I went vegetarian more than 30 years ago, but taking the step to be fully vegan took me 17 years. Yup. You read that right.
It’s not that I didn’t understand the difference, and it’s not that I didn’t philosophically feel drawn to veganism. In fact, I knew quite early on that being a vegan was truly where my heart was. It’s more that I found it challenging the first few times I tried going vegan (circa 1990-1992) and then I threw my hands up and told myself the story that it was just too hard, and I was destined to fail at it.
I’ll cut myself the tiniest bit of slack, because it truly was harder all those years ago. Restaurants didn’t know what being vegan meant. There were no vegan items in your local grocery store. Trader Joe's, Sprouts, and Whole Foods were not yet ubiquitous. Traveling or going out to eat was inevitably a challenging and often hunger-inducing experience. Health food stores were likely the sole place to find some of the staples I take for granted today. These were the days when reconstituting textured vegetable protein (TVP) was your one option to try to replicate the mouthfeel of a formerly carnivorous dish.
But what has changed more than these external (and important factors) is that I later learned that perfectionism can prevent progress in all aspects of life. That fatalism over every temporary failure forestalls forward momentum. I also learned that my inner voice discouraged me in ways I would never ever speak to even a passing acquaintance.
While I was still in the painful process of learning that lesson, though, I struggled to be vegan. But even as I struggled significantly with being vegan inside my body, as I liked to call it, I found it surprisingly easy to vegan outside my body.
So, I started there. Stripping away animal sources, ingredients, and testing from what I wore, what I put on my body, and what I used around my house.
No longer purchasing leather and suede seems like it should obviously accompany any decision to be even an ethical vegetarian, but I added avoiding wool and silk to my list. At this time in my life I wasn’t exactly rolling in discretionary income, so I didn’t immediately get rid of everything I had that was made of those textiles, but I immediately stopped buying any new items made from them. I used items until I could replace them with a vegan version, and certain big-ticket items—like a leather jacket—were never worn again. It just didn’t feel right. (And yes, Payless Shoe Source was pretty much my sole shoe resource for years!)
I went further, too, and began to research and purchase make-up, personal care, and cleaning products that were free of animal ingredients and animal testing, cruelty-free and vegan, in other words. Bear in mind, there was no Sephora.com back when I started this process. And there was certainly no Kinder Beauty that allowed me to try out products before having to invest fully in them.
The sheer volume of available products boggles the mind, and the number of mainstream brands that are converting to vegan ingredients and cruelty-free production processes demonstrates exactly how powerful it is when we vote with our wallets and raise our voices.
I didn’t start out thinking this was going to become a “Back in my day, we walked to school uphill in the snow in both direction, young whippersnapper!” kind of story, but the truth is, it is so sooo much easier to live your value with all the convenience you’re used to today.
Those years of being vegan outside my body, but not inside, were a much longer segment of my vegan journey than I wish they were, but it also may shine a light on a path for you to consider if you’ve been struggling like I was to make the full vegan transition.
Start outside your body, voting with your wallet and finding cool new resources for everyday products. Hopefully you will find it the gateway to a fully authentic vegan life, as I did!
Elisa Camahort Page is a speaker, consultant, and entrepreneur, best-known for co-founding BlogHer. She’s the host of The Op-Ed Page podcast and co-author of Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All. Lean more at elisacp.com.