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Vegan is a word.

December 15, 2010

I had another somewhat awkward conversation at work the other day. A colleague of mine bumped into me in the kitchenette as I was making myself some tea and knowing that I am a recent move to Ottawa, he wanted to share his Ottawa recommendations with me. He said, “I wanted to recommend a restaurant to you!”

I immediately flushed and had to stop him dead in his tracks before he went any further, lest he make a fool out of both of us.

Me: “Wait! Before you do, I should just warn you that I’m vegan, so…”

Friendly recommender: “Oh!” (pause) Does that mean no seafood, too?”

Me: (Searching for a way to answer this lightly.)

Female colleague listening in: (interjects) “Yeah, vegans don’t eat that either. No meat.” (Turns to me for reassurance) “Right?”

Me: (timidly) “Well yeah, no… vegans don’t eat any animal products.” (nervous laugh)

Friendly recommeder: (somewhat sarcastic) “Well then forget it then!” (waits) No, but really… the restaurant I was going to recommend was…”

And he goes on to recommend a seafood restaurant. What follows was he and  the other bonding over flesh from the sea, while I just stare through them with a half-smile frozen on my lips, wondering how I could politely excuse myself without appearing perturbed.

This is a recurring event and it happens to vegans everywhere. You really can’t go anywhere without someone offering you a piece of cake, recommending a meat-based meal or restaurant, or trying to get you to explain (once more) what veganism really is. (I mean c’mon, WordPress still underlines the words “vegan” in red as I type this post, implying that it is misspelled. But of course I meant “Vegas” or “began”, how silly of me!) Being a closet vegan is next to impossible unless you want to get into complications. It’s obvious that for your sake, the sake of your colleagues, friends, and acquaintances, and the sake of the entire vegan cohort that is counting on you, you must be widely open about your veganism. The more you put yourself on the line–as well as your perceived reputation as a friendly guy or gal who anyone can relate to–the more you normalise veganism for the rest of the world and make it easier for the next vegan guy or gal who starts working, living, associating at the same place or with the same people in the future.

It’s easier said than done, especially when you are caught off your guard and someone blurts out a restaurant recommendation. In the above case, I feel I did good, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, I just swallow my pride and reluctantly allow the well-intentioned meat-eater to recommend a burger joint or seafood restaurant. You can’t beat yourself up over it. You just have to learn from your past and strive to be more open in the future. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to be vegan. If you feel embarrassed, there’s something fundamentally wrong and you need to be aware of that.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Michele permalink
    December 19, 2010 12:50 am

    I want to scream every time someone is shocked that as a vegan, I don’t eat fish. I usually say something like, “Fish are animals too, and I don’t eat any animals”. What I really want to say is, “Last time I checked, fish were still part of the animal kingdom” but sarcasm does not usually help the vegan movement. Arghhhhhhhhhhhhh!

  2. December 19, 2010 7:31 pm

    Vegas or began?! Bhahaha SO TRUE!! I burst out laughing at work :)

  3. January 13, 2011 11:35 am

    I’ve gone through this tons of times. There’s actually a great book by Naomi Wolf called ‘Living with Meat Eaters’ that goes on about this at length, especially in the workplace. I know when I took a new job in a new city I did not tell my coworkers that I was vegan outfront so to not be stigmatized or made a curiosity. Hopefully your coworker hasn’t bugged you too much more. :)

    • January 17, 2011 8:41 pm

      Thanks for the book tip! I’ll add it to my forever growing list. It sounds like a good one.

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