Going vegan is a big decision. It means completely overhauling your diet and lifestyle.
In other words, it’s not a commitment to take lightly.
Because of this, wannabe vegans often go through much deliberation. Sometimes they avoid ever taking the leap because of all the obstacles they believe they might face.
And while it’s true that vegans face some challenges, perhaps the most feared of them all is how a newly minted vegan will be perceived by friends, family, and society at large.
Let’s face it: vegans are highly stereotyped.
We’re all familiar with the cliché of a tree-hugging, pale, malnourished hippie who eats her Tofurky at the Thanksgiving table while surreptitiously eyeing your sliced ham.
You may have heard tales of her dining out at restaurants and demanding that her dietary choices are accommodated, then victoriously chowing down on her raw vegetable plate while extolling the virtues of the latest superfood.
But how many of those perceptions are actually true?
I spoke with four real-life vegans, all from different countries, backgrounds, and walks of life, to discover how much truth there is to the rumors and to answer the question that more and more people seem to be considering these days:
Is it going vegan worth the trouble?
Meet the vegans
Boglarka, 31, hails from Hungary but currently resides in Scotland. A vegetarian for most of her life, Boglarka has been vegan for nearly two years.
Emilija is 21 and is the vegan veteran of the group, having made the switch five years ago. She lives in her native Macedonia but has previously lived in Melbourne, Australia.
Rachel is the youngest vegan I spoke with. At just 17 years old, she made the decision to give up animal products over three years ago, but considers her vegan journey to have officially begun a year ago since her parents had objections to the switch. She lives in Port Macquarie, Australia.
Jessica, 25, began her vegan transition over 4 years ago and has been completely vegan for nearly 2 years now. She is married with two young children and lives in Oregon.
Myth #1: Vegans eat boring, bland food and are obsessed with health
The general public tends to perceive vegans as overly concerned about their health, believing they subsist on plain leafy greens (and not much else) and pride themselves on the deprivation of all edible pleasures.
But do they?
Emilija doesn’t. “[My diet] has changed drastically. When I wasn’t vegan I ate traditional Macedonian foods – lots of meat, dairy and eggs on a daily basis.”
“What I eat now mostly consists of baked goods, baked veggie burgers, fresh salads, fruit and nuts. But if I feel like having fried chips once in a while I will definitely not resist. I listen to what my body wants. I don’t want to be overly obsessive about how healthy I am.”
Rachel, too, has discovered intuitive eating since becoming vegan. “Before, I used to eat very little fruit. A typical breakfast was toast with peanut butter and jam or processed sugary cereal.”
“These days, I eat depending on what my body craves and what’s appropriate for the season. In summer, I love to eat papayas, melons, or a smoothie to start my day. Now that it’s winter, I love to have oatmeal with some fruit. For a treat, I’ll have a few dates, because it’s hard to resist nature’s candy.”
Myth #2: Vegans, despite being health-obsessed, actually drive themselves to the brink of death and are generally unhealthy due to the lack of a proper diet
Cast your mind back, if you will, to the pallid, skeletal, iron-deficient vegan stereotype we discussed earlier, who looks like she might keel over at any given moment.
It turns out she’s a mythical creature, according to the real-life vegans I surveyed.
In fact, they all reported an improvement in their health after making the switch.
Boglarka described it as a “massive change”: “[Before veganism], I always struggled with belly fat, slow metabolism, bad digestion and migraines. Now, they’re all gone.”
Jessica noted she has “more energy” now, adding, “I was able to give up a few meds. I no longer struggle with anxiety and depression.”
Prior to going vegan, Rachel was carrying extra weight she had tried to shed. “I was overweight for my height, and despite exercising, I just couldn’t lose the weight.”
“I lost around 10 kg [22 lbs] after eliminating dairy. My swimming coach was so impressed and actually became inspired to take better care of his own health.”
After making the switch, Emilija reported feeling “a lot better, a lot more fresh and radiant, because I [didn’t] consume unnecessary amounts of fats, hormones, proteins and whatnot.”
“I used to suffer from rheumatic arthritis as a kid,” she added. “Now, I no longer have any pain. I also had very painful periods, which eased.”
Myth #3: Vegans love meat substitutes – proving their still-burning desire to consume real meat
From veggie burgers that ‘bleed’ to fake’un (fake bacon), all imaginable varieties of faux meat have been popping up everywhere in recent years.
And as they become more ubiquitous, they’re also becoming more sophisticated and are sometimes even marketed to omnivores as well as their herbivorous counterparts.
Even so, popular belief suggests that vegans (and vegetarians) consume fake meat because they miss the taste of real meat, revealing a natural, inherent craving for animal flesh shared by all of humankind.
In reality, none of the vegans I spoke with eat mock meat, and they all seemed to agree that its purpose lies in assisting those who are transitioning to a plant-based diet.
As Rachel put it, “I understand that some people came to this lifestyle for ethical reasons, and not because they no longer enjoyed the taste of meat.”
“I believe [faux meat] is great for people that are transitioning, especially if they are used to consuming a lot of meat,” she continued. “However, these substitutes are highly processed, and if someone wants to follow a whole foods vegan diet, then it’s quite unnecessary.”
Emilija agreed, adding “[Meat substitutes are] definitely not healthy. All the stuff that goes into them…I think they are as bad as real meat. It’s always better to make your own from scratch, but having them a few times a year won’t hurt.”
Myth #4: Vegans are demanding at restaurants and a nightmare to dine out with, and there’s nothing for them to eat there anyway
The viable options tend to be few and far between as far as animal-free restaurant meals go, but, as our real-life vegans confirmed, it really comes down to the restaurant you choose and, of course, the country you live in.
But while that part of the myth may have some truth to it, what about the rest?
Are vegans really less-than-desirable dining companions who, due to their limited options, will shamelessly badger the waitstaff to prepare something that isn’t on the menu in order to accommodate their dietary choices?
Our real-life vegans put this unsavory rumor to rest.
Instead of adopting a ‘demanding’ persona, Emilija admits she simply doesn’t dine out much.
“I rarely ever eat outside my house, to be honest, because there are just not many options available,” she said, adding, “but also because I think of my meal time as perhaps something special in my day, where I sit and nurture my body – like a kind of self-care.”
Rachel had somewhat of an opposite experience with restaurants, noting that “I think what was unexpected [about veganism] was just how many options there are for vegans. [I can find] an abundance of vegan products at the shops and in restaurants.”
That said, Rachel admitted that she doesn’t eat out much either, preferring instead to eat at home. Even so, “I’ve found that if I’m going to a dinner or lunch with family or friends, it’s always easy to call up before and ask if they can do something vegan.”
“They’re almost always more than happy to put together something for me, and I’ve been very pleased with the efforts they go to in order to accommodate a range of diets and lifestyles.”
Jessica noted that while she hates restaurants, she, too, looks at then menu ahead of time for something she can eat.
It all sounds quite civilized, if you ask me.
Myth #5: Vegans must have a lot of hard-to-find, unusual or expensive ingredients on hand in their kitchens
A vegan lifestyle is often perceived as an expensive lifestyle.
This myth is perpetuated by upscale grocery stores such as Whole Foods, which typically carry specialty vegan products you won’t find at your average supermarket.
These vegan replacements for traditional ingredients can really run up a grocery bill. In fact, such products often cost more than their animal-derived counterparts.
So is it fact or fiction that vegans buy into these marketing ploys?
Jessica busted this myth immediately: “Everything [I have] can be found in most stores, I think. I order online just for bulk and convenience. There are very few things I go to Whole Foods for anymore.”
Rachel enjoys experimenting with less common vegan products “such as nut cheeses, dried mulberries, and superfood powders like maca and baobab.”
However, she noted, “I would easily make do with the basics as the extras are just for fun.”
As Emilija pointed out, however, your definition of ‘extras’ depends on where you live. “I don’t consume anything processed such as vegan cheese or vegan hot dogs, but that is also because we have no such options where I live.”
“I focus more on superfoods like poppy seeds, nettle seeds, chia seeds, [and] natural sweeteners. In Macedonia, it’s definitely an expensive way of living.”
Emilija does have a garden, though, where she grows her own fruits and vegetables. Lucky her!
Myth #6: Vegans are a source of frustration and inconvenience for family and friends
No one wants to hear their child or spouse is renouncing animal products and going vegan, right?
This is probably because many people anticipate difficulties in eating at home with a vegan, since meals will have to be prepared separately – which of course translates to extra work in the kitchen.
Rachel, as a minor, had a unique point of view on this. “I told my mom that I no longer wished to consume meat and that I had a desire to go vegan,” she explained of her experience over two years ago.
“She was skeptical due to the misconceptions that you cannot meet all your nutritional needs on a vegan diet. So she said that I still had to eat fish and eggs occasionally. However, once she saw how much I was thriving [without meat], she allowed me to go vegan a year ago.”
Eventually, Rachel found she was actually influencing her family’s eating habits.
“My dad was generally supportive,” she described. “When I transitioned to a more plant-based diet, he also urged my mom to lower their meat consumption.”
“Now, he eats almost fully vegetarian at home and advocates a diet with less meat to his friends. He has seen improvements in his blood pressure, cholesterol and liver health. Even my mom, who was a little bit reluctant, has lowered her meat intake and she consumes a lot more veggies than she did in the past.”
But how did they make it work as a family that once favored dishes centered around animal products?
“I’m Malaysian Chinese and my mom found it a bit difficult that I wouldn’t be able to eat the food she grew up eating and enjoying,” Rachel recalled. “However, we have found ways to work around it, such as using rice noodles instead of egg noodles and tofu instead of meat.”
Emilija was also living with her family when she made her decision to go vegan.
“My mom used to cheat and make non-vegetarian food and only separate the meat from it so I would eat it,” she remembered. “I used to be very angry, but looking back on it now, I find it funny!”
“[My parents] weren’t very supportive of my going vegan, but they didn’t make it harder for me, either. Most of their [objections] were due to the fact that they know nothing about veganism, but I am actually getting my mom into it more and more.”
Jessica, who had a husband and two young children to contend with when she made her switch, decided the best solution was to involve the whole family in the transition.
“When we started [to go vegan], my oldest [child] was just a year old. It went quite smoothly. There’s been some debate occasionally with my husband, but he has accepted our household transition and we have come to an agreement on how to teach our children.”
Family members tend to influence each other’s eating habits. So it seems that getting the whole family involved in eating more plants – whether intentional or not – is a common result of going vegan.
Myth #7: Veganism is just about quitting animal products
Veganism is about giving up animal products, of course.
Some interpretations involve only dietary matters, while others extend to ethical issues as well, including the wearing and use of animal products (think leather handbags and body lotion with lanolin).
But beyond these lifestyle changes, is there anything else to veganism?
Emilija thinks so. “[Going vegan] made me feel very compassionate and very aware of things. It didn’t just change my view of animals, but also human beings and Mother Earth. It [expanded] my horizons. I realized how much damage is done, and if we don’t stop it, there will be no turning back.”
Rachel agreed. “I really believe it has allowed me to become a much more spiritual and easygoing person. Before, I was very stubborn and judgmental and I was never willing to open my mind or try new things.”
“I’ve become more patient with friends and I’m more in tune with how others are feeling,” she added. “I’ve become far more approachable and compassionate with people[…]which is leading me to want to study psychology in university.”
Jessica feels she has changed as well. “I’m mentally and physically a stronger person [than before]. My personality has grown into what I feel it was meant to be.”
These experiences seem to prove that making the decision to go vegan is indeed a big deal – just not in the way you might think.
You may notice significant changes in your digestion, your well-being and your overall health.
But perhaps more unexpectedly, you may also experience changes in the way you view yourself and the world.
So, while the decision itself may seem like a giant leap into the unknown, remember that it seemed that way for everyone at first – including these four women. They journeyed through twists and turns and unforeseen obstacles along the way.
But despite all that, and though they may be four very different people, they did agree on one thing about their experience with veganism: They’d never go back.
Are you vegan or vegan-curious? What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?