A little over two years ago I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and decided it was time. Time for me to go vegan for the second time in my life.
The first time I went vegan was some time back in 2006 after reading the book Skinny Bitch, which advocated a vegan diet for health and a banging hot body. I was 18 years old and yes, a book called Skinny Bitch convinced me. That first time, I stuck to it for a couple of years but for a variety of reasons, I ended up back on a healthy but not entirely plant based diet up until that fateful night of documentary watching two years ago.
A lot has changed since my first stretch of eating plant based. People have become a lot more familiar with the characteristics of a vegan diet. It’s easier to, for instance, order a vegan dish at almost any restaurant since vegan dietary preferences are more widely recognised. But with this widespread understanding of veganism comes — in my experience — an uncomfortable scrutiny.
There’s something about publicly outing you’re following a certain type of diet that provokes people into making your food consumption their business.
Calling myself vegan felt like the easiest way of explaining that I was attempting to (for the most part) cut animal products out of my diet. It beat having to dish out a harangue of scenarios in which I sometimes make exceptions, when or how these special cases might occur, and then defend said deviations.
I soon came to realise that by labelling myself vegan, I was painting myself into a corner. One that was surrounded by an extremely questioning and judgemental audience. If ever someone saw me eating something potentially non-vegan, I would be met with burrowed eyebrows and what felt like an interrogation:
“Have you checked that there’s not milk or eggs in that?”
“Why are you eating that? It’s not vegan!”
“But, I thought you were vegan?!”
Having your meal scrutinised by your dining company would make even the most self-assured of us feel uncomfortable. Not to mention exhausted from constantly being asked to defend or explain yourself. But for me, it’s absolutely agonising. Every time someone points their finger at my food and stares at me with question in their eyes, they might as well be saying “WHY ARE YOU EATING?!” as if satiating my hunger is some completely twisted behaviour.
For many years now, I have been acutely aware of, and concerned with, others perception of me. I do what I think is expected of me and am painfully guilt ridden when I discover I have disappointed someone or acted in a way that is contradictory to what they expect from me.
One aspect of my anxiety is that I often feel awkward and uncomfortable when dining in social situations. And adding the observation that has come with (sometimes) eating vegan has made me even more uneasy sharing meals with people.
I’ve come to the conclusion that something needs to change in order for me to work towards freedom from being “on guard” whenever I’m eating in the company of someone else. And for me, that change means not calling myself vegan anymore.
Yes, I eat plant based or “vegan” most of the time, but I will not label myself vegan, vegetarian, or anything else for that matter. I eat food. Just like everyone else. And what I choose to eat is nobody’s concern but my own.