Finding Common Ground

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A Vegetarian Interviews a Vegan – Pt. 1

By Meg Claire

I’m a vegetarian. My friend Tracie is a vegan. The joy and comfort we take in our plant-based diets are undeniable. It just feels good physically and ethically. But still, the mainstream American diet has certainly created a stigma around us. And within us too.

When I first tried veganism I felt ostracized. Ordering the one thing on the menu I could eat; the narrowed selection at the grocery store. The idea of “supplements.” Family and friends who were going out of their way to accommodate me. And most upsetting, a vegan support group who thought I wasn’t “truly vegan” because I didn’t like PETA’s style. I began “explaining” every transaction of my day. And on top of it, even though I knew I was doing the right thing, I was making an obvious sacrifice. I missed eggs and cheese. A cider donut put me over the edge, and I was back to vegetarianism.

Tracie was cool about this. She didn’t go vegan police on me. “Whatever works for you,” she said calmly. Then she proceeded to impress me with clever vegan recipes, like her cupcakes with seltzer.  I hadn’t met a vegan who’d accepted me as a vegetarian, an equal; rather than a failure, a truth denier. I decided to ask her a few questions to get closer to her openness, acceptance, and compassion.

Q: You describe yourself as an "adaptable vegan". What does that mean?

A: No matter what situation I’m in, I find something that works for me. I don’t expect people to cater to my dietary restrictions. I take it upon myself to make sure I have something to eat by either eating something before I go, bringing something with me, or just working with whatever foods are available. There has never been a time that I’ve eaten out with friends when I haven’t found something good on the menu that I can eat.

Q: Do you think vegans and vegetarians engage in partnership, or is it a strained "relationship"?

A: I think it depends on the type of vegan you are. There are lots of vegans that feel that vegetarians (and anyone that isn’t vegan) just aren’t good enough and that being vegan is the only way but I don’t feel that way at all. I think that any change that someone makes – even if it’s just cutting back on their meat and dairy intake – is an amazing thing. Instead of trying to make people feel inferior, we should encourage and be supportive of even the smallest changes. Ten years ago, I knew a girl who was vegan and remember thinking, “I could never be vegan,” and look at me now.

Q: Who's your favorite vegan chef?

A: There are so many amazing vegan chefs out there but I’d have to say Chloe Coscarelli. She’s young, innovative and has come up with some amazing recipes. I’m also a cupcake fanatic and her win on Cupcake Wars was a hugely inspirational for me.

Going vegan was a challenge because I didn't have the support I needed.  What was the somethin' special that helped you live the vegan lifestyle with gusto?

Comment List

  • Meghann 07 / 10 / 2010 Reply

    Great article – I find I'm still struggling with my veganism – which isn't helped by having a ton of food sensitivities on top of it all. I constantly have to tell my husband, no, I'm not eating Vietnamese or sushi (my 2 huge weaknesses), unless they have a vegetarian/vegan way to do it, telling my mom or friends, no, I'm not having cheese, or turkey at Thanksgiving. It is hard. With food allergies mixed in (no gluten, corn, and only fermented soy like tempeh or miso or tamari, and other no-no's in veggies), it has been a frustrating, uphill battle. However, great blogs like this one, and great cookbooks have helped me considerably. My family is slowly learning to not question my food choices, and I've started writing my own low allergy cookbook, so it is starting to get better 🙂

  • Rachel 08 / 10 / 2010 Reply

    Thank you for posting this!  I'm not truly vegan – I eat fish, but I do have a dairy allergy, which, when eating out often makes me effectively vegan.  It's easy in most urban centers, but airports and rural diners – pretty hit or miss.  I totatally understand your frustration Meghann.  Next up:  Thanksgiving dinner.  I'd like to bring some tasty vegan dishes to the table.  Anybody have any good ideas/recipes?

  • Jennifer 08 / 10 / 2010 Reply

    I love this. As a vegetarian who's just not quite ready to give up the occasional slice of brie or the pleasures of a gooey, buttery homemade caramel, I really don't care for the one-upping that goes on between vegans and vegetarians. And if many vegans can't have a compassionate and reasonable conversation with vegetarians, can they really expect to persuade any omnivores? 

  • Meg Claire 08 / 10 / 2010 Reply

    @Meghann I feel your pain! Especially when it comes to explaining away every single transaction in your daily life – and even more so with big family-eating holidays coming up. Good for you taking control of your diet with your own cookbook. Hope to try one of your recipes some day soon!

  • Meg Claire 08 / 10 / 2010 Reply

    @Rachel. Rural diners! Tell me about it. Fries and toast is pretty much it for vegans. I hosted my first vegetarian Thanksgiving for my husband's Italian family last year. It's a little easier because all the side dishes are the most fun and the turkey is just a dry, tasteless (not to mention tortured) afterthought. For my "entree" I used made mini mushroom-nutloafs wrapped in puff pastry with a boozy-cranberry sauce. Everyone nommed it up! My recipe was inspired by one I found in the Vegan Lunch Box cookbook. Give it try.

  • Meg Claire 08 / 10 / 2010 Reply

    @Jennifer You said it in a nutshell! And I'm the same way about brie. I'm going to France next month, and I thank God I'm merely a vegetarian because a vegan in Paris misses out on the best cheeses and pastries this universe has to offer! Thanks for reading!

  • Jaya Bhumitra 08 / 10 / 2010 Reply

    The easiest way to go vegan from vegetarian is to learn the issues. I read a TON. I get newsletters from every major animal protection organization, I read the articles about factory farming in the news, I see the documentaries. Once you are informed, you won't have the same reaction to cheese, eggs, milk, or ice cream. They won't be pleasurable or comforting. Cheese was my NUMBER ONE favorite food for the 20 years I was vegetarian. But when I actually learned about dairy farming, I was so grossed out (pus and blood in my food? yuck) and so upset about the cruelty, that I literally get nauseous. Constantly keeping the information in front of me (for example, the animal orgs usually send their e-newsletters weekly, and there are always articles about salmonella and ecoli in the news!) helps me stay on track. I try not to judge vegetarians because hey, it took me 20 years to have my "aha!" moment. But it was only after I started reading and learning so much about this topic that I had it, and I think that is necessary for most people to really make the transition. Once you do all that reading, you don't want to be a party of the system. You don't want to contribute to that cruelty. I learned the information, and then took responsibility for the part I was playing in perpetuating the cruelty. And then I stopped.

  • Meg Claire 10 / 10 / 2010 Reply

    @Jaya Information, statistics, and starting to see meat as disgusting certainly helped me give up meat.  The same is helping to ween me off dairy/eggs, but this is more difficult for me.  Slow-going, but my goal is to eventually consume zero animal products.  Thanks for the advice.

  • Rachel 11 / 10 / 2010 Reply

    Thanks Meg!R

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