The Flaming Vegan

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When Being Vegan Hurts: 3 Ways to Cope
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When Being Vegan Hurts: 3 Ways to Cope

When someone says to you, "Oh, being a vegan must be SO hard", how do you respond?

My automatic response is to say that no, on the contrary, it's the easiest thing in the world. But the truth is, it IS hard, just not in the ways they imagine.

True, replacing animal foods in my diet with healthier, more compassionate and environmentally-friendly options has been a joy, not a burden. True, I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything by giving up what was never really mine to take to begin with.

But the truth is, being vegan hurts, and sometimes that hurt cuts deep.

It hurts to see your best friend post jokes on Facebook about turkeys being killed for Thanksgiving dinner.

It hurts to watch your family members stuffing the corpses of tortured animals into their mouths, and then attempt to hold a dinner conversation with them as if everything were perfectly normal.

It hurts to walk past a KFC advertisement and see dismembered body parts being sold for pocket change.

In short, being vegan hurts because love hurts, and becoming vegan means opening up our hearts to love animals and recognize them as innocent, feeling beings that don't deserve to suffer for our pleasure. Once our eyes have been opened to just how much they do suffer, we cannot help but share in that suffering ourselves.

So we try to stop it. Boy, do we try. Of course we know that we ARE helping by no longer eating animals or their secretions ourselves, but, with the veil finally lifted from our eyes, we realize that there are so many more lives to save, and the enormity of the task can easily feel overwhelming.

Becoming vegan is like being blinded on the road to Damascus, then simultaneously taking the red pill and waking up to find that you're living in the Matrix and that EVERYTHING YOU'VE BEEN TOLD IS A LIE.

Except that this is no Hollywood movie. This is all too real.

And except that, unlike a religious conversion, your new-found conviction is based not on faith but on cold, hard facts.

You know what's wrong with the world, and you know how to fix it. It's such a simple answer, and it will solve so many of the world's problems, from halting climate change to ending world hunger to reversing the obesity epidemic. But, to your dismay, no one wants to hear it.

Feeling disheartened, misunderstood and perhaps even depressed, you may try to isolate yourself from the insanity of this world. In an attempt to avoid reminders of animal suffering, you may stop going out to eat with non-vegans, or decide you will only eat out in vegetarian or vegan restaurants, or limit your travels to places where you know such restaurants will be available.

This is a terrible idea.

Why? Because by doing this you will: (a) miss out on lots of wonderful experiences and relationships; and (b) still fail miserably at your attempt to avoid suffering, because suffering is everywhere.

So if there's no avoiding it, how can we cope with it? Start with these three basic principles:

1. Show Compassion.

As a vegan, you probably think of yourself as a pretty compassionate person. You have expanded your circle of compassion to include all non-human animals, and that is a wonderful thing. Just remember to include all humans in that circle as well – yes, even those who are contributing to animals' suffering.

Remember that you weren't always vegan either. As obvious as it is to you now, there was a time when you did not yet see the disconnect between your own values of peace, non-violence and compassion and the dead animal that was on your plate. Treat every non-vegan in your life as a VIP – a vegan in progress.

To paraphrase Rory Freedman, people are like kernels in a bag of microwave popcorn. Some pop right away, some will take a bit longer, and a few may never pop at all. Recognizing that each of us is on our own journey and will come to the truth in our own time makes it much easier to be accepting of others, no matter how far along they are on their own journey.

2. Take Action.

The most powerful way of coping with the tragedy of animal suffering is by doing something to stop it. No, you won't be able to stop all of it, but you can make a real difference in the lives of individual animals. In addition to eating only plant-based meals, here are a few steps you can take to do even more to help:

·         Cook for others. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, as they say, and a great way of opening people's minds to veganism is by showing them the delicious food they can enjoy as a vegan.

·         Wear it on your sleeve. Or on your hat, your jacket, your running shorts, etc. Buy some t-shirts or other accessories with vegan slogans and spread the message everywhere you go, without even opening your mouth.

·         Hand out leaflets. Volunteer with Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), Vegan Outreach or another organization that distributes leaflets on college campuses, at music festivals, etc.

·         Volunteer at an animal sanctuary. If you don't feel comfortable speaking to people face-to-face about veganism, how about spending time with animals instead? Find a sanctuary near you and ask how you can help.

·         Donate money. If you don't have time to volunteer, then give a donation to help fund the work of animal rights organizations.

·         Start a blog. The Internet offers an unprecedented opportunity to share your story with the world. Whether it's a recipe, a thought piece or a personal story about your experiences with animals, what you share could be exactly what someone else needs to hear in order for the penny to drop.

·         Lead by example. If you want to be effective in attracting people to veganism, don’t come across as an angry, militant extremist who throws blood on women wearing fur coats and calls everyone they meet a murderer. Instead, show them that as a vegan you lead a happy, joyful life full of love, peace, connection with nature, and delicious and healthy food.

3. Focus on the Good.

With all the undercover videos of factory farms floating around our social media networks, it can be easy to fall into despair and forget just how much progress we have made, and continue to make.

Seek out positive news, like stories about how Subway is expanding its vegan sandwich pilot project, or how 400 million fewer animals were killed for food in the U.S. in 2014 compared with 2007.

Sign up for email updates from farm animal sanctuaries, and receive stories in your inbox of animals being rescued and living out the rest of their lives in peace and freedom.

Watch this video, and then visualize the joy and beauty of what a vegan world could be like. And believe in your heart that it could really happen. The truth is, we ARE moving closer to a vegan world every day. And when that day comes, being vegan won't hurt at all anymore.

Photo credit: "Depression" by Ryan Melaugh, used under CC license


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  1. Support
    We can completely relate to these Wendy! We hope to hear a lot more from you soon! Thanks for the great post.
    1. Wendy Werneth
      Wendy Werneth
      Thanks so much! I'm glad you liked the post.
  2. Karlheinz
    Great post, but your first principle is dangerous when it comes too early. Showing compassion for those who lack compassion is counter-productive most of the times. It comes with a condition. This is it: Cry, be angry, be sad, feel weak and destroyed and first of all, stop trying to be compassionate towards the aggressors - because only when you become aware and express your deepest emotions first without stupid guilt attached, true forgiveness and understanding will appear automatically. And it will appear with ease, without effort and obligation and independent of social expectations when the time is right. However, if you start with trying to be compassionate with aggressors, before you have deeply felt and expressed your conscious and unconscious pain about their cruelty, then compassion can only be fake - and no matter how hard you try, you will lack the energy and love to go forward to create a better path. But if you allow and encourage your unconscious, dark, overboarding, unrestricted, non-polite and non-politically correct emotions and suffering first, and embrace it emphatically, then the rest will take care of its own.
    1. Wendy Werneth
      Wendy Werneth
      Hi Karlheinz, Thank you for these truly thought-provoking insights. I understand what you are saying about the need to be true to your emotions, but I believe that the vast majority of non-vegans (VIPs) ARE compassionate people. The problem is that they are so conditioned by society to see meat-eating as normal that they don't realize how incompatible it is with their own compassionate values. I don't want to call them aggressors, because they are not actively setting out to harm animals. In fact, they would be appalled if they saw an animal being tortured on the street and would most likely do whatever they could to stop it. The cognitive dissonance caused by holding these contradictory beliefs is so huge and so psychologically uncomfortable that they do whatever they can to avoid seeing it. As vegans who want to create a vegan world, it is our job to help them reach a point where they are able to recognize their own inconsistencies and start making better choices that are in line with their own values. The most effective tactics will vary from person to person, but few people respond well to anger or accusations. That approach is likely to turn them away from veganism, and if that happens then we have done a great disservice to the animals we so desperately want to help.
      1. Karlheinz
        The vast majority of non-vegans are not compassionate people. They are partially compassionate, for example passionate about their pets, friends and family. But having cognitive dissonance and not doing anything against the cruelty they finance (slaughtering animals they eat) is NOT compassionate. Why do you defend them? This is an obedient behavior. Why do you hesitate to call them aggressors, just because they do not intend their cruelties consciously? From the point of view of the victim it is an aggression, no matter if they deny their actions and consequences or not. I also disagree with the assumption that their cognitive dissonance is "so uncomfortable" for them. The opposite is true. Their cognitive dissonance allows them to live very comfortably. However, would they stop their denial and cognitive dissonance, then they would have to deal with their feelings and this would be uncomfortable for them. Lastly, regarding my initial comment, I have to add that I did not mean to confront non-vegans with all the emotion and anger directly. It was only (!) meant to be done privately in the sense of "inner work". Allowing yourself to notice and feel and express those emotions in order to get rid of your own possible cognitive dissonance. I do not advocate to create hostile confrontations from face to face at all, because this would be a disservice, as you point out correctly.
        1. Wendy Werneth
          Wendy Werneth
          Great, so I'm glad we're on the same page about not creating hostile confrontations. And, as fellow vegans both trying to do our part to reduce animal suffering, I'd say we're on the same page in general in all the ways that really matter. I do not in any way mean to defend meat-eating or animal exploitation. I am simply saying that I can understand those people who still contribute to it because, for 38 years, I was one of them. While it's not always easy for me to empathize with VIPs, I find that doing so makes it easier for me to live as a vegan in a non-vegan world. If a different strategy works for you, then that's great.
          1. Karlheinz
            People who have cognitive dissonance cope differently with hurt than those without. The first group copes with pain by avoiding everything that could evoke pain (thus using denial, ignorance and so on...). The second group copes with pain by simply feeling pain and going through it and working through whatever is attached with it (changing habits, facing facts, changing point of views, changing social status...). Once this is done, the pain does not go away, but it does not pose a threat any more, because it is simply part of life and part of being alive. Feelings turn from being perceived as a threat to being a valuable guide to live life. What I am saying is that if someone who has worked through the feelings and consequences, then understanding of the VIP will arise automatically, without any effort whatsoever. There is no need for a principle or strategy or moral ideal to understand (or forgive) the aggressor. However, and this is the crucial point, if someone uses understanding of the VIP or aggressor as a means to avoid feelings (because while you understand and emphatize with the aggressor, you do not feel the pain of the victim), then understanding of the VIP is nothing more but a strategy of denial. Or to put it in another way, there is a fine line between understanding and idealizing the aggressor. If "coping with hurt" means idealizing the aggressor (excusing his action, relativizing his position etc), even if you call it understanding (because it sounds better), then you are just running away from the pain and you are part of the problem and in denial yourself. But if you went through the feelings and consequences, then you will understand the aggressor automatically. Then, understanding is not a way to cope with hurt, it is the consequence of having coped with hurt. This is a huge difference.
  3. Vegspiration
    This is a really wonderful post.. You've inspired me. I can relate loads. Thank you for sharing my video too! Together we can manifest a vegan world!
    1. Wendy Werneth
      Wendy Werneth
      Thank you Nikki! And thanks for your video; it helped me a lot when I watched it, and I'm sure it will help others too.
  4. ellarussell
    Really helpful post - thanks Wendy. Loved the popcorn analogy - made me feel hopeful because in the end so few remain unpopped!
    1. Wendy Werneth
      Wendy Werneth
      Hi Ella, Yes, that is true! I do believe that, once we hit critical mass, veganism will go mainstream in a BIG way. The world is getting there; we have so many reasons to be hopeful!
  5. KimV123
    Another awesome article by you, Wendy! Thanks for all the incredible work you do. Great seeing you!
    1. Wendy Werneth
      Wendy Werneth
      Aww, you're so sweet Kim! It was great to see you too!


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