This summer we celebrate the fourth year of the Grand Vegan Experiment. I’ve done well keeping my promise not to turn this into a vegan blog. I also promised I would post remarkable developments as they happen but after four years there aren’t many surprises anymore. But oh, there are tedium. Chief of Tedium after four years is the acknowledgment that if you’re vegan and you want to eat in peace, you’ll have to eat alone.
After four years I am tired of explaining my food, and not necessarily only in restaurants. I have written about the restaurant ritual before. Restaurant dining naturally exposes you as vegan even if you had no intention of revealing the information. The tedium here is that around a table in a restaurant the vegan will be the only person required to justify her food choices. But that’s an occasional event. I don’t dine out much.
What do I do every damn day? I take my lunch to work. And every damn day I have to explain my lunch. Even if I try to eat lunch alone the gawkers seek me out as soon as they hear the microwave or the refrigerator door. A special effort is made to come investigate my food and question me about it. Even if I try to sneak quiet food which doesn’t require heating, the presence of a plate in front of me triggers the interview as soon as it is observed.
After years of this I am resigned to lunching earlier than everyone else to avoid communal dining yet still they come hunting me. I retreat to my office and still they come hunting. They will interrupt their own work, leave their own work spaces, and come find me for the purpose of inspecting my food and questioning me about it. The glittering irony is that if I refuse to submit to this I am the rude one. Every damn day.
What is that? What’s in it? What in the world is (insert ingredient foreign to them)? What’s it taste like? Is it good? Did you make it? How did you replace (insert commonly used animal product)? Where do you buy something like that?
It’s gotten to the point I sometimes reconsider packing certain leftovers for lunch because I know the aroma is going to summon the herd. Do you get the significance of that statement? I will consider curtailing my own freedom and pleasure to relieve the social obligation of testimony. And if my food happens to resemble something non-vegan, such as a burger or melted cheese, the interrogation will be so much worse. There is an automatic assumption that I must be cheating. Then in addition to the regular amount of explaining I have to exonerate my food. My food has done nothing wrong and neither have I.
Are you eating a burger!? Is that cheese!?
No, it’s a plant-based patty. No, it’s fake cheese.
But it looks like … But it smells like …
(sigh) It’s not.
Cue the disbelief, because the popular assumption is that plants don’t taste good, ergo they can’t possibly smell good, and plants only look like salad. So they want to inspect it more closely, more meticulously, for the purposes of assigning a grossness factor when they detect a flake of some vegetable they don’t like. Ewww, is that carrot? What are the red specks? Day after day, week after week.
I kid you not, these folks will stomp on the brakes if they happen to walk by and see me eating something as benign as a sandwich. Halt. Stop. Assault me with their expressions. With genuine incredulousness in their voices, Are you eating BREAD!? It’s rare that I do, so it’s a scandal when I do, and then I must exonerate the bread.
Where did you find vegan bread? Etc. Etc. Etc.
No matter how many times I explain, correct, or clarify, I’m expected to answer the same damn questions over and over:
Wait, you can eat pasta? Yes, some pasta (and then explain again).
I thought you couldn’t eat chocolate? Chocolate with no dairy (and then explain again).
But what’s it made of? Plants (and then explain which plants).
How do you know it’s vegan? I read the ingredients (here, check ’em yourself).
Every. Goddamn. Day.
And this, my friends, is on my own break time, my own lunch hour, in my own work space, sometimes even with the door closed. I never get to eat in peace. Dining in public is sure to bring all this on but with the same handful of coworkers every single day? Can’t I get a pass? No, I can’t.
I went to a wedding last month. It was a family wedding. Dinner at the reception was a buffet of classic southern American barbecue. Pulled pork, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, beans with pork, a salad littered with shredded cheese, and banana pudding in addition to the wedding cake. The only thing on the buffet I could eat were dill pickles. I grabbed a small plate and nibbled a small snack of dill pickles just so 1) I could participate, and 2) I could eat something to hold me until I could get my own dinner afterward.
Of course I am going to have to answer questions about this pickles-only predicament. I know there is no escape in this situation. Holiday dinners of any kind; same. But when I cook my own dinner at home and bring leftovers to work the next day for lunch, I still have to be interviewed about it by the same folks who interview me every day and never retain any information sufficiently enough to quell the next day’s preoccupation with my meals. After four years of it, imagine how thin my patience wears.
I’ve considered going out to lunch alone but saving money is one of my favorite hobbies, along with not wasting food. Even if I set that aside, this option feels like sacrificing myself for the peace and sovereignty people assume I forfeited when I became vegan. People feel entitled to demand my testimony and it’s not just the veganism. Folks do this with many lifestyle choices and consider it completely innocuous. I’m just curious. I’m only trying to understand. You don’t have to be rude. Continuing to endure the daily interviews feels like submitting to social bondage and/or enabling the herd to expect and normalize this. The only alternative I feel is left is refusal and revolt.
I’d have to take a stand. I’d have to say something like, “I no longer explain my food choices.” Can you imagine? With coworkers? Family? Friends? Imagine the reactions. I truly don’t know which feels more daunting; continuing to submit or refusing to explain. A few years ago I watched a popular lifestyle blogger finally get fed up with explaining her fatness. She decided her body owes no one an explanation anymore. This meant she gave up blogging about body positivity because as she put it, a platform of constantly vocalizing body positivity enables the need for it. When we become genuinely sovereign, there is no need to explain, justify, or exonerate our bodies or our choices. We simply rule.
When folks challenged her with the permission argument (using her platform to advocate so others would feel permission to be positive about their bodies) she shot back, in summary, they can still see me kicking ass while fat. They will also see me kicking ass while fat without explaining why this remarkable. It’s not remarkable. It’s freedom.
And y’all, I don’t see the point of practicing sovereignty in half-measures. If I renounce this obligatory civil procedure I’ll have to do it with strangers and acquaintances alike, which is going to make me a target for even more judgment. I’ll get a new set of questions, first among them, “Why not?” Because I not only owe you an explanation for my nourishment I also owe you an explanation for opting out of its defense, right? Wrong. It’s considered polite for me to submit to this, but how is it polite for you assume you are owed a deposition every time you see me feeding myself?
I think I’m done. I’ve talked myself into it.
Four years is enough. If patiently explaining was going to work, it would have worked by now. Disband the committee. I will no longer cooperate with your examination.
Starting today, I no longer explain my food choices.
That’s right. I eat food. I don’t answer questions about it.
I get to eat food without a trial. I owe you nothing for this privilege.
Be well, friends.