Saturday, December 5, 2015

Vegan Holiday Blues (Problems + Solutions)

Common vegan dilemma:

Just imagine, you are at a Christmas party that you have been looking forward to attending for weeks. You walk in the door and are greeted by your family and a few close friends. You walk to the food table and offer your contribution of veggie sticks and hummus. You pick up a little plastic plate and soon realize that your little snack is the only item at the party that does not consist of meat, dairy or eggs. As you snack on your celery sticks and catch up with your great aunt, she might insist that you, "just stop being vegan for the night and enjoy the food!" If you are a new vegan, the idea might be tempting- but you realize that you want to stick to your values. More carrot sticks, until hunger panes ensue. Pie and ice cream are brought out, while you sip on sickeningly sweet fruit punch. Your sister offers you a piece of cake that she made from scratch. You politely decline, but feel kind of mean because you know she put a lot of work in to baking that cake.

If this sounds familiar, let's talk about solutions! This is no way to get through the holidays as a vegan. (In fact, it is all too common for people to give in to social pressure in these kinds of environments) Holidays should be fun, there is no reason to be miserable.

Let's talk about problem solving.

Problem: There is no vegan food at the party.

First of all, I have learned that it is very misguided to assume that there will be something to eat at any given house party. (Unless if the hosts are vegan) Even when the people hosting know that I will not eat anything off of their meat and cheese tray, I have to remember that I am not the only guest and the host has a lot on their plate to think about.

Solution: Plan on bringing the food that you are going to be eating throughout the course of the evening, and don't forget to bring a dessert! Bring food to share, but also bring food just for yourself in case if it's a huge party and your offering gets consumed before you get a chance to have your share. Have snacks, an entree and a dessert ready to go.

Problem: People might think I am rude if I turn down their offers of home made food

This is a tough one, and I have handled this situation a lot of different ways. You will have to figure out what works for you. Over the years of flip flopping between vegetarian and vegan, I would sometimes indulge in a baked good prepared by a well meaning friend over the holidays. The truth is, I am not used to eating dairy and it wreaks havoc on my digestion. Additionally, it has caused me to fall down a slippery slope of not eating all-vegan. I don't blame anyone for making an exception here and there, but I personally am better off mentally and physically if I just stick to eating vegan all of the time.

Solution: Communicate with family and friends before anyone makes a special, extra frosting dairy cupcake just for you. Prevention is the name of the game here, people! Before the party, mention to the host and anyone that might be making food that you are eating a special diet and will be bringing some of your own snacks. (Sometimes, a host will be very generous and offer to make you something special. Even if they do this for you, don't expect that you won't need to still bring your own snacks- it could just be one small thing that everyone is sharing!)

I know that there are a lot of vegans out there that like to make a fuss. Good for them- but I am not one of those people. I like to be polite, I like to be a good guest and I don't want to come across as a food snob. However, it is important to let other people know what my dietary considerations are. If no one knew that I was vegan, and I simply declined a baked good without elaborating- it would leave the other person guessing.

Even if I do a stellar job of communicating, sometimes people will still buy or make me food that is not vegan. I have found it to be important to be gracious when declining the offering and appreciate the fact that they thought of me in the first place.

Problem: Other people won't leave me alone about my vegan lifestyle!

This problem can be complicated, because there are often a lot of dynamics going on here. Whether other people are teasing you or pressuring you to eat animal products, it can feel stressful. I have also had the reverse situation with people who think my vegan diet is so fascinating, and they just won't change the subject.

Solution: What has worked for me is to take the spotlight off of myself and put it on the other person. Holiday time is precious for catching up with people that we don't get to see all that often, so it's really important to ask them questions and listen to how their life is going. Tell them about a book or movie you have read, make a joke- it'll be a better conversation and it will feel good to connect with the other person. They probably won't even remember you are vegan- until they offer you a cupcake.

I hope my little troubleshooter was helpful to you! Feel free to comment below if you have any other tips and tricks to get through the holiday season.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Social Issues of Being Vegan (and the need for self confidence)

I have been a yo-yo-er between being vegan and vegetarian for the last nine, almost ten years. I tend to go for about two years at a time being vegan and then crash in to an almost-healthy vegetarian diet, and then go back in to a true vegan lifestyle.

As I approach the two year mark on being vegan again, I delight in the idea of sustaining my plant based lifestyle for a much longer period of time. (Maybe my whole life, that would be great.) Over the last two years, I have had to do a lot of brainstorming on what my issues were with sticking to this thing that I really like to do. I realized that a lot of it boiled down to the social issues, which is what I wanted to write about today.

Here is the thing about being vegan that no one wants to talk about; people start to scrutinize you. People may not see you as a complex person anymore, they just see a specimen of a plant based diet. A product, if you will.

What people don’t understand is that we all come from different places with our health.

There are people that do not have to try very hard to be healthy. These are the people that can smoke, drink and eat junky food and somehow seem to function pretty well. These are the people that start eating a little healthier and all of the sudden they look good in a bikini and can do 1000 push ups. Bless them. I am not one of those people. If I neglect my health, I am a person that becomes very sick. When I take care of my health, I don’t look like a bikini model and I certainly do not become a fitness goddess. Living a healthy lifestyle gives me the ability to function relatively normally, and to me that is a wonderful thing.

The difficulty comes when people assume that being vegan, drinking green juice every morning or spending my weekends doing yoga or running laps means that I am in some way superior to them. People try to knock me off of the pedestal that I did not put myself on, which can be painful, embarrassing or just sometimes a bit annoying.

“How do you know your vegan diet works when you are still so overweight? You must need to eat some animal products!?”

“How do you know your vegan diet works when you are so spacey and scattered? You must need some animal products!”

“I noticed that you have a HUGE ZIT on your nose. You must need some animal products!”

“You pulled your ankle? I never get hurt when I run! You must need some animal products!”

Perhaps without meaning to, people have made me feel inadequate; like I am an incomplete person that would just be perfect if I was not a vegan.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t eat a plant based diet to be perfect. I don't have weight loss goals, either. I do it to improve my health from where I started. I also eat a vegan diet because it is one of my personal values, to do no harm. (The plant-based diet for health and the ethical, philosophical vegan diet are different, but I just happened to dabble in to both for different reasons and fell in love.)

Choosing to make a longterm commitment to be vegan involved a lot of self reflection and self esteem. I had to become self confident and give a big middle finger (okay, metaphorically speaking haha) to the people that think they can bully me in to being just like them. I also realized that people are threatened by people that do things differently, and get brave when they see that the fringy person is not perfect.

The other thing that helped me make a longterm commitment to veganism was recognizing that I will never “fit in,” not that I ever did anyways. I will stick out like a sore thumb, and people will always ask me what I am eating and where my protein comes from. It’s okay. I can roll with it.

Another thing that I worked through when I made my decision to remain vegan is to absolve myself of the responsibility to represent veganism. I can talk about it if I want to, but I don’t have to participate in every conversation in which I am invited. I love chatting with people that are friendly and respectful, but I do not have to talk about veganism to people that are rude to me. I have boundaries now.

Related to my last point, I also realized that I am not obligated to make my lifestyle look appealing. The juice that I drink in the morning is green. Usually it tastes sweet like apples, but sometimes it is kind of bitter. I wake up in the morning at 5 to run several days a week. Usually it is pretty energizing, but sometimes I roll out of bed and am *not* feeling it. Most people would cringe at how often I eat salad, but I really enjoy it and find it delicious. Some people probably think it is odd that I have potted kale plants on my living room table or that I try to re-grow my kitchen scraps. I don’t have to make my life look appealing to anyone in order to get others to try veganism.

When other people see me drinking me green juice and say, “I could never drink that every morning!” I used to argue with them and say, “You don’t understand, it tastes like apples and ginger! It’s so good! You should try it!” but now I just say, “Well, ya don’t have to drink weird stuff to be vegan but I sure like to do it!” if I say anything at all. It’s not my job to convert people. I know that I found this information on my own and adopted it to my life independently, maybe I wouldn’t have if someone had tried to sell it to me.

I am excited about what self development the next two years of being vegan will unfold. I am going to write about some of the other things that have helped me stick with this lifestyle in future blog posts. so stay tuned! :)