I’ve always thought it silly when religious people take a patchy approach to supposedly immutable dietary laws – like sticking to them at home but not following them at restaurants, or “no mixing meat and milk unless the cheesecake looks particularly delicious”.
Yet for the last year or so I’ve started doing something similar: I eat a vegan diet, but only at home. When I’m out I default to avoiding animal products where it’s easy to do so, but I don’t worry about it too much.
(And yes, I know “vegan” means a whole way of life and I should really say “eating a plant-based diet” or “not eating animal products” every time, but it’s a pain to keep typing and you know what I mean.)
This is not an attempt to convert you. I don’t want you to change your eating habits as a result of reading this. The main point of interest is how I’ve done it, and how it might generalise to other changes you want to make.
Why go vegan?
People have many reasons for going vegan – including perceived health benefits and environmental impact. For me, it’s purely moral. You can make an argument that in the modern world it’s morally wrong to consume animal products at all, and that argument is made powerfully in this video.
But even in its weaker form, it’s obvious that our industrial farming techniques mean the production of animal products involves a vast amount of suffering. There are small suppliers that treat animals more responsibly and minimise harm, but I don’t have the time or inclination to do that research so it’s easier to just avoid completely.
So my “vegan at home” diet leaves me occupying a confused and morally indefensible position: I feel so strongly that it’s wrong to make animals suffer that I avoid participating in it…some of the time.
I’m no better than the religious person who thinks God is only watching them when they’re at home or will give them a pass when dessert looks particularly tempting.
Why not go fully vegan?
That’s where I plan to eventually end up. For now, I’ve got three reasons for taking it more gradually:
It’s more likely to stick
Suddenly saying “right – no more animal products, ever” is a big commitment. If I made that commitment, there’s a good chance I’d break it when faced with situations like those I’ll talk about in a minute. And after breaking it a couple of times, it seems likely that I’d give up on the whole thing as “impossible”.
My rule of “vegan at home” works because it’s easy: we order our groceries online and place pretty much the same order every week, so I just need to make a decision about what to eat once and it repeats forever.
It’s also black-and-white enough that I can’t cheat it. If my rule was just “I’ll try to cut down on animal products” or even “I’ll eat 50% less”, I can always choose the meat option and tell myself I’ll cut down even more next time. It also avoids any need for willpower or brain-power on a meal-to-meal basis.
It avoids inconveniencing friends and family
I’m not quite ready to be “that guy” who insists on having a special meal cooked when eating at someone else’s house, or who asks the waiter a million questions about what’s in each dish. If my wife wants to eat out somewhere that only has extremely limited vegan options, I don’t have to debate it or go along grudgingly.
Clearly if I were properly committed to animal welfare these are insignificant factors that I could easily deal with if I wanted to, but again – it’s about taking that first step without getting deterred.
Getting food on the move is the hardest part
I live in a country where the number of vegan options is exploding, but it’s still only a tiny minority that cares whether something contains milk or egg. This means that when out and about – like at train stations or trying to grab a snack on the move in a non-hipster part of town – it’s very difficult to find options that don’t contain animal products in some form.
I try to get around this by carrying snacks like nuts with me, and if I don’t have the choice I’ll at least try to stay vegetarian even if it contains egg or milk. But again, having just the strict rule “at home” means I don’t have to beat myself up in these situations.
How to make big changes gradually
Again, I know none of this makes moral sense: if you believe that murder is wrong, you don’t kill people “except when they’re being really annoying”.
But I see this as a first step. I don’t want to be the guy who goes from the couch to an intense workout class, injures himself, then never goes back. By taking a significant but manageable first step – with clearly defined rules that can’t be cheated – I believe I’m more likely to get all the way eventually.
Should you do the same? No – you should do whatever you want to do. As I said, this article isn’t an attempt to “turn you vegan”.
The point is to demonstrate that whatever big change you want to make in your life, it doesn’t have to be a scary, irreversible, all-or-nothing decision. Just come up with a first step that’s:
- Big enough to actually mean something, but
- Won’t turn your life completely upside down and affect others, and
- Is black-and-white so you can’t “cheat” yourself and don’t have to rely on constant willpower