“When the flower blooms, the bees come uninvited”

-Rama Krishna


“I used to be a vegetarian”…or….“I used to be a vegan”

You’ve either heard it or you’ve said it, right? 


If you’ve heard it and you are vegan or vegetarian, you most likely feel a resounding “WHY?” bouncing in your head.  But, most likely, you do not say that to the person standing in front of you.  Hearing these words is one of the most discouraging things a vegan or vegetarian can experience.  We are counting on living in a world where the number of veg people increases rather than decreases as people become aware of the realities of a meat based diet.  We hold that hope.  Hearing what we think of as backward steps is tough when we already don’t understand how the human race can be so slow in getting the message.  We know that the choice to be veg is the best thing for our health, other species, other cultures and the environment and it is hard to believe that the world isn’t jumping on our happy healthy and very logical bandwagon.  What can we do when we hear these “used to be…” words?


If you are one of the people saying, “I used to be veg”, you may feel that you are just doing your best and you weren’t strong enough to stay with the veg path.  You may want understanding.  Or, you may be one of the people who I call “cheagans” = cheating vegans.  The cheagans don’t tend to say that they used to be veg because they are embarrassed and closeted about it.  They don’t want to appear weak.  When someone actually does share that they used to be veg, it is a great opportunity to work with them so you can understand their choices and it is an opportunity to help them feel they are not being judged.  We all tend to want to be part of relationships and community where we feel accepted and invited, not the places where a finger is pointed at us. 


Try to remember a situation where someone wanted you to see his or her viewpoint.  Think of a time when someone wanted to influence you.  Imagine this person trying to understand you and asking you questions about where you are at.  Feel how that feels.  Now picture the same scenario with the person working hard at getting you to understand where he or she is at.  Feel how that feels.  Which one leaves you feeling more open to moving in the direction of this person?  For most people, being understood is more important and more supportive than someone coming at them with an agenda.  So, use this “I used to be…” opportunity to increase your understanding.  Before you reply to the comment, check in with yourself about your intention/motivation.  If you are going to try to convert this person and get them to understand you, they will know it and it very well may backfire.  They may pin you with the common self-righteous label that those living a compassionate lifestyle often have tossed on them.    Try practicing with wanting to understand rather than being understood.  You will most likely see a magical transformation in your interactions.  When someone says, “I used to be veg”, you can respond in a variety of ways.  One example might be, “That is so different from my experience of being vegan and loving this lifestyle.  Tell me what changed for you that made you change your mind.”   You will hopefully learn a lot about the reasons they did not stay with a veg lifestyle.  You may be able to provide support in the form of one of the three main reasons addressed below.


I, too, have struggled with my commitment to a vegan lifestyle.  While living for a few years in Sweden I felt the isolation of living in a place where there was almost no vegetarian community and veg friendly foods were not available.  I returned to the USA and took a close look at what keeps me and others committed to life affirming choices.  In addition to looking at my personal experience, I was leading workshops all over North America in which I asked participants what they felt kept them (and others) committed or not.


I have asked hundreds of people to express their views and experiences and the answers were so consistent with my own experience that I found it reassuring. 


What I, and many others, have found are some of the most important elements required to stay committed are:


1-A strong community of like-minded people around. 

This community can be in the form of local people or a cyber community.  It also helps to read newsletters and magazines filled with examples of other people making these compassionate choices.  People want to feel that they are part of something and that they belong. 

What you can do: create community wherever you are.


2-Availability of veg-friendly foods. 

If going to the grocery or to a restaurant offers few or no choices to a vegetarian or vegan, they start to feel like a hungry and lonely rabbit looking for something enjoyable to munch on.  The social pressure to go out to eat with others mixed with the desire to have some familiar foods makes this second issue important.

What you can do: Request veg friendly foods at your local groceries and restaurants.  Start a local natural foods buying club (this creates community and gets great food to your region!)


3-Reminders about the reasons for going veg in the first place.

The pain of looking at the reality behind the meat, fish and dairy industries, makes many people want to look away.  Even those who once faced the realities, often glide back into a comfortable complacency that allows them to deny the truth of life for animals used for food.  They want to forget that dairy cows suffer as they dip into the soft Brie cheese at a party.  For many people it is necessary to have continuous reminders of the suffering inherent in a non-veg diet.

What you can do: Create a local film and discussion series, provide leaflets for your local groceries and other outlets, receive magazines or get on email lists from organizations continuously exposing the realities of the industries, donate films and books and magazine subscriptions to local libraries.


When these three elements are strongly in place, it is much easier to stay true to ones veg values. 


When I was living in a rural area without a strong veg community, my nearest vegan friend was a 45-minute drive away.  There, I was able to start a buying club so we would have great veg food available and I organized a film series to educate the locals about the issues, but in the end it is the people who I am closest to who inspire and support my choices.  I went to the NAVS Summerfest and reconnected with people who feel like family.  I was reminded once again of the power of belonging. 


I was also reminded that the most powerful way to help those around stay on the veg path is by being a loving, happy, inviting community.    We all have the power to support people in this way.  We all have the power to make anyone feel understood and invited into our happy life supporting veg community.  We can all be the flowers blooming and watch the veg-wanna-bees come in swarms.