A plant based diet is something that I grew up around and knowing about. My mom has been vegetarian since she was 11 years old, for ethical reasons, and fed her children accordingly. My husband had been raised in the polar opposite environment. Meat was the center of every meal and even some snacks. To him, vegetables were bland and gross and vegetarians were deprived. After some time, he has adopted a mostly vegan diet and openly shares the success he has had on it with others. But there’s a ton of misinformation about vegetarianism and it’s very foreign to some. Of course there are the few people out there that are pushy about this diet, as there are with anything, but I promise that most of us are nice! Even though I know that most people have no experience with it, I’m always surprised at how many people/restaurants view the vegan diet as “crazy”, “weird”, “unhealthy” and how many people try to do the best they can to live a kind life but face an uphill struggle. Sure, it’s definitely a “first world problem”, but why should it be a problem at all?
I love being vegan. I feel great physically and I love knowing that my choices are not harming animals or helping to perpetuate a very broken food system. But being a vegan in a country that includes animal products into every meal can often be frustrating and disheartening. People have become so reliant on meat, cheese, eggs, and milk to create the basis of a meal that veggies and other plant foods are an after thought. This stubborn mindset can make becoming and staying vegan difficult. If you are vegan or thinking of becoming vegan or you just like vegetables, hopefully this will be helpful on the challenges vegans face. And if you know or are close to a vegan, perhaps this will help to create a greater understanding and knowledge of what is truly a different culture.
Finding Food at Restaurants:
One of my favorite things to splurge on is a delicious meal at a nice restaurant. But I have to be careful with the choice of place if I want to get a decent meal. Restaurants often only have one or two vegetarian options, if any, and those options nearly always contain dairy. I’ve been to plenty of restaurants where the only thing I could eat was a plain baked potato, steamed veggies or french fries. But every so often even that contains something animal derived. Just a few weeks ago I ordered french fries at a place that brought them out covered in bacon! Chances are that if you live in a larger city, vegan foods are much easier to find because of the larger, more diverse population. Otherwise, most smaller cities and towns are less likely to have a variety of choices.
But not all hope is lost, even though options are sometimes scarce, vegetarian and vegan options are popping up more frequently because there is a greater consumer demand for it. So if there isn’t an option on the menu, ask! Sometimes the chef is up for the challenge and will create a beautiful unique dish (as was the case at Spago in Las Vegas). Otherwise, restaurants will hear the call of the consumer and provide a vegan option in order to make a larger profit than they would with the purchase of a few sides. When I do order those bland sides instead of something with meat, dairy, or eggs, I remind myself of this: eating a bland meal every once in a while is just a small bump in a road that I feel is a kinder and healthier one. And on a positive note, I’m helping to create change by placing my dollar in kinder places.
Here are some cuisines that I find the best vegan options: Japanese (veggie sushi, miso soup, rice, salad, veggie tempura), Italian (pasta with veggies or tomato sauce, salad), Indian (most curry and rice dishes), Thai (most curry and noodle dishes can be requested with veggies, although some have fish sauce), Mexican (black beans, rice, veggie burritos/tacos, chips and salsa, guacamole)
Finding Food as a Guest:
When I am invited to somebody’s house, as a guest, for a meal, I am placed in a tricky situation if they are not familiar with cooking vegan or to even the vegan diet. Most of my family and friends currently know and understand my diet, and even though I offer to feed myself, they are always happy to provide a delicious option for me. But this is definitely not always the case. Particularly with bbqs and with the holiday feast season, people often honestly either have no idea how to feed a vegan or are lost to how to cook for one. What I have found to be the most helpful for me in my situation (yours may be much different), is politely offering to provide a vegan dish, with enough for everyone. Yes, sometimes people will poke fun at the vegan diet or debate it or even try to feed the vegan meat. And yes, sometimes people are rude about it, but the most important thing, at least for myself, is to be as polite and understanding as possible. Humans are set in their ways and do not like having their culture or their habits questioned, and it is certainly not helpful, kind, or wise to be rude back or to force ideas onto them. The people that I have found to be the nicest about my diet when I eat with them, are those that I feel closest to because that is not the only thing they are kind about.
Dealing With Family and Friends:
Any change in lifestyle is a big deal for the person’s family and friends. People who are close to the person making a change often will resent it simply because change is scary. But family and friends will adapt with you and most will continue to be there. But the immediate change can be frustrating. Going vegetarian was easy. My family and friends shrugged it off because it was no big deal to omit meat in meals or in restaurants. Plus, it’s a super common diet and pretty well understood. But when I decided to go vegan, it seemed liked it was a huge deal. No eggs? No milk? No cheese? Where do you get your protein? Where do you get your calcium? What about pizza? Ice cream? What do you eat? A lot of people tried to convince me not to do it and that I would become unhealthy. Some flat out told me I wouldn’t last and would give up. They weren’t mean about it, but there were definitely some that were unsupportive in the beginning. I’ve heard stories of friends and family being nasty about it, so I’m definitely lucky that it wasn’t a bad transition. But when the people you are close to don’t agree with the decision or don’t understand it, the resistance to support can be disheartening and discouraging. Most people will come around, whether or not they fully embrace it or accept the decision. It was helpful for me to explain my personal reasons for going vegan but the most important thing? Just like in every other situation, refraining from pushing my own beliefs on others helps to create a mutually respectful environment. In the end? My awesome family includes veggie friendly food for me whenever I visit and will stick up for me in restaurants. I may be a bit crazy, but they love me anyway!
Going vegan isn’t for everyone. You as the reader may have never even considered it. Or perhaps your struggling with going or staying vegan. Whatever the situation, more and more people are going vegan or flirting with it by making more veggie choices. So hopefully this helps to clarify some issues and/or provide support to those who need it. For me, it’s worth it in the end because I feel that I have made the best dietary choices I could possibly make for the environment, my body, and for animals. But, hey, I’m human, I psychologically need to feel accepted, so of course there are doubts. Of course that cheese pizza everyone else is eating is tempting. Maybe one day I’ll crack and eat that pizza. But, whatever. I do the best I can, just like everyone else. So long as, in the end, I do the best I can to stick to what my heart and my head tell me, I know that I did the best I could in a meat eating world.