Living at home as a young vegan can be hard. In this article, our guest writer on youth affairs, Sophie, gives some tips she has learned as a young vegan living within a meat-dominant family and culture.
Transitioning to being vegan is an exciting process: the renewed sense of compassion, empathy and all the tasty cruelty-free alternatives. The whole world seems brighter and every animal seems to be smiling at you. It's such an uplifting process that never ceases to amaze me.
However, for young people who still live at home with family, it can present its challenges. While your family may have good intentions, they can often leave you feeling ostracised or targeted because of your new lifestyle change. But it's important to reinforce why you went vegan in the first place. To help ease you and your family into plant-based eating, I will give you some tried and tested advice and recommendations, from one young vegan to another.
My biggest piece of advice is don't expect your family to go vegan. First of all, expecting your family to join you immediately is an unrealistic expectation. Veganism is an individual journey and you have to reinforce the idea that you were once blind to the cruelty in animal agriculture, so don't be too harsh on them. Though it may be inspiring for you in the beginning, your family won't respond well to an overload of information on veganism. With personal experience, this will turn them away from the idea of eating more plant-based. However, you can gently ease your family into the idea of veganism which I'll touch on later.
You can ease your family into veganism by being prepared to make your own meals. This isn't such a bad thing either! Before I went vegan or even vegetarian, I hardly knew how to cook. Sure, I knew how to make bacon and eggs and the packet pancake mix but never a nutritious meal like my parents. Now, my cooking ability has developed which reinforced a sense of responsibility, especially when my family go out at night. Through practising and experimenting with cooking, you learn valuable life lessons and can prove your family else wise about the age-old myths of protein deficiency through nutritious and delicious meals that won't cost the bank. But avoid eating too many substitute foods and vegan junk foods like mock meats, even though we all know the temptation is there. They are highly processed and your family may not respond well to your new diet primarily of processed foods. Stick to whole plant-based foods, for which I've found fantastic recipes in Elsa's Wholesome Life cookbook and on Minimalist Baker's blog. Who knows, maybe if you even offer some of your baked goods it may intrigue them too! I also find the The Viet Vegan blog really useful with lots of tasty recipes.
If this list seems to scare you, don't worry; veganism will become normal eventually. The age-old 'it's a phase' mantra will be thrown around but you have to remind everyone that this is where you are at now and the present is more important than the future. You may hear negative feedback and taunts in the beginning, especially from your siblings or friends, but you have to remember that it's coming from a deep down place of curiosity. Instead of taking the bait, choose your answers carefully and turn it into a learning opportunity rather than a non-vegan vs vegan argument.
This leads me to my next point which is don't preach at every meal, wait for it to come up naturally in conversation. It's easy to become frustrated in the beginning and you just want to tell the whole world about the horrors of animal agriculture. But there's a time and a place for vegan activism and the dinner table isn't one. Check out this detailed article, How to veganize other people, by The Vegan Strategist, which offers practical solutions to not necessarily 'veganize' someone but to allow your family to be open to the idea of plant-based eating.
Once your family has opened up to the idea of veganism, you may be offered 'vegan' food. Tricky labels such as whey powder, Worcester sauce and certain collagens are not vegan and can fool anyone not looking out for them. Read labels and always double-check before eating. Whilst good-intentioned, your family won't be as concerned as you when checking labels, so make sure you politely enquire into the meals they offer you or refer to the pack discreetly for information.
It's easy to forget that your family really wants what is best for you and that includes your health. To put your parent's mind at ease, consult your GP and get the necessary blood tests before you jump into any new diet. You should consider a B12 supplement and possibly iron or other supplements. Also, you really have to watch that you're eating all the right food groups. Bingeing on Oreos all day ain't gonna cut it!
After all that information overload, the most important part is to enjoy it! Go to vegan markets, conventions, restaurants or cooking classes. In my opinion, Soul Burger and Nutie (both in Sydney) are a must for any new vegan looking for some seriously life-changing vegan food. This is your time when you can learn to love veganism in your own way. For me, going to the Sydney Vegan Market once a month and volunteering reignites my passion for veganism. It does make it so much easier when you have a vegan connection and support group or know like-minded people. Personally, I'm blessed to have two very close vegan friends which makes the transition to a vegan lifestyle that much easier. Try to branch out at school or check out the different events listed by Vegan Australia to meet like-minded people.
Whilst the idea of veganism may seem daunting for a young person still living at home in a meat-dominating environment, it doesn't have to be. Restricting your expectations on your family, exploring your options, going with the flow and having a positive and open relationship with veganism will help your family adjust to this new lifestyle and who knows, they may even consider it.
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