On labels

As of today, I’ve been vegan for nearly a month and a half. Previously, I was a vegetarian for over ten years (except for a few Italian hoagies during my middle school years. Not gonna lie.), so I didn’t anticipate a huge change by eliminating dairy and eggs from my life(style).

Boy, was I wrong.

To start, there is dairy and eggs in EVERYTHING. Most chocolate. Bread. Nutella. Granola. Noodles. It’s not impossible to find bread that’s vegan on grocery store shelves (or chocolate, otherwise we would have a serious problem) but it does require work. Similarly, most restaurants have one or two vegan options but sometimes there aren’t any. At all. Essentially, I didn’t expect eating to become such a chore.

Another thing I didn’t expect was people’s reactions. While most of my friends and family have been supportive, if not enthusiastic, about my choice, nearly everyone has asked “but… why?” My answer was simply that it was lent, I wanted to challenge myself, and, well, why not? Which led to “are you going to stay vegan when lent is over?”

In a word, no.

See, while most people accepted my decision, a lot didn’t. There were friends were were scared of my veganism and refused to eat with me. Others would just look at me and go “that’s just not normal. I would never do that.” I respect these opinions (and somewhat bizarre fears), but it hurt. I felt isolated enough trying to find food I could eat without those I loved acting like I was making a stupid choice.

My decision not to remain vegan is not only caused by the difficulty that the lifestyle entails, but also the label that comes with it. I don’t like getting nasty looks when I ask for soymilk in my coffee. I am tired of explaining my lifestyle over and over. I don’t want to be the “happy vegan” just to prove to people that vegans aren’t all weird hippy dippy dirt-eaters who have animal sanctuaries and vegetable gardens in our backyards (not that I would say no to a vegetable garden).

So although I am no longer going to call myself a vegan, I hope to continue eating 90% vegan foods. I have made healthier choices in the past weeks than ever previously before. I ate a lot more vegetables, nuts, beans, and other unprocessed foods than I was previously incorporating into my diet. I rarely feel sickeningly full and go to bed confident I got in all of my five-a-day. That being said, I missed out on a lot of great looking foods on my spring break trip and I really, really love cheese. So every once in awhile, guess what? I’m going to eat it. And brownies and cadbury mini eggs and ice cream, too.

I’m also going to try and learn from my experience and work on being more open about other people’s lifestyle choices. I don’t consider myself a racist, sexist, or homophobic person, but there are other aspects to a lifestyle that people may scorn (including decisions about what (not) to eat) and I want to be an example of open-minded thinking.

So hug a vegan today! And remember that being open-minded can really make a difference to someone else.

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