Thursday, January 24, 2013

On Not Being a Vegan Jerk

I maintain a vegan lifestyle and have done so for the better part of the last 9 years. More often than not, when I tell someone that I'm vegan, I am greeted with some trepidation. Usually I'll get a "good" argument about why I should eat meat: it's unnatural to be vegetarian; bacon is delicious; your body needs protein. Typically I try not to engage people I have just met in a conversation about why they should become vegan. It's a conversation that I'm willing to have, but it's the conversation that most people are expecting. "Oh, you're a vegan. Here's the part where you tell me my lifestyle is cruel and unhealthy and unsustainable. Whatever, I'm still eating meat." Or the pre-emptive surrender, "I really would love to be vegan, but it's just SO hard!" These are the conversations I try to avoid. - I promise to respect your special dietary needs at my barbecue if you promise not to talk about them.
Don't get me wrong! I totally believe in veganism. I've watched the slaughterhouse and farm videos. I've seen the documentaries (Forks over Knives, Vegucated) that talk about how much healthier of a lifestyle it is to be vegan. I've read Fast Food Nation and Eating Animals and cannot reconcile that information with the Standard American Diet. I've even shed a tear once or twice to this song...

But, I digress. At work today, a co-worker said to me, "Thanks for not being an a****** vegan." And it got me thinking. Why is it that so many have that impression of vegans? Why do people automatically get defensive? When I spend time with my vegan friends, I see them as some of the coolest, most compassionate and generally awesome people I've ever met. Why can't we "mainstream" with general success?

Now, I want to make it totally clear, I have great respect for vegan activists. It takes guts to get out and protest anything, especially when the issue isn't generally agreed upon as being "important". I do think there are many ways vegans who want to mix and mingle with meat eaters can perform everyday activism without being THAT guy. Here are three things you can do to fit in socially while still being an activist in your day-to-day life.

1. Cook Vegan Food and Feed People

This could mean hosting a dinner party or attending a potluck and bringing a tasty vegan dish to share. At my office, people are always bringing in treats like cupcakes and cookies. I try to bring in a vegan dessert item every few months. My office always gets excited to try new things and are usually amazed at how much a vegan cupcake tastes like a regular cupcake.

2. Support Vegan Businesses

Vegan-friendly businesses are everywhere. From coffee shops to restaurants to bakeries, vegans can partake in the deliciousness of life in super convenient ways. An establishment doesn't have to be all vegan, but when they offer options for vegans, it's something we should support. A great example is a local pizza place here in Chicago. They make vegan pizzas to order every day of the week. On Tuesdays, they offer a vegan slice. Better yet, you can order the vegan slice as part of their "PB&J" Special. One low price gets you a slice of pizza, a beer (PBR) and a shot of Jameson. My friends and I try to go here on Tuesdays at least once a month. This encourages business to "Keep up the good work!"

3. Start a Vegan Brunch Club

Or Supper Club, or Lunch Club or whatever meal you'd like to celebrate. Last year I started a Brunch Club with 5 of my friends. Every month, a someone hosts the brunch at their house. They pick the theme and they do the cooking. The rest of us bring beverages and sometimes a dish to add to the mix. While it didn't start off as a Vegan Brunch Club (only 2 of us are Vegan, the rest are omnivores), it quickly became an all Vegan Brunch. This has been a great opportunity for our friends to try new vegan food and recipes out. Think being vegan is hard? You should come to one of our brunches! They are amazing! One day a month we eat cruelty free and enjoy an afternoon of mimosas and brunch foods. Everyone has branched out to learn new recipes and get creative in the kitchen. It's a tradition I hope we keep up for a long while.

I'd love to hear some ideas on how you've used cooking as a form of advocacy!

w/ <3

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