As I sit writing this, tomorrow will be my five year veganniversary. It’s been half a decade since I turned on the proverbial “conscious” light switch and on some days it feels like yesterday and other days it feels like it’s been half a century.
I remember the first piece I wrote about my decision to become vegan. It was filled with hope and positivity and was read by thousands of people across the country. It’s not often that a farm girl living on a cattle farm turns vegan, and I guess something in my story resonated with a lot of people. As time went by, more and more of my friends, acquaintances and followers started messaging and asking me to share my vegan tips, tricks and recipes. It wasn’t long before I had a “vegang” of my own and to this day, I’m still part of a rather active vegan WhatsApp group.
One thing I remember from first sharing my vegan story was a comment written by an older vegan. I can’t remember it verbatim, but it was something along the lines of “I hope you maintain this joy and passion for the animals and for veganism and that you continue to follow this way of living for longer than a few weeks.”
At the time I was a little dismayed by her gloomy message. Of course I was going to be vegan longer than a few weeks! I was going to be vegan forever! I had just learned of my precious orphan bull being sent to slaughter and had watched EarthlingsEarthlings and Cowspiracy – there was no way I was ever not going to be vegan! I shrugged it off as being negative and maybe even a little condescending. What a sad, cynical woman.
Five years later and I think that I can now understand what that reader was really implying. Truth is, after five years of being vegan, it is hard to not become a jaded vegan. I’ve seen so many friends and family members, usually after watching the latest vegan documentary doing the rounds on Netflix, declare that they’re going vegan, only to chuck in the veggie burgers at the first sign of a cold or the sniff of a weekend braai. I’ve spent hours and hours of my time answering hundreds of emails and direct messages on social media from people asking how they can go vegan, and I’ve even written and paid for the printing of a Vegan Guidebook to answer the many requests from people on how to cook vegan meals… only to see them posting pictures of their roast lamb dinner a few weeks later.
I don’t think there is anything that can quite prepare you for your first vegan heartbreak – you know the one I mean, right? The one where a person whom you love and respect comes to you in confidence and tells you that they want to be vegan and asks if you could please help them? Your heart soars at the possibility of finally not being the only vegan at the dinner table, of having an ally on your side, and for a while, you become thick as thieves – sharing vegan memes and recipes and tagging each other in cute pictures of fluffy calves.
And then you start hearing less from that person. They cancel dates on you. They’re super busy. They slip under the radar. Months later, you bump into them at a restaurant or a party and they’re munching on a chicken wing. Your heart breaks in two and drops into your shoes and at the same time your face begins to burn. They’re embarrassed. You’re embarrassed. You try to act cool about it all, but every cell inside your body is crying. You nod and smile as they say it was too hard, or they couldn’t handle the weight they were putting on from the carbs. You drive home in silence, swearing never to trust anyone again.
And that’s the first heartbreak.
When you’ve been vegan for five years, these heartbreaks are a dime a dozen. I no longer allow myself to get excited when someone I know messages me to tell me that they’ve watched or read something and now they’re going vegan. (Unless they’ve seen Earthlings… then I may allow myself a flutter of hope.). I send out the usual advice and recipe links and remind them to please remember to take B12 and OmegaDHA3 and then I forget about it. Is that jaded? I like to think of it as self-preservation.
The truth is though, that for every vegan heartbreak, there has also been a vegan break-through. So many people I know have committed for the long term. They’ve read the literature, researched the nutrition, had the hard conversations, withstood the teasing and backlash, and some have even been to the marches. They’ve fallen pregnant, birthed, and are raising little veggie kids. They may slip up now and then (as we all do – veganism in not about perfectionism), but they are steadfast and they inspire me every day. One of the most important things I’ve learned to do is to make peace with the truth that most people I’ve come across, even the ones who have caused me heartbreak, are now aware of their habits and are genuinely trying to do better – in any little way they can, whether that’s switching to soya milk in their coffee or giving up pork. A lot of people say that becoming a vegan makes you judgemental. I honestly think that becoming vegan has made me learn to not be as judgemental – to understand that not everyone can think the same as me and that not everyone can behave the same as me. Veganism has also taught me all about surrender – there is pretty much nothing I can do about other people’s choices, except keep sharing my story and living my truth.
And so, if that lady who commented on my piece five years ago is reading this, I just want to say, “I’m still full of passion and joy for animals and veganism. I lasted way longer than a few weeks. I very much understand what you were saying, but I’m in it for the long haul.”
Keri is a freelance creative living in Cape Town, South Africa with her husband and baby girl. They share their home with a menagerie of animals including three dogs, a cat and a pond of inherited koi fish.