vegan vs. omnivore: the battle royale

I became acutely aware of the fact that I am not in possession of any happy, upbeat music. I am an indie rock fan and have plenty of music to be sad to, but nothing to get my spirits up. My past few commutes have consisted of endlessly hitting “next” on my iPod. The best I could come up with was Psychokiller by the Talking Heads. Yikes! If I’m going to have a more positive outlook, it first needs to start with the music I send to my brain. I am open to suggestions. I am not a pop fan (at least a modern-day pop fan–I’ll pass on the Ke$ha, please and thank you), but damnit, if it means lifting my spirits, then bring it.

I am still thinking about (dwelling on) going vegan. I have so many hang-ups, it’s unreal. I’ve previously discussed my fear of failing, but it’s deeper than I think I let on. If I were to go the vegan route, it would be less for my convictions and more for healthfulness. When I examined my life and considered what would make me happy, living a healthier lifestyle was one of the first things that sprang to mind. I’m now inundated with insight about what exactly is going into my body. While researching a vegan red velvet recipe, some knowledge was dropped on me about carmine and I became enraged. I want to be clear about just what bothers me about red food dye coming from crushed bugs: it’s not so much the bugs dying. I dislike bugs. I kill spiders and ants and centipedes (oh my!). Insects are necessary to Planet Earth but that doesn’t mean I welcome them crawling on me. I really hate them. I’m not so much bothered by the fact that they were killed and turned into foodstuffs. What I’m bothered by is that a) eating bugs is an extremely unpleasant thought. and b) I’ve gone 23 years having had no idea about this.

I consider myself pretty educated and well-read. I purposely steer away from PETA, etc., because I know that slaughterhouses are awful and I know that pumping our cows full of antibiotics is disgusting and I don’t really want to see it, because if I see it, I’ll cry (or barf). I choose to shield my impressionable mind from it. But I am at least aware of it. The thing that bothers me most about this carmine business is that I HAD NO IDEA WHAT CARMINE WAS. And I want to assure you that if I saw “carmine” on a food label, here is what my thought process would be: hmm, sounds chemical-y, it’s probably a preservative, but at least it’s not chickenstock so looks like I can eat this! You have to be stubbornly educated to know what goes into your ingredients, and most consumers are passive. For most, slapping on the word “ORGANIC” is enough to feel pretty good about your choices and forget about what goes in to manufacturing the food you’re feeding your body with. This makes me feel both angry at the common ignorance of consumers and angry at the secrecy of manufacturers and the manipulation of using branding such as “organic” when there are virtually zero regulations determining what can be considered “organic” or “natural” or “green” or whatever other buzz words are floating around out there.

Putting my convictions about ethical treatment of animals aside, if I were to “go vegan” it would be more of a dietary choice because I feel that it is my right to know exactly what I am ingesting. Something as wholesome as freshly baked cookies can have such a gruesome, disturbing underbelly. And why is it necessary to bleach sugar with bone char? Is it really the case that if sugar was shelved in all the glory of its natural color, we wouldn’t buy it? It’s ironic to transform something to the color of purity using something so unnecessarily impure.

And while I sit here tackling my own ignorance (I don’t know how I lived this long without knowing about carmine or sugar), I would then have to face the ignorance of my peers. Deciding to “go vegan” puts your beliefs out there in a way that provokes others to criticize. Vegans get a bad rap for appearing pretentious or thinking that they’re better than omnivores (anyone seen Scott Pilgrim?) and this is only because vegan choices are “othered.” People would rather ignore the truths about food production and are, for whatever reason, put off by people who choose to not ignore. If I go vegan, it’s not anybody’s damn business unless I make it their business, but I can see several future conversations with non-vegans where I am expected to present my case. What if I don’t want to talk about my case? What if I want to just do what I do and have it affect only me and my body? I am not going to persuade anybody to give up meat or dairy. I would be happy to speak with an open-minded person who isn’t going to shoot me down, but I’m not about to engage in any verbal spars with people unwilling to accept that I come with peace.

IRL, I have spoken to no one about this except for my boyfriend and my best friend. I have a very openly-vegan coworker and I had several opportunities to discuss my sentiments with her today, but I didn’t bring it up. I don’t want to put myself out there. I don’t want to make this my office’s business or my family’s business. I also don’t feel comfortable putting my body in the limelight. If, for example, I adopted a vegan lifestyle and it led to successful weightloss because I am being more conscious about my food choices, and then say I “fell off the wagon” and started eating dairy and that led to an unfortunate weight gain, my body has invited public discourse. I need to lose weight and I don’t need anyone to tell me that for me to know. If I lose weight and then gain weight, that is not an invitation for conversation about it. This is my battle to fight and I don’t need the negativity or the “I told you so”s that come with a dietary or lifestyle change.

Being vegetarian has prepared me for what I know comes next: ignorance from all directions. A vegan vs. omnivore throw-down is not something I’m willing to entertain. I am a commitment-phobe about most things and that is one reason for teetering on the vegetarian/vegan edge, for now. I am in the research-phase. I am learning. I am trying to decide if something like this is sustainable for me. For once, I am considering a lot before throwing myself into something. This is something I don’t normally do when weighing decisions, and I give myself props for that because educating yourself should be the root of all major life choices.

I shouldn’t have to feel like “coming out” as vegan is the same as coming out as an alcoholic, but in actuality the two are very analogous. If an alcoholic goes out and has a beer, it becomes a topic of discussion. If a vegan goes out and eats a grilled cheese sandwich, stop the presses!–it becomes big news. I don’t want to live in fear of failure and I don’t want to be compared to an addict. I won’t accept that treatment and I will turn a deaf ear to it if and when it comes time to cross that bridge.

And that, friends, is how I feel about that.

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5 thoughts on “vegan vs. omnivore: the battle royale

  1. Well, it seems like a big part of the problem is excessive labeling. You can make healthy choices and be vegan-ish without having to explain your choices to others or pick a silly label (flexitarian, pescatarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian…etc). The fact is, every healthy choice you make is a benefit to you and the planet. I think people are WAY too hard on themselves and each other, when we should be hard on the FDA, USDA, and any other organization that should be looking out for us, and isn’t. The only person you have to answer to about your own diet is yourself. If you go vegan and occasionally eat honey, cheese, or whatever, you haven’t “undone” everything you’ve worked for. Just the fact that you’re a conscious consumer is a HUGE step forward! When I started changing my diet, it was hugely helpful to surround myself with people (or even just reading material) that was encouraging, not judgmental or totalitarian. Every good choice is a step-forward, and slip-ups come with the territory.

    Also, try the White Stripes 😉

    • This is the most encouraged I’ve felt all day!! Thank you. And White Stripes–yes! I have only one of their full albums (Elephant) and I went through a one-month span of pure obsession. I should check out some of their other albums!

    • Great comment! the other thing to surround yourself with is food that you’ll feel good about eating. At home it’s all about what you’ve brought into your environment, coz when you want to snack, you’ll eat what’s there.

  2. Melissa says:

    I really think Katie left the best comment of all of us! I guess the only thing I’d like to add is being vegan is totally up to you and it’s no one’s business but yours! So far I’ve been lucky enough to get people who don’t tease the F out of me about being vegan, but it is hard sometimes when you go out and can’t order “normal” things at omni restaurants.

    Like Katie said, being a conscious consumer is a huge step and really the biggest thing. If more people would simply be conscious about what they eat (regardless if they’re meat eaters or vegetarian or vegan), the world would be a better place because people would (hopefully) demand better quality and better food production standards.

    I think the only reason I would encourage people to be more vocal vegans/vegetarians, again, regardless of their size/weight loss/weight gain, is because people usually come to you with questions and, generally, aren’t super judgmental. Will some people be really judgmental and criticize you to your face? Yeah, they will. With time though, they’ll fade away and with a positive demeanor, you’ll get more people interested in conscious eating.

    Just my 2 cents 🙂 I liked reading about your thought-process, by the way!! That’s probably what went through my head too, I just didn’t write it down so well 🙂

    Oh and… I have a horrible taste in music (pop), so I can’t give any great suggestions, haha 🙂

    • After I wrote this post, I was thinking the same thing–being vocal is necessary in order to enact change. I don’t expect all of my friends and family to adopt my beliefs and actions, but if I could get one person each day to re-examine their choices just by talking about my own foray into veganism, I would consider that a success. There’s so much knowledge out there that people shield themselves from because they’d rather go on without knowing “the truth”–it’s so easy in our culture to be passive, and that’s the root of the problem.

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