7/19/13

Is it just me?

There are times when I forget that the whole world isn't vegan. I live in a vegan bubble. My husband is vegan, and we keep a vegan home. We don't own any leather, feathers, wool, silk, or any other animal clothing or furniture. The fridge is all vegan. Our lifestyles are vegan, insofar as we are concerned about the welfare of all animals, whether they human or nonhuman. For us, being vegan is an affirmation of life. It means that we hold life in high regard, and that we believe in dignity for that life. Again, this means that both of us are deeply concerned about the rights of people, whether they have the same genetic makeup as us, or whether they're a totally different species. All those creatures are beings, and deserve to have their bodily integrity respected.

When I come to work, the waitstaff are vegan. My business partner is vegan. He's raising his son to be mindful of other beings too. And the message is sticking! Mini Preefer won't eat at the school cafeteria, because they don't let him just get the vegetable sides. If you're getting a school lunch, you have to get the meat on your plate, and his objection is so strong that he prefers to bring his own lunch from home. I wish I had that kind of courage at his age!

Most of my friends are vegan. Even those who aren't are very comfortable with coming to my home, and having the entire meal be vegan (and enjoy it, of course). Even when I go to their house, and I'm cooking, they'll make a supreme effort to let everything be fully vegan. Even when it's a party that I'm attending at a friend's house, and they have omnivores at the table, they'll make sure that at least 75% of the meal is vegan, and will sometimes go so far as to double check about whether I'm comfortable with the provenance of the sugar, or the alcohol. Nobody has to go to that level to make me a huge spread of food that's safe for me to eat. I'd be happy to eat a bowl of noodles with some vegetables. I'm quite content with a bowl of beans and rice. But then, I see the effort that my friends will go to so that they ensure that my husband and I are not only well fed, but fed elaborately.

That is such a blessing that I make sure that my friends know how much I appreciate it. It's not every day that you meet people who consider you such a friend that they care for you like you're their family. In a way, my friends are my family, and I love them dearly.

And then, I'll open up a magazine. I'll walk into a grocery store. I'll see body parts being displayed up for sale, and shudder violently. I'll see a beautiful recipe on a certain New York newspaper's food section, and think "Ohhhh, that looks so good! DAMNIT. Why did they have to throw ham into that? Was that even necessary!? If you wanted something salty, there's a million options out there. If you want something smoky, there's even more options.

There's other times, at the grocery store, where I'll absent-mindedly drop a jar of mayonnaise into my basket, thinking, "Wow, that's really cheap for vegan mayo." But, as a vegan, I have this reflex that has been ingrained for years: the second I pick up a packaged product, I immediately flip around to the back to skim the ingredients list. You can immagine my disappointment at seeing mayonnaise made with eggs. "Mayo doesn't need eggs! What's wrong with people!?" This reflex has saved me on more occasions than I can count. "Non dairy creamer" is often full of dairy byproducts. Strange, that. Who decided that everything in the world has to have whey in it? The worst was when I picked up a sausage container to read the ingredients, and only realised after picking it up that it was animal meat in there, not veggie meat. I'm standing there thinking, "How did they manage to make a gluten free sausage. I want to know how it's done. Oh. They made it gluten free by grinding up an animal's body. Boo."

I sometimes forget how it felt to be a vegan in a smaller city. I felt like I was crazy, and that I didn't fit in anywhere. Everyone around me was unabashedly eating animals, their body parts, their secretions, and the products made from them. I've burned myself in the kitchen a couple of times. The smell of my flesh burning is the same as the smell of an animal's flesh burning. It turns my stomach to have to smell that smell ever again. You feel like you're all alone, and nobody else understands what's going on in your head. With that isolation comes depression. With that depression comes more withdrawing from the people around you. And onwards it goes until you find yourself in self-destructive behaviours. It's a horrible self-feeding cycle.

Fortunately, I found a group of people online who are also vegan. I met my husband through that group. Although that particular website is no longer around, there are plenty of others out there. We have blogs, we have websites, we have forums. They all have spaces for us to find each other. And find each other we must, or we let the rest of the world dictate how we see ourselves, which can get damaging. If you don't live in a huge city like New York, with an active and vibrant vegan scene, find your own vegan scene. Make your own vegan bubble.

And if you do have loving family and friends who make an effort on your behalf, never let them forget that you love them, and appreciate the effort. Even when the results aren't perfect, I'm still thrilled that someone tried, and is willing to share such an intimate act with me as making something with their hands, and having it become a part of me. Even those friends who buy something in get my gratitude. To think that they stood there in the store, and walked a mile in my shoes, turning everything over to read the ingredients carefully. Checking an unnamed popular search engine to see if a certain weird ingredient is animal, vegetable, or mineral. And then to go through the effort to bring it home, and lay it out nicely for me.

Either way, you're not crazy. You're not alone. People do understand you. You're amongst friends. Come to the table, relax a bit, and bond over something delicious.
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