The V Word

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“You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.” — Sara Bareilles

When I first became vegetarian, I was around seven years old. Anyone who knew me back then can attest to the fact that I was not only stubborn and willful, but I was vociferous as well. It wasn’t a good combination. I wrinkled my nose at steaks, refused to wash any dishes that had been touched by “carcasses,” and brought up PETA videos at dinnertime.

I was just a ball of fun, let me tell you.

My beliefs haven’t changed over the years — the opposite is true, in fact, with my diet swinging closer to vegan than vegetarian these days. However, I’d like to think I’ve dialed back my level of obnoxiousness considerably over the years. Unless a situation arises in which I need to explain my eating habits (“Why aren’t you eating my pork buns? Don’t you like my pork buns??”), I don’t advertise my vegetarianism. Over the years, I came to realize that my heavy-handed pushing of my veggie ways was disrespectful of others’ choices, so I stopped. (It probably also helped that I grew sick of hearing “But don’t you miss bacon?” and “If I go vegetarian for the day, will you eat meat for a day?”)

Eventually, though, I started to move too far in the direction of silence. I became apologetic about my vegetarian choices, especially when I was full-on vegan for a couple of years. “I’m sorry, but I don’t eat cheese” slowly morphed into me eating egg or dairy products if vegan items weren’t available, just to keep things socially easy. I didn’t want to be the friend or coworker who hampered the group’s plans to dine at a French bistro, and well-meaning friends were constantly pointing out that I couldn’t eat at this restaurant or that. I didn’t want my ethical decisions to burden anyone, and people simply weren’t convinced by my proclamations that I was 100%, totally fine with having the garden salad. Again.

However, I’m coming to realize I’m actually harming the causes I believe in by not sticking to my guns. I don’t mean that I want to go back to being pushy and obnoxious, of course — people have a right to their personal choices, and I don’t intend to start ruining people’s meals by pulling up some gnarly PETA videos. But I still believe factory farming is wrong. I still do not want to support businesses that use animal products. And not only am I contradicting my beliefs when I just “make it easier” for my vegan ethics to coexist with the rest of my life, but I stop adding my voice to a community that needs as much support as it can get.

Just like the word “feminist” was associated with hippies and bra burning, “vegetarianism” and “veganism” are often associated with buckets of fake blood, PETA girls wearing lettuce bras, and wrinkled noses. But recently I’ve been seeing a switch with the word “feminism” — even something as small as a speech has played quite the role in changing people’s perspectives on it. Having whip-smart Emma Watson stand so solidly behind the word gives it new associations, and we’re seeing a change in the amount of people who are willing to call themselves feminists.

I think the importance comes down to how you treat your cause. Living by your values despite challenges is something people will respect, far more than being told what they are doing wrong. Whether it’s refusing to buy from stores whose policies you don’t agree with, speaking out when someone is treated unfairly, or putting your fork where your values lay, people do notice. And what they’ll notice is a person who stands unapologetically by what they believe in, rather than shoving it down others’ throats.

*****

PS. If you’re still wondering “but why go vegan?” – feel free take a look at the following links:

  1. It’s one of the easiest ways to lessen your environmental impact.
  2. Personally, I can’t justify hurting and killing animals just because they taste good: “Toddlers are intellectually weak, but you’re unlikely to find them in a casserole.”
  3. It’s a healthy way of life.
  4. Watch Food Inc. It’s got heaps of information on what’s wrong with the food industry today, including far more than factory farming. Everyone should watch this.
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