If I remember correctly, I’ve been a vegetarian since 1994, though to be honest, it’s been long enough that I may not have the exact year straight in my head. Suffice it to say that for the better part of two decades I have eschewed the carnivorous lifestyle. I have done this as a matter of personal choice.
That’s the part I think almost no one understands. Everyone wants to know the reason, and if you read enough student essays on vegetarians, you will know that there are always three possibilities for the reason — health concerns, animal welfare activism, and religious beliefs. I can’t say that I have taken much of a stand for any of the three, nor have I ever really cared that I did. I am a vegetarian out of personal choice.
I don’t have an argument to make here. I don’t eat meat. I just don’t. This isn’t about what you eat or what anyone else eats. I just don’t eat meat.
Don’t get me wrong. I love animals, and I am squeamish about eating them. I also believe in the health benefits of a plant-based diet. I’m not opposed to the reasons commonly given for vegetarianism. I’m just not committed enough to any one of them to claim one as the reason I don’t eat meat. I have a brother who doesn’t eat spinach, and I don’t eat meat. These are our personal preferences. And the one thing you can’t argue someone down on is personal preference. If you like blue and I like green, we can argue all day, and you will still like blue, and I will still like green. Preferences are not positions supported with evidence, and thus they are not convictions people can be persuaded to or away from. They just are.
This is why it doesn’t tempt me when you hold a steak up in front of me and say, “Don’t you just want one bite?” I use this example because something like it happens every day of my life that I am around other people. I am not tempted because I truly never wanted the steak. I wasn’t sitting there depriving myself out of some misguided principle that you will be the one person to lure me away from with your clever ploys. If I wanted to eat the steak I would.
But I don’t.
And despite the fact that I haven’t said anything about you eating it and haven’t even thought about what I think of you eating it — because seeing people eat things I don’t eat is no different from seeing people wear shoes I don’t wear — my not eating it seems to bother you. That’s why when you can’t tempt me, you take up arguing with me and/or ridiculing me. And yes, I know this is what you are going to do because it happens at every meal, and has been happening at every meal for nearly twenty years. My favorite line, by the way, is the one about the bugs in the rice. You know you can’t really be a vegetarian if you eat plants because plants always have some bugs cooked in with them, and bugs are creatures too. Yes, yes, I’ve heard that.
I say all of this to say that despite the fact that I have been a vegetarian all these years, I have never even attempted to become a vegan. The very thought of social interaction as a vegan exhausts me. The thought of the number of people who would try to feed me salad with ranch dressing on it, thinking that is what vegans eat, exhausts me. The thought of trying to explain in restaurants in Mississippi what can and cannot be included on a vegan plate exhausts me.
I know it can’t be easy. The social aspects of being a vegetarian have never been easy. Almost no one can resist harassing the vegetarian. The vegetarian in the room at any event involving food is always the kid whose mother dresses her funny. Always.
Still, I can’t resist a challenge, and I have decided that I am going to go vegan for the month of September just to see what happens. Last September, Robert St. John, a self-described devout carnivore did this. If he can do it, I can do it.
Already my question is not “what will I eat?” I expect I’ll learn a good bit about what is available for vegans, but I do have a pretty good idea of how to go about it, and I don’t think that what I eat will be the hard part. I just dread dealing with what people will say. I dread the renewed vigor with which people will try to sway me in my eating preferences. I dread going to events at which the only thing vegan available is the iced tea. I dread what other people will do to try to feed me at these events.
I dread it, but I’m going to deal with it. The thirty days of September will be egg and dairy free for me because I want to find out what it is like to be a vegan for a month.
Details to follow…