coexisting

I can’t expect the world to be vegan. I can’t even expect my family and friends to be vegan. Accepting this about the world is usually an easy task, since I don’t have to like the whole world, but my family and friends, well, sometimes that’s a tougher pill to swallow. I surround myself with people I do like, people who inspire me, people who make me laugh, people who respect the earth and the creatures living upon it. Wait, don’t I?

Veganism is an ism, a belief system, a philosophy, a reality tunnel—whatever you want to call it. It’s the bucket of assumptions we make about our universe, and we act on these assumptions. I believe it is wrong to make creatures suffer for things I want. I don’t want people to suffer so I can have a cheap t-shirt or so a company can make huge profits on the laptop I’m writing this on. I also don’t want a cow to be shot full of antibiotics, hormones, and substandard food or have its calves taken away to become veal because “I just can’t give up cheese.” But that’s me.

Many of my friends are not vegan. Some are not vegetarian. I do accept this, but it can make my head and my heart hurt a little. Aren’t these good people? Don’t they also respect this same world as I do? Yet they look at a pig and think, “Mmmm, bacon.” What?! But I remind myself that I once ate bacon and drank milkshakes and wore leather shoes. Did I hate myself then? Was I not a good person then? Are there injustices to the world that I ignore now because that’s just how I get through life?

I’ve written a bit before about why I choose to live vegan, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’ve begun working with a company that makes kale chips (more info to come, I promise). I’ll be working on marketing and communications for them, so I’ve been taking the chips to farmers markets, to get people’s reactions and find out what they do or don’t like about flavored, dehydrated kale. Here’s the thing: The product is vegan. Many, many, many of my farmers market neighbors are selling things like goat cheese, beeswax candles, lard-crust pies (seriously!), and grass-fed beef. For the most part, we’re all kind to one another, but I’ve had some uncomfortable interactions.

Just last weekend, I was across from a cheese guy. He sampled some of our chips and said they were super yummy. Then he offered me a sample of his cheese. I declined, saying I don’t eat cheese. He looked around and saw the “vegan” on our sign. “Oh, is that because of the V word?” Yup. Annnd I spent the rest of the morning being ridiculed for being vegan, by this guy who was 15 feet away from me. If you know me, you know that I can be quick-tongued and have almost reached the point where I can make someone burst into flames with my laser eyes. But I was representing my friend’s new company, and that’s not professional, so I laughed most of it off, choosing my barbs wisely.

This guy would not be my friend. He may not have been saying anything harsher than what some of my omnivore family and friends say, but he has not earned that right, I guess. Family and friends say it with a smile and are willing to admit that maybe they should cut back or eliminate animal products from their lives. There’s a dialogue with family and friends, and that’s the difference. This guy just spent four hours ripping on a vegan. He’ll probably tell his friends later about the hilarious stuff he said to that girl who’s missing out on bacon cheeseburgers (which I could totally get veganized at Native Foods, by the way). He’s that part of the world I don’t have to like, so I should shrug it off, right? But being that close to him for so long made it really difficult.

Living in Portland, I don’t get too much ridicule from strangers. Restaurant waitstaff don’t roll their eyes when I ask what’s vegan. Grocery clerks don’t hold up my tempeh bacon and ask, “You guys really eat this stuff? But do you like it?” And I don’t have to take a deep breath, smile, and say, “Yes, I do like it, and the pigs like it too.” But I do live in a bit of a bubble. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the vegan-friendly reputation was one of the draws of the city. I have to deal less with that part of the world I don’t have to like.

I think writing this was supposed to be an exercise for me, a chance to dredge up some sort of lesson or something about coexisting with those who don’t believe in the same things you do. I suppose the only lessons here are these: We should think before we speak, think about what our words do once they leave our mouths. Also, remember that we’re all just drinking out of our own bucket of assumptions. Mine’s not going to be the same as yours…and our buckets can change as they spill a little or get topped off. Again (I say this a lot), I don’t have the answers. My goal, though, is to never stop asking questions.

Wow, that was dry. Hey, look! It’s my super cute cat!

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