"Good food is a celebration of life, and it seems absurd to me that in celebrating life we should take life."
-Anna Thomas (Author of The Vegetarian Epicure)
In the last five years or so, at least in Colorado, there's been a lot of focus on "alternative diets". Vegetarianism is the obvious one, but Vegan (the crazy extremist uncle at the Vegetarian family reunion), Gluten-free, and Raw diets are fairly popular these days, too. As someone speaking from a vegan/vegetarian perspective, those are the two that I'll focus on in this post.
Now, before we begin, there are three things you need to know about me in relation to the food I eat:
1.) I am Vegan. The strict definition of this is someone who eats no animal products or byproducts whatsoever. If you know me well enough to know what I will and won't eat, then you'll know I don't necessarily fall perfectly under that definition. We'll go into that later.
2.) I am not Vegan for economic reasons, I am not Vegan for health reasons (primarily, anyway, although those are certainly nice), and I am not Vegan for environmental reasons. I am Vegan because seeing an animal in pain, and knowing that I have directly contributed to that animal's suffering, is not acceptable to me.
3.) I do not consider myself an activist. I do not believe that my choice of diet is doing the world a service. I do not believe that my Veganism affects anything outside of my body and my peace of mind. This post is not intended to convert anyone--it's a post about tolerance.
Now, I don't want to sound like I think Veganism is the only way to live ethically in regards to what you put in your stomach, either. One of the exceptions I make to my diet is eggs. I know a family that owns a very humanely run poultry farm, and I have no compunction with eating the eggs that they produce. Chickens (unlike cows, who only produce milk when they're getting ready to pop out little baby cows) produce eggs regardless of whether or not they're going to end up as viable offspring. For me, eggs are one of the few animal products that I can be 100% comfortable with because they can be produced without suffering. If I knew someone nearby who had a really excellent dairy farm, I might think about adding milk back into my diet. It's all relative, and it's all about making sure that your food choices are something that you can live with.
Don't get me wrong, I would love it if the whole world were Vegan. Before you get on me about how impossible that would be and how we would be overrun by rampant, revenge-seeking livestock in a matter of days: Don't. It's an impossible thought even without the ridiculous, overly-defensive statistics. It's just like me saying "I would love to eat a bag of Lays potato chips every day and never get fat." Keep dreaming, Allison, keep dreaming.
The principle at work here is the Sucky Driver Principle (officially copyrighted by me, FYI). It's that funny thing that happens when your brain sees three or four people driving like crap and translates it to "JEE-ZUS! Did everyone with a driver's license suddenly go BLIND?!" As a matter of fact, no. Only three or four people are acting like they learned to drive from an 80s arcade game, but everyone who's doing their job right (that is, not cutting you off, swerving into your lane, or budging in line at a stop sign) fade pleasantly into the background. You only notice the obnoxious vegans, because the non-obnoxious vegans aren't doing anything worth getting fussy about. That's why vegans feel like they're being judged unfairly by the general populace, while the general populace is too busy remembering that asshole who shoved a pamphlet about dead birds in their face to care.
Totally understandable, as I'm sure both parties now realize.
Most vegans are more than happy to discuss their diet with you, but we also know that there's a time and a place for the vegan speech. If you're sitting on the couch next to your cowboy boot-wearin', buck-huntin', calf-rearin' uncle, it's probably not that time. I can't tell you how many people are surprised when they find out I'm vegan--not that I don't fit the bill (because I do) but because they expect people to just...come out with it, I suppose. Like they expected it to be an integral part of our self-introduction.
"Hi! My name's Allison. I'm a Sagittarius, and before we go any further, you should probably know that I refuse to eat anything that popped out of an animal. In any capacity. Nice to meetcha!"
Contrary to popular belief, most vegans do possess more social tact than this. Just saying.
Now, this should probably be the part in the post where I talk about how I've been vegetarian for almost four years, and how I've learned that setting a positive example is more effective than aggressively seeking change, but that's not really important. Like I said, this isn't about changing anyone's food habits. I just wish people would stop stereotyping each other (again, wishful thinking, but hope springs eternal) and start realizing that everyone else on the road is practicing tolerance and driving like a pro. It's OK to do what you think is right, but it's also OK for other people to choose a different way.
The only person you can control is yourself, and the only life you can live is your own.