In vegan outreach, I often encounter people proudly proclaiming: “It’s easy to be vegan!” I even find myself saying this often-heard phrase at times. But is it easy to be vegan? And, perhaps more importantly, should we be telling people that it’s easy to be vegan?

In my research, I found that many vegans actually described their transition as initially quite difficult. Particularly for the minority who are making a sudden, drastic change, their regular habits may need a big overhaul. In understanding shifting habits, our daily eating practices need to accommodate our daily schedules and practices.[1]

Eating vegan may take more time, particularly in the beginning. We are the first generation to feel that we don’t have the time to cook (and for many people, this may be true in the modern, fast-paced world!) And, yet, being vegan often requires some level of cooking, with research suggesting that most meat eaters, in particular, are lacking in the skills to cook plant-based meals.[2]

While the availability of vegan ready-made meals and restaurants options has increased exponentially in recent years in the UK and many other countries [3], these can still be more expensive than their non-vegan counterparts. In fact, the belief that a vegetarian or vegan (veg*n) diet is more expensive was the largest reported barrier within my research sample.

New transitioners may struggle if their daily eating routine needs to accommodate new practices that take more time. So, if we tell people: “It’s easy to be vegan! those struggling may think that: (a) they are “bad” at being vegan, (b) veganism doesn’t match their lifestyle, or (c) that you are not telling them the truth (and if you lied about this, what else could you have lied about?!)

This is why I try to avoid saying it’s easy. Or, rather, I try to acknowledge that it can feel like a big change in the beginning. And it can be extremely difficult to go overnight from meat eater to vegan. Meat eaters may feel every meal needs a meat component and therefore heavily rely on meat substitutes or they may (unnecessarily!) worry about things like protein or calcium.

The good news is that by practicing veganism full-time, new transitioners can go through the “difficult” part quickly and learn how to be vegan in a matter of weeks. This is why I think that month-long vegan campaigns are a great way for people to learn how to be vegan.

Conversely, meat reducers may be more likely to continue to rely on recipes or ready-made meals. Each veg*n meal may require planning and thought, such that when they are busy or simply can’t be bothered, they fall back on their previous, omnivorous habits. Practicing veganism full-time, instead, is likely to result in the more rapid formation of unconscious vegan habits.

For those who love cooking and experimenting with food, the vegan transition may go smoothly. For those heavily reliant on omnivorous norms (But what am I gonna eat???) this may not be the case. It’s important to acknowledge the diversity of ways people approach consumption when we conduct our outreach and that, for some, a transition may not be easy (at first) but that does not mean it is impossible.

For those struggling with their transition, connecting animal-based foods with their living source may be one strategy that helps them stay motivated and gets them through any initial difficulties. As one participant explained, three years after initially transition:

[Being vegan] was quite hard at the beginning but because I had the ethics were what was behind my decision, I couldn’t see myself going back, so I was like, “I’m just gonna have to make the most [of it].

Going vegan doesn’t have to be hard or expensive, but it is a process that is going to involve learning new information and new ways of eating. If we acknowledge that up front, maybe those who do struggle or find it difficult will be less likely to give up or think, Nah, this veganism isn’t for me.

Notes:
[1] Southerton, D. (2013). Habits, routines and temporalities of consumption: From individual behaviours to the reproduction of everyday practices. Time & Society 22:335–355.
[2] Macdiarmid, J.I., Douglas, F. and Campbell, J. (2016). Eating like there’s no tomorrow: Public awareness of the environmental impact of food and reluctance to eat less meat as part of a sustainable diet. Appetite 96:487–493.
Stoll-Kleemann, S. and Schmidt, U.J. (2016). Reducing meat consumption in developed and transition countries to counter climate change and biodiversity loss: a review of influence factors. Regional Environmental Change 17:1261–1277.
[3] Just Eat (2018). Plant-Based Diet 2018.
Peat, J. (2016). Vegan Food Sales Up By 1,500% in Past Year. The London Economic.

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