Milquetoast Vegan Grows Up
If someone had told my younger self that I wouldn't
be a famous creative genius by the age of 29, I don't
think she would have believed it. She definitely wouldn't
have believed it if the same person had told her that
it wouldn't matter to her 29-year-old self. "What on
earth could matter more than being a famous creative
genius?" my incredulous teenage self would demand. I've
changed a lot in the past ten years, but the most important
change has been achieving something that many people
go a lifetime without doing: I know myself. And as nice
as that is, in the past few years, I've accomplished
something even better--I've started to develop the courage
to *be* myself.
I've really seen the change in my approach to veganism.
I made my first attempt to become vegan two and a half
years ago, but it was a project doomed to failure because
I so wanted to avoid upsetting anyone. I had known too
many judgmental, aggressive vegetarians, and I responded
by becoming a milquetoast vegan, smiling politely and
saying "No, thank you" when relatives, with infinite
mirth, would offer me yet again a big slice of ham,
turkey, or whatever the carcass du jour was. I never
looked for the middle ground between silence and aggression,
and therefore never found it.
But even my smiling nondefensive stance wasn't enough
to make people comfortable with my veganism. Because
of what I ate, other people attributed virtue to me.
Sitting eating with other people, I could feel their
tension, which spiked briefly with every pat of butter,
every slice of meat taken. I couldn't tell if people
thought I was some kind of saint, or if they just thought
that *I* thought I was some kind of saint. Either way,
the weight of all those people's ideas about my goodness
was a heavy burden--it made me want to be "bad." Not
surprisingly, after just a few months of veganism, I
furtively bought a big box of malted milk balls--at
that moment, I preferred being a hypocrite to owning
all the meanings other people ascribed to my eating
choices. It wasn't long before I officially went from
vegan to vegetarian, a designation that draws considerably
less attention to itself.
Because of my fears about how my choices regarding
food and clothing would make other people *feel,* I
allowed other people not only to shape my public response,
but also to pervert my private understanding of what
it meant for me to be vegan: there would have been no
context for my "sin" of eating malted milk balls if
I had not passively assented to other people's interpretations
of the meaning of veganism.
It wasn't enough for me to know what I thought about
being vegan; I also had to grow enough to have the courage
to live my beliefs--not apologizing, not thinking that
it's impolite to be myself if who I am makes other folks
uncomfortable. Now I'm two years older. A lot has happened--I
had a miscarriage, quit a job for moral reasons, survived
that and started an at-home business, went through pregnancy
and birth, embarked on motherhood, and experienced two
more years of learning about marriage.
In these two years, I've learned that there are things
more real than niceness and truths that politeness only
obscures. I'm ready to live my beliefs by becoming a
vegan, but more important, I think I now have the courage
to defend my choices without being defensive, to mount
an unapologetic apologia to all my critics. In my mind,
I rehearse Thanksgiving dinner--my brilliant logic,
the wittiness of my verbal thrusts and parries, but
most important, the way I'll respect not only my omnivorous
family, but also myself.
Rachel H. B.
a b l e o f c o n t e n t
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