Ellery Rosenzweig: Lettuce eat plants

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - 5:26pm

After trial and error with plant-based eating over the course of this year, I finally decided to ditch the dairy products I relied on and be a “real vegan.” I always imagined when I changed my diet I would have some challenges with cravings for my favorite comfort foods. Surprisingly, the challenges I experience have instead been from the stigma associated with being a vegan.

Last week, standing in the buffet line at my friends’ potluck, I soon realized that there were not many dishes I could eat. Limited by my options, I reached the end of the line where two loaves of garlic bread laid side by side. The first one was labeled “no cheese,” and the other had cheese on top. I grabbed a piece of the one with no cheese, assuming it had to be vegan, and sat down at a table with friends to eat and catch up.

I took a few bites of the bread and it tasted pretty great. The flavor was familiar, and after I finished the piece, I guessed there had to be butter in it. I could feel the heat flushing into my cheeks as I asked around the table to see who made the bread and if there were any other animals products in it. When they answered there was, in fact, milk and butter in the bread, I was mad and embarrassed that I allowed myself to eat this bread without asking before.

I know it was just one piece of bread and there is no way it could hurt me, but I was pissed at myself. Why was I so embarrassed to ask what was in the food? Why is this something that I always find myself trying to avoid in social settings? Did I secretly hope the bread was vegan so I could just enjoy some damn good garlic bread like everyone else?

I find myself in this situation whenever I go to events and parties where there are catered or homemade foods. Realistically, I know I can easily ask the people who cooked the food what ingredients are in their dishes. But asking these simple questions about food brings negative attention that makes me feel as if I am being difficult, annoying or making an issue for everyone else.

Before I stopped eating meat, I felt as if the vegetarians and vegans in my life were always talking about their diets, and I found it annoying. When I would go out to eat with them I was nervous they would make me feel uncomfortable about my food choices or try to push their “agenda” on me. Therefore, since I stopped eating meat, I always had these opinions lingering in the back of my mind, and I have been actively trying to distance myself from this negative stereotype.

In the beginning, I did not even want to associate myself with the label “vegetarian.” If someone asked me about it, I would casually answer, “I just don’t eat meat,” because I didn’t want the label to give others the power to make assumptions about kind of person I was as a vegetarian. But as time went on, and I continued to cut more and more animal products from my diet, I knew that I would need to start using a form of this label.

Now, when my veganism comes up in conversation, as I expected, I see people processing their own preconceived opinions about my lifestyle. I wish I didn’t care what people thought, but even as I am writing this column, I feel nervous that readers will think I am being That Annoying Vegan, that I am just using this space to push my plant-based agenda on my readers. And it is hard not to think this with all of the anti-vegan jokes and memes I see online. Though I still find them funny, I wish there were a way people could see veganism the way I do.

I chose my vegan lifestyle because I found this was the best for my body and mind. In addition, I want to do less harm to living creatures and the planet we share. It is a choice, and I want to acknowledge I’m aware there is a privilege in being able to eat this way. This diet or lifestyle is not accessible to everyone, and it is not my place to tell another what they should put in their body. In fact, I believe it is everyone's right to choose what feels best and truly satisfies their body’s needs.

This is the only body I will ever have. I know I should not feel sorry or shameful for being autonomous over my diet, body and impact on this world. I am not going to let the negative stereotypes about veganism affect the way I live my life. The values I hold and the lifestyle I live do not make me any better than the next person. They only allow me to have control in a system where I feel powerless. No one should ever feel shame in asking questions, because staying true to your values and standing up for justice over your body, the living beings around you and the planet is never inconvenient.

Ellery Rosenzweig can be reached at erosenz@umich.edu.