Gatekeeping in the Vegan Community

Even if you’ve never heard the term “gatekeeping”, you’ve probably experienced it. Have you ever expressed  passion in something and been met with undue skepticism? Maybe been told that you’re not a “real” fan of something if you don’t do x, y, and z? Someone extra obnoxious may have even pop quizzed you about esoteric, arbitrary facts to determine your standing. That’s gatekeeping, and I think it’s nearly universal in places where folks find their identity rooted.

The urge to identify with a group is fundamentally human. We crave validation for our beliefs and actions. Vegans often feel misunderstood or even shunned by mainstream society, further pushing us into the arms of like minded people. Personally, veganism is such a core part of my value system, and has revolutionized so many aspects of my life, that I just love having people who feel the same way. Plus it’s nice having people to eat with.

The sense of commoradery that community brings is a wonderful thing, and I’ve learned so much from others within it. That’s a big part of why I can’t stand gatekeeping.

Let me let you in on a little secret. I may not be a REAL vegan. For one, I suffer from a chronic illness which requires me to take medication containing lactose, derived from milk. Mercifully, even the harshest vegan gatekeepers usually give me a pass for that. The Vegan Society defines veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” So I call myself a vegan. Both because it represents what I strive for, and it’s the quickest way to explain my diet.

It is my opinion that any self defined vegan who claims that their lifestyle causes ZERO harm to animals is incorrect. Car and bike tires contain animal products, as do many other rubbers. Many necessary medications, like my own, unfortunately contain animal products. I don’t give up. Of all the things I believe about veganism, this may be the most important:

Veganism is an effort. 

So many people tell me “I’d like to be a vegan, but I couldn’t give up cheese!”. And I say, then give up everything but cheese. The label isn’t everything. Remember why you’re trying to live this way, and strive to do the best you can. I’ll always encourage anyone who wants to take any step in reducing their consumption of animal products. My own journey to veganism sure was less as the crow flies, and more like a drunken ramble to a joyous conclusion.

I’ve struggled my entire life with perfectionism. I still do. It’s funny how it always sounds like a compliment, but it’s really a fault. I’ve cheated myself and others so many times by not trying very hard because I couldn’t do something perfectly. Why bother at all if it’s not 100%? Bother with this because every plant based meal you eat saves lives, water, reduces your carbon footprint, and nourishes your body. Don’t let perfectionism stand in the way of you moving towards the values you want to live. Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference.

Veganism as I eat, live, and breathe it is really quite simple. It is an extension of compassion. Don’t forget compassion for yourself.

 

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Traveling as a Vegan: Do’s and Don’ts

DO plan ahead by making a list of quick and easy meals you’d like to eat on your trip. Pack snacks for your plane, car, or bus ride. My favorites are Larabars, air popped popcorn, and homemade trailmix made of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and of course dark chocolate. If you’re eating in a way that most people are not, you need to take responsibility for your own food.

DO embrace the local cuisine of wherever you travel. Trying new foods is one of my favorite parts of travel. I literally chose my honeymoon destination based on it being one of the most vegan-friendly cities in America. You don’t have to miss out just because you’re a vegan, you just might have to do a little research before your trip about what options you may have. I just traveled to the Caribbean, and while most people think seafood, I gorged myself happily on fresh local produce. Plus you get to feel good about supporting local farmers and helping the environment by not eating as much food that had to be driven hundreds of miles.

DON’T be afraid to ask for a customized meal at restaurants. Sometimes they won’t have anything explicitly vegan, so you may have to get creative. You can ask whether or not a dish can be made vegan, or my trick in a pinch is to piece together side dishes and build my own meal. For example, when I get Mexican food I might just ask for a big plate of rice, beans, salsa, peppers and onions, and guacamole. If you’re going to pay for it and you treat the staff with kindness and respect, they will usually happily accommodate you.

DON’T give up your booze if you don’t want to. Most alcohol is vegan although some is not due to animal products used in the filtration processes. I use a site called Barnivore to check if the drink I want is vegan friendly. But remember how I just said I was in the Caribbean? Yeah, I was the rummy drink Queen.

DON’T succumb to pressure. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “but you’re on vacation!” or “but you used to like this!” or “*someone’s* feelings will be hurt!” I’d be a very rich woman . Your health comes first, and only you own your body, so you need to do what you think is right. Other people can make their own choices, they don’t need to make yours. Your body belongs to you and nobody else gets a say as to what you put in it.

DO be food positive. Try to eat things you enjoy. There are more innovative and delicious foods out there for vegans every day, because we’re a growing population. Every time you order a vegan meal at a restaurant, thank you. You are using your dollar to cast a vote for what kind of food you want available. Plant based food is exploding and even meat giants like Tyson are taking note and investing in the plant based food industry. I truly appreciate anyone who casts a vote with their dollar by ordering plant foods. Remember why you are choosing veganism and try to think about all the amazing food you DO want eat, not what you DON’T want to eat. Love yourself and your body by giving it the best nourishment possible.

Why I Became a Vegan: The True Story

Many people ask why I became a vegan, and they get the reader’s digest version. “For my health”, I say. “Environmental reasons”, I might tell another. Every long-time vegan is familiar with the game of quickly sizing up whoever asks that question and trying to decide if they might care about animal welfare, the environment, or health causes. It’s similar to something I think many women are familiar with, which is feeling like you won’t just be seen as an individual, but as a representative for your gender, or, in this case, lifestyle. You want to say the right thing, basically. Well the truth is, I AM a vegan for all those reasons and a million others, but that’s not why I BECAME one.

I never put much thought into what I ate and how it affected me or the world around me until I was a teenager. I suddenly became very weight conscious and flirted with disordered eating behaviors that are still difficult to talk about. Ironically, a very low carb diet is what triggered my transition to veganism. It was very popular when I was in my early years of college, eating a lot of animal products and strictly limiting sugar, even from plants, to enter the body into a fat burning state called ketosis. Well, I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian or anything like that, so all I can tell you is, I hated it. Sure, I could go for a while avoiding carbs, but then I’d eventually binge on them. I spent a long time hating myself and my body, wishing I could just be strong and restrict my calories. I’ve never even been very big, my largest was 140 at 5′ 2″. Eventually I gave up entirely on low carb, and the pendulum effect took over. I wanted nothing to do with meat, eggs, or dairy, and I started eating as much fruit and vegetables as I could get my hands on. Convinced I was just hopeless, I stopped worrying about calories. When I was hungry I ate plants, and that’s it.

While I was ignoring the scale, I began to realize that I felt better and better. My skin was clearing up, I wasn’t so tired, and I just had a more positive attitude towards food. Something was coming back to me, something I’d known as a child but forgot as a young adult: food should be fun. I still 100% believe this. You have to eat to live, so why not enjoy it? I started to remember that none of the shame and frustration I’d associated with eating was necessary. None of it made me any happier. None of it made me any healthier. As I continued relearning how to love food, I began relearning how to love myself.I had more energy so I exercised. I wasn’t terrified of going out to eat because of the calories, so I spent more time with friends. I started to believe that I deserved to be happy, and I started to forgive myself for punishing  my body all that time. I felt like I’d woken from a daze and I could live again.  Over the next two years, 30 pounds dropped away unnoticed. No calorie counting, no restricting, just eating plants. So yes, I AM a vegan because I love animals, and I care about the environment, and I care about the health of my body. But I BECAME a vegan because it set me free. Eating is joyful, weight management is effortless, and I love myself.