Failure is a strange concept, says Clea Grady. It’s just so… final. Me: “I failed.” Everyone else: “Oh well, better move on and forget about it then.”
The fear of failure stops many of us doing many things. But herein lies the problem… because who decides what is a failure and what is not? When you go vegan you don’t sign an oath or pass a test, but it feels momentous nonetheless. A significant heart, mind and lifestyle change has occurred and we feel loud, proud and downright bushy-tailed about it. But after the initial high of the honeymoon comes a fall back into the daily grind, and it’s around this time that some people have a ‘slip up’. How you handle it, rather than the slip-up itself, is what really matters.
Being vegan is getting easier and easier and that’s fantastic, but it’s important to remember that not all people, families, living arrangements or city centres are created equal. What might be a walk in the park for one person, may be more like pushing a large rock up a pretty formidable hill to another. Going vegan is a huge gear shift for most, so slip-ups, mistakes and wobbles are perfectly natural. We should regard them as steps on the journey, not the end of it.
Picture the scene… You’re at a restaurant with a group of colleagues, none of whom are vegan. You’ve not long been vegan, so this is very much a first for you. When your food arrives, you realise to your horror that there is cheese in your meal, but you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed at the thought of making a fuss in front of your work mates, so you eat it without saying a word. You feel awful, upset and as if you have failed.
What do you do now?
The most important part of the scenario is not eating the cheese and the assumed failure; it’s what you do next. Despite what some social media groups would have you believe, the Vegan Police are not going to arrive, sirens blazing, and evict you from the club. You are still a vegan, you’re just a vegan who didn’t know what to do in a situation you had never encountered before.
Rather than crying “It’s all useless!” and giving up, think about what you will do the next time this happens. Or better yet, come up with a plan to prevent it from happening ever again. You could phone the restaurant in advance, for example, and ask what they could make especially for you, or excuse yourself from the table and have a quiet word with the waiter. There is usually a way around most obstacles, but often you need to encounter them in order to figure it out.
Examples of assumed vegan failure
They change the ingredients in one of your favourite products…
For baffling reasons, manufacturers suddenly decide to turn a product non-vegan by adding milk into the ingredients. Jammie Dodgers did it, and so did Co-Op with their own-brand Salt & Vinegar Crisps (why Co-Op, why?), and it can catch you unawares if you don’t know. After all, why would you check the label of something you’ve checked and eaten safely a dozen times before?
In my case, it was the Co-Op crisps… I’d taken some round to a friend’s house and was merrily chomping away when someone informed me that they contained milk. It might sound silly to some, but I felt upset. Had I been a brand new vegan I can imagine feeling super upset and, quite possibly, like a failure. But as with anything in life, you just learn and move on. Moments like this will happen less and less as veganism becomes more popular and product labelling gets better.
Someone cooking for you makes a mistake…
Going to a non-vegan’s house for dinner is often more stressful for the host than for the vegan. They don’t want to get anything wrong, they triple check every packet and ask heaps of questions in preparation. So what do you do if, inadvertently, they get it wrong? Recently, I found out…
Extended family members had invited us for a vegan dinner party, despite me and my husband being the only vegans. We were touched by this gesture and it was obvious they had gone to such an effort. Halfway through the main someone asked what was in the sauce and our hostess reeled off a list of ingredients, including honey.
Obviously we don’t eat honey and in my mind there were two possible reactions: 1) declare honey isn’t vegan, embarrass the chef and ruin any chance of an all-vegan meal at their house ever again; 2) smile politely, change the subject and continue happily with the evening. I chose option 2, not because eating honey doesn’t matter, but because being kind and considerate will have a much bigger impact.
There is now a greater chance of these eight people regularly eating a vegan meal, which would have gone out the window had we made a big deal about the honey. When the time is right, I’ll have a quiet word about honey not being vegan, but that wasn’t the time or the place. Am I still vegan because I unknowingly ingested honey and chose not to hurt someone’s feelings? Of course I am.
You get drunk and order non-vegan pizza…
So far I’ve talked about instances where you unwittingly consume non-vegan food, but what if you eat something not vegan on purpose? Does it, and should it, make a difference? I don’t think so and let me explain why…
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau talks a lot about veganism being a journey rather than a destination and that makes a lot of sense to me. You don’t become a vegan and that’s it – every day we’re developing, learning and adapting, and sometimes you have to experience something to realise it’s not what you want. You may be feeling pressure from friends and family to conform, for example, or you may just have a momentary lapse in judgement after a few too many beers. Whatever the reason, if you make a mistake and eat something not vegan, then I don’t think it spells disaster. The only time a mistake becomes a problem is if you don’t learn from it. So if you eat a slice of pizza with dairy cheese and feel awful because of it, just make sure you have a back-up plan so you don’t do the same thing the next time you get the munchies.
In just the last year, so many more vegan options have opened up for convenience foods; from Zizzi, Ask and Brewdog offering vegan pizza for delivery via Deliveroo, to Pizza Hut introducing vegan cheese, to ready-made pizzas from manufacturers like The White Rabbit Pizza Co. being available at Sainsbury’s. Ben & Jerry’s now offers vegan flavours and there’s even vegan Baileys! This sort of progress is not going to stop and being vegan is going to get easier and easier, so take full advantage of it and make it work for you.
So, back to our original question, is it OK to fail? Yes, of course it is. Because it’s not a failure at all, it’s a learning curve and – as a wise man once said – “There is no failure, except in no longer trying.”