Why I Gave up the Identity of Being a Vegetarian or Vegan

Years ago, I decided to adopt a vegan dietary lifestyle. I was mostly concerned about the manmade hormones animals were being raised on. Synthetic hormones like rBST and rbGH have been linked to tumors, along with other health concerns. Additionally, I didn’t like the idea that an animal had to die for me to eat a meal, when plenty of other options were available.

Despite what mainstream news sources might say, I knew it was possible to be a healthy vegan, so I went all-in and declared myself a vegan. Six weeks later I failed miserably.

Why I failed at being a vegan

I’m not the only failed vegan, although people fail for different reasons. Part of the reason I failed at being a vegan is that, while my mind wanted to go all-in, my body wasn’t ready. The shift was drastic, and I didn’t realize that until I started.

It wasn’t drastic because I had to eat foods I didn’t like. The shift from eating sausage with pancakes smothered in butter to eating a piece of toast with peanut butter wasn’t tough. I thoroughly enjoyed the vegan foods that became my only options. However, during the first week, I became aware of how much I relied on dairy-and-meat-based meals. The difficulty was about more than taste preferences.

I routinely read labels to avoid eating chemicals and additives, but reading labels to avoid dairy and animal products was far more difficult. It was cumbersome. It seemed like every label I read was off limits to my new vegan lifestyle. I found myself going back to basics – fresh fruits and vegetables – and leaving all packages behind.

Leaving behind packaged food was easy when I was the only person in charge of making my meals. When I realized being vegan made going to a standard chain restaurant difficult, and required asking a bunch of questions about every ingredient down to the condiments, I realized I wasn’t ready to fully commit.

Staying over at a friend’s house unexpectedly presented a similar problem. If they weren’t vegan, and we didn’t stop at the grocery store, I had to rely on whatever they had in their refrigerator or cupboards for meals. This usually meant eating dry toast.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty was making vegan lifestyle choices outside of food. Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by leather and other animal products. My shoes and belts were made of leather, and so was my wallet. Now, in order to maintain my vegan lifestyle, I had to purge my wardrobe and scour my home for items I shouldn’t own. Then, I had to find replacements.

I was attached to the label of “vegan”

I felt a strong connection with other people who were also living a vegan lifestyle. I didn’t want to give that up. There was a certain level of pride that came with being able to say, “I’m vegan.” However, the pressure to maintain that identity without exception was very strong. I felt like I couldn’t make a mistake in front of my vegan friends, and I didn’t want to invite them over for fear they’d discover a non-vegan item that I missed. If I didn’t maintain my identity as a strict vegan, I’d lose my connection with that group.

After about six months, I realized that being vegan was a noble commitment I just wasn’t ready to make. I let go of the label and decided to freely explore individual aspects of being vegan without the pressure to go all-in. I found it easier to make individual vegan choices when I wasn’t feeling pressured to give everything up at once.

I realized I can make vegan choices more freely without the identity

In my pursuit of maintaining this identity, I realized I don’t have to give up my lifestyle to make vegan choices. There are plenty of businesses that create normal items with cruelty-free materials.

 For example, Tokyo Bags – a business that makes handcrafted vegan bags – started with the aspiration that one day, using animals as materials will be a thing of the past. Fossil – a popular fashion brand – now makes vegan wallets. And Truth Belts, a Toronto-based business selling vegan belts, began with one woman’s vision to respect animals and nature.

Being attached to an identity doesn’t provide any room for mistakes. Without an identity, I can make choices when I’m ready to make them. I haven’t traded in my leather shoes and leather couch, but if I find suitable alternatives, I will consider it.

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