I have been known, from time to time, to be a raging perfectionist. My dear friend and former roommate often used to catch me scrubbing the crusty nooks and crannies inside our refrigerator with a toothbrush and baking soda at 11 o’clock at night.
Needless to say, when there is a detail to obsess over or a project to make more complicated by adding lots of very specific restrictions, I’m your girl.
When I first went vegan, I wanted to really do it. Go Vegan and never look back. But a few months into my veganism, I felt like I was really missing out on a necessary and sacred New York Ritual: brunch.
Sure, I could make vegan french toast at home sitting in front of the TV in my dorm room watching Tyra on basic cable, But that is a lonely existence. Friends would suggest going to the diner on Sunday mornings, but with the sole vegan item on the menu being a defrosted fruit cup of mostly translucent honeydew, I would always sadly decline.
But then I had an epiphany!
Why can’t I be vegan with a brunch exception? All I’m asking for here is a freakin’ belgian waffle.
So I became a vegan except for brunch on the weekends and the occasional bag of peanut butter M&M’s.
Did that make me an imperfect vegan?
But did it mean that I could finally stop alienating myself simply because I was vegan?
Did it stop the growing resentment of veganism brewing inside of me?
I think the most important thing to remember when you are first working towards becoming a vegan is to BE NICE TO YOURSELF.
Beating yourself up because all you want is a belgian waffle and some friends is not going to reinforce your vegan beliefs.
Over time, I stopped making brunch exceptions and started inventing my own concoctions at diners like “I’ll have the home fries with the side of steamed spinach and I’ll mash it all up together and add hot sauce.” The non-vegan belgian waffle has lost its appeal…but only because it wasn’t off-limits any more.
Often when I tell someone I’m vegan, they smile and say earnestly, “Oh, I could be a vegan…but I could NEVER give up cheese.” To which I always say, “Great! Then be a vegan who eats cheese.”
They usually give me a strange look and I explain:
Give up the animal products that you don’t care about and keep eating cheese. Why eat something so disastrously harmful to the planet and your health when you don’t really care either way if you eat it or not? If you can do without it…do without it. Don’t just continue eating the same way because you can’t figure out the right label for the way you want to eat.
My favorite quote from vegan chef and educator Colleen Patrick Goudreau is “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything.”
People get so caught up in the idea that you have to be ALL or NOTHING.
As if the options were VEGAN or “Oh, I’m not picky (actually I could care less if I never eat another egg again) but sure, I’ll have an omelette because that’s what you’re making anyway.”
It think it’s time for people to stop worrying about the label of veganism and start eating using their consciousness and intuition.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last ten years thinking about the word VEGAN. Labeling myself that way has a lot of benefits. It’s a quick shorthand for being understood when I refuse a non-vegan brownie that someone is offering.
But I’m realizing that there are major drawbacks to identifying oneself with a label and then letting it do all the work for you. Sitting back, thinking, I’m a vegan…isn’t that enough?
The short answer is no.
Every time you eat a meal, you have a choice. Falling back on the label you’ve created for yourself (VEGAN VEGAN VEGAN) will only lead you to resenting veganism. So many people have said to me that they think being a vegan sounds hard, but I’ve honestly never felt that way, even in college while wanting a belgian waffle. I love being vegan for all the good it does my body…and animals…and the planet. No one says “Oh, you drive an electric car, that must be so difficult for you having grown up riding in an SUV.” People change their habits every day. If you can learn to turn off the lights when you leave a room or turn off the running water while you brush your teeth, certainly you can learn to eat in a new way. What’s the difference? Change you habits and forgive yourself the slip-ups, knowing you’re on your way to making a significant lifelong change.