You are WHAT? You have got to be kidding me…

For the past 17 years, what I am eating (or not eating, as the case may be) has been a topic of conversation among my family, friends and sometimes complete strangers.  It all started, as did some other rather life changing events, when I was 19…

The first girl I fell in love with (and oh my LORD was I in love) was a vegetarian.  So, of course, I decided I couldn’t possibly consume another chicken wing, in the name of love & all.  In the four years we were together, I eschewed most meat… except fish.  

Uh oh.  Danger.  This is where I began to notice that other folks were profoundly interested in my dietary choices.  See, you can’t say you are a vegetarian, if you eat fish.  Other real vegetarians will be peeved.  But to my mother, who was mighty put out by my refusal to eat beef stroganoff (and about the lesbian thing, too), I was a vegetarian, for sure.  And there was much sighing and many noisy ingredient subsitutions on her part.  So, I just said I was a vegetarian, opting to explain apologetically my consumption of our fish friends when I encountered a real vegetarian.  They were fewer in number than regular folks and easier to deal with than my mother.

I bounced in and out of vegetarianism for the next 5 years or so.  The first love & I split up (out! Yay, chicken wings!).  I declared myself a buddhist (in! Must not eat sentient beings!).  And, finally in 2007, I gave up meat (except not fish!) for Lent (oops!  I had also reacquainted myself with the Methodist church… but that is another story), and I just never started eating meat again after Lent was over.  I found that being a vegetarian (of sorts) forced me to examine my food choices.  Fast food wasn’t really an option any more.  I started packing my lunches.  I lost 10 pounds.  And I was comfortable with my choice.

My mother and mother-in-law–not as happy with my choice.  For almost two years, every time I ate at my mother-in-law’s house, I only ate sides.  And a salad.  And I would leave STARVING.  My mom, well she bemoaned all the things I couldn’t eat… And all the ways they would need to accomodate me on holidays.  The message was clear:  my eating habits were annoying, and while they would be tolerated, I would certainly have to pay a price for my finickiness.  I hated being the center of that kind of negative attention.  I mean, who wants to have any choice they make dissected repeatedly by the entire family?  

Folks outside the family often seemed perplexed by my food choices.  “What do you EAT?”  Or, my favorite, “I am a vegetarian, but I eat poultry.”  I know, I know… I was a seafood-eating vegetarian; but I was pushing the limits of the definition of vegetarianism to its boundaries.  People who eat chicken are definitely NOT vegetarians.  Sheesh.  And, God forbid someone else have to order food for me at a work or social event… Somehow, it almost always came off as if they were doing me a big favor by accomodating my needs.  All I wanted was to be able to choose what I put in my body without it being a big production.  

Well, if I thought the vegetarian issue was pushing the bounds of people’s capacity for tolerance, I had another thing coming.  When I decided I was going to give veganism a whirl, my food choices became (apparently) really threatening to other people.  Look, I just wanted to do the 21 Day Vegan Kickstart.  I thought the three weeks would probably suck, but I would be forced to eat more fruits and veggies (since my 9 month old daughter is clamoring to get her hands on whatever I am eating, that seemed like a laudable goal).  

But, it didn’t suck… And, I was learning to cook!  And, I had lots of energy!  And then I watched Forks Over Knives.  And being vegan began to seem like the only logical choice for me.  And that is the key:  for ME.  I don’t want to prostelytize veganism (although I do think everyone should watch Forks Over Knives).  I don’t really care what anyone else eats.  But I do care what I eat. And it is my choice to head in the vegan direction.  

Yes, veganism and all its oddities has been a topic of conversation among family and friends.  Yeah, I am having to listen to some rather confrontational critiques of my choices.  But what really gets me is that some other vegans won’t find me vegan enough because I eat honey (lots of honey.  For reals).  And I refuse to grill wait staff about what is in the food… I avoid items that obviously have eggs or dairy; I will ask about vegan items, but I do not insist on a complete ingredients list.  So, again, I am in the somewhat odd situation of being too much of something for the majority of the popluation and not enough of that very same thing for the little subset that I belong to.  

Here’s my bottom line:  I make choices about food thoughtfully.  My choices are not better than your choices.   But they are mine.  I do not want to defend them (to the vegans or the carnivores).  I find food deeply personal, and lately I am finding it deeply delicious.  That journey into truly amazing vegan food is part of what I am hoping to share here.

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