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How to Go Veg part 2: going public, eating out, finding support.

(post, Trista Cornelius)

primary-image, l

So, it’s been two weeks since I posted part one about going veg.  How’s it feel?  Did you try it?  

One of the best things about going veg for me has been the exploration and discovery of new foods.  When you cut so much of the familiar out of your diet (turkey, cheese, yogurt), you open up space for new things from the abundant plant world.  If you’re going veg, have you tried anything you’d not eaten before?  Fava beans?  Or, anything you thought you didn’t like but have re-discovered?  Brussels sprouts?  

What have been the rewards of going veg?  What have been the difficulties?

I know I worried a lot about being invited to someone’s house for dinner.  Especially when it was still an experiment, I didn’t know how to tell them that I didn’t eat meat or dairy.  However it happens, the word got out, people close to me knew, and anytime I was invited for dinner, I simply offered to bring my own dish.  People were curious about what I brought, and it became a creative challenge for me to make something that I thought would “wow” the omnivores.  

At other people’s homes for dinner, there were usually side dishes that allowed me to partake in the shared meal, and some hosts went all out, making special vegan dishes, even labeling them for me.  I felt badly about the extra effort and the attention I worried I’d draw, but the vast majority of people in my life expressed only curiosity, and asking about my diet led to broader discussions about food, important discussions that got us all thinking about the profound impact our food choices have in our lives and on the world.  

Other veg-folks I know have received criticism instead of curiosity.  For this, my best advice is to either listen, smile, and try to brush it off, or shift the conversation to how good you feel or to some of the new dishes you’re tried.  That might focus people on broader subjects than the fact that you don’t eat meat.  Meat is a highly symbolic food in many cultures.  It can represent vitality, financial success (a chicken in every pot), strength, masculinity, entitlement, security, and much more.  Therefore, some people react defensively when faced with a meatless meal during a lunch break, whether the veg-eater means to cause that reaction or not (and most do not).  

Eating out and eating vegan has been relatively easy, except at Applebee’s.  There’s always a salad and usually a hummus plate I can order without cheese.  This can get a bit boring, but I know my diet is not mainstream, and so I don’t go to a restaurant expecting anything special.  Better yet, I seek out vegetarian and vegan restaurants.  Even though I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in at various places in my life, I find that when I visit a veg restaurant for the first time, I feel comfortable there knowing that we, the employees and customers, have this one thing in common.  

That reminds me—that if you’re the only vegetarian/vegan you know, it helps to find a community to support your food choices.  I find inspiration in blogs from people I have not met and may never meet.  It’s such a relief to know there are others out there choosing this diet and making no apologies.  Here are some favorites:

Vegan RD
Dreena Burton
NW Veg
Veggie Ignoramus (not vegan, but all about new veggies)

My diet eventually led me to apply vegan values to the rest of my life.  That meant finding shoes, purses, belts, coats, sweaters, not made with animal products.  I still wear some wool (just not merino wool, which involves a particularly cruel practice that even the producers of merino are trying to change), and I’m sad to say that vegan shoes have not worked out for me, but I have a vinyl book bag that still looks great after daily use for the last five years, a fabric purse, and a belt made from the inner tube of a bike tire (you’d never know).  Here are some good sources for veg items not on your plate:  

Pie Footwear

Let me know how it’s going.  I think my next post might be about how going veg led to a few other fundamental changes in my life.  Eating a “cleaner” diet lowered my tolerance for other bad choices I’d been making.  I eventually booted out almost all processed foods; I quit all caffeine (except occasional dark chocolate) for good; I recently quit sugar for a month and am limiting how much I allow back into my diet, and with all of that “restriction,” I still feel like I have abundant and diverse food choices.  Farmers’ markets are key to my veg life, and so is my own garden.  Even before I had a yard, I started growing food in pots on the front stoop.  Now, I fit as much food into my yard as possible.  Knowing how food grows has shaped what and how I eat as well.  More on that in the next post.  And then, maybe a celebratory update about my one-year anniversary being caffeine free!  

Thanks for reading.