By Jennifer from Sweet On Veg, used with Creative Commons License
I’m going to be trying out a new format on the blog. At the beginning and end of the month I’ll be going over personal goals and whether or not they have been met, as well as setting aside a slice of room for blog posts about personal issues. Granted, mental health concerns generally tend to be pretty personal issues, but by that I mean focusing on things I’ve blogged about in the past that don’t generally fit into a mental health category, such as religion or veganism. Also I’m going to try to include a post about homemaking about once a month (which will most likely include intersections between homemaking and doing so while coping with mental health concerns) which leaves about one post a month for mental health and trauma topics. Depending on how I’m able to keep up with the new content, I may bump posts up from once a week to twice a week to make sure I’m featuring mental health and trauma topics with the frequency to which readers have become accustomed.
Since we’re at the end of the month, I’ll kick off the new blogging schedule with a post of a personal nature. Enjoy!
It’s been almost a year since I last posted about my transition from vegan to vegetarian. I suppose, technically, I am a vegetarian – I do eat a limited amount of dairy and eggs – but the label sounds foreign; strange. It feels like I’m cheating. In a lot of ways, it mirrors my struggle with defining my sexuality. To a lot of folx, it’s a very important label and there is often a lot of conflict within the respective communities. It’s a bit like vegans are gold-star lesbians (lesbians who have only had relationships with other women and never with men) and vegetarians are bisexual women or late-in-life lesbians. To be a vegan or a gold-star lesbian is a lofty goal that is to be aspired to – it’s the ultimate, the right way to go about doing things. It defines you in a way that you aren’t prepared for. With the label comes trappings, comes a culture. It reminds me of how surprised I was when I found out the one vegan I knew in college was also a smoker – many vegans are concerned with health and wouldn’t go near a cigarette. The two seemed incompatible to me. And while you can certainly be a vegan who smokes, it goes against that culture I was talking about – the one that comes with assumptions people can make about you based on that one word you use to describe yourself.
Dealing with other people’s reactions to my transition has been difficult. Generally not because of anything they have said or done, but mostly because of my concerns with or perceptions of their reactions. My mother phrased it as “she eats vegan, but she’s not a vegan,” which I really like. Since my fiancee is lactose intolerant, there is a limited amount of dairy in the house, and when I can eat vegan, I make an effort to. However, I don’t really feel like a vegetarian – I simply feel like a vegan who cheats with disturbing frequency. Recently I was at a family gathering eating some macaroni and cheese when someone commented they were “proud of me”. I had no idea what they meant by that and I wished more than anything that I could eat what I wanted without my food choices being policed. I’ll admit that part of my desire to remain a vegan was to avoid that kind of judgment. I’ve stated in previous blog posts that it’s less about the difficulty of being a vegan (which I honestly didn’t find to be all that difficult) as it is trying to find the best way to support animal advocacy. Certainly there are environmental and health benefits to a vegan diet, which is a valid reason to eat mostly vegan, but I’m just not convinced the benefits to animals are there. But if people don’t know that – if I’m not in active conversation explaining my food politics (which, at a family reunion, I’m probably not) – it may look like I’ve simply given up. And despite my most recent guest post for Offbeat Home and Life (written mostly to assuage my own guilt), I don’t like the idea of others being able to say “I told you so”.
I remember talking to someone who had been vegan for over thirty years and being in awe of her commitment to the lifestyle. I’ve known vegans and vegetarians who have gone back to omnivorous diets, and it occurred to me that the difference between her and my relatives who no longer stick to an exclusively plant-based diet is that she had a passion for animal welfare and they did not. My relatives went vegan for health reasons or as an adolescent experiment, and this woman went vegan because she cared about living creatures. And while I maintain that being vegan is not as difficult as some may make it out to be (particularly if you are an adventurous cook or live in a city or near a Whole Foods), I will say that there are certain convenience items that are easier to indulge in when you are not motivated by a higher cause.
Being vegan was an important part of my life for a good four or five years. It’s a difficult thing to move on from. I still don’t know if I want to go back to being vegan or, as previously mentioned, experiment with a VB6 style diet – or even if I want to embrace eggs and dairy and go back to being an unabashed vegetarian. I know that my biggest hurdle is going to be to not worry about what other people think of my decision. It’s less about their judgments of me (although I’ll be honest, that is a bit of an issue) and more about being an ambassador for animal rights. I don’t want people who are considering transitioning to a vegan diet to think they shouldn’t because they saw me “give up” on it. There are certainly a lot of options for me to consider, and it’s an ongoing process that may take even up to another year (or more) for me to comfortably figure out. But what I do know? I love animals, and I love vegan food. And I’ll find a way to combine the two in a manner that I feel works best for me.