Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I used to avoid disclosing to anyone that our family was vegan. Ever. My reasoning was two-fold: 1) Vegans have a reputation for being dogmatic missionaries, who will try and convert any person in earshot to the total rejection of all animal proteins; and 2) I didn't want to answer the litany of absurd questions sure to follow my disclosure.

To the first point: Do I wish everyone were vegan? Maybe. Do I have the desire to try and solicit from others a commitment to a vegan lifestyle? No. Food habit is a very personal choice, and while I obviously believe that a diet of plant foods is most ethical, most environmentally sound and most healthful, I also accept that there are other eating habits which might be moral, environmentally sustainable and generally healthy. Most importantly, however, I understand that demanding everyone become a vegan is a gross over-simplification of culinary habit, and is bound to be irksome to those who don't wish to adopt the lifestyle.

I do, however, believe in being honest. This beckons back to the second point, about being roped into the vegan Q&A session sure to follow any discussion of a diet without meat and dairy. From the ridiculous, "How do you get enough protein?" to the forgivable, "Why are you vegan?" I answer with the truth as it relates to my system of belief. This, of course, hearkens back to animal abuses and factory farms, e.coli and contaminated groundwater, heart disease and cancer and diabetes. Those reasons can seem like an indictment of another's food selections or an effort at a vegan conversion - that there is some veiled attempt at guilting meat-eaters into shunning animal products - but that is more a reflection on the person making the inquiry in the first place, which is to say that those who feel some smack of invisible judgement do so because they are disquieted by their own personal decisions. There is, simply, no "right" answer to many of the questions posed, and all interrogations are really headed toward defensiveness from both parties.

My least favorite bit of lunacy is the question regarding fairness to my children. I'm often asked if being vegan isn't somehow unjust to Henry and Midori, who don't get to eat meat, who are having our beliefs "forced upon them," and who are "missing out" on a cultural norm.

And so, again, I can answer honestly. I can observe that all parenting is really rooted in the instruction of the adult's belief system and world view, that we don't give our kids the freedom to choose in all circumstances and especially not with regard to food (or else we'd have piles of kids eating cake for supper), that my children are healthy and certainly well-nourished, and that omnivorous parents are not giving their kids the option of, say, going raw, either. I can turn the question around: If a vegan is "forcing beliefs" on their children when they teach them to respect animals, then isn't a non-vegan "forcing beliefs" on their children when they teach them to exploit animals?

But really, I've learned that people who ask "why" or assert to want to know about the impact of a vegan diet on our kids are not really asking at all. Sure, sure, there exists a small segment of the population with a desire to transition away from a diet of animal protein and toward a more plant-based eating habit, and they may have some legit inquiries. But the overwhelming majority of people who ask about vegan living are really in the "vegans are nuts" camp, trying to elicit debate or make a point about vegetarian diets more generally. Veganism is a rational choice that most people are capable of making. Or not making. The point, however, is that quibbling over vegan versus not rarely creates change on either end of the spectrum.

So, I used to go through life just bringing vegan fare to potlucks, politely turning down non-vegan foods when offered, and generally steering clear of any vegan chatter. At some point, I realized that this was both inconvenient and disingenuous. It made lunch meetings with colleagues a challenge, and it meant leaving many a dinner party with an empty belly. As my kids have gotten older, they've started doing their own explaining with a kind of candor that makes it necessary for me to, at times, elaborate on our diet. Now, I'm good with it. I tell people right away that we are vegan when it is relevant, and I am quick to offer help in menu planning or to bring food if the occasion necessitates it. And when I get those questions? I'm still honest. I still tell the truth. I'm still polite. But I am also aware - aware that the questions are not always as innocuous as they might initially appear, and that there is no objective answer satisfactory to the context of the question.

1 comment:

  1. As if I could say it any more than I already have but, beautifully written and thoughtful.
    I, too have trouble with my dietary choices as well as my dietary needs as complicated as they are. celiac vegetarian dairy-free diabetic.
    sorry world....

    I envy your written way