This excerpt is from The Joyful Vegan by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (BenBella Books) ©2019, reprinted by permission. Here’s Colleen: I often jest that the most common question vegans hear is Where do you get your protein? but in truth, I don’t think it is. I think the most common question vegans hear is Why are you vegan?
And yet very few vegans have an answer to this very basic question—or at least they haven’t crafted an answer that is both truthful for them and palatable for others.
Taking the time to answer this question for yourself will not only give you clarity about your own values and intentions, it will also enable you to express yourself articulately and truthfully when you tell people you’re vegan. I’m vegan because I don’t want to contribute to violence against animals—either directly or by paying someone else. Why are you vegan?
Take time to get your thoughts down on paper or on screen. Practice free-writing or journaling, or use these questions as a guide:
- What was the catalyst for me to stop eating meat, dairy, and eggs?
- Do I call myself vegan? Why or why not?
- Do I call myself plant-based? What does the term mean to me?
- When did I first hear the word vegan?
- What did it mean to me when I first heard the word? What does it mean to me now?
- Has my perception of veganism changed over the months or years?
- What about being vegan has been the most challenging for me?
- What has been the most rewarding?
The more time you take to work out the answers to these questions, the closer you’ll get to a succinct, authentic response to the question Why are you vegan? Your reasons may expand and change over time, which is why it’s a good idea to revisit your answer to that question every so often. It’s not about having the perfect sound bite, but rather about finding clarity and confidence.
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The Joyful Vegan is available wherever books are sold.
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In fact, knowing your reasons for being vegan and being able to articulate them is a key factor in remaining vegan—or in sustaining any significant change, according to researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente.
In the 1970s, based on their work studying how people successfully quit smoking, Prochaska and DiClemente devised a model of behavior change called the “transtheoretical model of behavior change” or, more simply, “the stages of change.”
This model posits that individuals move through six stages when changing their habits and behaviors—precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination—and just as with the ten stages in this book, movement through these stages of change is not necessarily linear, since people cycle and re-cycle through each one.
According to this theory, successful behavior change (that is, sustaining a new habit for two years or more) includes periodically rewarding your progress, reviewing your motivations, and refreshing your commitment to your new behaviors.
If your reasons for being vegan change over time, welcome that, as well.
Veganism is Imperfect
Coming out—celebrating our own vegan identity—means first defining what being vegan means to us. Being vegan isn’t about adhering to a set of rules or doctrines; there’s no instruction manual to memorize. As we’ve seen, because many people mistakenly believe that being vegan is about attaining some kind of goal, they often accuse vegans of being hypocrites when their behavior falls short of perfection.
Remember: being vegan is a means to an end—not an end in itself—and if we get hung up on trying to be perfect, we’ll make ourselves and everyone around us miserable.
Living with integrity in a world that values convenience over ethics and momentary pleasure over wellness can be challenging, because we live in an imperfect world: the rubber in our car tires has the remnants of animals in them; most of those cars are powered by fossil fuels that are destroying wild habitats; we kill insects every time we walk on the ground or drive in a vehicle; many municipal water systems use animal bones as filtering agents; and most plant-based agriculture still condemns vast numbers of wildlife to displacement and death.
Clearly, we have to find a line to draw when it comes to striving to live consciously in an imperfect world, or we’ll drive ourselves crazy. But just because we can’t be perfect doesn’t mean we have to be indifferent. We need to continually remind ourselves (and others) that we shouldn’t do nothing just because we can’t do everything. Doing something can be everything. In other words, define your own veganism in the context of the imperfect world we live in.
About Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is changing the way we talk about, think about, and treat other animals.
A recognized expert and thought leader on the culinary, social, ethical, and practical aspects of living vegan, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an award-winning author of seven books, including the bestselling The Joy of Vegan Baking, The Vegan Table, Color Me Vegan, Vegan’s Daily Companion, On Being Vegan, and The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.
She is an acclaimed speaker and beloved host of the inspiring podcast, “Food for Thought,” which has been voted Favorite Podcast by VegNews magazine readers several years in a row, and her new podcast, “Animalogy,” is changing the way we talk about animals. She also co-founded the political action committee East Bay Animal PAC to work with government officials on animal issues in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Colleen shares her message of compassion and wellness on national and regional TV and radio programs, including on a monthly vegan segment on Good Day Sacramento and as a monthly contributor to National Public Radio (KQED). She has appeared on the Food Network, CBS, and PBS; interviews with her have been featured on NPR, Huffington Post, U.S. News and World Report; and her recipes have been featured on Epicurious.com and Oprah.com. Colleen lives in Oakland, CA with her husband David and two cats, Charlie and Michiko. Visit her at ColleenPatrickGoudreau.com.