One of the common reasons people give for not adopting a vegan diet is that one is too used to eating meat and dairy products. People say that they don’t know what to eat or drink instead. They say that eating animal-based foods is just what they do and they wouldn’t know how to go about doing things differently.
They believe that it’s too difficult to “go vegan.” But really, it’s not that difficult at all. Certainly it’s now much easier than in the past with the wide availability of vegan items on the Internet, more health food stores than ever before, and supermarkets now labelling their “vegan-friendly” products.
So what is stopping people is not access to vegan foods and other consumer items, it’s behaviour. We are brought up to eat meat and dairy and this is reinforced throughout our formative years and becomes normalised in our day-to-day activities. When we grow up and become consumers ourselves this reinforced behaviour is repeated over and over when we shop for food and other products. Buying animal-based foods is embedded activity and most people not only don’t think about alternatives but wouldn’t choose them even if they did. They won’t choose them because they don’t normally choose them. Behaviour is fixed and, in a way, people are “addicted” to that behaviour because they have conditioned themselves to so behave.
How then to get people to “withdraw” from the behaviours that normalise the consumption of meat and dairy? How do we get people to change? In fact, it is not nearly as challenging as it may appear.
We act as though it is difficult to change, to behave differently, only because we have convinced ourselves that it is difficult to change, when really it is not difficult at all. It is simply a matter of modifying what we do, by thinking ahead about what we will do different tomorrow compared to what we have done today. By simply planning change we can make change happen.
Here is a personal example. For way too many years I drank way too much coffee every day. At work, I would drink an average of a dozen or so cups of black coffee each working day, in just eight hours. And then I’d have more coffee at home in the evening (yes, my sleep patterns were somewhat disturbed!). I knew for a long time that that really wasn’t doing me any favours at all, and then at the end of last year (2010) I figured that seeing as how I knew that then I ought to do something about it! So, I thought differently and decided that the next day, at work, rather than getting a coffee as soon as I walked in the building, I would get a cup of water instead, and would have a bottle of water with me (filled from the tap) so that I always had something to drink, something that wasn’t coffee. So that’s what I did: the next day at work, I drank zero cups of coffee instead of twelve. And then just incorporated that behaviour into my routine. No coffee, just water instead. And I’ve carried on doing that ever since, and now I never think about getting a coffee – I just get water; that’s what I do and it’s completely “normalised” behaviour, just like getting coffee used to be. Change is both possible and simple.
We can all do the same, with everything that we eat and drink, and buy, reconsidering the things that we will spend our money on. Just because we are used to buying meat or milk at the supermarket (just as I was used to drinking coffee as soon as I walked in the door at work) doesn’t mean we have to do the same thing the next time. We can plan to do our next shopping trip a little bit differently, avoiding the meat aisle (as I avoided the coffee machine!) and wander across to the “free from” or “veggie” section instead, and rather than buying cow’s milk we can buy soya milk: it still does the same thing, fulfils the same function, it’s just a little bit different.
By withdrawing from our conditioned behaviours we can make a major difference, not only to ourselves but to others as well. I feel better for not drinking over a dozen coffees a day, and I think that people would all feel better if they didn’t eat meat and dairy foods. And in that case it wouldn’t only do us some good but would of course be so much better for the non-human animals as well …