Food

The Problem with Being Vegan

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I got you with that title, didn’t I? You were secretly hoping that I was going to start this article off by saying that being vegan is absolutely awful, and not only that, but it’s also straight up difficult. You were secretly hoping I’d say these things so that you would feel less victimized by me and all my vegan-related Facebook posts, and so that you could go on eating meat without feeling bad about it, because really, going vegan is just not a feasible option for you. Well, I hate to disappoint, but this article is not leading in that direction at all. In fact, what is coming next may take you completely off guard.

What’s the hardest part about being vegan? No, it’s not getting enough protein. No, it’s not making good tasting meals. No, it’s not eating out, and no, it’s not grocery shopping either despite what you’ve been told. It’s actually you. There, I said it. Now, before you get defensive and upset, hear me out.

Veganism: “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

The term “vegan” is a relatively new one, and it’s only as of late that being a vegan has become a practical, simplistic lifestyle to lead with the cooperation of restaurants and numerous grocery stores. So what is my issue with all of this? Nothing. Diddley squat. Zilch. Zero. It’s not the act of being vegan, it’s the actions and words that I receive from others as a result of being vegan that are the real problem.

It wasn’t until this past September—when I decided to cut meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs out of my diet for good—that I realized just how trapped our society is. Growing up, it was almost as if we had been knocked unconscious, hypnotized, and fed the same lines over and over again in hopes that we would obey without question. Eat lots of meat; you need it to get enough protein and be healthy. Drink milk everyday and eat cheese; they will make your bones strong. Eat eggs every morning; they are a critical component of a healthy, balanced breakfast. We heard these messages from countless sources (our parents, our coaches, our teachers, our TVs, our radios, our newspapers, and especially our grandparents), and we ate it up like a kid in a candy shop. Why question such delicious, logical, and rational advice? What right did we, the children, have to question and become skeptical about what was placed on our plates every night for dinner? So we didn’t. We abided by these guidelines with ease and we ate our way through our teen years without thinking twice about our choices—until now, that is.

When I made the decision to go vegan, I felt as though a large weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like someone had finally taken off my blindfold and showed me the truth that laid behind the picture-perfect and packaged meats, eggs, and other dairy products that I was consuming on a daily basis (would you believe me if I said that I ate gelato and pizza almost every day while I was travelling up until three weeks before going vegan?). I suddenly felt awake, and more importantly, I felt an overwhelming sense of compassion fill me. How had I been so ignorant before? How had I not made the connection between slaughterhouses and bacon, caged chickens and sandwich meat, or dog-house sized cages and veal? Or, should I be asking myself, how did I pretend not to notice, instead?

I ate meat my entire life. I loved it, and I believed every single message that the corporations told me, including the Canadian food guide. “Wait, what?” you ask. Oh, did no one tell you? The messages that you’re told growing up, and yes, that includes the ones that you still hear today that pertain to animal agriculture are fed to you by the hands of wealthy, multi-million dollar corporations who want nothing more than for you to eat their products. They are the geniuses behind those “Got Milk?” ads, they are the ones who tell you to “Get Cracking” in the morning, and the best part is, they don’t want you to know that they are setting the very dietary guidelines for your country that are supposedly created by your trusted “government”. If that doesn’t seem outrageous to you, then I don’t know what will.

So how are you my problem? What do I have against you that makes my daily life as a vegan a struggle? The thing is, you probably don’t even know you’re doing it, and that is most likely because you have been programmed to do and say these things purely out of fear. Your condescending questions, your critiques, and even your unrequested “feedback” are what drive us vegans insane. So yes, that means that it’s not the fact that you eat meat in front of us, talk about how good your burger tastes, or make shifty eyes our way when you ask for extra cheese; it’s actually the “so how do you get your protein?”, “don’t you miss meat?”, “are you sure you don’t want a bite of my steak?”, “doesn’t growing plants contribute to global warming too?”, “why would you ever give up cheese?” kinds of questions that drive us insane. As vegans, it is safe to say that the majority of us are just as passionate about helping the planet as we are about the individual animals that we save by abstaining from eating them or any of their by-products. And let me tell you, we are one hell of an educated group. We have watched documentary after documentary, we have read every scientific, nutritional, animal-related, and environmental article we could, and we try our very best to inform ourselves on either side of the argument to make sure that our stance is valid. Can the same thing be said for the majority of meat-eaters?

Our problem with you is not your non-veganness, I promise. Our problem is with your lack of knowledge of the industry, compassion, and your inability to put yourself in our shoes for even a minute (side note: I am not talking about all meat eaters here, but many whom I have personally interacted with). We get it. Not eating meat seems like the most irrational decision that a human could ever make in the 21st century—this is something I thought myself before going vegan. But have you given thought to the fact that the same could have been applied to female voters and equality for black people 100 years ago? Life changes and evolves just like we do, and the sooner we grow a pair and learn to face our fears of what lies outside of the boundaries of “normal”, the sooner we can learn to live side-by-side in peace as vegans and meat-eaters. The fact is, more often than not, I have felt a genuine sense of fear oozing from my meat eating friends, which causes them to become defensive, angry, and frantic as soon as I even bring up the word “vegan” in any context. I am not judging you like you think I am, but somehow, my label as “vegan” automatically puts you in ultra defence mode as if I’m going to call you out at any moment for what’s on your plate.

Where is this fear stemming from? Why are so many meat-eaters afraid of admitting that being vegan might actually be an okay thing? When I first told my family that I had decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle, you could have sworn they thought I said I was joining a cult. The look in their eyes said it all: disbelief. The truth is, this is a normal reaction when you have been told your entire life that you need animal products to thrive and survive and that nothing else really makes sense. You might even go as far as saying that making the choice to be vegan makes someone crazy. Believe it or not, this is essentially what my family saw me as, and secretly still does to this day.

I felt isolated, hurt, rejected, unwanted, and yes, even crazy. I adopted all of these labels and internalized their fear as my own. I began to tell myself that I probably wouldn’t be able to do it, that it would be too difficult, that I wouldn’t get the right vitamins and minerals, and that no one would want to hang out with me anymore or invite me to dinner because it would be too awkward to feed me. This didn’t last long, though, because the more I researched animal agriculture and the more I learned about the many ways that being vegan would positively affect my body, my planet, and even individual animals was enough to convince me that what the world says about me doesn’t matter. I’m not just a vegan, I am also a passionate and compassionate individual who wants to make a more impactful footprint in this world than the one that society has led me to believe is possible.

So yes, when you question my sanity and why I care about these things and you call me crazy for eliminating the one thing in my life that is suppose to make me normal, I take your words very seriously. They hurt me deeply, and I get agitated that no matter what I say, no matter how many documentaries I try to show you, and no matter how many delicious vegan meals I offer to cook for you, you will probably never understand how I feel about being vegan—it’s not something I can show you, it’s something you have to discover for yourself. And as you may have guessed, these feelings are incredibly isolating. I have never felt more alone in my life than I have these past seven months. I have questioned my decisions countless times and I have even second guessed what I’m doing when I specify to the waiter that I want “a vegetable sandwich with no cheese and sub mayo for guacamole”. But then, I remember why I’m doing it.

You see, I am a believer that we are not the centre of this universe. We are not the only beings on this planet, and the day that we decided to take the lives of loving, breathing sentient, pain-feeling beings on a mass scaled because we convinced ourselves that we need them for “optimal health”, is the day we gave arbitrariness a comfortable home on our planet. I am vegan because I have realized that injustice is not something that happens solely to our own species, and that if we don’t stop animal cruelty, no one else will.

So the next time you open your mouth to question me, my choices, and my apparent absurdity, think twice before you do so, and ask yourself what is prompting you to make such statements. Is it fear? Is it guilt? Is it disgust? Or is it simply curiosity? There is a profound difference between a person who is interested in veganism and one who is purely out to devalue those that do not share their views. I know, because I was one of those people not too long ago. And yes, the coin can be flipped both ways. I do not judge others who eat meat and I stay away from arguments and debates that pertain to being vegan vs. eating meat. The fact of the matter is that we have individual choices, and I will respect yours so long as you educate yourself, get informed about what you’re putting on your plate, and respect mine in return. I was once in your shoes, and although I do not plan on returning anytime soon, I have seen exactly what you see. I have hidden in that dark cave, and I know how difficult it is to face the light, even when it’s shining right in your eyes.

My name is Roslyn Kent. I have 99% problems, but being vegan is not one.