The Stigma of Being Vegan

Do you remember the teachers that would call on students even when they weren’t raising their hands? This was the bane of my existence in school–and not because I didn’t know the answers. I am a person who is vastly uncomfortable with the spotlight. I will go to great lengths to avoid unwanted attention…and yet, I seem to have a tendency of living my life in ways that other people feel encouraged to comment on. Being vegan falls under this category.

I’m a non-conformist at heart, but non-conformist lite. When I was a vegetarian, nobody wanted to fight me on my philosophies. People just shrugged–it was considered commonplace for a girl to not eat meat “to watch her figure” and nobody questioned it. When I stopped eating eggs and dairy, something strange happened. Suddenly everybody had an opinion about what I was doing with my body. Suddenly everybody was an expert on macros and ethics. I was expected to engage in spirited spars–and honestly, I didn’t care to. I became vegan initially because I wanted to lose weight–period. But even that was an uncomfortable topic (though I preferred it over discussing the conditions of factory farms with people who preferred to believe that their chickens ran wild and free. “The food I buy isn’t farmed that way,” a co-worker told me. #NotAllFood. #NotAllFarms.)

I’m not going to be a crusader. That’s just not me. People are going to believe what they want to believe, and I never felt like I could make a difference. The stigma of being The Preachy Vegan drove me in the opposite direction. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar–I’d rather take the friendly approach to veganism and let veg-curious friends and family seek me out for knowledge or info (or recipes!) I love to surprise my friends and family with traditionally meat- and dairy-laden foods, done vegan-style. I impressed my father with pancakes. I’ve impressed friends with potato salad and stroganoff. I bake a mean rocky road cookie. These interactions are far more empowering to me as a vegan than a dinnertime debate.

But still, despite my personal methods of handling myself, I am marginalized and treated like an unwanted intruder just for being vegan. It seems kind of ridiculous, right? We’re talking about food here. You’re threatened by my cashew queso and kale chips, bro? Me eating differently has a funny way of making my dinner companions’ walls go up. You can find me apologizing at any function that serves food (so…most functions) to friends, family, colleagues, waitors, and chefs alike. “I’m so sorry–I’m the weird vegan. Is there anything on your menu I can customize? I’m sorry again.”

A group of neo-nazis recently invaded a vegan cafe and started throwing sausages at patrons. I wish I could say that this completely unnecessary act of cruelty surprised me, but it doesn’t. If you scroll into the comments of the story, you quickly find the human race’s favorite vegan joke: “How do you know someone is a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” Let me add that to the list of Uncreative Things I’m Tired of Hearing–along with other such top hits as “but where do you get your protein?” and “but cows aren’t killed for their milk!”

I also don’t particularly enjoy ruining another person’s appetite. I don’t ever answer questions like “why don’t you eat eggs?” (I found a bloody egg once and I haven’t touched an egg since) or “what’s so bad about dairy?” (the amount of pus in dairy products really skeeves me out) honestly at the dinner table. That would give my dinner companions justification to actually despise me. But I also don’t ask people their philosophical reasons for continuing to eat meat, eggs and dairy. That’s their business, not mine.

I’m proud to say that I know some really fantastic people who don’t single me out. They don’t make me explain myself and they don’t call on me when my hand isn’t raised. But there is a reason why I identified as a “closet vegan” for close to a year: I’m not in this for the attention. I am not going to try to convert you to veganism. The only time you’ll hear me talking about being vegan to a group of non-vegans is when 1) someone asks me yet again why I am vegan (you’d think I’d have a stock response planned after nearly 5 years…), or 2) I’m really freaking hangry because there are no vegan options at this establishment and I forgot my emergency store of nuts and fruit and OMG I’m going to have a meltdown.

And food is only part of the equation. If you really want someone to look at you like you’ve sprouted another head, start talking about vegan shoes. We’ll get to that in a future post.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, I’d love to hear how you handle the prying questions and open disgust. You’re probably ballsier than I am, so I could learn a thing or two from you!

 

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9 thoughts on “The Stigma of Being Vegan

  1. I agree ! It is so frusturating being questioned or critized for your diet , and I have heard endless jokes about it. For example “millions of plants die every year because of vegetarians” -haha funny.
    It’s definetly been a process but I have just learned to be as vague as possible in my answers for example : “I tried it for health reasons and I just feel better so I stuck with it ” and try not to take their questions and responses personally.
    This is a big topic and I could talk about this for hours!!!

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  2. As a person who’s zero waste, vegan and minimalist, I get countless criticisms from my peers and sometimes strangers, nitpicking my habits and questioning my actions!

    But I try not to let these comments affect me because I, and most folks from this community, understand that all these movements are works in progress, not definitive terms. I try to live by: let the term guide you, not define you 🙂

    A lot of times people criticize those following these movements as a reflection of their own weaknesses, too. If you just smile and answer confidently when they prod, there’s no way they can argue against you!

    You seem to be doing a great job so far, doing this for yourself and not being judgemental of others. Keep it up 🙂

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    • Thanks! I agree. I think people can quickly become defensive when they feel that their lifestyle/manner of living is under attack. But…that’s their journey, because I certainly don’t make it a habit to attack or critique others’ habits. 🙂

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  3. I’m only vego – haven’t made it to the vegan “side” yet (I have to be on a renal diet – try being vegan when you can’t eat lentils and chickpeas and lots of other vego-friendly foods). But people are very judgemental. I hate it when they say “But meat tastes so good!” and I say “Well, I bet human baby flesh tastes pretty awesome too but you don’t see many people eating that do you?” That normally disgusts them enough that they leave me alone. I get annoyed that you get mocking and insulting comments when you’re basically doing a good and noble thing and not actually interfering with anyone else’s life. I don’t preach at anyone (because I cheat a bit sometimes, eating some fish on occasion) but non-vegos feel it’s ok to have a go at you. Kinda sucks! I just feel that everyone should do the best they can in their own situation and leave everyone else alone.

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    • Absolutely! I don’t know much about renal diets–but that sounds SUPER challenging, and I commend you for remaining mostly-veg in spite of it! Perfection has never been the point, to me, but I know to some people it is incredibly important. I figure, the more veggies we eat, the less the environment, the animals, and WE suffer. It’s win-win. I’m a big proponent of starting with Meatless Mondays and going from there. So many people are so surprised that you can actually pack enough protein into a vegetarian diet. It’s so ingrained in us (at least, it is in America) that meat is the only option! Thank you for commenting. 🙂

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      • Agreed! I think it’s just important to reduce the amount of meat consumed – not just in terms of the amount of animals that suffer (due to the sheer numbers and likelihood of intensive farming and poor practices) but also for the health of the environment and our own bodies!

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