10 Unspoken Challenges of Staying Vegan
There's no shortage of long-term (or even life-long) vegans, super healthy and active, who cut out animal products without the slightest hint of sacrifice. So the question being, why then is it such a challenge for so many others? Not why people are opposed to embracing, trying, considering, or even entertaining a plant-based diet, but why people are actually inspired to, yet struggle to ever find some stability? It seems we're all different, but chances are at some point along the way we all experience some aspect of the following 10 challenges below. Some are unique to going vegan, but most can likely apply to any conscious or willful change.
1. Misinformation - Vegan can mean many things. But when it comes to how one eats, it is virtually meaningless. "I'm going vegan", is akin to saying, "I'm going West", and expecting people to know where. There are processed foods and whole foods, cooked foods and raw foods, and a whole vast continuum of possibilities depending on each individual.
2. The Tradition of Food - Modern society is literally built around processed food. So much so, that we just resign to its unfortunate side effects. You don't even have to leave your bed (except to answer the door), and if you do, rest assured there's fast food on every corner, drive-thrus, pick-up, and even in the middle of nowhere, you're most likely limited to burgers, fries and poisonous junk. We're kind of born into it. Seems almost sadistic to have a birthday party or any celebration without serving something really awful for someone. It's not just for want of flavor but the sense of complete inhibition, hence why any restriction, even if only cosmetic (i.e. vegan vs. non-vegan cupcakes, burgers, etc.) provokes resistance.
3. The Challenge of Change - Our brain instinctively flocks towards what we did yesterday and the day before, while our thoughts gravitate to a lifetime of seeing things a certain way. That's the beaten path, downhill, we walk every day. And without the social momentum from the world following suit or one's own inspiration, old ways have a tempting magnetism. It dominates our attention, especially initially, to where the change is cast less in the light of the new things we're doing, and more in a sense of sacrifice of the things we're not.
4. Industry - Trillion-dollar industries die hard, with resistance from many angles. There are entrenched supply chains, ancillary industries, dedicated real estate, jobs and training, public policy, education, advertising space, debt and stockholders, social traditions, habits, psychological withdrawal, and so on. There are new businesses, products, traditions, and dynamics that awkwardly arise side-by-side, before and after, as the industry fades. But most problematic is big business' fight for survival, with its enormous resources, political ties, and media access. That's the 10,000-pound weight on the evolution of change. It's hard for markets to adjust when the supply controls the demand.
5. Virtual noise - In between knowledge and people, or possibility and reflection, are a trillion and one other things. From corporations to everyday individuals, the ruthless competition for eyes and attention transpires, and its long shadow of deafening noise. This virtual medium is modern man's new hang out and consciousness, without much silence to process, reflect, or simply just be. The trouble being, among other things, who to trust and what to believe, and how it unfortunately impacts people in the process.
6. Lack of Patience - Anything new takes time, hence patience. There's learning the simple mechanics such as new foods, recipes, restaurants, and ways of eating. There's the sheer experience of it and seeing what works, what doesn't, and what you prefer. There are the physical aspects, especially if eating very clean, such as your taste buds adjusting, detoxing, and going through withdrawal. There are the initial social effects with complicated dinner plans, annoying conversations, and general tensions. It is inevitable with every change and the evolving traditions we pass along. It's simply a matter of time until a new sense of ease and 'normal' is felt.
7. Momentum - A running race has its own built-in sense of momentum. Every step forward is progress. But with other changes, the psychological perception of momentum is centered on a self-imposed idea, and likely one rather black and white. For many, "day 331 of xyz change" takes the journey to day 1 all over again with the slightest slip-up. The brain certainly has a harder time letting go when constantly giving in, but more powerful is the somewhat obsessive-compulsive sense of failure and the illusion of 'starting from scratch'. It could be accepted as nothing more than just another experience and part of the journey forward. But the perception of momentum, though a powerful fuel in good times, can be quite debilitating in bad ones.
8. Stress - Just as a broken ankle crowds out that relaxing trip to the beach, stress tends to crowd out one's attention like a blaring noise dominating the airwaves. There are the spontaneous disasters, lingering dramas, daily stresses, or the deep-seated and subconscious. It is complex and everyone responds differently. While for some it can be a further impetus to change, for others it is emotionally imprisoning, difficult to imagine anything but the pain and the learned outlets to cope.
9. Relationships - Change isn't just a process of individual brain chemistry and ways of thinking, it is a socially perpetuated phenomenon, where the social aspect magnifies the individual one. Whether innate or learned, there seems to be the timeless 'Chicken or the Egg' paradox: as more embrace change, the easier it becomes; and the easier it becomes, the more people will embrace it.
10. Misguided expectations - Veganizing your current diet is straightforward (and getting easier each day). But if majorly inspired for health reasons, there's a whole lot more to the story than, 'all good so long as it's vegan'. Fried, greasy foods covered in salt, oil, and sugar can be vegan, as are Oreos, Genetically Modified Foods, and a whole list of processed stuff. Further, there's more to basic wellness than food. Caffeine, smoking, alcohol, or drugs interfere, to say the least, as will the lack of activity, sunlight, or fresh air.