Amy Shafer has been vegan for two years and loves to tell people about how the change is the best decision of her life. Since going vegan in 2010, she has joined the Peace Advocacy Network‘s (PAN) Board as Volunteer Coordinator. The non-profit, 100% volunteer-run group connects social justice, human rights, and animal rights with vegan education being a root of their many campaigns. Amy also has a blog, The Vegan Light Bulb.
How I Went Vegan
1. What made you decide to go vegan?
For the majority of my hypocritical just-vegetarian existence, I was telling people, “I could NEVER be a vegan!” After about 10 years of that, I started to think, “Well…maybe I could be vegan.” What changed my mind was a combination of having a few professors who were vegan, having a housemate who was vegan, and stumbling upon various articles. All of those things lead up to the most influential thing for me, which was finding The Veganic Witch on YouTube. After watching her videos, I quickly decided, “No more!”
2. Was there anything that you were nervous about at first?
Once I make up my mind to do something, I’m usually pretty fearless. This was largely the case with my going vegan, but I do remember being nervous about losing weight because I’m already so petite. Sure enough, well-meaning people told me I was losing weight and I felt self-conscience about it. Then I weighed myself and discovered I was actually heavier - ha! Perception is a powerful thing. The good news is that I weigh more than I did since that weighing but it is still a healthy weight.
3. Did you go vegan gradually, or in stages? How did you learn to eat out, read labels, etc?
I had already been vegetarian for 12 years when I decided to go vegan. Once I went vegan, I cut out all animal foods. I stopped buying non-vegan clothes and other things. I used up certain household things that I had from before, though (like shampoos), until they ran out.
I’m very fortunate to live in Philadelphia, where there are a ton of vegan restaurants. I’m also lucky in that, I feel the city has been veganized and is veganizing right along with me. When I first went vegan just two years ago, there was only a handful of vegan restaurants. Now, that amount has at least doubled and there are dozens of places with vegan options.
To someone less lucky, I would recommend researching places, calling ahead, etc. Most places are happy to help (and cook something different for a change!) if you give them notice. Sometimes eating a sandwich before going out is a good idea.
As for food shopping/label reading - despite being vegan for 2 years, I’m not as great at reading labels as I should be, because I food shop at Trader Joe’s and they mark - on the shelf - whether or not the product is vegan. Since I tend to be short on money, I prefer to buy whole foods like rice, beans, veggies, pasta, etc rather than buying processed foods and reading labels. It’s actually the healthier way to go about things, too.
4. How did you learn to cook? Are there any substitutes or comfort foods that have been helpful?
My cooking skills are actually quite limited, but I still always enjoy what I whip up. I own a rice cooker, so I basically eat rice with a stir-fry every other night, and pasta on the other nights. For the stir-fries, I don’t follow a recipe. I just throw veggies in a pan with olive oil and then add some beans. I’ve started experimenting with spices recently, which is fun and tasty. I’m still always trying different vegetables. A nice thing about eating plant-based foods is that it’s easy to find things that go well together. Nutritional yeast can also be a nice addition to many dishes.
After going vegan, I discovered nutritional yeast, which I never would have tried before. It may not look or sound appetizing, but it makes many things taste better and it’s incredibly healthy! It’s packed with nutrients, and it helps improve your mood because of all the B-vitamins. Prior to going vegan, I used to struggle with depression and sleep-issues regularly. After going vegan, these problems vanished. I think nutritional yeast was a part of that.
5. What was your transition like socially? Have friends and family been supportive? Do you have a support network of vegan friends of acquaintances (in person or online) that makes things easier for you?
The social aspect of veganism is by far the hardest but I truly think it’s a good thing. The first couple of days, I was a bit nervous about telling people, friends, family, and even strangers, that I was vegan . Maybe this was because in the past, I myself had been incredibly judgmental against vegans. Later, I experienced a sort of fantastic boost of “I’m vegan and I’m so happy about it!”. It is this attitude that was great for (and continues to be great for) educating others.
My family was initially concerned about my health. One of my family members is even personally tied to the animal agriculture industry. This person reacted to my veganism with so much hostility that I remember feeling like I didn’t want to go home again. Still, when I argued with them, I felt comforted by all I heard/read/learned from Gary Francione. Not long after this intense argument, this person discovered that they had become lactose intolerant. Now, things are peaceful and at family gatherings, we eat a lot of the same things. The fact that I’m still alive and kicking after two years of veganism has also helped to re-assure my family that veganism is healthy.
My friends have always been fine with my veganism. There is teasing, of course, but I have the kind of relationship with them where I can just say rude things back and it’s fine. I love that because out in the “real world” when people make bacon comments or whatever, I have to smile politely and educate them patiently - even though, sometimes I wish I could just be sarcastic back. So I’m glad I have friends that I can be sassy with when they say, “How ’bout a steak?” Mixed in with the zingers and bad language, there have been deeper conversations and I feel good about the seeds I’ve planted.
I’ve also gotten a lot of vegan friends on and offline. I joined a vegan non-profit group; I’ve made a bunch of friends through that. Online I have a ton of friends. I love the fact that when there’s something vegan-related bothering me, I have 50+ people I can talk to about it. It helps me stay sane!
6. What advice would you give to someone who is considering going vegan?
Always remember why you want to and have to be vegan. If you keep that in your mind and your heart, all the “hard” stuff will become easy.
Also, I always think about people who struggled for various social justice issues in the past, whether it’s civil rights or feminism or whatever. They did the right thing even when it was much harder for them to do it than it is for me to be a vegan now. The law often worked against them; their lives were often on the line. The social pressures they faced were much more intense than what most vegans face. Thinking about such people - most of whom were anonymous – gives me strength; it makes me realize that I am part of something big. Humans are always progressing towards greater social justice and veganism is a part of that. Anyone who really cares can be a part of it, too.
I would also like to stress the importance of a positive mindset. See veganism as an adventure and an opportunity to run wild with something new. If you educate yourself (for example, the most commonly asked vegan-related questions) and if you are able to share this information with a genuine smile, you will be doing more for the animals than anything that you could have accomplished with a check or a signature on a petition. Any vegan who hopes to help the animals needs to stay happy, healthy, and kind. Don’t become a junk-food vegan and don’t became a vegan who hates people. If you need to, find a book or a website to keep your spirits up. Human beings are animals, too!