For awhile I could remember every single bite I had to deny. They would haunt me nightly: a double-crusted homemade blueberry pie suspended over my sweat-soaked pillow, a dump truck of feta-guacamole dip I could swim in but taste not a dollop of, a mirage of smoky carnitas taunting me on the ever elusive horizon. Despite my pleas, my friends felt compelled to specially attend to my needs – home rendered lard for traditional tortillas was replaced by expensive downy white Crisco (a P&G product), water had to substitute for a homemade stock they’d been hoping to thaw and use, the soy-laden taste of earth balance making almost inedible an otherwise glorious berry crumble. There were the times that substitutions couldn’t or wouldn’t be made. I arrived, toting my own food, or just nursing a beer (praising the gods for this one miracle of veganism and trying to wrap my head around straight-edge vegans). I listened, guiltily, to their unwanted apologies for not making me something special and couldn’t help but feel like what I was really saying with my special needs was, “Fuck you people. I hate you and I want to make them feel bad about yourself and your choices when you are around me.” This was only exacerbated by their pathetic attempts to complement my soy soaked grilled tofu blocks, unfilling quinoa salads and lackluster chocolate cake.
About two weeks in my friends and I went to a restaurant where I’d been wanting to dine for months. I soon realized that not only was there nothing for me to eat on the menu, but also, the one thing that looked tasty to the non-vegan in my brain, was exactly the dish my friend wanted to split with me. Instead we both ended up spending twice as much on our food without satisfying our wishes. One night I almost changed my plans to avoid my best friend’s BBQ, because I was afraid of the undue guilt it would cause him, opting to go out with a group of vegans whom I love, but were not my best friend. Was my social circle going to have to change based on my diet? Wasn’t my world already limited enough?
Over and over again I watched, lips moist, as food went uneaten, wasted, thrown away as a result of many things, including my inability/unwillingness to eat the fruits of the cook’s labor. It all reminded me of something, something I was much more comfortable with as a determinedly alternative punk rocker teenager. As a vegetarian (from 1999-2004ish) my hardworking mother made special meals for me, bought expensive impostor meats, pricey veggies and, even though she often said she wouldn’t be making special arrangements for my eating, she would. When I studied abroad in college I remained gastronomically chaste. I was offered carne, caldo, frijoles en sopa by my Ecuadorian family and denied them, trying in vain (and in Spanish) to explain my bewildering diet restrictions. Insulting them, I felt, was worth the price of supposedly saving those “9 other people that would eat on my 1 acre of land.” Meanwhile I was missing out on the culinary experience of a lifetime, avoiding the bridge I have come to define as my raison d’être for communicating with others worldwide. What a self involved short-sighted brat I was.
Don’t read me wrong here. I’m not talking about anyone but myself: me, my values, my life choices, which most directly have to do with humans, waste, consumerism and relativism. Was being vegetarian/vegan in the past true to myself or was it a label I used to make a statement that I could make in so many other ways – ways that were true to what I believe in? Am I a heartless animal slaughtering wench? Perhaps. I am a relatavist, perhaps a humanist; there is some of me that may err on the side of objectivism or positivism or apathy, and sometimes I do it on purpose, in an effort to balance out a world (a first world at least) that thinks that puppies, kittens and practically-feral toddlers can do no wrong. Why are these the elevated species? Are they fighting the world’s ills with there absolute and fully dependent cuteness? I don’t buy it.
I don’t think that all world is suffering, or am so detached that I believe we are just watching history play out like a slowly crashing ship with no one at the helm. Ok, I sorta do, but I am a girl who always puts her cigarette butt in the trash. I am a woman who carries an empty soda can in her purse for three days because she has yet to find a recycling bin. I am the person who inhaled mold spores off her beets three times today to make absolutely CERTAIN they were inedible and she had to compost them – and I STILL almost fished them out of the bin one last time for absolute positive verifiability of rancidity. Do these make the same sort of “difference” as being vegetarian/vegan? Probably not. Do they still isolate me in a better-than-thou bubble? Possibly. Are they truer to my values and less dependent upon other people’s generosity, acceptance, backwards bending favors? I do believe they are.
Perhaps we just need ever expanding options (that oppressive excess of choice America is so wonderful at hoisting upon us): more ways to offer healthy meals to every kind of eater down to the minutely engineered nutrient? Perhaps, but not without a cost, studies show that the more varied the diet, the healthier the person, and yet, the more the waste produced. I am an omnivorous scavenger and and an energetic ethnographer: an eater of corn dogs at the county fair, of combos on a long road trip, of tripe in China, locusts in Myanmar, goat in Kashmir and definitely as many veggies and fruits as I can find worldwide, and if I’m going to put all that stuff in my mouth, why on EARTH would I pay money for stuff like this: “cheddar“ (i.e. filtered water, tapioca and /or arrowroot flours, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and /or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, salt, inactive yeast, vegan natural flavors, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid (for flavor), annatto, titanium dioxide (a naturally occurring mineral). Sure, when I eat for the people and the people are vegan, I will eat oil engineered to impersonate a glorious process of that fermented coagulated miraculous milk matrix that is cheese, but otherwise, whyever limit myself?
So look, there is an awful lot of vegan stuff to eat. There’s also a lot of gluten free, soy free, nut free, calorie free, taste free food these days. Yes, restrictive diets may be a way for some people to get healthier, identify with their community, cure an ill homeopathically, but when I watch the devolution of a delicious meal into an idiosyncratic smorgasbord of individuality or a pale imitation of its former all-inclusive glory, it makes me sad. I don’t want to survive by denial I want to live by acceptance. I felt like every day on this diet I denied something, which, in turn denied someone. And so, at three weeks in, I failed this challenge. I was not a proud moment, but it was a revealing one that looked a little like this: