Being Vegan in an ‘Omni’ World
By ROBIN SMYTH
There is something about the vegan lifestyle that either mystifies or angers the rest of the earth’s human population. In secret, some vegans may call this meat and dairy consuming demographic “carnies,” as in carnivore, or “omnis,” for omnivore. From personal and shared experience, the vegan consensus, in this city at least, is that most non-vegan people don’t really understand why we chose veganism or what it is that we sometimes have to tolerate.
Holding one’s head up in the face of judgment and insensitivity takes a modicum of grace and restraint; it’s definitely not always easy to feel targeted for making choices based on compassion. Speaking for myself and in a general sense, vegans are only too willing to (kindly) share insight and recipes in the most non-judgmental and welcoming way possible.
I have bitten back retorts to incredibly mean and hurtful comments at work, while dining in public and on social media. I have dreaded, left or declined events based on how I have been treated by others in attendance. Without getting into an explicit rant about cruelty to animals and detailing exactly what speciesism is and why it should be eradicated, I’d far rather stick to observing some of the challenges that vegans face as a minority in an omnivorous society.
First of all, even though product selection has vastly improved in recent years, shopping for vegan items is an Olympic event-sized challenge. It can be described as a treasure hunt, with vegan chocolate cake as a big fat prize at the finale for finding cruelty-free hair colour and lotion in under six hours without using the Internet or the “call a vegan friend” option.
A massive thank you goes out to local eateries for updating their menus and approach to vegan cuisine, because we, as a collective, also enjoy dining out on occasion. Every now and again, though, the ponderous task of explaining meat and dairy-free to an unenlightened server can be so daunting, a person almost wants to head home and just fry up a block of tofu already.
My favourite server-related experience was being offered chicken as a vegetable option while a table full of my non-vegan friends collapsed with laughter. I had their sympathy, and they could not believe any functioning person thought that a chicken was grown in a garden. I ended up having a very large order of french fries for dinner as I could not trust the “deer in the headlights” head-tilting server to bring me foods that didn’t have parents. Without my friend the potato, I would have gone hungry on many such dinner dates.
Family dinners can sometimes feel like a slow descent into a flaming hot pit of despair, wherein the vegan option is generally a tossed salad with no dressing and a glass of water with an organic lemon wedge jauntily garnishing the rim. When I have brought my own meatless, dairy-free entrée (to ensure I get adequately fed), it gets immediately hoovered up by everyone else at the table, with everyone looking wildly surprised and making “I can’t believe it’s so yummy!” noises. Sigh.
The most uncomfortable thing about being vegan by far is having to explain my choice to others and being put in a place where I am meant to defend myself.
Pass. Thanks for asking, though.
Most vegans are nonconfrontational and would choose not to escalate a discussion into a raging debate on whether or not plants have feelings. It’s incredibly inappropriate to expect a person to detail and defend a personal life choice, and it’s not a very comfortable place to be, trust me.
Yes, we have all seen the rabid, picketing, placard-wearing, bucket-of-blood-throwing activists in the media. I want to state honestly that they are not a true depiction of the vast majority of vegans and their behaviour. For every group of true believers, there are always a few extremists. Unfortunately, these are the people that will inevitably be featured on the evening news or in your Facebook feed.
Most of the vegans I know are truly gentle souls who wouldn’t dream of telling another person how to live their lives. Myself included. Would we like to see the world go vegan? Absolutely and for many reasons. The best advice I can give on lifestyle choices, if indeed my advice is welcome, is to do some research on what the documented and verifiable impacts of your choices are on you, your family, other living creatures and our planet.
The decision to live compassionately, gently and graciously then is yours to make.
An avid animal activist and supporter of human rights, Robin Smyth credits her beloved dog Lacie as her inspiration for pivotal life changes, including her vegan lifestyle. Twitter: @RobinDS3. Website: robindsmyth.weebly.com.