After fours years of trying—and it pains me to say this—I’m still a transitioning vegan.
Since embracing the non-violent lifestyle in the summer of 2013, I’ve been regularly stumped by the various obstacles that seemingly prevent me from upholding the cause in the right ways.
Apart from maybe making people I meet vegan-curious as they observe and proceed to attribute some health benefits I enjoy to my plant-based diet (e.g. I’m pushing 32 but often get told I look younger, I’m able to maintain a healthy weight for my frame and height, I rarely get sick), I am actually a terrible advocate of the movement. Here’s why.
1. I’m self-conscious and afraid to be seen as ‘uncool.’
I struggle to assert myself in public and fear being labelled ‘fussy’ or ‘high maintenance,’ especially by new friends. My family and friends make sure to choose restaurants that are vegan or vegan-friendly when out with me. Occasionally, though, I’ll find myself somewhere with little to no vegan options, but with very ‘hangry’ companions I don’t know very well.
In these instances, I’ll sometimes make the mistake of ordering something that looks vegan, without specifying I want it vegan.
What do I do when said dish turns out cooked in animal fat or stock, sautéed with shrimp, containing eggs, or buried in cheese, etc? I offer it to any non-vegan companion who’ll have it, then order a vegan or ‘veganisable’ dish, making sure to indicate my preferences this time.
If I can’t afford to order extra, or if I’m just plain hungry, I make do with the non-vegan dish. I pick out and pass onto my non-vegan companions all visible animal products from the plate, eat what’s left of that, accept that what I’ve ingested has mingled with or caused the suffering of actual sentient beings, and just resolve to do better next time.
The ‘pick and pass’ also happens at parties when all there is to eat is what’s served on the table, and the host hasn’t offered to accommodate special diets upon invitation.
I don’t usually send back a non-vegan dish already served to me, in exchange for a ‘veganised’ version; I dislike drawing attention to myself, I dislike making things difficult for others, and I especially dislike wasting resources.
Unsurprisingly, I never attend vegan-unfriendly parties hungry, and prefer making my own things at home to eating out. And when I say ‘make my own things,’ I mean salads, because I can’t really cook well, or at all. This leads us to my next vegan shortcoming.
2. I can’t really cook well, or at all.
A rock-solid way to promote veganism is to make plant-based foods appeal to any non-vegans in proximity. Since I prefer making salads and eating fruit, and only occasionally do the least in the direction of delicious cooked vegan foods (I can only make hummus and falafel, maybe some pasta, that’s it), I’m definitely behind in this area of advocacy.
3. Vegan sweets and salty snacks aren’t always available to me.
I have both a sweet tooth and a salty tooth (this is a thing). Time and again I’ll be desperately craving sugar or salt, without having had money or time to buy readymade snacks. So I sometimes eat whatever non-vegan chocolate, non-vegan baked goods, or non-vegan cheese-flavoured crunchy things I find at home.
This is especially a problem on the week leading to my period, when I am extra ‘snacky.’ And this would actually not be a problem if I learned to prepare my own vegan snacks. Alas.
4. I don’t do all I possibly can for animals.
While animals are pure, precious, and bring so much love and joy to our lives, I didn’t grow up with any cats or dogs (we had the odd goldfish or lobster), and currently don’t care for any at home. I enjoy my friends’ beloved pets, but don’t have enough of an emotional yearning to adopt rescues at this time.
Adopting a rescue seems a major responsibility for which our household isn’t yet ready or suited, financially and pet health-wise.
We’re currently also caring for my 12 year-old adopted brother Isiah, who is in sixth grade at a nearby Montessori. He was diagnosed with ADHD with ODD at age seven, and has since been medicating and receiving occupational therapy regularly. Isiah is a handful, and has harmed neighbours’ cats and dogs numerous times when he was younger, so he is sadly some sort of pet safety hazard too.
So in theory I want all animals to be happy and free. However, while one good way I can tangibly express this compassion might be giving a loving home to and ensuring the wellbeing of a rescue animal (or not—the ethics of pet ownership is now being debated, apparently), I’m currently not doing that.
5. Vegan waste management can be tricky.
I’m simultaneously underemployed and busy with family and household tasks. Because consuming sustainably can be both money and time-intensive in Quezon City, Philippines (where I was born and raised and have lived all my life), I often make non-vegan choices regarding waste, like failing to avoid plastic and Styrofoam packaging, or not managing our household waste as best as possible.
For instance, I use these cheap feminine napkins called ‘Those Days’, which are notoriously plastic-heavy and non-biodegradable. I eat a lot of Fuji apple hybrids, which are cheapest at this nearby supermarket called Cherry Foodarama. So every other week I get this pack of eight apples. Each apple is dressed in a Styrofoam cosy and fitted onto a Styrofoam tray that’s then covered in cling wrap.
In 2015, my greenie mother had our childhood nanny-turned-seasonal help Ate Arlene build a compost pit beside our house. This helped us reduce waste and eventually produce some fertiliser for her plants.
Both women are out of town for the next few months, however, so the composting is paused for now. Currently, our organic refuse goes to the truck on biodegradable waste collection days, which adds to Quezon City’s waste problem. Oy.
6. I don’t garden.
If I’m serious about universal compassion and saving the planet, what am I doing not planting all the things? Why am I not making all the excuses to wear cute straw hats and boots like Jen’s?
7. Because I don’t plant my own food, I’m supporting unethical corporations who don’t care about their social or environmental impact.
I still give money to big supermarkets. Here, foods, ingredients, and produce items are plentiful and cheap, but supply chains and operations are famously unethical.
My apple source Cherry Foodarama started out as a family grocer with a wide range of low-priced foods and goods. Unfortunately, Cherry was acquired in 2015 by SM, a behemoth who is able to sell its vast selection of merchandise cheaply by using various Chinese suppliers and wantonly abusing the labour code.
As a vegan, I should buy my apples from somewhere that eschews plastic, and that treats their employees right, right? Barring that, I could just look for another fruit or veggie staple originating from an ethical, sustainable supply chain.
Otherwise, I’m still enabling systems that exploit earthly life (i.e. mistreated workers, landfills and oceans choking on man’s garbage). And this is no less evil than supporting industries that abuse animals.
8. I can’t afford most non-food vegan lifestyle products.
Undoubtedly, the internet has made it easy to find ethically and sustainably made, cruelty-free clothes, accessories, and lifestyle products. Still, these items are too pricey for low-earning me.
9. Honestly, how should vegans deal with pests and rodents?
10. I don’t read enough.
There’s still so much to learn about the politics and socioeconomics behind today’s food industrial complex, both locally and worldwide.
For example, because the majority of the global population consumes animal products, animal agriculture is what dominates the market. Abruptly abolishing livestock farming and animal product manufacture and sales means, then, that many humans would lose their livelihood.
In non-food industry environmental vetoes, a similar thing happened when Philippine mines were shuttered recently without giving workers replacement jobs.
Further, as the demand for more crops and plant-based foods increases each year, more animals stand to lose their home. Throughout history, crop agriculture has regularly displaced wild animal populations due to the clearing process involved in cropland cultivation.
Just because a food product is meat and dairy-free, doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect animals or the planet adversely. Some vegans are lucky enough to grow their own food, make all of their own tools, and live independently of society and money.
The majority of veganism in popular practice, however, feeds on the capitalist substrate upon which modern civilisation is built. Capitalism invariably perpetuates the suffering of the poorest and most defenceless, and unfortunately, vegan consumerism still keeps this machine running.
So really, veganism isn’t as simple as ‘meat is bad, plants are good.’ There are value judgments to be made in contextualising veganism towards optimal effectiveness. And because I want my veganism to make an unequivocally positive impact, at least within my sphere of influence for now, I need to do my share of research and critical analysis.
Theory, practice, accountability, and activism
I realise now that if I want my veganism to count, I should be more deliberate with my principles.
I want to keep learning how to live in order to effectively promote the cause, and eventually make relevant institutional improvements benefiting the plight of all beings and the planet.
However, I want to advocate veganism sensibly, without utilising shame or sanctimony. There’s a certain moral elitism vegan hardliners leverage to judge vegans who aren’t championing animal liberation at all times. The same logic fuels criticism for so-called vegan apologists, ‘imperfect vegans,’ or ‘silent vegans.’
Not only does this behaviour hurt the movement’s already-fragile ideology, this also discourages people from embracing veganism as a lifestyle.
Considering that it took centuries for equality across gender and race to materialise, and that to this day comprehensive equality still isn’t 100 percent the norm, the leap from humanity’s current level of consciousness, to an ideal level where all our existing social systems thrive on compassion, will likely take time as well.
We can’t expect instant applied awareness from people, especially if they’ve spent decades holding specific beliefs as canon. Evolution is a process; each person is on her or his own journey of self-discovery. It seems smarter to educate, but at the same time allow people the freedom to find their own epiphanies. After all, isn’t veganism at its core founded on oneness and non-discriminating love?
Moreover, real and lasting change requires that we organise and scale up our efforts towards strengthening the weak and disempowering the very structures of oppression. If the dream is for every human and living thing to get to fully enjoy life and protect what’s left of this Earth, then realistically, vegan conversion is just one method of improving that bigger picture.
As for me, I’m owning up to my vegan faults, and working on them one step at a time, hopefully by choosing creating over consuming, showing over telling, pragmatism over idealism, and inclusivity over exclusivity.
I’ll be chronicling my journey to effective vegan advocacy here, so please feel free to join the conversation! I appreciate all your feedback and advice, so go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments!
Title Image Credit: Elli O via Unsplash