I’ve been vegetarian for over two and half years now. In this short space of time, I have endured a ton of rants, stupid comments and a whole lot of stereotyping. “Are you a preachy vegetarian though?”, is what I hear most often. For this month’s theme, I decided to reach out to other cruelty-free bloggers to share some of their experiences.
I have been vegetarian for almost a year now, about the same time I have been blogging actually, and so far it has been an interesting experience. I will one day become vegan but I’m taking baby steps to get there as I live a manic life of constantly being on the move so it’s going to take a while for me to transition. I have seen people perceive vegetarians online as ‘weak’ or ‘just as bad as meat eaters’, which I feel is really unfair on vegetarians as we would love to jump right into veganism given the chance, but it will take us a while to get there. Online I feel it hard to publicly announce I’m vegetarian without fear of having people jump down my throat, but I’m grateful I’m part of an online community where I don’t have to walk on glass to express how I feel.
Offline I get a different reception, in my family and friendship circles I am accepted as a vegetarian, but at the workplace it’s a different matter. I work in a DIY shop and our clientele is tradesmen. As lovely as they all are, they find my lifestyle and beliefs odd or highly amusing to the point I find myself biting my tongue. Some understand where I am coming from – if they keep animals as pets – but some just don’t understand or think I’m going through a ‘phase’. It happens more so if the horse racing is on or if a customer has a dog in a car on a hot summer day. I don’t thrust my beliefs on people but I will stand my ground, which proves that some people just don’t care about animals in any way and it’s sad.
Unfortunately, I’ve experienced lots of vegan stereotyping since I made the decision to stop contributing to animal cruelty. Even as a vegetarian I would get rude comments and people making snap judgements about me, but since turning vegan it seems to have increased dramatically.
I think the most common stereotype I face is that all vegans must be underweight and extremely health conscious. Of course, there are lots of vegans like that, but the vast majority that I talk to eat just like everyone else – only without certain ingredients. We still enjoy junk food, sweets and pizza, we just make it in a slightly different way to the average person. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been looked at like I’m lying when I say that I’m vegan, especially by doctors. Because I’m a plus size woman they seem to think that it must be impossible but guess what? Vegans struggle with the same weight issues as everyone else.
Almost every time a vegan publicly states that they don’t eat animal products they’re setting themselves up to be lectured and sometimes even verbally abused. We really don’t need judgment about our looks on top of that.
I haven’t felt that I’ve been stereotyped but I’ve realised the inadvertent stereotype I previously had were wrong. I’m a really fussy eater; I thought in order to be vegetarian, you couldn’t eat anything but vegetables. I wrongly assumed that if I went vegetarian or vegan, I would be left feeling malnourished. With supermarkets feeling the demand to provide more alternatives, I was pleasantly surprised than I was spoilt for choice.
Another wrong assumption I made was thinking cruelty-free restaurants were full of lentils and hippies. Not so long ago, I went to Manna (a vegan restaurant in London) and enjoyed a wide range of starters and some wine. Not only was it tasty but the restaurant was just as lovely as one we would normally visit as meat-eaters.
I now believe everyone can and should cut down on their meat and dairy intake.
During my time being vegan I have often found myself in the situation where I am having to defend my lifestyle choices. Sometimes it can be pretty casual questioning, which I don’t mind as people are bound to be curious about why I choose not to eat any animal products. Other times it can be pretty confrontational and argumentative. More often than not, I feel as though I don’t have the energy to continually justify and explain my reasons behind being vegan. It can get pretty tiring, especially when it is always other people bringing it up.
There was this one time at work when a colleague of mine, who got on with pretty well with, began to loudly question me in front of the entire office about why I didn’t want to eat any of the eggs from her own chickens. She regularly used to bring eggs in to sell to everyone at work and I guess it became clear that I hadn’t shown any interest in purchasing any. I was surprised that she hadn’t asked me one on one, as we spoke quite a lot and it therefore felt like a verbal attack on me instead of questions of genuine interest. She proclaimed that if her chickens were well looked after and had free run of her garden, then why wouldn’t I want to eat their eggs, as no harm has come to them? She also began to openly quiz me on why she shouldn’t eat one of her own chickens if it should die of natural causes. With an audience of our colleagues all listening in and waiting for me to answer I felt extremely pressured, ostracised and attacked by this person I had considered a friend.
I explained as calmly as I could that yes I am indeed vegan for the animals and it upsets me greatly how these animals are treated and the cruelty involved in factory farming. However, I am also vegan because I simply don’t want to eat any animal products, regardless of how the animal has been treated. I think once you go vegan it becomes impossible to see those food types in any other light than something you don’t want to eat anymore. Eggs are especially a difficult food for me, having once loved them as a regular part of my breakfast, they now repulse me just thinking about them and what they actually are (chicken menstruation!). I am also quite open in saying to people that if you are going to eat meat and dairy then choose ethically and buy your products from someone like her who has her own chickens, as they are clearly treated a million times better than those who are sadly part of the mass production of eggs. Even though I don’t want to buy and eat them myself, I am supportive of people who choose to have their own chickens and offer more ethical produce.
I remember that after this heated and open conversation I actually felt like I wanted to cry. I felt like the alien in the room and completely misunderstood by everyone. I felt mocked and ridiculed even though what I am doing is only a good thing for the animals and the planet. I found it bizarre that my personal life choices would provoke someone so much and cause them to be so aggressive towards me. It’s particularly hurtful when I am not a vegan who rams my own thoughts and beliefs down anyone’s throat. More often than not, it’s always other people who bring it up and I am never normally the person to start the conversation.