It’s often debated whether or not it’s hard to be vegan, but in all of this online discussion I rarely come across the two issues that have been most difficult for me. One, I got over with time; the other is why I don’t think I’ll ever become a strict vegan. I’m going to leave the one I overcame for another post and talk about the one I didn’t – the reason (or cluster of reasons) why home veganism works for me.
I was brought up to be a very flexible eater. This is a set of family values that extends beyond eating what is put in front of you, and even beyond showing appreciation for the fact that someone has provided you with food. It was just as much about being open-minded: never knowing what you like and don’t like until you try it, and understanding that tastes change, so the things you don’t like often deserve another try – and another. These are values I was taught to apply to the rest of life as well, and I often thank my parents for the degree of openness and flexibility I have been able to take out into the world, and for all of the experiences that have unfolded from this.
A lot of people say they’re not picky eaters, but in my experience this statement usually comes with a list of caveats – maybe a short list, but still a list. In my old life, I would truly eat almost anything. Of course I had preferences, but I was always willing to be adventurous with sampling local dishes when I traveled, and never declined to try something that was prepared for or served to me. It’s not so much that I worry about missing out on food encounters or opportunities now that I eat almost entirely vegan. I know my new diet opens all sorts of other doors. It’s more that my openness to food was a big part of my identity, and one I’ve realized I was quite proud of.
It wasn’t my ability to choke down the bizarre that I was proud of (ok, maybe a little), but the kinds of experiences and relationships my openness helped me find. People loved to eat with me and this opened all sorts of doors – literally and figuratively. It also helped put people at ease around me in ways I was thanked for on more occasions than I can remember.
This old identity is probably 90% of the reason why I’m a home vegan. Food is best shared and, for me, this means a two-way street. I love exposing the people in my life to vegan foods, whether through restaurants or my cooking (or, now, my blog!). So much of why I love it, though, is because I get to share the experience of these foods with them. I can’t let go of being able to return this – not out of a sense of duty, but out of a sense of balance that is at the heart of my identity. This doesn’t mean I won’t propose vegan alternatives or work out vegan options, and it doesn’t mean my ideas of how to maintain this balance won’t shift (they definitely have already). It does mean I’ll still eat turkey with my family on Christmas. It does mean I’ll join you at your favorite ice cream shop even if it doesn’t have any non-dairy alternatives. It does mean I’ll have a taste of your chicken curry if you want me to see how amazing it is. And, of course I’d love a piece of your birthday cake (just hold the ice cream, please)!
As for the other 10% of the reason why I’m a home vegan, I’d sum that up as taste, practicality, and ease. Interestingly, I realized only as I was writing this that I’ve become vegetarian in this space.
It’s been very strange to have this rupture emerge between how I eat in and outside my home, and it’s a divide I’m still in the process of working out how to navigate. I’m amazed and ever-more intrigued by the complexity of our engagement with food and its surrounding culture. I’d love to hear about your experiences as well – either trying to follow a restrictive diet (of any type, for whatever reasons) or cooking for, travelling with, marrying, etc. someone who does.