It’s been over 2 months since I embarked on this new lifestyle and while it’s really none of anyone’s business, I felt it was time to start explaining myself. Everybody who knows me knows I’m a sucker for sweets, and the last thing I wanted anyone to think in social situations when I’m avoiding cupcakes is that I have an eating disorder. I also don’t want to be difficult or put anyone in a weird situation where they feel like they have to rack their brains to come up with vegan options for me. Everybody already knows I’m a vegetarian and I think it’s hard enough for them to stock their parties with stuff I can munch on, and I hate to complicate the matter even further. I just don’t like being the center of attention and I definitely don’t like being a hassle.
I’m attending a baby shower today and I’ve been nervous about it ever since I got my invitation. In normal situations, it would be perfectly acceptable to bring a dish to pass and then everybody wins, but this particular party is being thrown by a chef and her mother. They are wonderful cooks and they make delicious, complicated dishes and I didn’t want to be the asshole that brings a dish to pass. Cooking is their life and while I can’t say that they’d be defensive or irate, I just didn’t want to overstep my bounds by bringing something that I wasn’t invited to bring. These are extenuating circumstances–normally, bringing a dish would be no big deal. They know me well (they’re extended relatives) and they are always so good about making sure I can eat a few things, and the last thing I wanted was for them to prepare me something special that I now can’t eat because I’ve eliminated eggs, dairy, etc. Shit.
I’ve been trying to bring this up to my mom when I see her but the past few times I’ve stopped by my parents’ house, she hasn’t been home. So it came down to this: the party is today and I saw her last night. I’ve asked on the phone if she knows what the food situation is going to be and she kept mum on the subject because she didn’t know. I didn’t want to break the news of my new lifestyle over the phone, so I waited patiently until the time was right.
I stopped by last night to do some laundry (yes, I do laundry at my parents’ still, lame I know) and she asked if I wanted a beer. I knew it was time to sit down and chat about how we’ve been so I decided to pry again about the food. I casually said that I’m kind of worried because I don’t eat dairy anymore and they might make something special for me that has cheese or eggs. She was confused, “what do you mean you don’t eat dairy? And eggs aren’t dairy, anyway.” I corrected myself: “Well, I don’t eat dairy or eggs…I don’t eat any animal products anymore.” She put two and two together and exclaimed, “so you’re vegan now?!” I immediately tensed up because her disapproval was exactly what I’ve been avoiding. For all intents and purposes, this looked like one of those awkward conversations I’m sure I’ll be included in many times in the future where I have to defend my lifestyle without being obnoxious. I immediately became apologetic and this is an abridged version of the monologue I delivered:
“Yes, I decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle, and I haven’t talked to anyone about it because I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, I didn’t know if I was going to stick with it, and I don’t want to be one of those obnoxious people who is always changing her eating habits and dragging everyone into all the stupid details. It doesn’t affect anyone and it’s no one’s business but I didn’t know how to approach this because I’m going to be in social situations where I can’t eat what everyone else is eating, and I don’t want people looking at me wondering why, and I don’t want to bring it up and make the host or hostess feel uncomfortable because they didn’t know. The only person who knows is James and I just didn’t want to make this a big deal because it isn’t a big deal, it’s just what I’m doing now.”
Instead of the uber-criticalness I was expecting, she said the nicest thing I’ve ever heard. “It doesn’t matter what you eat and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. You may be vegan now and it doesn’t necessarily mean you always will be. You are allowed to change your mind and it doesn’t matter how people judge you if or when that might happen. I was just talking to someone about how you’re a vegetarian and they asked me about whether or not you still wear leather shoes. I told her, ‘Well it’s not like she’s vegan, that girl loves her shoes!'” At this point we both laughed. “I told her that the coolest part of you being vegetarian for so long was that you have never, ever preached to us, you have no problem sitting at a table with others eating meat and you’ve never been disgusted…or at least, you haven’t voiced that you’re disgusted, which you may be. You have never been judgmental and that is the best part.”
This made me feel really good and really relieved. She then asked, “so what do you eat?” I knew that was coming. I told her that the world has become my oyster. As a vegetarian, I always felt trapped by the same five meals I always ate, but since restricting my diet further, I’ve found a whole world of foods, vegetables, fruits, etc., that I never ate before. I told her that I’m doing this right, paying attention to my nutrition, making sure I’m getting plenty of protein. I also told her that vegan baked goods are delicious. She kind of scoffed at this, which I knew she would, but she was so NOT judgmental. I was so worried that she’d think I was a freak, or stupid, and I know that’s stupid to think…but I did. I didn’t want to have to defend myself to my family. But she didn’t even put me in a position where I felt like I’d have to.
So that’s that.
I’ve also told a couple of coworkers, and all of them were supportive, think it’s great, and are proud of me because at the same time, they’ve been hearing about how I’m training for this 5k. Everybody has been so great, nobody thinks I’m a freak, and nobody can say I’ve been preachy because I haven’t been. Excuse me for a second while I revel in my smugness…I feel really good. I cleared my first vegan obstacle. There are many hurdles lurking in the future but I got past one and I think I can get past others.
The baby shower is at 2:00 today, and I really don’t think my eating will be a conversation topic. This party isn’t about me, anyway. It was selfish to think that anyone will even be paying attention to what’s on my plate. We are celebrating a mother-to-be and her beautiful bundle of joy on the way. This party is about the two of them, not me.