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Things I wish I knew Before Becoming Vegan

1. Be Confident

No matter how hard you try, when people find out you’re vegan, you’ll be pegged the “vegan”. Most people won’t understand and won’t hesitate in in telling you. If I saved a nickel for how many times I heard, “I could never give up meat!”, I’d have a lot of nickels. But get used to it and don’t be discouraged. Never, ever be embarrassed.

2. Be prepared mentally

Because people don’t understand, they will ask you why you are vegan. Be ready to answer. This answer will vary for everyone, but be ready to tell people why you choose the lifestyle you choose. And don’t back down.

3. Plan ahead

Unfortunately, the world isn’t vegan, so you must adjust to the standard american lifestyle. That doesn’t mean you have to be a part of it, but you must be aware that just because you have decided to become vegan, the rest of the world hasn’t changed. When you go to restaurants, look at the menu beforehand. Call ahead. Many nice restaurants will prepare something for you if you give them advance notice. Traveling? Pack something! Fresh fruit, such as apples, oranges, or bananas, hold very well. Depending on the type of vegan you are, crackers, nuts, or pretzels have the potential to sustain you as well. When there are work lunches or any type of free food is available, assume that nothing will be vegan, ever. Fortunately, even though most people aren’t lucky enough to have vegan restaurants in their cities, every town has a grocery store. And every grocery store has fresh fruits, vegetables, and vegan products galore.

4. Be nice.

It will get frustrating when you hear the same questions. It will be tiring when you have to give your vegan elevator speech each time you have a meal with a new person. It may be hurtful when close friends or family will try to lecture you. But never, ever be mean, rude, or arrogant. It will only make the lack of understanding worse.

5. Be open.

I have exactly one friend that has implemented any dietary restrictions, and she is only vegetarian. Everyone else that I have met naturally is an omnivore. It might feel like I am the only one sometimes, which can get lonely. How do I cope best? Meet ups. I love going to gatherings that I find on meetup.com, where I can find people with similar beliefs. Potlucks are great opportunities to discover new vegan dishes and try some damn tasty food. I have been introduced to tons of green or veggie festivals that I would never have heard of had I not done a bit of research and been open to exploring on my own. When I went couch surfing to Europe, I sought out a vegan host, who showed me amazing vegan restaurants, ice cream shops, and grocery stores in Vienna. Be willing to try new things, even if it means going solo. Had I waited for someone to accompany me to any of the things I have gone to, I doubt I would have had 1/10th of the vegan experiences or friends.

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Spreading Veganism

When it comes up that I am vegan, a lot of people ask why I suddenly changed. I give more-or-less the same answer to everyone, but some are more interested than others. One of my co-workers the other day took a particular interest. Having worked on a beef ranch growing up, he is familiar with many of the unappetizing details (i.e. giving the cows antibiotic shots twice a year.) He too had begun to take an interest in alternative diets and living healthier, and when he found out what I was doing, wanted to know more and asked me to send him a few links.

After my extensive research, filled with lots of new knowledge, I still struggled in finding him links.There are so many resources that it is hard to provide a person with some since it truly depends on what he is interested in – animal rights, environmentalism, health consciousness? I hate to say ‘Google it’, but sometimes it really is the best answer; you can alter your search to your interests. You’ll be surprised at what you find and how much information is out there that is not publicized and you were never aware of before.

Two of my favorite websites are below. They give facts about the entire spectrum of why its great to be vegan, and the second one specifically talks about being organic, as well. The information is well layed out and not painful to the eyes.
http://www.peta.org/ 
http://www.foodispower.org/

I have also viewed a lot of youtube videos; since I can do some other task while listening to someone in the background, it’s nice to kill two birds with one stone. Some are quite boring, but I think this guy touches on a lot of great points with a good sense of humor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-F8whzJfJY

I got together the following facts when looking for links for my co-worker. All of the information was shocking to me. Vegan or omnivore, the truth behind food labeling is something I hope everyone becomes more aware of.

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Labels are deceiving…

Cage free?

This is supposed to imply cruelty free, but cage-free animals live no better lives than caged ones. As food is power notes, ” With regard to eggs that carry these labels, the hens still experience the stress and fear associated with handling, transport and slaughter.” In travel, they are confined to tiny spaces, and when they reach their destination, these ‘caged-free’ environments are essentially the same as caged ones, minus the cages.The animals are just as crowded. Additionally, male chicks, being ‘useless’ as they do not produce eggs, are suffocated or ground alive after birth. (From a non-ethical and environmental standpoint, think of the waste of resources that went into the production of that egg, only to be destroyed.) Additionally, these ‘cage-free’ animals experience the same slaughter as a non-cage free animal.

Free Range?

Food is power writes: “With the exception of birds raised for “meat,” the terms “Free-range” and “Free-roaming” have no official definition. The USDA only defines these terms for “poultry” products, stating: “Producers must demonstrate to the agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” * There are no requirements for the time spent outside or the space allowed.”

Tasty bit of knowledge: The USDA Food label fact sheet defines “MEAT” DERIVED BY ADVANCED MEAT/BONE SEPARATION AND MEAT RECOVERY SYSTEMS as

The definition of “meat” was amended in December 1994 to include as “meat” product derived from advanced meat/bone separation machinery which is comparable in appearance, texture and composition to meat trimmings and similar meat products derived by hand. Product produced by advanced meat recovery (AMR) machinery can be labeled using terms associated with hand-deboned product, e.g., “beef” or “pork” trimmings and ground “beef” or “pork.” The AMR machinery cannot grind, crush or pulverize bones to remove edible meat tissue and bones must emerge essentially intact. The meat produced in this manner can contain no more than 150 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams product. Product that exceeds the calcium content limit must be labeled “mechanically separated beef or pork.”

In a similarly heartwarming light, MECHANICALLY SEPARATED MEAT is defined as:

…a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones with attached edible meat under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue. In 1982, a final rule published by FSIS on mechanically separated meat said it was safe and established a standard of identity for the food product. Some restrictions were made on how much can be used and the type of products in which it can be used. These restrictions were based on concerns for limited intake of certain components in MSM, like calcium. Due to FSIS regulations enacted in 2004 to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, mechanically separated beef is considered inedible and is prohibited for use as human food. However, mechanically separated pork is permitted and must be labeled as “mechanically separated pork” in the ingredients statement

How does one define “a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product” as seen in the term NATURAL?

A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

USDA Organic?

Implements no welfare of animal requirements. Additionally, no hormone or antibiotics labels require documentation that the animals were raised without such items.

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http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateA&navID=NationalOrganicProgram&leftNav=NationalOrganicProgram&page=NOPUnderstandingOrganicLabeling&description=Understanding%20Organic%20Labeling&acct=nopgeninfo

Accurate documentation?

Even with documentation, one should assess the reality of how many producers are actually truthful with documentation their processes.

The number of recalls happening daily without our knowledge is scary: http://www.foodsafety.gov/recalls/recent/index.html

We should not only be conscious of the food that is put into our bodies, but also, if an animal product, what that animal consumed. Cargill provided their lambs with food that contained wrong sodium molybdate levels. Luckily, the FDA writes, “Undue levels of molybdenum in lamb diets may lead to adverse animal health effects, which are transitory in nature.”  http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm350957.htm

Countless instances of food inspection corruption have been reordered. Diane Smith comments on bribery in a corrupt food grading scheme in a USDA document, “The eight graders and 13 wholesalers were the only beneficiaries of their villainous actions, to the detriment of the American farmer and consumer, who were the true losers.” The number of undetected corruption instances is an indeterminable figure.

The Maple Lodge Farms states that it “has never forgotten its humble beginnings – family is what got us started, and family keeps us going.” http://www.maplelodgefarms.com/company.php It is interesting, then, to find out that the Canadian Food Inspection identified violations to federal animal health regulations. An entire website is dedicated to such violations in Canadian food inspection: http://www.primetimecrime.com/Recent/Investigative/Canadian%20food.htm

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My co-worker and I have communicated a few times via email on the topic. One of his recent emails was shocking to me.

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What makes me feel great, is (1) I didn’t have to do any convincing! I simply introduced him to the facts, and he tried it out on his own. (2) He feels great after trying out veganism! Changing his diet has given him a whole new energy level. After a few weeks, he tells me that he’ll indulge in animal products once in a while with his kids, and every time he does, he body is wrecked afterward. To put it not-so-nicely, after having pizza for dinner, he was kept up in the bathroom all night. The way our body reacts happily to these diet changes really makes you wonder.

Whether people elect to try veganism or not, I think the most important thing is to become aware. Learn about the truth behind the food industry and make a decision for yourself. Try it out and see how your body reacts. I am wary of coming off like a preacher or evangelical vegan, but it truly has been the best decision I’ve made all year. 🙂