As of today, I have been vegan for two years, so it seems to be a good time to reflect on my experiences and recall what I have learned.
While veganism isn’t entirely about food, much of the time I spend thinking about veganism is devoted to food, so I’ll start with that. To the uninitiated, it would appear that veganism is a limitation — after all, it is perhaps most commonly described by what one cannot (or should not) do. In fact, this appearance is highly illusory and misleading. Immediately after becoming vegan, I started looking out for all sorts of new foods that seemed interesting. Admittedly, some of them were not worth trying again. (Bitter gourds, for example, should probably not be tried a second time, but I am glad I was willing to try them once at least.) However, some of them, including okra, horchata, cherimoyas, and pineapple guavas, were delightful and have become favorites of mine. Even more importantly, I had persimmons for the first time since I was a little kid, and I fail to understand why I neglected this favorite food for so many years. Okay, that’s a lie. I don’t really fail to understand: I know that I was used to a certain very limited way of eating, and I never thought to break out of it. I must credit veganism for giving me the impetus to learn more about what foods exist.
It isn’t really that my ideas about what food is and what meals are have changed since becoming vegan. Rather, my ideas about them before at least becoming vegetarian in 2006 were almost entirely nonexistent. Certainly I liked to eat, but I don’t think I was terribly concerned about what I ate, within reason. But it’s much more natural for one to think about food as a vegan, or, more generally, when one has to give some thought to what is edible and what is not. Actually, now I think about what food is much less than I did when I was just getting started, since I have become accustomed to my relatively new lifestyle. Animal products are simply not food to me. If someone tells me that something contains eggs, ey might as well have said that it contains cyanide as far as my processing goes: it’s something other than food, and I have absolutely no desire to eat it.
More interesting than what isn’t food is what is. I eat a lot of Indian food. Perennial favorites include lemon rice (of which I make a large batch most weekends), channa masala, dal palak, bhindi masala, and palak “paneer” (with tofu instead of cheese). They’re all easy to make and make the house smell wonderful! And, of course, they taste fantastic. There are many other foods I eat, but Indian food has become my main go-to food when I am not feeling terribly inspired. Thus, the quality of food I eat now is consistently much higher than what I have eaten at any previous point in my life. It helps that I have learned how to cook and can therefore eat exactly what I want.
Veganism has also forced me to learn about nutrition. I might not be all that interested in the subject, but it is important to know a bit. Vegans must know enough to ignore the “advice” of the shockingly large class of people who become nutrition experts as soon as they find out someone is vegan. One will (probably) not keel over dead in a few months after becoming vegan, as many omnivores would have us believe. Neither does one need to combine proteins, or even pay more attention to getting various nutrients, Vitamin B12 excepted, than do nonvegans. However, since few people, vegan or otherwise, really get all the nutrients we ought to from our foods, taking a daily multivitamin is advisable for everyone. Of course, everyone, vegan or not, would do well to have a certain rudimentary knowledge of nutrition, but for me, being vegan encouraged me to learn what I need to know on the subject.
I have also become much better at standing up for myself. I get a lot of practice, since there are lots of people who want to challenge me. I have therefore become at least a bit better at talking convincingly, and thus probably also at teaching. I have also learned that I never need to feel guilty for being myself rather than pretending to be someone else. I would, however, like to become a bit better at providing people with information perceived to be of negative utility. If you have any suggestions for how this can be done effectively, please let me know!
Similarly, I’ve become much more courageous. I was never really the sort of person who would mindlessly accept the conventions of society, but I’m much less scared to diverge from normalcy now that I have seen in practical terms that it can be done fairly easily and without detrimental consequences. I think it’s important to challenge the stupidity of society whenever one encounters it, since it is unlikely that the world will ever improve if people do not first make steps to modify their own beliefs and behaviors first. Also, other people are likely to re-evaluate their previously unconsidered beliefs and behaviors upon encountering a relatively clear-thinking person who has already thought about these things very carefully and come to conclusions not generally endorsed by society.
I have, I believe, also learned how to be a good host. Almost any vegan knows how nice it is when we are invited to dinner by someone who makes an effort to cater to our needs. We also know how unpleasant it is not to be considered seriously. Therefore, I am always more than willing to cater to any dietary restrictions that any guest of mine has. I like to do this by asking two questions: 1) What do you not eat? 2) How tolerant are you of spicy food? It is my opinion that the job of a host is to make guests feel comfortable, and one is unlikely to feel comfortable if the meal is unappealing to em. Thus, I try to make sure that this will not be the case. Further dietary restrictions on top of mine rarely pose difficulties: There are so many delicious foods out there that it is almost unfathomable that a few people could fail to find common ground for a single meal.
Of course, being vegan gives me the same great benefits as it gives almost every other vegan. Most important to me is the knowledge that I am not needlessly killing or torturing sentient beings for fun. (I do not like to derive pleasure from the suffering of others.) But also important is that I am eating much more efficiently, using far less grain and water to produce my food, thus doing my part to help the 1.5 billion people around the world who are on the brink of starvation and simultaneously causing much less damage to the planet. Also, my health thanks me and is likely to continue doing so for many decades to come.
While veganism may be, by definition, a refusal to participate in the exploitation of animals, it has taught me so many lessons beyond that. I see it as fitting into a larger paradigm, one of standing up to injustice and apathy, and of living in a way that is truly consistent with the person I wish to be, to the best of my ability. I may have learned some of these lessons eventually anyway, but they came so naturally as a result of making conscious decisions about what I eat. In these two years, veganism has played an overwhelmingly positive role in my life, and I look forward to many exciting new lessons it will teach me in the future.