Everyone at the table drooled over a pork chop. It was perfectly caramelized, fatty juices pooling on the plate. My sister, knowing that I had been a vegan for 2 years, cut a piece off of it and put it on my plate. Without hesitation, I put it in my mouth knowing that I could never swallow it, not because PETA would arrive with pitchforks but because I knew that my own digestion system would riot and that I would feel the effects for a week.
Imagine pitching a rock down a windy, vertical cave. The rock is at risk of getting stuck at any bending point and ultimately hitting the bottom of a shallow pool with a hard, painful sound. This is what meat does to my digestive system.
Yet, while I swirled the pork chop in my mouth, I purred. Fat & juicy love danced on my tongue. I sucked on the meaty savoriness (that only pork can provide) for several minutes, eyes closed. When the flavor was gone like a stale piece of gum, I put the mauled remains into a napkin and proceeded with my obligatory cauliflower.
The feeling left behind was pure jealousy: one part envy for how easy it is for omnivores to choose what they eat (although seriously, most Americans are carnivores, preferring larger portions of meat to small portions of veggies and fruit), and one part zealous for the relevancy and advocacy of plant-based living and its obvious, compelling impact in our health and the environment.
Ask anyone who has tried to “go vegan”. It’s a very hard lifestyle to sustain for more than a few days, especially if a person is new to it. The environmental factors are too powerful to allow the habit change required to take place without a tribe, a purpose, and a plan. At a family reunion or dinner, how does a vegan (I prefer the term “plant-baser”) choose what to eat amongst the smorgasbord of grilled meat and cultural foods that likely form the basis of one’s identity?
Deprivation breeds desire for the forbidden.
There are a plethora of “vegan” options that include fake meat. But doesn’t the consumption of fake meat imply that plant-basers are simply trying to replace meat rather than trying to eat more veggies? The difference is subtle but important. The motivation for choosing plant-based directly influences how successful the transition will be. Fake meat does not adequately substitute real meat. Nothing eclipses bacon in flavor profile; some meats simply can’t be replaced, thus to commit to plant-based means to abandon the idea of meat altogether as a requirement. This is where a primal recoil occurs for many people.
Tell someone who is not a plant-baser that you are giving up meat (for example, tell your mother or grandmother) and generally the protestations begin immediately: How will you get your protein? Well, what can you eat? So, what do I feed you?
Our loved ones can panic as if rejecting meat means that we have rejected them and all that they taught us about food. Go in unprepared for that conversation and your mother’s mac ‘n cheese or your father’s burger will find its way into your mouth laden with the bittersweet pleasure of guilt.
Another factor: try to navigate a stressful day, week, life. The struggle is real. The fastest way to get any human to do something is to tell them that they can’t. Deprivation breeds desire for the forbidden. Stress induces comfort food cravings which almost without exception includes foods that nourished us as children. Cultural comfort food in America is not plant-based at all.
Another challenge: meat and dairy are everywhere and in everything. We are bombarded with images of delicious animal products on TV, billboards, commercials, and websites - especially so in America and doubly so in economically-depressed areas. How can we resist the powerful forces that seduce us to eat animal products (and more animal-based foods than we really need)?
Let’s be clear: vegan is not right for everyone but plant-based is right for everyone. Plant-based eating focuses the priority on getting nourishment from plants whenever possible and as much as possible. It doesn’t mean that a person never eats meat or dairy again but rather that the plate is fuller on vegetables than animal products, it means that we release ourselves from the myths that oversimplify the complex biological mechanisms of healthy digestion (i.e. “milk does a body good”, “whey protein is superior for building muscle”, “carbs are bad”), it means that we are conscious about our food choices and how they impact our health and our amazing planet.
We believe in plant-based. We believe that it is possible to successfully transition to mostly plant-based or 100% plant-based. We believe that plant-based offers both a higher quality of life and better health for all humans and for our planet. We believe in speaking our truth: transitioning to plant-based is hard.
The Jealous Vegan exists to support you, to acknowledge the challenges in the journey, to remind you why we keep trying (and you should too!) and why we pursue progress over perfection.
Welcome to the PB journey. You are not alone.
April Cunningham, Co-founder, Health & Life Coach
The Jealous Vegan Creative Team