Ah, the rellies. Those people who don't have or want to have more than a superficial understanding of the reasons for my strange and inconvenient diet, but feel they know quite enough not to have to be polite about it. Those people who thought they were going above and beyond the call of duty to accommodate me during my 20 years as a vegetarian, and now are convinced I've gone vegan just to make life more difficult for them.
Actually I'm very fond of (most of) my relatives, as I'm pretty sure they are of me. But I'm the odd one, the different one, in almost every way. The one who likes nature, solitude, and small intimate gatherings instead of raucous parties. The pantheist amongst devout Christians. The childfree woman in a large extended family where 3-4 kids per couple is the norm. And -- most ridiculous of all -- the one who actually believes that animals have rights and that we shouldn't eat them.
I've no illusions about how most of them view me. At 34 I'm the perpetually rebellious child who won't give up all these crazy notions and join the normal, sensible adult world. My grandmother expressed her profound hope just before her death two years ago that I would "soon grow out of this silly phase." My husband has been advised by his sisters to "insist" that we have a baby to make me grow up and realise that people are more important than animals (never mind that he doesn't want children any more than I do). My parents' considered opinion is that I "mean well" but that I'm being na´ve and obstinate in persisting with my extreme lifestyle. In other words, veganism could never result from a mature, informed choice, but only from the misguided beliefs of a self-centered child.
When it's considered at all, relatives' opinions are depressingly predictable. "God gave us animals to use as we see fit," "Factory farming isn't cruel, even if it is there's nothing we can do about it, and anyway people come first," and "I knew someone who went onto those vegetables and she wasted away and got terribly sick" are fairly representative examples.
I've tried all those helpful hints -- suggest simple recipes or ways that existing recipes may be adapted, offer to bring a dish of vegan food, state in advance that I won't be eating if it's just a quick visit, fill up beforehand and just have the salad, etc. Somehow they're never as straightforward as they sound. Someone always seems to feel that a slur has been cast on their culinary or hostessing skills, or else it's made obvious, in that understated but evident way relatives seem to have, that I've been the cause of considerable inconvenience.
I'm also considered rude. For declining to attend the celebratory pig spit roast. For asking what kind of stock the soup is made with. For insisting that gelatine does "count." For not making it clear enough that "no dairy" included my aunt's celebrated cheesecake. For refusing to "break your diet just this once" to avoid a fuss or hurt feelings. For talking nonsense and putting a damper on the meal when I try to explain that it's not just a "diet," but part of who I am.
And did I mention subversive? For answering truthfully instead of with some silly platitude when my 8 year old niece asked me why I wasn't partaking of the Christmas roast?
So, in short, while I love my family and like to catch up with them, visiting is generally not one of my favourite things. I continually marvel at how "no animal products" can be subject to so many and varying misinterpretations, and they keep hoping that one day I'll stop being so difficult and become more like them. You'd never think a simple "v" word could cause so much trouble. Who'd do it for fun?
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