Sunday, June 3, 2012

Final Thoughts on a Month of Veganism

Flies Like Lemon Too

Fruit flies are vegans, you know.

I know, I know: it has taken me forever to wrap up my month of veganism.  I always seem to have more ideas than time, but nevertheless, here I am!  Let’s talk about veganism.

As you may recall, I’m a longtime vegetarian—ten years and still going strong!—so a month of veganism should not have been a daunting prospect.  But it was.  I love dairy and eggs and have never made much effort to eliminate them from my diet.  I have made efforts to purchase higher-quality products, but I’ve always felt it was easier to spend more money on my food than to pursue a vegan path.  Thirty days of veganism showed me that it is both easier and harder than I realized to be vegan.

At home, it was almost laughably easy.  I had to work out a few issues at the beginning of the month.  What should I put in my coffee?  How do I get my probiotics?  I also thought seriously about how not to turn into a soyatarian.  [Soyatarian: a vegan who avoids animal products by substituting soy analogs in their place.]  I wanted to write a post about this topic, but when I tried to delve into the scientific literature, I was overwhelmed.  The truth, I think, is that this was never much of a risk for me because I like a variety of non-dairy milks and savory goodies in addition to the soy versions.  I especially like almond milk and coconut milk, and I love beans and nuts of all kinds.  I fell hard for the amazing cashew, and I found myself buying big bags of walnuts (omega-3 fatty acids ahoy!).  I do like soy products and eat them occasionally, but I suppose as long as the health profile of soy is a little iffy, moderation seems wise.

Once I found my groove at home, it was easy to cook vegan meals.  To be honest, I didn’t miss dairy and eggs as much as I thought I would.  Eating in restaurants, however, was a different story.  I give myself a failing grade in this category because I think I managed to do it maybe once or twice.  I ate out three times that I can recall: burgers (plant-based for me, of course), sushi, and dinner at a pan-Asian restaurant.  My portobello burger was topped with goat cheese and probably had cheese in the pesto, my sushi may have been topped with squiggles of egg-based mayonnaise, but my bowl o’ soupy noodles and tofu was probably vegan.  But who knows what was in the stock?  I didn’t ask.  (Fail!)

I failed to be an advocate for veganism when I ate in restaurants.  I think I know why it was so hard for me: unlike vegetarianism, to which I am firmly committed, I am not a committed vegan.  I have no problems ordering meatless meals in restaurants, but I felt intimidated asking for vegan meals.  And to be honest, I think I lacked faith that these restaurants could deliver.  I live in Texas, cattle country, cowboy country.  Men wear cowboy boots and big belt buckles here, and they aren’t being ironic!  I don’t live in a hip, progressive college town—I live in Aggieland, where people wear t-shirts urging each other to “Keep College Station Normal.”  Veganism ain’t “normal,” folks.  I know this.  And maybe trying to be vegan in Texas is an act of rebellion.  I’ve never been much of a rebel, but of all the things I’ve done in my life, vegetarianism is my most enduring act of rebellion, one I’ve never regretted.

Walking the walk as a vegan opened my eyes to the heart of veganism: it’s an act of compassion.  I feel like I understand that in a way that eluded me before.  There’s just no getting around the fact that eating meat and milk is an act of violence, no matter how well the animals are treated before slaughter.  I think most of us have a hard time wrapping our minds around this basic fact.  As I move through my life, vegan or not, I will defend the vegans and their mission to cause as little harm as possible.  And I must live with the fact that when I choose to eat dairy and eggs, my choice is not as innocent as I once believed.  I have to live with the violent cost of my own hedonism.


Raquelita said...

I think veganism is really sustainable at home (though I missed cheese and refused to substitute when I did my 6 month stint as a vegan a few years ago). Eating out though is tricky, as is eating at the homes of others. Several people told me afterwards that they just omitted to tell me when certain dishes had things like butter or eggs (invisible) in them.

Rosiecat said...

Oh, no! Deception! That sucks. What did you think when people confessed that to you? I have to admit, I'd be pretty annoyed.

I didn't eat in anyone else's home in April, but boy, did I fail at finding vegan options when eating out. I'm hanging my head in shame.

Chrissy (The New Me) said...

Even when I was a strict vegan, I usually didn't ask too many questions while out to eat and just did the best I could. A better vegan would have tried harder, but I have a feeling the best vegans don't live in Texas. ;)

I admire your challenge and I agree with you final conclusions. Causing as little harm as possible is the goal, and it's a good goal. The key is "as little harm as possible," though, not "no harm, ever, at all." That's impossible, sadly. But trying, every day, to make more compassionate choices is definitely attainable, as you have shown us. :)

Rosiecat said...

Aw, Chrissy! You are making me feel better about my struggles to be consistent when eating out. I think you bring up a good point, though, about vegans in Texas. In a way, because it is so tough to do here, your activism is a bigger act of consciousness-raising. It's more radical to be a vegan here than in more progressive places.

I think it is a noble goal, as a human, to find ways to honor your biology while also honoring the compassion which makes us human. We ARE animals, but we have so much flexibility to shape the world around us, including our own minds. I think happiness is found in that intersection between our selfish pursuits and our compassion--to live a good life while causing as little harm as possible.