I was driving on a highway during a recent trip out of state, and I got extremely excited to see three different vegan-related billboards. Two had images of animals and had messages about compassion and veganism, and one displayed food images for a restaurant and prominently read “vegetarian and vegan options”.
The reason that these billboards excited me so much is because it was a reminder that veganism has come such a long way. It was a reminder that more animals are being spared from cruelty, vegan food options are more plentiful and accessible, and veganism is becoming more accepted.
It may sound silly that I got so excited over some billboards, but sometimes a vegan has to hold onto things like this in order to cope with the sadness that is often a part of being vegan.
Why vegans experience sadness
There is joy that comes with being vegan, such as:
• Feeling good about doing the least harm possible to animals
• Feeling good about not ingesting products that involve cruelty and death, and experiencing health benefits from plant-based foods
• Feeling good about contributing less to environmental problems
However, vegans often experience a lot of sadness due to things such as:
• Seeing constant reminders of cruelty and death (e.g. people eating meat and animal products, ads for meat and dairy, ads for animal exploitation such as zoos and circuses, leather clothing and furniture, etc.)
• Feeling excluded at work, family, and social events
• Feeling distant from significant others who aren’t vegan
• Experiencing the struggles of raising vegan children
• Feeling powerless about the impact of meat and animal products on the environment
• Dealing with activist burnout
The remainder of this article focuses on ways for vegans to cope with such sadness.
Tip 1: Focus on progress
Here are some examples of progress:
• Disney recently announced that every eatery in their parks and hotels will have vegan options
• Many popular restaurants have added vegan burgers to their menus (e.g. Burger King, White Castle, Denny’s, etc.)
• Many major ice cream brands (e.g. Baskin Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, etc.) now have vegan options, and not just in plain flavors like vanilla and chocolate
• There are myriad non-dairy milk options available in stores, coffee shops, and restaurants
• There are several restaurants that turned fully vegan after their owners/chefs learned about the cruelty involved in the meat, dairy, and egg industries
In the United States, according to the Vegan Society website:
• The number of vegans grew by 600% between 2014 and 2017
• 1 in 3 Americans have stopped or reduced their meat consumption
• Consumption of plant-based milk has increased by 61% while consumption of dairy milk has decreased by 22%
• 400 million fewer animals were killed in 2014 than in 2007 due to people eating less animal products
I understand that we vegans are typically pained by any and all cruelty and that this progress feels slow, but it is promising to see so much progress occurring. Sometimes it helps to remember that no social movement happened overnight.
Tip 2: focus on your impact as an individual
Whenever someone says that an individual cannot make a difference, think of the following:
• It is estimated that each vegan saves ninety-five animals per year
• Studies have shown that the best thing any individual can do to lessen their impact on the environment is to eat a plant-based diet
• Vegans often inspire others to cease or decrease: consumption of meat and animal products, use of animal products (e.g. clothing and accessories), use of products that test on animals, or support for industries that exploit animals (e.g. zoos, aquariums, or circuses)
Tip 3: surround yourself with likeminded people
If possible, socialize with other vegans often so that you don’t have to constantly explain yourself or have reminders of cruelty.
To meet local vegans, consider the following:
• Join vegan groups on the website Meetup
• Join local vegan Facebook groups
• Attend events held by vegan groups with chapters in various cities, such as EarthSave and Vegan Drinks
• Attend local vegan festivals
If locality isn’t important, you can join general vegan Facebook groups, talk with vegans through forums like Reddit, or use other social media or resources online.
Although you do not have to socialize solely with vegans, make sure to frequently socialize with loved ones who respect your veganism and try not to make you uncomfortable about certain things that might upset you regarding it (e.g. they don’t criticize it, they try to minimize their consumption of animal foods around you, etc.).
Tip 4: practice self-care and healthy coping skills
Practice self-care on a daily basis to prevent stress as best as possible:
• Eat healthy
• Try to get good quality sleep
• Exercise regularly
Utilize healthy coping skills when stressed:
• Deal with your feelings directly (e.g. talk with supportive loved ones, express yourself through writing or art, etc.)
• Use healthy distractions, relaxation, and grounding techniques when feelings are overwhelming (e.g. watch funny movies/shows, do deep breathing, take a bath, meditate, envision a safe space in detail, etc.)
• Spend time with your social support system, as mentioned above
• Spend time with animals, which can bring joy and can remind you why your commitment to veganism is so important
Tip 5: seek professional help
Here are some suggestions for finding a therapist if you’d like extra support:
• Do a google search. You can add the word vegan to a local search (e.g. “vegan therapist in Baltimore”), if you’d like to work with a vegan therapist.
• Use therapist directories, such as Therapy Den and Psychology Today. Some directories allow therapists to identify if they are vegan or a vegan ally.