I have had very little experience with vegans and the vegan lifestyle, so I thought I would discuss just two personal experiences with vegans. I have no idea if these are common or representative experiences, that's for you to comment upon! But they were interesting nonetheless.
A few months ago, I accidentally- and quite awkwardly- found out that a woman I met at a conference was vegan. Two nights before, a lab colleague of mine finished an eating challenge, where two hamburgers, two hot dogs (all covered with chili, relish, etc), and a basket of fries had to be consumed. My colleague not only did that, but also ate a full meal of a burger and fries beforehand! While I was recounting this impressive story to my new friends, I saw the woman turn almost green in color. Later I heard her say to someone else in the group that she was vegan. Whoops! No wonder she had looked like she was going to be ill after I had described all that carnage!
Several people in our group, including myself, were curious about her choice, and were surprised to find that her reason was for sustainability. I was expecting the animal rights angle, and this view was new to me. It was also appealing, since it represented a kind of mindful eating from a local and global perspective. Cool.
But as we ate dinner, I glanced at her from time to time, and as others were enjoying their (mostly vegetarian) meals, she looked almost bitter as she ate her small bowl of lentil soup with idlis. I couldn't tell if she did not like her food or if she was judging others at the table as she gazed at their sumptuous meals, laden with butter and paneer. For her sake, I hope it was just that she had previously eaten a better version of lentil soup.
As for my second example, I was speaking to the post-doc in our lab a few weeks ago, and he explained another idea that was new to me. A couple he knows eats mostly vegan food, but with a twist- They do eat meat, and when they do, they eat animals that they have hunted/raised, killed, and processed themselves. Interesting. Another form of sustainable eating, but not so restrictive. A modern 'middle way', taking from the skills and traditions of our early ancestors of 'eating to live'. Of course I don't know these people personally, and as in the example above, have no idea of whether or not they judge other people for their dietary choices, but just as I like the idea above, I like this one too.
But ideas are only ideas, and the other major parts of the equation are the people that carry them out, and the attitudes with which they do so. If nothing else, I really admire the people I have discussed in this post for their willpower. But I just hope that they can apply their ideas in a way that is beneficial to them and others, without replacing one type of conflict, such as exploitation of land, with conflict at the dinner table. The truth is, we cannot control the actions and attitudes of those around us. All we can do is lead by example.
To end, I would like to post a link to an article written by the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh about mindful eating. Enjoy!
May all beings be happy! Have a wonderful day!