For the past month or so, I have been reading the book Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. As you may have guessed, the book is exactly about eating animals and the implications of doing so. The implications that, for so many of us, typically go unnoticed.
I do not consider myself to be the righteous, holier-than-thou vegetarian who scoffs at those who enjoy chicken tenders or visits to the drive thru, but this book makes me consider what, exactly, my responsibility is as a “consumer” in the most basic sense of the word. As a part of my journey through this responsibility quest, I decided to try being vegan for a week, just to see what it would be like and whether or not I would go crazy not having any cheese or eggs around.
It didn't seem like that much of a challenge: I made the switch to soy milk back in high school, and over the years have grown increasingly intolerant to ice cream and some cheeses, so I figured the biggest issue I’d have would be egg withdrawal. But I felt secure in my decision. In fact, in the two days or so before I officially began, I found myself starting to phase things out because it seemed so simple. I had recipes picked out, snacks for lunch planned, and was ready for any food-related obstacles that might come my way. I thought I had my bases covered, but I had blindly forgotten one of the most critical aspects of food and eating: its social importance.
You can't one day become a vegan and assume that everyone is going to be on board. While my plan was just to try it out for seven days and see if I thought it was a sustainable lifestyle for me, I soon realized that even that required serious consideration in light of the people with whom I eat. Eating, as all of us know, is an incredibly social act. Eating alone is often considered unfortunate, and any event that we go to is certain to have a large table of food at the center. Without food, something is incomplete.
So here I was, skipping down the first leg of this journey, not realizing that there were already warning signs. Then, at dinner with my boyfriend, he asked a seemingly simple question: "Why do you want to do this?" (Funny how sometimes it’s those basic questions that we’ve forgotten to consider as we internally justify our decisions.) After a moment, I told him that it was simply a matter of giving it a try, and that until I could afford to know where my meat and dairy come from, I would rather not be buying and consuming it. Which is all well in good, he said, but then he gently reminded me that, hey, we eat together a lot, and, hey, he's not ready to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Oh, right. I don’t exist in a bubble. There are others to consider.
At first when I realized this, I became slightly resentful. I felt it was unfair that I should have to alter the decisions I wanted to make for reasons of ease or lack of readiness on the part of someone else. And then I started to think about his family, which already has to deal with juggling gluten-free, omnivorous, and vegetarian diets, and my own family, which is made up entirely of omnivores. While my family has always supported my diet decisions, I could imagine the look on my mother’s face as Christmas breakfasts and traditional family dinners would be forever memories to miss, not moments to look forward to. And as much as I wanted to be able to see the bright side of this decision and deny that anything would have to change, it wasn’t realistic. Things may not have to change for me—but this decision did not just involve me. Furthermore, I didn’t want to become a burden on those who welcomed me as guests. There’s nothing more unfortunate than the party guest who constantly inquires, “Um, what’s in this?” or, “Sorry, I can’t eat that. I’m vegan.” No matter how much you may want to power through it and pretend like it’s not a big deal, my ingrained Midwestern values have bred me not to be a bother. And, honestly, I just don’t want to be.
I made it through my week, and it went pretty well. Obviously, I ended up deciding that this was not a viable option for where I am in life. But that’s not to say that I came away with nothing from being vegan: more than anything, I think veganism serves as an important reminder to vegetarians that we need to focus on the “vegetable” part of our diets, not the easier-to-prepare, more readily available pasta, rice, and bread parts of our diet. From now on, I plan to eat vegan one week a month, just to continue reminding myself of this. Considering all the factors, that’s the best compromise I’ve been able to reach.