sake of the animals, yes, but also for the sake of their own health and of the environment.

There’s been all sorts written about the various ways one can do this—“Meatless Mondays” and Mark Bittman’s “Vegan-before-6” being the two best known. But I think we need to stop looking at veganism as a burden or a sacrifice.

Veganism is not about giving anything up or losing anything; it is about gaining the peace within yourself that comes from embracing nonviolence and refusing to participate in the exploitation of the vulnerable.

~ Gary L. Francione

I just might use Mr. Francione for one of my upcoming posts. He’s got a lot of interesting stuff to say about being vegan. And I think he really nails this one.

But back to those previously identified dilemmas inherent in the transition to a vegan lifestyle.

I know I should stop eating meat, but it’s just too much work.

There is a bit more work involved in being vegan than in, say, eating at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. But the same can be said for healthy eating of any kind. Any diet based on whole foods takes more time. In return, though, one gets fewer sick days and a lot more energy, so I’m not sure it actually takes more time in the long run. Having said that, a vegan fast food diet is the quickest way to get really sick and swear off veganism for the rest of one’s life. Going vegan? Be prepared to cook.

Being vegan’s just way too expensive!

Just. Not. True. However, buying up a whole bunch of processed food is expensive, and if you’re going for the vegan variety, you’re probably going to get stuff with whole-er ingredients, which will mean they’re more expensive. Processed vegan stuff is also targeted at a completely different socio-economic group than processed other stuff…it’s way out of my price range, too.

But the good news is that beans and fruits and vegetables and whole grains and herbs and spices are really quite cheap. Soy milk and yogurt are very comparable to their dairy counterparts, and tofu is way cheaper than a decent piece of meat. But, no—you can’t get a vegan burger for a buck. As with the last point, cooking is key.

I could never watch those videos —I don’t want to know!

I know. I don’t watch them anymore, either. Earthlings just about killed me. But how many truths are truly convenient? The truth is that, in order to produce enough meat to feed the number of people who want to eat meat today, we must put animals through the most unimaginably horrific conditions for the entirety of their lives.

That doesn’t even take into account the trauma the humans working with them have to undergo (Foer covers this well in Eating Animals). It is really that bad. And I don’t even want to think about what the future holds if we don’t at least slow down our consumption. Which is why ethical vegans are pretty much okay with the next point.

I would totally be vegan if I didn’t like cheese so much!

Truth? I spent 14 years as a vegan convinced that there would never be a vegan cheese worth eating (and I’ve eaten ’em all). Until I tried Daiya. (They’re not paying me a red cent to say that. What’s true is true.) But nothing will probably ever taste like bacon. Or jerk chicken. Or my mom’s meatloaf (I swear it was delicious!). But no matter—nothing tastes as good as eating ethically feels. It’s really that simple.

There are millions of people on the precipice of changing the way the eat, in a big way or a small way, and possibly in a vegan way, for any number of reasons.  The obstacles to a full-time or part-time vegan lifestyle exist, but they aren’t impossible to overcome by any means.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

Like elephant food and elephant health & wellness on facebook.


About Ann Halsig

Ann Halsig is a freelance writer with a background in Social Science and Ethnic Studies. She has lived and worked in the U.S., England, the Philippines and currently resides in France. You can check out her musings, meanderings and misadventures on her blog or hire her for some word whittling here.


14 Responses to “Going vegan is damn hard.”

  1. […] out my first post as a proper contributor…deep thoughts on one of Jonathon Safran Foer’s deep […]

  2. Edward Staskus says:

    When I worked for a commercial lighting company a few years ago in their sales department I mentioned to someone that I was a vegetarian. That bit of news made the rounds, especially in the warehouse, to my regret. I was the object of bemused wonder from then on. One thing that struck me was how often I was told by the guys in the warehouse that they could never be vegetarians, because they would never feel full not eating animals.

  3. ann says:

    Oh, how I relate! A friend once told me that whenever he came to mine for dinner parties, he would pass by a fastfood restaurant first because he knew he'd never really feel full after eating vegan! Foer talks a bit about the irony in vegetarians being made to feel "difficult" or whatever for having chosen to eat ethically…it's something we all – from omnivores to vegans – take for granted, that being vegetarian is "problematic" for everybody else. Still, it's getting better.

  4. kim amlong says:

    Thanks for your great article Ann. For people who are interested in being informed about how important veganism is not only for our own health, but for that of the billions of suffering animals and the dying planet, here is a list:

    1. "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism" Slideshow by Dr. Melanie Joy. Please watch this and ask Wanderlust to take Meat off the Menu Today!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vWbV9FPo_Q

    2. Please watch: "THE WORLD PEACE DIET," AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. WILL TUTTLE and Ask Wanderlust to take Meat off the Menu Today! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb-NzViPGnk&fe….

    3. Please have the courage to face the cruelty and suffering we perpetuate everyday with every dollar we spend by watching this informative video. Ask Wanderlust to take Meat off the Menu Today!! http://www.documentarywire.com/earthlings

    4. Please watch this beautiful video to better understand how the sentient, beautiful animals we share the plant with need and deserve our love and protection. Please Ask Wanderlust to take Meat off the Menu Today! http://documentaryheaven.com/the-emotional-world-….

    5. “Today One Billion people are Hungry, 20 Million People will Die from Malnutrition. Cutting meat by only 10% could feed 100 million people and Eliminating Meat will End Starvation Forever.” Philip Wollen: Animals Should Be Off The Menu. Please Watch This and Ask Wanderlust to Take Meat off the Menu Today!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQCe4qEexjc&fe….

    6. Animal Agriculture is the number one Cause of Global warming. Watch this 5 minute video to learn the facts and Please Ask Wanderlust to take meat off the menu today! http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embed…!

  5. kim amlong says:

    If people want more information on the importance of this issue:

    7. Please Read this and ask Wanderlust to take Meat off the Menu Today!!
    "A PLATE OF AHIMSA PLEASE", by Bob Linden, GO VEGAN RADIO WITH BOB LINDEN http://www.goveganradio.com/filecontent/1079f_bob….

    8. Please take the time to be informed and help Wanderlust become the world's Greenest, most Conscious Festival. Watch Gary Yourofsky’s speech and Ask Wanderlust take meat off the menu Today! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIkC4OJEx3c&an….

    9. Please read this: The Ethics of Yoga and Veganism. Please ask Wanderlust to take Meat off the Menu!! http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/07/the-ethics….

    10. Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death. Death in America is largely a foodborne illness. Focusing on studies published just over the last year in peer-reviewed scientific medical journals, Michael Greger, M.D., offers practical advice on how best to feed ourselves and our families to prevent, treat, and even reverse many of the top 15 killers.
    Watch This and Ask Wanderlust to Take Meat off the Menu Today! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30gEiweaAVQ&fe….

    11. I grew up in Montana a couple of miles from Howard Lyman's ranch. He is a great speaker and said "…I came from Montana. I would rather be caught riding a stolen horse than admitting to somebody that I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian." Please watch this and ask Wanderlust to take Meat off the Menu today! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCMWctmCCqU&fe….


    Care2 Earth Month: Back to Basics. http://www.care2.com/causes/save-the-planet-eat-l….

  6. kim amlong says:

    Many people have told me they believe in just living by example. However, I think speaking up is very important.The yoga community is the perfect environment to inform people. I wouldn't be a vegan today if vegan friends had not informed me of the horrendous suffering inherent in every animal product. It is not about a lack of respect for meat eaters, it is about educating people on how destructive meat eating is to everything and everyone. If people still remain completely disconnected after they are educated, I will still have respect for them. I believe it is extremely important that people are made aware of their choices so they are eating with the full consciousness of the impact their dietary choices have on themselves, the planet and all other sentient beings.
    Read this to understand why I am so passionate about Wanderlust Yoga Festival’s evolution. How I Tore off the Chains and Broke Free from the Reign of Pain !http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/07/from-rocky-mountain-oysters-to-nirvana-kim-amlong/

  7. ann says:

    Hi Kim, thanks for all the excellent information! I agree that leading by example is less than enough, but I also know that people – myself included – tend to be very sensitive when others talk about the food they eat. A great example of this was Jamie Oliver's efforts to improve the nutritional quality of school dinners in the UK: mothers were filmed sneaking fried foods in through the gates to their children in response. The fact is, if we want a change, we need to find a way forward that is truly effective. Education – as you have so correctly pointed out – is an excellent way forward, but if people don't want to be educated, they won't be (just think back to that class you hated in high school!). I realize I'm offering a whole lot of "but's" and not a lot of "so's" – to be honest, I'm not sure how best to tackle this beast (pardon the pun). But you can't go wrong having an arsenal of information at the ready. On a different note, bear in mind that lots of vegans and vegetarians went that way without any models from which to learn…I didn't meet another vegan until 3 or 4 years after I'd made the change. And lately I've been meeting a number of people who stopped eating meat as very young children because a) they were enlightened enough to figure out there was something wrong at such a tender age and b) their parents were enlightened enough to let it happen. All the best, and thanks again for the info.

  8. When I was at college, someone I knew had a rickety old bike that she didn’t lock, altho she had a lock on it. One day she came downstairs planning to ride it to class, and it wasn’t there.A couple years later, she came across it at a park about 10 miles from college. It still had the lock on, and she still had the key so she locked it, and left.

  9. Bijou says:

    I'm probably pushing it here but bear with me, I was vegetarian (mostly vegan) for 24 yrs. Then I had to become raw vegan for diabetes about 4 1/2 yrs ago.

    I'm telling you it's the easiest frickin' diet ever. Wish I had done it a long, long time before. Now my values are aligned with my lifestyle as much as possible, no food cravings, no health problems, even my psoriasis went away so that eliminates a lot of issues many vegans and vegetarians have but the biggest one was that I can once again eat anywhere with anyone! I'm completely satisfied with fresh raw fruit or vegetables and pretty much every where you go you can do that. I don't have to have the Seitan or the heavy pasta and wonder if it has butter in it because I am raw. It's just so simple. Just don't be afraid to eat more of the fruits and salads. I love it. I really enjoy my meals now for the first time in the healthy way, not in the "gotta satisfy this craving" kind of way. There is no down time after a meal. Cooking destroys the enzymes we need.

    I don't have to look for people to understand my vegan diet. I'm raw now so they can't just serve me french fries and hope that they aren't cooked in animal grease and it doesn't make people so defensive anymore either to hear I'm raw vegan for whatever reason. It opens the conversation up. They can offer me an apple instead and it's hydrating, energizing and cleansing. It's also the original fast food!

    My body is always in shape even if I don't work out. I'm 45, so that's a bonus. When I train, as a mma fighter, I'm not as sore anymore, injuries are very few and if I get one it makes sense to me. When I eat cooked foods it seems to bring everything out of balance. I understand most people need to transition or eliminate one thing at a time from their diets, but I wish I had just gone for the raw 100% in the beginning and then added some cooked foods which is where I am at right now. If I want cooked foods I eat them in moderation once or twice a week at most. I try to only do that once or twice a month but to be honest, I was toxic, & had to go a few years raw first to detox. Hope that helps.

  10. traudy says:

    A great article, I've been trying for years to change what I eat. Finally I have mangaged to say no to enslaved and tortured flesh permanently. Something I became more passionate about with age, (46 now.), Being exposed to the cruelty was the driving force for me. I just cant do it anymore, to eat meat. Being an aspiring vegetarian for years and finally achieving a healthy lifestyle I am rapidly evolving into a vegan, how wonderful to live by one's convictions and to be in control of one's own heart felt truths.. Live and let live. I can honestly say that being around a group of same minded people has helped me tremendously, thankyou for sharing.

  11. […] I asked her what the difference was between her dog and any of the other animals she ate, she said, “The dog was her pet and everything else […]

  12. ann says:

    you are mighty welcome – and sorry for the late reply…congratulations!

  13. ann says:

    wowowow…i have such limitless respect for raw vegans! i'm always struggling with the "comfort" aspect of food (please don't take my potatoes away!), but when I eat raw, I know how food's supposed to make me feel. good, energized, replenished, more vibrant, more alive! incidentally, i didn't choose that title. it's not really the thesis of my article. but that's okay 😉