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How to Become and Be a Good Vegan - Forever

Mindset advice from an Italian former meat lover

vegan food
Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

In 2011, after being a meat eater for 24 years, I became a vegetarian.

Five years later I then went vegan.

Quitting meat and fish first and then switching to a plant-based diet were life choices that took effort. I faced challenges, learned lessons, and made mistakes along the way.

I’ll share some of these with you, hoping they will help you on your journey to veganism.

Practice what you preach

When I learned about the atrocities of the animal food industry, I thought, the whole world must know what we’re doing to animals! How come no one talks about it?!

I thought it was my responsibility to educate people on the issue, so I started to:

  • send YouTube clips of slaughterhouses to friends.
  • argue with my family about why eating animal products was wrong, unethical, and inhumane.
  • have endless debates about essential nutrients and animal rights.
  • ask uncomfortable questions at the dinner table such as “Do you know that the steak you’re eating is nothing but the carcass of an animal that had a horrible life and was brutally killed — for you?”

Don’t do this. Don’t try to convert people to veganism. In my experience, it only brings conflicts, debates, and arguments.

Vegans often have a bad reputation precisely because they try to make non-vegans feel ashamed for what they eat.

But going vegan requires patience, a major mindset shift, deep awareness of the issues related to animal agriculture, strong motivation, and empathy.

You won’t help anyone develop any of these by aggressively trying to persuade people through horrifying videos, bitter accusations, and embarrassing questions.

No matter how inconceivable you think it is, there are people who believe that animals are inferior beings that are on this planet to serve us.

You won’t change these beliefs by attacking them. In fact, the more you try to convince people that you’re right, the more they’ll think you’re wrong.

Realize you can only plant a seed in other people’s minds, but it’s then their choice to water that seed. Never think you’re the one who’s understood how the world works while others have got it all wrong.

Stay humble. You’ll see more people leaning forward than you would otherwise.

I wish I had done this at the beginning of my journey.

Of course, there will be times when people will provoke you or make perplexing comments about your choice (I wrote a whole article about this). This is inevitable, it’s part of the game.

But you have the choice not to respond to these provocations with anger. Remove violence not only from your plate but also from the way you communicate your choices and beliefs.

Veganism is all about kindness, so practice what you preach.

Avoid frustrations

On 26th November 2011, after listening to a speech by an animal rights activistI decided to remove all animal products from my diet.

Two days later I realized I couldn’t eat Nutella as it contains milk.

Ouch!

Then I realized I couldn’t have mozzarella on pizza, no Parmesan on pasta, no more Grana Padano, no frittata. It seemed that it was impossible to be Italian and vegan at the same time.

So, I took a step back and decided to quit meat and fish only.

But this felt like I had made a half choice so, for the following 5 years, I tried to switch to a vegan diet several times.

For 5 years I tried hard, but I always failed. I could resist the temptation of having cheese once or twice, but I would eventually give in the third time. One day I would say, “I’m vegan, do you have any vegan options?” The next day I would have pasta al pesto.

I felt frustrated and guilty about this. I thought I was weak and had no willpower to make such a big change.

It was even more frustrating for my girlfriend, the person who’s been cooking for me since 2013. “So, are you vegan or vegetarian today?” she would often ask me before making a meal.

As I’m writing this, I asked her how my indecision made her feel back then.

“It was MORTIFYING!” she said.

In 2016 I finally made it. I was living in New Zealand. I figured it would be easier to go vegan because being away from my family and friends meant fewer temptations and less pressure to conform to Italian dietary habits.

Like a smoker who puts out his last cigarette, I decided: no more animal products on my plate — forever.

Today it’s normal for me to be vegan. But, looking back, I realize I could have accepted I wasn’t ready to make the switch straightaway. I could have slowly and gradually removed one thing at a time from my diet.

No to mozzarella on pizza but yes to all other cheeses. Then I could have quit one type of cheese at a time. Then no more Nutella and so on.

I would have avoided all frustrations.

Becoming vegan is more of a slow transition than an overnight transformation. There are steps. Go through these at your own pace. Don’t make big announcements, don’t make promises you can’t keep.

More importantly, don’t feel guilty if you’re still consuming animal products.

I’m a big fan of “If you want to do something, you just do it!” But doing it slowly doesn’t mean you’re not doing it.

Don’t rush things and trust the process.

Be slightly hypochondriac (so you can learn)

Eggs looking worried
Photo by Nik on Unsplash

When I was a kid, the most frequent question I would ask my parents was “Could I die if I do this?”

I’m slightly hypochondriac — I’ve always been.

So, I was worried about the drastic consequences my new eating habits would bring to my health.

I thought, what if I lose my hair, get rotten nails, or turn yellow because of some vitamin deficiency?

Being such a health freak turned out to be a good thing as it forced me to learn about nutrition. I started following vegetarian and vegan channels on YouTube, reading articles about nutrients, and chatting with dieticians on forums.

I can’t give you any health advice because I’m not qualified for that.

But I can confidently tell you that switching to a plant-based diet doesn’t just involve removing foods. You must also add new ones to replace what you’re not getting from animal sources.

Please don’t think going vegan only involves eliminating meat, cheese, fish, milk, and eggs.

Explore, try out, and integrate other foods. Here are some I didn’t know existed or had never eaten before:

  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Quinoa
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Seitan
  • Tempeh

…and many more.

Had I not added these, I might be bald and yellow now. I might look like Krusty the Clown— who knows?

Krusty the Clown burgers sign
Photo by Jack O’Rourke on Unsplash

Of course, I’m joking when I say you should become a little hypochondriac.

The real point is that you’re making a big switch that will inevitably have an impact on your health, so you should take great care of your dietary changes.

You wouldn’t want to be one of those who say, “I went vegan but after six months I got sick and went back to eating meat.”

Act responsibly.

Conclusion

Going vegan is a life choice that will require you to be curious about nutrition and have patience with yourself and others.

It’s really a noble choice.

Don’t use it as a way to feel superior to those who haven’t made it and you’ll inspire other people to follow you.

I hope this article will help you embrace this lifestyle.

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.