About a week ago, I read a really thought-provoking post by Turning Veganese about the difficulties associated with fully commiting to a vegan lifestyle. What resonated most with me is what Melissa writes about how difficult it can be when dining out, or really in all social situations in general. I’ve digested the post for the past few days and have been thinking really hard about my own struggles with this new life. It isn’t always easy, and not for the reasons you might expect: I don’t find myself craving cheese or eggs, which really were the entire reason I overstayed my welcome in vegetarian purgatory for so long. Nothing was better than mozzarella sticks or nachos–but I started to realize that what I was craving was more the junkfood than the cheese. I was just plain unhealthy, and my hallmark reason for adopting my new diet was, first and foremost, for my health.
I haven’t really looked back since. I’ve been incredibly happy and I’ve been slowly but surely finding my place in the kitchen. To be honest, I don’t have much of a social life these days so I hadn’t really struggled too much in that department. I found out a little late that most Thai curries contain shrimp paste and even Pad Thai without the eggs contains fish sauce. These are hurdles I crossed and now I know better–and can veganize these dishes from the safety of my own kitchen. I educated myself about casein and whey, which really tick me off because most vegetable-based margarines are not safe for vegans to eat. Who’s idea was that? The more I learn, the more infuriated I become with food manufacturers. I know the knowledge I carry with me now is only the tip of the iceberg: I’m too queasy to dig much further. I cannot watch Earthlings.
What comes with this frustration with the food manufacturing industry is a parallel frustration with the hospitality industry. It bothers me that the restaurants decent enough to list one vegetarian menu option rarely make that vegetarian option a vegan option. I politely neglect to get too fired up about cross-contamination because when dining out at a non-vegan establishment, that’s a risk you take. You’re not able to babysit the kitchen staff. And that’s why I cook as much of my own food as I can. I’ve taken to packing my own lunches and I’m picky about the places I will dine out at. I don’t like to be difficult and I’m quite shy about my needs. I don’t feel that they’re as justified as, say, an allergy, so I try not to make a big stink about anything. I’ve been forced to abandon my favorite mom-and-pop restaurants for this reason: they don’t offer the perk of being able to perform extensive online research that chains offer. I can google Cheesecake Factory Vegan Options and a ton of search results are at my finger tips. I can’t do the same for my neighborhood Mexican joint. It’s frustrating and disheartening and quite frankly, it hurts. I’ve never been much of a fan of chain restaurants, but living where I do in the suburbs, there are very few places where I can safely order a vegan meal. Even in San Francisco, with the plethora of vegan options, we found it difficult to find something after a certain hour in the neighborhood we were staying. It’s a difficult and challenging task we’re charged with as vegans: constantly planning and researching. It’s rewarding because I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m eating cleanly and cruelty-free, but easy it is not.
I have been lax at times. I order the same dish I’ve always ordered at my favorite Chinese restaurant, not knowing whether or not it contains oyster sauce and frankly, too afraid to ask. I eat french fries when I crave something fried. I have eaten honey BBQ sauce in the recent past and I have eaten the veggie delite sub at Subway, knowing that the breads are mostly not vegan. I still have a bag of bleached sugar that I use when baking because I refuse to waste it. I have ordered pastas at restaurants and asked for “no cheese,” not knowing whether or not the server wrote down my request or the kitchen remembered to accommodate it. As a vegetarian, I always joked that chickenstock finds it’s way into everything. Now the enemy is dairy and dairy by-products. Even the foods I buy warn that they are manufactured in the a facility that also uses eggs and dairy. I am not 100% perfect and it’s hard to be 100% perfect.
The difference between me as a vegan versus me as a vegetarian is that, as a vegetarian, I always figured I’d eventually falter and fall back into meat-eating ways if I grew tired of the struggle. I’m proud to report that I feel no such fear in regard to my vegan self. I do not ever want this healthy, clean lifestyle to disappear. It will be an uphill battle and I think the best thing I, or anyone, can do is to keep absorbing the literature and research. The health facts alone point to why this lifestyle reigns supreme. Many people begin their vegan journey for the animals first. For me, it was my health first, but the more I learn, the more it becomes about the animals–and I think that’s what keeps me here.
People ask me why I decided to go this route and my answer now is: why not? I have zero reasons and a million reasons all at once. I couldn’t possibly turn it into a concise or coherent sentence. I know that I’m happy now with my choice and I don’t see a reason to have to defend it. And I’ll try not to be too hard on myself for not always being perfect. I suggest you all do the same.