In the South, people look at you funny when you politely decline a slab of ribs or a chicken sandwich. I think this is one reason why I didn't completely stop eating meat until August 2007. I've been a vegetarian for 2 years now and strictly vegan for slightly less time than that and I'm still going strong. My eating habits were quickly established within the first few months of being vegan, but after about a year or so of my new diet, I’m beginning to question where the rational thinker ends and the self-righteous asshole begins?
Do I feel good because I think I'm doing the right thing by abstaining from this kind of food, or do I feel bad as a guest because I didn't try out the host's Triple-Layer Chocolate Chunk Masterpiece because the recipe called for a tablespoon of butter?
Is it worth it to go through the motions of promoting higher thinking through your actions, even when your actions are viewed simply as rude?
— The Questioning Vegan
As a fellow vegan, I feel pretty qualified to answer this one. I’ve been vegan for five years and vegetarian for 15 years. Both dietary shifts were made for ethical reasons, though the health benefits are a nice bonus.
When I went vegetarian at age 14, I remember feeling a little awkward going through the Burger King drive-thru to order a Whopper with no meat (yes, I actually did that). But after going vegan, I realized it was much harder to make some party hosts and servers understand my dietary concerns.
A couple of years ago, I visited a very sweet Indian woman’s home to shoot some photos of her artwork for a story. She was ridiculously gracious, insisting that I stay for dinner. I attempted to politely decline, but she wasn’t having it. She said she was a vegetarian, and so I thought, “What the heck?”
Big mistake. At the time, I didn’t realize Indian food often contains ghee (butter) and some other dairy products. When she served me a hot cup of chai with milk (that she’d made just for me), I knew it’d break her heart if I turned it down. So I drank it, silently cringing about my ethics going down the drain. That chai was followed by a whole meal filled with butter and other dairy products. And I ate it all.
Later, my stomach started cramping and I knew it was due to the reintroduction of dairy. I was paying for falling back on my personal ethics. After that day, I decided that, no matter what the situation, I would always tell a host that I simply cannot eat animal products. If I’m viewed as rude for that, that’s the host’s problem — not mine. What I choose to put into my body is my decision.
I think most people understand the importance of maintaining one's personal ethics. And veganism is becoming more and more mainstream. The best way to avoid seeming rude or being tempted by that Triple-Layer Chocolate Chunk Masterpiece is to bring your own delicious vegan dessert to the party.
The moral to this long response? Don’t forgo your personal ethics to please someone else.
Got a problem? E-mail Bianca at firstname.lastname@example.org.