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!