I’ve come across this topic of conversation quite a lot in the past while. Quite honestly, I feel like the more I have the conversation the less equipped I am for it. I remember listening to a podcast by one of my favourite vegan speakers, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau a few months ago called “Responses to ‘I’m Vegan’ and How to Reply”. This podcast was thoroughly informative and really helpful when it comes to certain run-of-the-mill confrontational experiences. To be frank, this is definitely not an easy topic to write on- it takes me in all directions. At the end of the day- there is no right and there is no wrong. In fact, I still struggle with this myself, often.
Before I get into this though, I must outline myself & set the bar straight. Am I am vegan currently? No, I am not. Have I been vegan? I have. Do I enjoy eating vegan food- absolutely. Do I hope to be a vegan one day? I see this happening, potentially, yes. The thing about defining who you are, in relation to what you eat, is that it starts to set boundaries and segregation- you (ie a vegan) versus others (ie. non-vegans). The thing about this, is that it is yet another form of separating ourselves from one another. This starts to not sit right with me, when, in the first place- I feel as though the reason veganism is quickly becoming a trend is due to people wanting to live more compassionately.
For me, since I’ve been traveling my now-rehearsed response is that “I am usually vegan at home however while I am traveling it is too difficult so I sometimes eat fish”. Depending on how you look at this, you could very easily call bullshit on me. What do I even mean by that? Of course, in simple terms- yes, it is difficult to be a vegan, anywhere, most especially traveling. However, a vegan would probably argue that traveling doesn’t stop them from being a true vegan. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau does a podcast on this, saying: you either ARE a vegan or you’re NOT. Fair enough, I get her point. However, the problem I had with this statement, and a lot of this particular podcast is that; by creating this concrete, solid boundary between vegan and non-vegan– it quickly highlights this separation that I believe we should be moving away from, not towards. I very much understand that becoming vegan is not that easy and requires a lot of commitment, life changes and dedication. Bravo! My issue with this is that this approach should still be vibrating with compassion. After all, veganism is about having so much compassion towards all living beings- that you change your life to protect them. All living beings, not just the ones that humans eat. Just like animals, humans are also very much misunderstood. We barely understand ourselves, let alone each other. Don’t get me wrong- I am a HUGE animal lover. I hope to dedicate my life towards animals. Also, let me just say- I have very much been a culprit of the separatism in the past (I am a vegan, you eat steak, therefore I am good and you are bad).
The thing about becoming vegan is that it is a journey. There a very few people that were born and decided that they wanted to be a vegan (at birth). Although I have not done research in this, I do believe that the only children that are a true vegan are ones who are born to vegan parents or in an area of the world where animal products are not available (is there such a place?) Given that it is a journey, this means that each person’s journey is their own. Some people become vegan because of a life experience with animals (witnessing the slaughtering of an animal or cruelty towards an animal). Others become vegan because of health reasons (cancer, obesity, blood pressure) and having been recommended by either a friend or health professional to change their diet (think Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead). Now, this is only 2 of many reasons why someone changes their lifestyle and eating habits and becomes a vegan. At the end of the day, they can fit into any of a few fundamentals reaons: ethical values, emotional experience and/or health issues. My point is that these transformations and decision were the result of something emotional/impactful that instigated this process of decisions and lifestyle changes.
I feel as though I need to back up. The reason why I am writing this blog post is not to attack either vegans or non-vegans. The reason I am writing this is because I felt inspired to share my journey with eating, as well as to alleviate some of the tension that may exist between vegans and non-vegans, as a result of a lack of understanding.
From my experience, it seems as though most of these conversations are born from one of two reasons (“why are you a vegan”): 1) a general curiosity or 2) an attack that may or may not be the result of misunderstanding or fear. I could be wrong, but this is just what I have uncovered from my own experiences.
So back to people’s journeys. Much like anything in life, nothing works if you try to force it on someone. This point has been proven time and time again. For instance, I am a holistic nutritionist. When I started studying to become a holistic nutritionist (and prior to it, to be honest) I was so open and hyper about this new found passion- that I couldn’t help but speak to everyone about it. It wasn’t that I was trying to push it onto everyone, however I’m sure that I came across as pretty strong. What started to happen is that I would get so invested in people’s questions and answering them- I would start to hope that maybe they would follow my advice and experience change. Of course, more often than not- this was not the case and I was left feeling slightly disappointed. Not only that, but sometimes it felt as if I had wasted my time. Through trial and error (and a few heart aches) I gradually began to learn that you cannot force anything on anybody. You cannot change people. The more you invest your time and energy on changing people around you, the worse you are going to feel. A dear friend & mentor, Sherry Strong, puts it well: I am not a vegan because I am not that evolved yet. The thing about becoming vegan is that in some regard it is an evolution.
Alternatively, the way to inspire change in others is to focus on you. Turn your lens around; stop looking around you; begin to look within. I have observed that more transformations have occurred in people who have approached me, rather than the alernative. It literally is a case of ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’.
Oh goodness, I seem to be rambling. Back to the main topic. The thing that gets on my nerves about someone questioning another about their eating patterns and choices- is that quite frankly, it’s none of their business. Before I became a vegetarian/vegan, I don’t ever remember someone asking me why I ordered chicken at the dinner table. If you think about it, it is quite absurd. It’s this thing about difference and separation that makes people uncomfortable. How is it so mind boggling that someone may decide to stop eating animal products and stick to plant-food. It seems pretty reasonable to me.
The next question, that always seems to come up- is where do you get your protein from? Where do you get all of your nutrients from? When it comes to this question, it really depends on who I am speaking to, as to how calm and collected I remain. Actually, when it comes to any of these questions regarding eating lifestyle- it depends on how i’m feeling/who i’m with/where I am– as to how the conversation goes. In this regard, that really is my bad. As a Holistic Nutritionist, I do strive to remain as calm as possible, because at the end of the day, I’d like to share the information I know and hope to inspire. In regards to the question on protein and nutrition- this is a topic for another blog post, however, rest assured- plants have an abundance of protein and nutrition in them (most especially those beautiful dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, chard & bok choy).
Something else that I would like to bring into this discussion is the concept of ‘mindful eating’. I do not go around preaching to everyone that they should or should not become vegan. I think each person is on their own journey, and they must make their own decisions (especially when it comes to eating). The thing that I do like to inspire and discuss with people is conscious eating. I was having this talk with someone the other day and he asked me why I don’t eat chicken anymore, if I once enjoyed it? It’s a great and valid question. My answer is that; I ate chicken when I used to eat unconsciously. This is also the time when I would happily go to an ‘all you can eat’ sushi joint and attempt to eat as much sashimi as I could. The whole idea behind ‘all you can eat’ really frustrates me now a days.
There are SO many issues that come into play when you think of all you can eat. Food waste, world hunger (controversy in itself), and the biggest one (in my mind) mass killing of animals. For what? So you can challenge yourself (and your stomach) to how much raw fish you can fit in during one sitting? It’s these kinds of things that make me upset. To be honest, the same emotion is sparked in me when I hear people talk about eating contests. You know what I’m talking about: hamburger eating contest, hot dog eating contest. The most recent: Margot Robbie on Jimmy Kimmel (promoting the new Wolf of Wall Street) talking about how she won a spaghetti bolognese eating contest. Of course, this eating contest ended with Margot’s health advisor administering her a charcoal tablet and her “spewing all 1.8kg of pasta out” a few minutes following her win. If you ask me, this sounds very similar to behaviours related to an eating disorder. So, what was the point? I can almost guarantee that she was not practicing mindful eating during this contest. How could she?
Mindful eating is all about connecting with your body, and yourself- when you are eating. Whenever people ask about how to lose weight and practice good health- one of the first things I bring up is mindful eating. Paying attention to how your body feels before, during and after you are eat. This is the reason why I would promote juicing for a few days (3 max). So that you can give your body some space, and then slowly introduce certain food groups back into your diet. What you’ll most often notice is that eating your regular foods may not feel as rewarding and satisfying as it once did. Chances are, that first visit to Mcdonalds may not be as wonderful as you remember it being. I’m just saying;)
The same thing applies to vegan versus non-vegan. I became a vegetarian for a number of reasons. I always tell people that it was a very natural change. I was in my last year of university, and had just moved into my apartment downtown in Vancouver (my first time living alone, outside of UBC). Prior to this move, I was living right beside the University’s Gold’s Gym (where I also worked). Thus, I was working out quite consistently, sometimes 2-3 times per day. This is also during the time where I was still quite sick with eating disorders & was also suffering from a bit of an exercise addiction as a result (context). Thus, when I moved away from UBC- I was all of a sudden not so close to the comfort of walking across the street to Golds Gym- a place I had been going for 4 years, almost everyday. This was a change of routine that I wasn’t sure how to process. For the first week I would bus to Golds Gym everyday- but it suddenly didn’t feel as good as it did before. That weekend I decided to check out the gyms downtown- but something about them also didn’t feel so good. Before I knew it, a few weeks had passed and I hadn’t been to the gym. The surprising thing was I felt fine; I felt really good. Soon enough, at least 2 months had passed when I suddenly realized something: I hadn’t eaten meat in at least a month. This wasn’t a huge shock to me (I had previously contemplated becoming vegetarian and was never a huge carnivore) however still, it was something to make note of. I found it quite amusing and correlated it to the fact that I was feeling quite good, despite the lack of my exercise regimen. Now, say what you want- but I feel that this was a result of an intuitive decision. I could have easily signed up at a new gym closer or even used the gym in my building. Something inside of me was telling me that it was time to take a break- it was time for a change.
Fast forward to now, 4 years later, and I still don’t eat meat (minus one drunken night in Wales that involves an experience I really don’t enjoy reflecting on, despite my brother’s incessant joy in sparking the memory amongst friends and family). For me, this journey began as a natural, health-related transition which evolved into a passion and an ethical choice. So the big question, when it comes to ethics- how can I claim ethics when I still eat seafood at times? This is where I hold my hands out and plead for my imperfection. Just as Sherry says, I am not yet that evolved. To be honest, people could argue (and do from time to time) that the reason I became a vegetarian is a result of a practice in control. This could very much be valid- I’m not sure. Do I hope to cut seafood out one day? Maybe. I really do enjoy eating seafood. I go a few months without it, and then will have it a few times another month. I can’t speak to the future. All is know is now.
Eating is a whole body, mind and soul experience. It is not just about your mind- and what you think you should eat. This relates back to my discussion about mindful eating. I encourage you to pay attention to how your body feels when you eat certain foods- and think about the food you are eating. Where did this food come from? How was it produced/grown? How far did it travel before it reached it’s destination, on my plate? How was this food prepared? How does my body feel after eating this food: now, a few hours later & tomorrow? Do I experience strong cravings for this food following consumption?
These are all parts of mindful eating.
This doesn’t mean you should become vegan. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. All I am trying to communicate (and am hopefully making some sense in doing) that eating is something that is personal and meaningful to each person. It should not be something that we attack each other for, or use as a means of separation. We have enough separation in this world. Each individual’s journey is their own. If you are a vegan who is passionate and called to promote this lifestyle and help to change the world- strive to approach this drive with a sense of compassion and understanding. If you are a non-vegan who doesn’t understand why people don’t eat meat- that is ok, however don’t use that as a reason to attack someone who decides to do different to you.
At this point I would just like to reiterate the underlying feeling and goal of this post– I believe it is important that we respect each and every person’s choice in life, no matter if it is different to yours or not. There is a difference between asking someone about their choices due to curiosity versus attacking them because they are different to yours. One choice is not better than another, they are just different- there is no need to create a hierarchy based on how we define each other. There is no need to create a separation between ourselves because we choose to eat different things.
I must say, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this post. There is something about this topic that is so layered with emotion and meaning for me. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it, as much as I have enjoyed writing it. My leaving message is to live with compassion towards all beings, no matter how you choose to live (or I suppose I should say eat).