Let's face it: Old habits can be a pain in the arse to change. Whether it's something as general as procrastinating (for which I am notorious) or something as specific as biting your nails, knocking yourself out of cycles that have become part of your daily routine or of your regular way of flittering about in the world can be hard. When I talk to people about going vegan--particularly to people who seem open to the ethical arguments against animal use--I am asking them to change their consumer habits so that where possible and reasonable to do so, they refrain from using animal products. I'm not just asking people to change one habit, but am asking them to change the way they make all of their choices as consumers. That can seem pretty daunting, I've no doubt.
"Is this vegan?"
I remember spending hours reading off ingredients on items at the supermarket when I first started moving towards going vegan. (Thankfully, since I've spent much of my adult life cooking mostly with whole foods, I didn't have to spend all that much time double-checking ingredients in most of what I put into my fridge and cupboards.) I also remember learning to cut myself some slack when I inadvertently ended up making a mistake--something I still work hard to do today, because there is ample opportunity to inadvertently consume animal products in a world in which almost all processed foods on supermarket shelves either contains or comes into contact with some sort of animal product. In some cases, like sugar production, the edible item is sometimes actually processed with animal products. There's a lot to learn in the beginning, but for those of you still transitioning to veganism, you will eventually get the hang of it and the knowledge you acquire about different ingredients will make it easier for you to sift through options at the store as times passes.
Where non-food items are concerned, it can get even more tricky unless a product is specifically labeled "vegan" or "free of animal products". There are guides you can obtain or print-off from websites that list common animal-derived ingredients, so those can be helpful until you find a product you like enough to buy regularly (e.g. dish-washing liquid, shampoo). Even when you find a product and opt to stick with it, however, it's always important to check to make sure its ingredients haven't changed. Thankfully, vegan-friendly options have become more common and clear labeling has been making shopping much easier over the past several years.
It's Not Just About Food
Veganism is a lifestyle that turns ethics into action through the avoidance of activities that involve using non-human animals as things existing for human use. Veganism is about respecting the interests of non-human animals and taking those interests seriously by refusing to use non-human animals as resources or commodities existing for human use and pleasure. Some would qualify this by saying that the devil is in the details of where this avoidance is reasonable. I could start an entire blog discussing this and do manage to cover bits and pieces here and there concerning the finer points of being vegan. What I want to emphasize right now, however, is that veganism isn't just about what you put into your mouth or on your body. A new vegan might feel bogged down with those aspects of going vegan at first, but if you ask other vegans, they'll assure you that with a little bit of research and practice, dodging animal ingredients will become more and more easy to handle as time goes by. I swear that it will.
What's Actually Sometimes Hardest
The truth is, though, that most "seasoned" vegans will nod emphatically when you suggest to them that the hardest part of being vegan in an overwhelmingly speciesist world isn't finding things to eat or products to use, but that it's dealing with other people in our lives. Those of us living with non-vegan family or roommates find ourselves continually faced with animal use in our immediate daily lives, sharing a kitchen--often a table--with friends and family preparing and eating differing animal parts and products in various states of decay.
Some vegans insist that their being vegan is a "personal choice" and that they don't "judge" others for consuming or otherwise using non-human animals, or that they even don't care whether or not others do so. This seems incredibly strange to me if and when it comes from vegans who purport to reject animal use for rights-based reasons and who refuse to use animal products themselves because they have come to the conclusion that it is unethical to do so. I mean, if I think that it's unethical for me to punch a toddler in the mouth, wouldn't it sound strange for me to say to you that I don't "judge" others for doing so and that I actually don't care whether or not people around me--loved ones or otherwise--also punch toddlers in the mouth?
Those of us who have non-vegan romantic interests or spouses find ourselves having to define or set our boundaries in sometimes even more awkward ways, and then some end up needing to periodically reexamine or reinforce those boundaries. In some cases, some of us end up compromising and compartmentalizing, trying--and sometimes failing--to rationalize living with and/or loving someone who continues to view animals as ours to use, and who may continue to use or consume them around us. In other cases, compromise happens all 'round and our partners opt to live "as vegans" (i.e. not agreeing with the ethics behind veganism, but perhaps out of deference to us or for pragmatic reasons intended to simplify maintaining a household together) or to at least not openly consume animals around us, albeit doing so "off radar".
I don't think that there are easy answers when it comes to how we navigate our relationships with non-vegan loved ones, but I do think that offering an ear to other vegans--new vegans or otherwise, really--concerning these issues could ultimately prove to be as useful in the long run as offering up animal-free ingredient guides. I think that many vegans could benefit from discussing with each other how it is we each go about living our lives in a predominantly omni world--how we set and guard our boundaries with our loved ones and where or if we compromise or compartmentalize when dealing with their non-vegan behaviours, how or if we talk to them about their considering going vegan, themselves, and how or if we maintain the hope that they will.
I suspect that for some vegans who are primarily motivated by ethics that these sorts of situations weigh more heavily than trying to find egg-free soy patties at the supermarket; I also suspect that these things may also have more of an impact on whether or not some actually stay vegan than is ordinarily or readily discussed. I may be wrong. One thing is certain, and it's that our relationships with non-vegan loved ones--friends, family or otherwise--are on our minds and weigh on our hearts, however we navigate them. And those are just our interactions with people we like or love, or those people we choose to have in our lives! I could (and will, over the next while) write a few other posts about our interactions with non-vegan acquaintances, coworkers, extended family members, and so on. In the end, though, the truth really is that the hardest part of being vegan isn't so much learning which ingredient is or isn't vegan, but it's the day-to-day exchanges you'll have with others and how you learn to stay afloat.