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Vegan ergonomics: Why being vegan ain’t so comfortable

November 4, 2010


Cover of "The China Study: The Most Compr...

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Today I had an ergonomic assessment at work, done by a contractor who specialises in making you feel comfortable while on the job. Having an office job, I tend to sit for many hours at my computer, only turning on occasion to pull a file from the shelf (which has become more and more rare since the electronic era). Therefore, I am in the same position for a long time, and if that position is not ergonomically-sound, I could end up with aches and pains. So she comes and observes and fiddles and recommends. That’s the boring part. The interesting part was that when she found out I was also from Toronto, she thought we were a priori pals, which apparently gave her the green light to mock my being vegan. That’s right. When she asked what I missed about Toronto, I responded, “Well, I miss the restaurants, because being vegan, there seem to be many more options in Toronto.”

Ergo Lady: Oh so you’re vegan? I see. That must explain why you are so thin.

Me: (mildly offended)

EL: Gosh, it’s depressing, isn’t it?

Me: What is?

EL: You being so thin.

Me: Um. (?)

The only way I could interpret this response to my coming out as vegan was that she was implying that it was difficult for others to lose weight, and there I am, thin, vegan, and silently reminding you that you’re a fatty. Granted, she personally wasn’t a heifer, but she wasn’t thin. And clearly, she wasn’t vegan either:

EL: Your body is hard to accommodate when choosing an appropriate desk chair. You’re tall* and narrow and you like to use the armrests. That’s problematic, what with budget cuts and everything. We’ll have to compromise when selecting a desk chair.

*For the record, I don’t think I tower over others at 5’8″.

Me: (mildly offended)

EL: It’s because you’re so thin! You need to eat meat! I like meat! You need protein!

Me: (irritated) My protein level is fine. I just don’t eat animal protein.

EL: (points to my only pair of dress shoes bought almost 8 years ago and rolls eyes) And look. Leather shoes!

Me: (entirely offended) What?

EL: Nah, I’m just kidding.

Why do people all think that vegans lack in protein? Ok, so maybe we could potentially lack in iron, or B vitamins, or Omega fats if we’re not careful, but protein? That’s generally not a problem, unless you’re a vegan who doesn’t like beans, legumes, and vegetables. But then you’re pretty much a breathairian. Or dead. And it’s clear that North Americans eat too much protein anyway. Why don’t people question that? We are brought up believing that protein (namely, animal protein) must be consumed in great amounts to remain healthy. Who has fed us these false claims? Possible answer: the media, promoted by the government, propped up by the food and agriculture agencies and industries. The China Study will show you that in fact, maybe we are eating ourselves to death with too much animal protein, proven to be a factor in contributing to the growing rate of many diseases and health problems such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, macular eye degeneration, obesity, diabetes, …

And why do some people consider it ok to try to trip vegans up as if to say, “Hey look! You’re not a true vegan after all. At least not a good one. You’re like one of those vegetarians who eat fish. Disgraceful! You might as well just start eating factory farm meat and skinning animals alive.”

I think people get upset and defensive when they hear that someone is vegan/vegetarian, because they feel silently judged. Consequently, they either resort to talking about how great meat tastes or as in the above case, trying to make you seem somewhat less pious in your perceived superiority by commenting on a slight hypocrisy. For them, this is a way of reaffirming to themselves their decision not to care. Calling myself “vegan” doesn’t shove anything down your throat or preach from above. I’m not handing out animal cruelty flyers or making any sort of disparaging remark about your diet choices. But just saying “I’m vegan” is enough for people to feel that you are overly judgemental, condescending, and arrogantly disdainful.

This all-too-common cycle of guilt, apparent judging, and lashing out is entirely unfair. When I say I’m a feminist or against racism, and you happen to be a bigot or a racist, yes, you can feel silently judged, but it’s implied. I shouldn’t have to hide my beliefs in order to protect your feelings or make you think about your diet choices more than what your tastebuds and stomach tell you.

Perhaps I should keep my opinions to myself and just be a happy that I can be vegan in a meat-eating world. Perhaps I shouldn’t rock the boat and instead try to make more friends. Unfortunately, my disposition does not allow me to do so. I’m vegan and I’m proud of it, just like I’m proud to be gay, an atheist, feminist, environmentalist, and country-music enthusiast. I would like to be accepted for who I am and ironically, not judged outright by those who are so fearful that I’m judging them. Is that too much to ask?

So I ponder these questions as I sit in my uncomfortable office, in my uncomfortable chair, at my uncomfortable desk, under uncomfortable lighting and look forward to the day when I will be in ergonomic bliss thanks to my dear fellow Torontonian pal: the Ergo Lady.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. shawn permalink
    November 4, 2010 8:52 pm

    Haha, loved the “fatty” comment.

    Even though I’m not vegan or vegetarian, I get the same thing when I visit my Dad’s family. They are all “heftier”, purely due to their lifestyle choices, and apparently I’m anorexic to them. I get the same “EAT FOOD NOW” reaction when they see me, and it’s funny until I feel they’re going to start shoving potatoes down my throat.

    It’s always jarring when you feel you’re being judged for something you just happen to be, as I have been slim my entire life (aside from my “cushier” stage in first year uni), and I still don’t know quite how to handle it other than to smile politely and change the subject. In your case I believe you have been slim most of your life, and being vegan I’m sure helps maintain that.

    It’s a knee jerk reaction when you hear someone else who makes better(arguable I’m sure) choices than you do, especially when it’s something as “extreme” as veganism. Too bad, I’m sure you wanted to be besties with her as well.

    (Sorry I’m ending this now, I’m not trying to take over your blog)
    Thanks for another post. I was checking the site right before this went up and was bummed you hadn’t done a new one. Also, you better not let it slip at work you have a blog, or you’ll have to omit all the funny coworker references.

    • November 5, 2010 6:01 pm

      I think in recent times we’ve gotten so used to seeing people who are overweight that when we see someone who is slimmer and arguably has a better BMI, we think something must be terribly wrong with them and they must eat in excessive amounts lest they disappear completely. It’s a bit funny that people still sneer at the slender folk. I wonder if there’s a support group for us. :P

      Thanks for your comment Shawn and I am glad you are enjoying my blog. There is no limit to your commenting! I do appreciate the published reactions or additions to my posts. And I promise to keep them coming!

      • James permalink
        November 5, 2010 8:28 pm

        Though I don’t get as many skinny criticisms as the two of you do (I did get one this week though!) , I get the unnecessary environmentalism and fitness comments. I know my lifestyle allows me to bike to work- and I know most people have kids and other obligations. I’m lucky to be able to take advantage of this and would never expect the average person to do it. It’s sometimes hard to promote or just mention the things you are proud of or feel are important to you without generating the perception of silent judgement. Simply saying nothing and being humble is fine sometimes, but catering to unreasonable sensitivities gets tiring after a while

        ps. were you just silently calling me ugly?

  2. xxxooo permalink
    November 6, 2010 8:55 am

    I enjoy your blog so much!!
    I wanted to comment on your “ergonomic” experience! (first an unrelated comment–I had that same assessment when I was working and was told that I would be given a special chair and special wrist supports and many other features that never ever arrived!!–so much for that ergonomic experience! It was simply documented that I had an assessment.)

    I feel that the negative , offensive way you were treated regarding your veganism is pure jealousy. That woman is not judging you but is in fact wishing she could have made similar choices and is clearly hiding behind her nasty responses looking for ways to mock.
    I feel the same way when people ask me what I do with myself now that I am retired…”You must be so bored”. It is so annoying…as if work was the only activity in my life! So many have encouraged me to go back to work. Why? I am finally getting to do all the things I could not find time to do before.
    I cannot help but be encouraging and bore all of you with my daily mantra:

    “give thanks, don’t worry, don’t be angry, work honestly, be kind to all living things”

    I am so proud of you :) xo

  3. November 7, 2010 8:46 pm

    Sorry, potentially a little inappropriate, but sadly she should be embarrassed by her ignorance.

  4. Elah permalink
    November 8, 2010 7:43 pm

    I think I love you! Another excellent entry.

  5. Elah permalink
    November 8, 2010 7:44 pm

    p.s. Want to be interviewed about vegan dating?

  6. HJM permalink
    November 14, 2010 5:30 am

    Ha ha, sounds like fun at the office. You should tell here that it’s healthy to listen to the signs your body gives you. And that you want a chair that can go down for a nap. Every time she enters your room you tell her you need a nap. Btw, I always found you small. Have you grown in size or is she a midget?

  7. Sanja Broer permalink
    April 29, 2012 9:26 pm

    And I thought it was bad when family and friends were all upset with my new lifestyle. Thank you for the post…It has only been two months for me (being vegan) and I’ve already received an abundance of grief for it. Seriously? Ugh.

    • July 8, 2012 10:54 am

      Stay strong! It is only a matter of time for people to respect your choices and realize their folly in ever giving you grief.


  1. Vegan Dating 1 « Salad in a Steakhouse

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