When I first went vegan, almost six years ago, I promised myself that I wouldn’t be one of ‘those’ vegans. The pushy vegan. The in-your-face-about-it vegan. The how-dare-you-eat-that-steak-in-front-of-me vegan. I didn’t (and still don’t) want to become a judgemental person because of my personal choice to not eat animal products. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop others from openly – and often confrontationally – judging me for my lifestyle. To be frank, I’m getting tired of it.
The number one reaction I receive to my veganism is, “OH I COULD NEVER DO THAT”. … No one asked you to. My choice to eat vegan has nothing to do with you. It is not a judgement against you or your eating habits. I have never pushed anyone to be vegan. Ever. So your pre-emptive defence against whatever judgment you think I’m going to make against you, after it comes up that I’m vegan, is both misplaced and annoying. Your need to reassure yourself that you couldn’t possibly follow a vegan diet stems from a self-doubt and self-consciousness about your own habits and health. That is your problem; please stop projecting it onto me and my veggie burger.
The second most common reaction I get is, “SO, LIKE, WHAT DO YOU EAT?”. The answer to this question is, of course, “food”, just like everyone else. If you are truly interested in learning about a vegan diet, I’m more than willing to discuss that with you. In fact, I really enjoy sharing my personal experiences with others when they ask. But nine times out of ten, learning is not the intention of this question. I find, instead, that this question is designed to put me on the defensive, forcing me to lay out my daily diet for you to investigate and mock. Many when asking this question suddenly become doctors and nutritionists, faking worry for me and assuring me that my diet couldn’t possibly sustain me over the longterm. If you ever feel compelled to do the same, please remember that my diet and my body are none of your business.
Speaking of my body, let’s all just agree to stop saying things like, “You’re vegan? Really? You don’t LOOK like a vegan”. Thanks for letting me know that I don’t look like the waif-y vegan stereotype you have in your head. Saying things like this is thinly veiled way of commenting on my body, something you have absolutely no jurisdiction to do. We live in a world where so many of us struggle everyday to appreciate and love the bodies we have that we should all avoid passing harmful judgements like this. Just like all people, vegans can be all shapes and sizes and races and genders. Stop trying to fit me or anyone else into the boxes that live in your head.
Finally, I need to call out the gender issues embedded in much of criticism I hear when I’m being questioned about my veganism. Because meat is very closely associated with masculinity, plant-based diets are culturally characterized as feminine. Veganism and those who practice it are therefore immediately considered inferior because we live in a culture that is patriarchal. This means that every time someone assures me that I won’t be ‘strong’ because I am vegan or bullies a man for eating ‘girly rabbit food’, they are conforming to and reinforcing our patriarchal system, which means they are contributing to the oppression of women, non-binary, and queer folks. Not good.
[Relevant sidenote: Please don’t mansplain veganism. Last night, I was surrounded by a group of men – all of whom I’d just met – that decided that my veganism would certainly kill my future baby. Seriously. I was too shocked by the sexism of the situation to do a proper take-down so indulge me now: How dare you automatically place me in the role of mother and caregiver because I’m female and how dare you think you know best about my health and my body.]
This post is not aimed at a particular person or situation. Instead it represents a culmination of experiences over the past six years that have each made me feel hurt, judged, angry, and self-conscious. My veganism is deeply personal. It comes from a complicated history with food and health and it has grown into a lifestyle that fits who I am. Through veganism, I have gained a greater understanding of global food systems, environmentalism, animal welfare, feminism, and health and fitness, too. If you want to talk about any of that with me, that’s fantastic. But if you just want to point out my veganism for rude, bullying, or self-serving purposes, please think before you speak and just back off.