I’ve been veggie since I was 15 years old, which has given me a lot of time to get used to plant-based living. It’s also a lot of time to make a gazillion mistakes. During my time as a veggie I’ve watched the lifestyle, along with veganism, become more and more popular. Nowadays, even fully-fledged meat eaters are starting to adopt a more Reducetarian diet. There’s more awareness about plant-based eating, more accessibility and more tolerance. It’s easier to live a plant-based lifestyle in the UK now than it ever was before. This isn’t necessarily the case for all countries- as there are some who’ve been rocking the plant-based lifestyle before it was cool/ colonised.
I’ve had a lot of different responses to my veggie lifestyle. There has been curiosity, support, encouragement, confusion and guidance. There have also been people who would try tirelessly to convince me how pointless my lifestyle was; tell me that they were going to double their meat consumption to cancel me out; seemed to be waiting for me to slip up and some who would even purposely try and trick me into eating meat/ animal products. I can absolutely guarantee that it is this person who will ask you that unnecessary ‘if you were on a desert island…’ question (P.S. a hypothetical situation where I’m starving on an island and would be assumed to be a skilled hunter capable of catching anything other than a cold in no way equates to the large-scale killing of animals for convenience food).
These kinds of people are also, not surprisingly, the first to call you out if you ‘slip up’ and eat something outside of your lifestyle. They’ll tell you that you have one chance, that’s it, now you’re compromised and should call it quits all together – Scott Pilgrim vegan powers entirely revoked until further notice. Now this issue doesn’t just apply to plant-based eaters, these people will be around for anyone trying to implement long-term changes like reducing smoking or drinking habits, going to bed earlier, cutting down phone usage etc. The irony is that the reason these people are so eager for you to quit is because of the positive impact you’re having.
Being able to consistently make your own life and the environment around you a better place can make people who aren’t doing that uncomfortable. So instead, they try to pull you down or (a term used quite a lot for this plant-based eaters) ‘corrupt’ you to equalise. We talked a little bit about this is the Schadenfreude post, where we chatted about the reasons someone might act in a negative way to people they think highly of or why they might take pleasure in seeing someone fail. It’s a common experience but it’s one that, if we spot ourselves doing it, we can (and should) train ourselves out of.
One simple way to this is to look inward. Identifying the behaviour in ourselves is a tricky step to take, but you can start by admitting it to yourself without involving external judgement. After that you can work out what trait in yourself is feeling vulnerable as a result of someone else’s success. Then it’s just a matter of strengthening that area- if you’re envious of someone’s consistency, practice your own consistency day by day – you could start a morning routine, read a book for 10 minutes a day… whatever it is that helps you grow your own foundations rather than scratching away at someone else’s.
I know that there are people who say that they’re veggie/vegan and eat meat on the regular. They make consistent decisions to eat meat while trying to maintain the image of being more ethical/ healthy etc. to try and appear morally sound to other people. This can be frustrating and makes us want to ‘expose’ them. I get it; but I can promise you that these people are a minority. (Besides, if people are relying on validation in that way, it sort of shows that they have their own issues to recognise and that’s not your job). The majority of people who are eating plant-based are actually trying. They make consistent decisions everyday to be plant-based. Those decisions aren’t always easy or simple, especially for people who grew up eating meat and decided in later life to remove it from their diet. It’s for this reason that the slip ups don’t matter.
In Japan I couldn’t read the labels or ask the servers in restaurants for the ingredients of meals. Instead I carried around this little help leaflet with pictures of things I couldn’t eat – just in case it wasn’t obvious already that I was a foreigner. Over time I learned how to ask the questions I needed and which kanji to look out for (肉 = meat, 魚 = fish) but it was still a struggle. I don’t doubt for a second that during my time in Japan I ate animal products without knowing, especially since dashi, or fish stock, was in most foods.
I actually have an exact example. Pretty soon after arriving in Japan I discovered Mos Burger, the closest fast food place that was a 40 minute drive from my house, and tried their soy burger. This was assumed to be vegetarian (green packaging and all) until my friend who had known about it for a while after reading the ingredients on the company’s all-Japanese website decided to tell me that these burgers contained meat. I was really upset when I found out and felt really guilty.
I’d eaten meat, so does that mean I’m no longer veggie? Nope it doesn’t. Not one bit, despite what that friend had hoped. I didn’t know and once I found out, I didn’t eat another ‘soy’ burger from there again.
It’s like everything else in life, we do the best we can. It’s the effort you make that matters more than the hiccups. And, like everything else in life, there’s a lot to learn from our hiccups. Every hiccup has taught me something important that has helped me become more and more plant-based. I’ve realised the toxic people who are happy to sabotage my lifestyle, I’ve learned the breadth of products that contain the exploitation of animals and I’ve used this knowledge to become a better, more conscious person. There’s still a long way to go! I want to continue on my very slow journey towards veganism, to see through the green-washed personas of many companies and makes sure to support providers who acknowledge and endorse equality and diversity.
As a plant-based eater, you decide every day to not eat meat. 365 days a year, around 3 meals a day you are eating plant-based meals. So, if a restaurant mislabels a dish, or your friend accidentally uses beef stock in the potluck chilli or you use a collagen face mask (yup, not animal friendly) it’s an exception to the majority. It’s a drop of oil in an ever-growing ocean of goodness. Each and every plant-based option you take is better for your health, the animals and the environment. You’re refusing to invest in industries that profit on exploitation. You’re literally saving the world one vegetable at a time.
Please do the same. Don’t let the comments of jealous people damage your lifestyle. You are doing amazing and I’m proud of you! Your resilience is your resistance.
For any plant-based eaters, please share something you’ve learned on your animal-exploitation-free journey that will help others – it can be anything from surprise ingredients to helpful recipes. Let’s have a little community of help and motivation in a world that at times seems eager to see us fail.
For the roots of vegetarianism (did you know that pythagoras was a veggie?)