What is a vegan challenge, anyway? Well, you might've seen other health-related challenges around Instagram or Pinterest, like Whole 30 or juice cleanses. (Have you seen Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead?) I've seen many home-grown "go vegan" challenges pop up around the internet, or people just individually decide to go vegan for a set amount of time. They can be simple or complex, long or short, and effective or not so effective.
For a lot of people, doing a vegan challenge might be testing the waters for a real lifestyle change, one that seems really overwhelming for beginners. It might just be a sort of "cleanse" after eating terribly for a long time. But I think for people coming to a vegan challenge specifically, there's more to it than just health - or else they'd just go paleo for a week. I think that the thought of a less cruel lifestyle, coupled with better environmental and personal health, really appeals to people. So here are my thoughts on vegan challenges and which ones you might want to join if you're considering it.
- It reduces animal consumption, at least for a little while.
- It can give people better perspective and empathy for vegans. When I first went vegan, or decided to stop consuming milk & eggs, along with the milk and eggs went my judgements of vegans. They definitely became less "weird" and I realized the benefits of eating a whole foods, plant-based diet.
- It raises awareness of veganism in a wider sense - most people who find out that I'm vegan tell me they've only thought of actually eating fully vegan meals because of Meatless Mondays. That kind of visibility, over time, leads to more change than if these challenges didn't exist.
- It can spark a change in some people for the long-term.
- It can deter people from long-term reduction of animal products. If a person relies heavily on substitutes or doesn't monitor their health, they can feel sluggish or hungry, or think that veganism isn't "natural" and come to the conclusion that they'd never go even vegetarian. Some challenges, or a self-guided challenge with no resources, can feel super overwhelming and don't give enough information to fully make a change viable.
- It can perpetuate myths about veganism, if the person isn't researching veganism while also participating in the challenge. Many people think veganism is bland or boring or nutritionally deficient, which isn't true if you're varying your diet. If you decide to go vegan for a month but don't look into how to make it fun and healthy, you might come out confirming how "wrong" it is.
- It can trivialize veganism by comparing it to a crash diet or other type of cleanse. We're not anti-health zealots, but we think health comes from every aspect of living, not just food. Veganism is definitely a lifestyle, not just a diet.
what needs to happen to make vegan challenges better
- Include reasons why to go vegan - not because we desperately want to convert people, but because if you don't have reasons behind a huge lifestyle change, that change won't seem worth it to the person doing the challenge.
- Include information about veganism as a whole, such as info on clothing, circuses, personal care, etc.
- Include ways to reduce cruelty in regular, everyday ways, without sacrificing flavor or convenience.
- Make veganism about a mindset, not a set of rules.
- Offer alternatives. If someone doesn't like (or can't consume) soy milk, they should know that there are a million different options to replace dairy milk. Knowing that you don't have to be "stuck" with one kind of food is helpful for people who might not already know.
- Give info on what to do after the challenge, if they choose to go back to their regular way of life.
- Include resources to watch, listen to, and read during the challenge for entertaining (or, at least, easily digestible) ways to educate.
vegan challenges we really like
Although I definitely think you need more than 7 days to really change your mind about veganism, we would still really recommend 7 Day Vegan because it was started by the people behind Zen Habits, one of our favorite blogs, and the No Meat Athlete. These are people who really care and want to see sustaining change in the people they reach. Not only that, but because it's an online challenge, you get a huge support group to help you along.
As well, we'd highly recommend The 30 Day Vegan Challenge. (Just a warning, there's an auto-play video at that link.) Years ago, we actually went vegan because of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's compassionate, inclusive, and compelling podcast, Food For Thought. Her book(s) around the 30 Day Vegan Challenge are in the same voice and concept - they're all-encompassing, not just health or diet focused, and she lays it out so you can easily see what you're doing. Her books are great for people who want a more guided journey - something I wish I had when I first went vegan.