Vegans are always caregivers. One way in which we give care is by refusing to support a system that causes the suffering and death of animals. But as we were writing Never Too Late to Go Vegan, we realized that we needed to address an important type of caregiving that often becomes an intimate part of life for those over 50. As we age, we may be called upon to care for someone with an acute or chronic illness.
Most often that person is a parent or a partner, but it may be another family member or a friend. It may be crisis caregiving, lasting for a few weeks or months. Or it might be chronic—lasting for the rest of the care receiver’s life.
If you’ve been a caregiver, you know that it’s an experience that can be filled with moments of grace and with deep connection. It can also be very, very hard. Our own experience is that being vegan impacts caregiving in important ways. As a result, we developed a theory and a practice of vegan caregiving. Here are our tips for vegan caregivers.
Lower your expectations: You may be called upon to prepare animal foods for the person you are caring for. You’ll need to lower your expectations that your vegan diet can be anything more than your vegan diet. Remember that for each day, you are still making a difference for yourself and for animals. And because others around you may be caught up in the stress of a friend or family member’s illness, you may also need to lower your expectations that others will remember your veganism. Be prepared to provide your own food.
Raise your self-care: Grab small moments of self-care: five minutes of deep breathing or stretching, resting, or getting outside. Have favorite foods on hand that are easy to prepare. Accept offers of help from others. Ask them to step in to give you a few hours to yourself or to prepare a few meals for the care-receiver.
Protect the boundaries you can: Your veganism is one of those boundaries. You don’t need to defend or explain it. It can turn into a target for others who are feeling anxiety but you can let it be known that you aren’t willing to discuss it.
Enjoy healthy vegan meals: Caregiving is precisely when you need to feel that there are some things you have control over, even as you lower your expectations. Now is not the time to subsist on chocolate (although it’s okay to have a treat when you need it). Remember, too, to take daily supplements of vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 fats from microalgae. A shortfall of any of these nutrients can worsen depression. During the stress of caregiving, your vegan meals can nourish you on many levels.