For a long time now, I’ve held the belief that one of the best forms of vegan activism is to be happy and healthy. I haven’t always believed this. When I first went vegetarian, I was very angry at the world and I did a lot of preaching and lecturing to anyone who would listen (and to a lot of people who didn’t want to listen but had the misfortune of being stuck next to me). I’ve realized that if I’m miserable, cranky and unhealthy, no one is going to want to be around me, much less consider adopting a similar lifestyle to mine. But if I’m happy, healthy and vibrant people are going to want to know what I’m doing and it’s quite possible they’re going to want to do it too.
Even though I’ve been eating meet-free for 20 years, I know that my diet is new and weird to a lot of people, and unfortunately they tend to blame any little ailment or perceived flaw on my diet. When I worked in an office, the owner of the company happened to be walking by my department while I was having a sneezing fit. He poked his head in the door, and said very sincerely “You really need to be eating more protein,” because apparently protein keeps the sniffles at bay. Once while at a family reunion with my very Irish-looking, red-headed, freckled relatives an ex-boyfriend told me that I wouldn’t be so pale if I ate a little meat. And no, he didn’t say the same thing to any of my pale-skinned cousins or uncles. And then there was the time when a former boss said that I had a tendency to be sarcastic because I was vegetarian. Seriously.
While there’s not to much that I can really do about the occasional sneezing spell during pollen season, my fair Irish skin or my sarcasm (okay, maybe I can control that last one a little), over the years I’ve come to the realization that since so many people know so little about vegan living and nutrition they’re going to blame every little sniffle, ache and blemish on my “not getting enough protein” or the fact that my shoes are manmade. So I’ve decided that it’s important for me to be the best advertisement for a vegan lifestyle that I can be.
Here are some tips that I follow to keep myself happy and healthy:
EAT A WHOLE-FOODS DIET
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of eating lots of packaged and processed foods, especially now that there are so many vegan convenience foods on the market. While an occasional indulgence is okay, it’s best to save them for special occasions and rare indulgences. Sticking with fresh fruit and vegetables, beans and whole grains helps keep the body healthy and vibrant.
Okay, I know that supplements can be controversial in the nutrition world, but I do take them and I often recommend them to my clients. I think it’s important to supplement with B12 and Vitamin D, since they’re not abundant in plant-based foods and deficiencies can be dangerous. I also take an omega 3 fatty acid supplement on a regular basis.
Exercise and I have not always gotten along, but since I feel better after I get myself moving, I make sure I workout on a regular basis. Exercising is is just as important as eating a healthy diet, as it improves heart function, reduces the risk for major diseases and improves mood. Exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym though. Hiking, gardening, yoga or even walking the dog are all great ways to get the body moving.
SHOW KINDNESS AND COMPASSION TO ALL
I’ve seen people talk about how much they love cows and then turn around and scream at a budding vegan because her eyeliner may have been tested on animals. I firmly believe that the vegan police are no longer needed in this movement. Chastising someone on the path to veganism because she isn’t quite there yet really doesn’t help anyone, and in fact, it could cause that person to decide that veganism is too strict and abandon the lifestyle altogether. We all started somewhere and it’s important to respect others, no matter where they are on their journey.
This goes hand in hand with showing kindness and compassion to all. I was recently asked where I get my protein by someone I had just met, and my first reaction was to laugh at him. I really thought he was joking! But he was serious. Years ago I probably would have freaked out on him, but I patiently explained that since protein is ubiquitous in plant foods, it’s not something I worry about. He then asked me if I would share a good tofu recipe with him, and I would like to believe that he went home and tried it. To paraphrase that old saying, you catch more flies with agave than with vinegar.
MINIMIZE EXPOSURE TO IMAGES OF ANIMAL ABUSE
I know that this can be difficult to do. There are so many vegan-themed films out now, undercover investigations are being released at an alarming rate and it’s impossible to log onto Facebook without seeing photos of animal abuse. If I were to look at it all, I would probably be balled up in the corner rocking back and forth with mascara running down my face. We all know about the horrific abuses animals endure in this world, and as vegans we’re doing what we can to eliminate them. I believe that too much exposure to the images of abuse can lead to anger, bitterness and resentment.
I will fully admit that I don’t always feel so bright and shiny. I can be prone to headaches, sometimes I feel tired, occasionally I get sick, and sometimes I just really don’t feel like dealing with the world. Most of the time, I keep it to myself, not wanting to deal with the whole “you just need to eat a steak” thing again. I’ve also found that pretending I’m in a good mood can actually lead to being in a good mood, so faking can benefit myself as well as the people around me!