I’m not ashamed of my vegan diet in the slightest. That being said, I tend not to flaunt it or even mention it unless I’m going out to eat with a group and they suggest going to a steakhouse or a Red Lobster (nobody I know ever actually suggests those places, but for the sake of the restaurants’ conveniently obvious non-veg names I’m going to pretend they do). In my experience, no one has ever been annoyed by my “restriction”- more commonly, they’re interested and ask me questions.
However, there are times when I don’t want to go through the potential hassle of mentioning it at all. For example, recently I was at a small party in West Oakland where everybody was fairly drunk off of PBR’s. Someone yelled, “PIZZA?” and the crowd went wild. “PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA!” everybody chanted.
“What kind do you want?” the guy who invited me, Greg, asked.
“You know what, I’m not too hungry,” I replied. I know that I could have told him, but I wasn’t quite in the mood for all the drunk kids in my vicinity to start asking questions about how it’s possible to give up cheese. “I mean, it’s CHEESE,” they would say, exasperated.
So, when the pizza arrived, and sloppy, stumbling party-goers burst into tears and bowed down to the delivery guy as if he was a messiah, and then as slices began to disappear at speeds comparable to Usain Bolt at the 2008 Summer Olympics, I sat back with my beer and observed the frenzy. “Amazing,” I said softly. As I watched my glassy-eyed peers crouch down to vacuum up with their mouths any crumbs that may have been lost in the depths of the carpet fibers, I felt rather like a scientist observing a pack of ravenous chimps. I was practically Jane Goodall at Gombe Stream. My thoughts were interrupted by Greg waving a slice in my face.
“Sure you don’t want a bite?” he asked.
“Gimme some of your crust,” I replied, leaning forward and biting off a corner.
Some may read this and think, “Wow, poor soul, it must be terrible to never be included in all the delicious, cheesy fun.” Strangely, I don’t feel excluded when I’m in situations like the one above. That’s probably due to the fact that in the four years or so that I’ve cut out animal products from my diet, my body and mind have developed a mild aversion to all things covered in coagulated udder juice. But I will say that there are times when I’m walking down the frozen section of the grocery store and hear the pizzas whispering, “We know you want us.”
“You’re right,” I say to them with a sigh. “I kind of do.”
Ultimately, it can be difficult to juggle the delicate balance of pronouncing your dietary habits or to keep them quiet so as not to a) isolate yourself by being known as the pesky vegan, and/or b) ignite a flurry of questions about where I get my protein or whether I care about the exploited workers who pick my vegetables.
Before I get criticized for “not standing up for my beliefs,” I want to mention that years ago, when I was a freshly budded vegan, I was the type to crinkle my nose up at my friends when they moaned with delight into their chicken sandwiches, or to lecture my parents on the inhumane methods of slaughter that were used to procure the bacon they were frying. Don’t even get me started on the ruckus I would make when I saw foie gras on the menu at a restaurant. It took time for me to realize that while I strongly believe that humans don’t have the right to cruelly massacre animals the way that we do, and while I do feel twinges of irritation when people say, “I can’t even watch a second of those factory farming documentaries, they’re so sad,” then proceed to slurp up their Spaghetti Bolognese, I also do not have the right to thrust my beliefs onto anyone. I know a handful of other vegans disagree with this idea, claiming that change will not come unless we speak up, but I’ve found that the vegan lifestyle is more positively responded to when it’s not aggressively marketed.