People always ask me what I could possibly eat when they learn I don’t eat meat. Usually, they wonder if I “just eat salad.” The answer: I couldn’t live on salads alone, I’d die—not to mention, the idea that not eating meat amounts to eating just salads shows how little society knows about eating a plant-based diet. Have some imagination!
I haven’t eaten meat for more than half of my life. I became a vegetarian early on in high school, but I’d pretty much avoided meat long before that. It wasn’t just the flavor or the texture that turned my stomach (it quite literally made me gag), it was the thought that I was eating another creature’s body.
My parents, already privy to my rebellious ways, weren’t too shocked to learn that I would no longer take part in meat eating. I had, at a very young age, favored carrot sticks to chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes to meat. And while I’ve flipped between what you can call vegetarian and vegan several times over (I’m not ashamed—I’m human!), the key is that I tend to avoid labels. If anything, I call myself a veggie because while I’m mostly vegan, I won’t say no to the delicious arepas made by my Colombian mother-in-law.
Some people might say that I’m a coward, that I’m not ‘doing it’ correctly, or that I’m not strong enough to stand on my convictions and pick a side. I’d say: That’s absolutely wrong.
Humans are stuck on labels (hello, carnivores, herbivores, pescatarians, Paleo, Keto, vegan—and everything in between), so much so that there’s a need to identify (and justify!) ourselves by the foods we eat. And we’re stuck on judging how others choose to eat, too.
I tend to avoid labels. If anything, I call myself a veggie because while I’m mostly vegan, I won’t say no to the delicious arepas made by my Colombian mother-in-law.
I’ve definitely been judged for eating the way I do. Throughout my life, when people would find out how I eat, they tended to rapidly defend their own eating habits and lifestyle—and I get it. It’s like my rejection of meat makes them somehow feel uneasy. They lift a suspicious eyebrow and label me a dissident. And then they come at me hard, as if they instantly morphed into food experts; suddenly, they begin citing studies they’d read about the benefits of meat: “You’re going to get sick, you don’t have enough protein in your body, you’re going to be weak, your body can’t sustain itself on fruits and vegetables alone.” The list goes on.
To which I say I must actually be a figment of their imaginations, because I’m alive, standing right before them. Then I point to my thick thighs and my heavy backside, which say I definitely do exist. On the other hand, some people judge my body size, saying, “You sure don’t look like a vegetarian/vegan.” Their implication? That veggies should be smaller, or that somehow all vegans or vegetarians look the exact same.
Then, if someone wants to go all-out mean, they’ll say something like, “Oh, you’re one of those liberal hippie types, right?” And everyone giggles but me. Sometimes the room gets quiet—like, really, really quiet.
I don’t say anything at all about their food choices. More often than not, it seems like they’re surprised I haven’t forced my own ideas down their throats or delivered a good veggie sermon.
Why don’t I stand behind the pulpit? Well, it’s not for me to stand behind. Others might want to, but I’d rather not—I’d rather be ready and willing to talk to people about my lifestyle, and to have a conversation. I don’t look at vegetarianism or veganism as something to promote. I don’t see it as some sort of dogma to distribute.
And while I choose not to eat meat for various reasons (including my own taste, ethics, health goals, and environmental sustainability), trying to convince people to join my tribe, if you will, would only mean that, in some sense, I think I am better than they are or that my choices are wiser. I don’t, just like they shouldn’t. I prefer to tackle conversations with mindfulness and compassion.
Each one of us has our own journey, and this is mine.