I've only been vegan for three years but it feels like much longer. In a good way. I'm remembering back to when I "attempted vegan" the first time, and failed pretty miserably within about two weeks. It wasn't because I didn't want to be vegan, or because I felt unwell, or because I didn't know what to cook or eat. I failed for social reasons, which I suspect isn't all that uncommon.
Leading up to that first failed venture into veganism, I had been known to say that I could never go vegan because life without cheese would not be worth living. I said it, and I believed it, and for a while it seemed like a personal truth. What I quickly discovered when I first tried to live without cheese was that not eating it made me socially unacceptable. Friends had always known me as a vegetarian, and were used to my not eating meat. But cheese was a common ground that we could gather over with a glass of wine. When I eliminated that, nobody, including me, knew what to do with me. It seems kind of silly to me now. Certainly I could have come up with some wonderful foods that we all would have enjoyed. It's what I've been doing for the last three years. But for some reason I guess I just wasn't ready for it then. I crumbled under the pressure, reverting back to my old diet, heavy on the cheese, please.
When I decided to try going vegan again, three years ago this month, I was more ready for the change. My reasons for eliminating animal products from my diet were clearer, and I was more committed. Rick was willing to try too, but really mostly because I was so excited about the whole thing. We started by committing to one month, and then we'd see how we felt about it. We both noticed within a few days that we were feeling much better physically, and mentally clearer as well. Two weeks in, and I was in for good.
But as with the first time, it was socially very awkward. Once again, friends didn't know what to do with us. Also, this time we had more information on the virtues of veganism, and as so often happens with new converts to anything, we wanted to share. We wanted everyone to see the light, and abandon their meat-eating ways just because we said so. Obviously, that never works, and relationships were damaged, at least temporarily, not only over our food choices, but also over our evangelical enthusiasm.
I soon learned that I needed to shut my mouth and just feed people. I still can't help but spout a few well placed facts about health, environment, or animal rights now and then, but for the most part, I've realized that it's best to keep quiet, keep cooking, and be the best example of a happy healthy vegan I can be.
Rick was a few steps behind me in total committment though, and would sometimes snack on cheese, or non-vegan bakes goodies at work or parties. I didn't make a big deal out of it, and joked that he was "vegan between parties." Now he's all vegan, (almost) all the time, which will just have to be good enough for me. He does a lot, and he cares a lot, so if he takes a bite of non-vegan cake now and then, the world probably won't spin off its axis.
The point is, he stuck with plant based eating because he wanted to, not because he had to, and not because I nagged at him to do it. Successful Vegan Ambassadors don't nag. I'm still perfecting my approach, but I'm getting better all the time!
Over time, the "between parties" joke has actually turned into something that I think is a really good idea for new vegans. I'm going to start recommending it to people who are struggling with making the vegan switch. Be vegan at home, and out in the world as much as you can. And when you can't, don't beat yourself up. You'll still be doing wonderful things for yourself, and the animals, and the whole wide world. That's not nothin'. Go ahead and proclaim yourself Vegan Between Parties when someone asks. It's a great conversation starter, and gives you the opportunity to do a little evangelizing of your own. Be gentle though. Aside from religion and politics, nothing freaks people out more than differences in food. Once the people who love you start to understand that you really do want to go all-vegan, they'll probably stop being so freaked out, and start looking for ways to make it easier for you. Remember that it's baby steps, not perfection. And vegan between parties is certainly better than vegan between meals.