Each year, January 1st marks the start of new beginnings, a chance to set goals and make positive changes for the year ahead. Often our health and fitness become the main focus during this time, so what better resolution than to try going cruelty free for 2023?
Living cruelty free has many benefits, on animal welfare, our health, and the environment. There are many ways you can take on living cruelty free, like consciously choosing to buy certified products not tested on animals and changing the way you eat. The best way to live cruelty free is by going vegan and fully cutting out all animal products. But before we go further, it's important to understand the differences between the 4 words I use most on this blog so that you can make the right choices for you.
Animal testing is the barbaric practice of testing chemicals, drugs, and ingredients to be used for human consumption on animals. Innocent animals like mice, primates, dogs, and rabbits (just to name a few) are subjected to horrible treatment and torture during this process. Without getting too deep into what government agencies require to approve ingredients and products, science has come a long way and animal testing needs to become a thing of the past.
Cruelty free products forego animal testing, not just with the finished product but also the individual ingredients in the product. They are not sold in countries that require testing either. But be careful - there are some certifying agencies with looser regulations than others and cruelty free does NOT mean vegan. So while these products are not tested on animals or sold in any country that requires animal testing, they can still contain animals products. Seems like an oxymoron, right?
Veganism is rooted in animal welfare and the belief that humans should not harm and exploit animals in any way, especially as our society has evolved beyond any need to. Contrary to popular belief it is not a diet or a fad, but a lifestyle and form of activism. By eliminating the use of animal products in our food, clothes, the products we use on our bodies and in our home, we are not supporting animal cruelty and we are standing up to corporations that profit off of animal abuse and exploitation.
As a realist, I understand that going vegan isn't easy for many. Though some can go cold "tofurkey," there is usually a transition process. You basically have to deprogram what you may have been told your whole life by old traditions, beliefs, marketing ads, and padded studies funded by the meat and dairy industry merely for profit. You also need to make sure that you are eating properly for your nutrition needs. Consulting with your doctor or a registered dietician is highly recommended, especially if you have any medical issues. That said, I fully believe you can be vegan and healthy no matter what conditions you have. Societies have thrived on plant-based diets for centuries, and you can too!
The term "plant-based" gets thrown around a lot lately, as it has become a marketable buzz word. Plant-based really is diet focused and animal welfare is not always the driving force behind it. People go plant-based for their health and the environment too. As I mentioned before, societies have thrived on it for centuries. The main difference between plant-based and vegan is that plant-based simply eliminates or limits animal products, still allowing the use of dairy, eggs, or even fish in trace amounts. This is important for anyone wanting to fully eliminate animal products, as many plant-based food items on the shelves still contain eggs or dairy.
Whole foods plant-based (WFPB) focuses on eliminating processed foods as well. The reasoning for this is mostly nutrition focused and can have many wonderful benefits to overall health. WFPB diets are considered some of the healthiest by many qualified professionals.
Our rapidly declining environment has been a hot topic as of late, and for good reason. Many products and manufacturing processes directly contribute to global warming, deforestation, and the endangerment of many animal species from land and sea. Sustainable products aim to create safer and less damaging ways of the manufacturing, handling, and disposal of all sorts of products. Again, sustainable does not automatically mean vegan, as there are "sustainable fishing" methods and the like, so just keep that in mind.
Ways to Go Cruelty Free in 2023
Now that we covered the the differences, hopefully you have a better idea of where you stand and why you might want to try going cruelty free. Here are some of my tips to make some positive changes this year to your health and home, while saving lives in the process!
Veganuary is an annual campaign originating in the UK that challenges people to go vegan for the month of January. While veganism encompasses so many aspects, the Veganuary challenge focuses on food. You aren't expected to toss your leathers (but you could!).
Veganuary is a great way to dip your toes in to the vegan lifestyle, a chance to try new foods and learn about vegan activism as a whole. If you've been looking for ways to improve your health and lessen your contribution to animal cruelty and destruction of the environment, I definitely encourage you to give the challenge a go! Check out the Veganuary website for more resources.
Get to Know Your Veggies
Did you know it's estimated that there are over 20,000 edible plant species?? We only include a very small portion in our daily diet, but vegetables are essential to health and can be enjoyed in so many ways. Even if you aren't a veg-head, there are plenty of ways to dress them up or cleverly disguise them, like in a shake, soup, or casserole! When prepared right, veggies can take on the textures and flavors of meat. Seriously, don't knock it 'til you try it. I've been blown away by some of the vegetable based "meat" dishes I've had.
Explore Meat, Dairy, and Egg Alternatives
Most grocery stores now have a decent selection of vegan alternatives, depending on where you live. Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, MorningStar Farms, Gardein, and Field Roast are just a few brands that have delicious mock meats. Soy, almond, oat, and coconut milks can easily replace dairy in your favorite recipes. Daiya, Violife, So Delicious, and Chao have some great dairy free cheeses. Check out Kite Hill and Miyokos for other dairy replacement products. Just Egg has a delicious and nutritious liquid and folded version of vegan eggs.
If you're looking for less processed and more whole food alternatives though, the possibilities are endless! With a little imagination, flax seeds mimic eggs in baking, mushrooms become steak, carrots become hot dogs, white beans become alfredo sauce, cashews become cheese, and the list goes on. If you like to cook, I can honestly say experimenting with vegan dishes can be so rewarding and usually is a much more affordable alternative to the processed vegan counterparts (though I choose to indulge in these because, YUM).
Check Your Nutrition Labels & Ingredients Lists
Meat ingredients should be fairly obvious and easy to avoid, but the same cannot be said for dairy and eggs. Luckily, these ingredients are usually included in bold at the bottom of the ingredients list. But I have found you may still have to scan the label for other not-so-obvious ingredients like whey, casein, egg whites, milk powder, and gelatin just to name a few. Remember when I said there is a difference between vegan and plant-based? Keep this in mind because some products labeled "plant based" can still contain animal products.
When it comes to hair, skin, beauty, and household products, the vegan and cruelty free world gets a little dicey. Animal products are hidden in SO many cosmetic ingredients under unrecognizable names. The easy way to shop is to look for certified vegan and cruelty free labels. Leaping Bunny is the gold standard for certifications. The process to get certified can take time however, so there may be some vegan and cruelty free companies flying under the radar too. That's when knowing what ingredients to look for helps. Check out my Non-Vegan Beauty Ingredient Guide for a helpful list.
...do what's right for you. Diet changes should not be taken lightly. It is important to know your vitamin levels, understand macro and micronutrients, and apply that to your unique dietary needs. Consult your doctor, especially if you have any medical conditions or food allergies where special care may be needed to ensure you meet your required nutrients. That said, plants are able to provide macro and micronutrients, yes even protein! Having a basic understanding of nutrition is key.
...keep an open mind. When you're switching to vegan foods or products for the first time, it's important to not expect an exact replica of what you're used to. For example, cheese was the hardest for me to give up. At the time I went vegan, there were hardly any dairy-free cheeses that came close. But when I stopped expecting the exact flavor and gave my taste buds time to adjust, everything changed. I've found what I like and I'll be damned if there aren't some great new products out there that come close to being indistinguishable. The same can be said for beauty products. Cruelty free and vegan deodorants and shampoos can take time for our bodies to adjust to. Keep an open mind and be patient.
...it's ok to mess up. We can sometimes feel guilty or be hard on ourselves when we miss an ingredient or slip up on a meal. My only advice is, don't. We all make mistakes and it's harder for some than others to make such a major life change. Don't let you or anyone else pressure you in to believing you must be perfect.
...the goal is not perfection. Trolls like to take jabs at the fact that almost everything was tested on animals at one time, or if you drive a car and care about the environment then you're a hypocrite. The goal is to not be 100% perfect, but to make an impact, no matter how small it may seem. And yes, one person makes a difference. Remember, as consumers we vote with our dollar. Simple swaps create demand for alternatives and forces companies to rethink their future as well.
...overcome objections & stay strong. Every single person who went vegan has been met with criticism and unwelcome opinions from others. Sometimes even friends and family will be the first ones on your case. Others are straight up a-holes. Remember the reasons why you decided to try this in the first place and hold true to yourself. Animals cannot stand up for themselves, and they need us to be their voice!