Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Vegetarian Good Life?

It's no major secret that I don't follow a strict vegan diet. I have come to dislike labels (see Sarma's post), but if I have to use one, I am now back to saying vegetarian.

Why not vegan?

By adhering to that label all the time, I got frustrated by people having to make me entirely separate portions to avoid a pat of butter or dollop of cream, or debating at a farmers market should I not get the spearmint basil iced tea since it has a touch of honey. I also saw no merit in removing the cheese off of vegetarian sandwiches served at company lunches. I don't think animals in factory farms are being helped by these types of decisions.

In fact, I believe because most people don't want to have to deal with such scenaoris, people aren't open to exploring all the wonderful vegan foods.

I hear these phrases ALL the time from vegans: "It's so easy!" "joyous" and you "get so much more than you give up." I just can't help but think some vegans set people up for failure by presenting a lifestyle of ease and perfection, and condemning people who aren't up to their standards. Following any type of diet strictly all the time for life may not be easy. Not everyone lives in New York City where there are countless vegan restaurants, has $7 for vegan marshmallows, has supportive families, or the will-power to turn down communal cheese trays.

I've made peace with myself that I still want to eat certain vegetarian foods. I'm not perfect. I don't think this should be so taboo either. No one wants to hear how morally superior and perfect people think they are. I don't.

Here are some of my imperfections.

After visiting the New York Botanical Garden, I stopped by Brooklyn's Brick Oven Pizzeria in Hackensack, NJ, with my boyfriend and my mom.

To start, a Caeasar salad, $3.95. Talk about out-of-control portions: this fed all three of us!

As did this: eggplant parmigiana, $5.95.

A large pie, $14.50. I ate two slices of this.

Another great weakness: French food. These are from my favorite French cafe, Macaron Cafe.

The capri sandwich, $6.50. Goat cheese, pine nuts, raisins, apples and honey.

Macarons, $1.95 each. Cassis and one of my favorites, honey lavender.

A crepe with apricot preserves, $2.75, with a soy coffee, $2.25.

Blog name change in order? I've thought about it.

The good life, and this blog, is about many things for me: awareness about what you are eating and how it is produced, enjoyment of food, financial empowerment, a cleaner Earth (which is good for all animals), a more positive culture, especially for women, that is not so focused on vanity and youth but instead on wisdom and embracing what God gave us.

But it is also to showcase all the amazing vegan food I eat, the stylish and very affordable vegan fashions you can find at swaps and thrift and consignment shops, and how to incorporate vegan foods whenever we can (i.e, using egg replacers for baking, or pouring almond milk on your cereal).

My vegan path has not been as smooth as I'd hoped, and I'd rather be truthful about challenges and temptations. Ultimately, to me, it's not about "being" a member of a dietary group, but "eating" a certain way as much as possible. The journey is more important to me than a label, so for now, we continue on.


Cate said...

I say keep the current name. It's not all or nothing!

I also found being 100% vegan really hard, especially since I was in high school all the time. I ended up cooking almost all of my own meals, and I often turned down food at school or social events because it wasn't vegan. Altoids, for example, have gelatin in them! It was really difficult. I still remember my mom having to read the labels on loaves upon loaves of bread when she went to the grocery store just to make sure whatever she bought didn't have honey!

mangocheeks said...

I am a vegetarian and have now and again thought of becoming vegan, but realistically I don't think I want to be subbing cheese, milk, sweeteners with a substitute that costs double. As you mentioned for some people it is an affordable lifestyle, for others though it is much more, which I do sincerely admire - a real way of life. Anyway,I really enjoyed reading about your insight and personal experience and have admiration for you.

mangocheeks said...

The decision of course is ultimately yours and one you must make, but I would say change the title. I often visit vegan blogs and find that they are restricted to the vegan label and that is fine, but I sometimes find some of them unwelcoming. So if your blog is vegetarian it should be open title, rather than a closed title one, that sometimes appers exclusive. Forgive me if I have ranted too much.

Elaine said...

I don't call myself the "Almost Vegan" for nothing. That said, I did change it from "Elaine's World" to the "Almost Vegan" when I realized that I was writing so often about veganism, factory farming, ethics, etc. (However, I've since discovered somebody else has a blog called "The Almost Vegan". Sigh. So much for originality!)

I don't care if you change your blog's name. I LOVE your honesty. I've blogged on the same issue (my post called 'The Almost Vegan' is one). Being 100% vegan IS hard. I think of it this way: cows do give milk and in fact, b/c of domestication, NEED to be milked (I've written on that, too). Chickens lay eggs. People have been milking cows and harvesting eggs for 1000s of years. Just because there is abuse in the dairy and egg industries doesn't necessarily mean that milk and eggs PER SE are evil incarnate -- it IS possible to milk a cow kindly and to get eggs from free-range chickens.

I rarely do milk b/c I don't have access to a cow that I *know* is well-treated. (I do buy organic milk and cheese for my husband.)

I don't eat eggs often either,but when I do, I get my eggs from a friend whose chickens live a VERY good life.

Compromise. It's all OK.

The good need not be the enemy of the excellent. You're not the only vegan out there making compromises from time to time (especially out of the house)!

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Thank you all so much for your stories, insights and support. I will continue to soul search about the title. Whatever the title, I do not wish to be an unwelcoming blog like the ones mangocheeks has encountered.

I think this type of dialogue is healthy and people shouldn't be afraid to share their opinions.
One vegan said vegans will chime in and "correct" you if you are not up to their standards. How irritating! (Cate, where is Owen Meany - THE VOICE! - when we need him?) I also do not appreciate when someone tells me their opinion is a fact. The obsession with the purity of the label will only exclude people - is that what people want?

Maybe it's out of fear, but I just don't think many people are as perfect as they present themselves. If Alicia Silverstone, a best-selling vegan cookbook author and blogger, admitted to eating cheese, who else is less than perfect? Demanding perfection will attract few to the cause.

ConsciouslyFrugal said...

I'm with Cate--I don't think it's all or nothing.

And I couldn't agree with you more: "I also do not appreciate when someone tells me their opinion is a fact." The personal opinion and universal truth gets really annoying after awhile. Although lawd knows I do it!

Personally, I appreciate your blog's title and your honesty. Sometimes I feel like no one tells the truth and it's maddening. I'm more intersted in progress than perfection. And I LOVE that I can come here--this VEGAN! site--and learn things, rethink some of my assumptions, and hear a respectful voice talking about veganism.

I think the obsession with perfection--doing veganism "right"--is no different than the pressure women feel to attain a crazy assed ideal. Life is not ideal. Me thinks changing the name and/or identity because you're not "perfect" is like not feeling "pretty" 'cuz you don't have the latest hairstyle or something. (I know that's an odd comparison, but...!)

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Thank you for those wise and kind words CF - you are so right. I'm happy to be a flawed, imperfect voice.

I try and be respectful. I really think respect is so often lacking. All I can do is provide some information and people can make up their own minds. I don't always make the best choices myself. I have no delusions that the world is going to suddenly think the way I do.

Thank you all.

Angela said...

Great post Catherine. I'm giving you my "favorite blog post of the week" for the one you wrote about your own economic stimulus, otherwise I'd be giving it to you for this one!

Thanks for writing about when it doesn't always work out and go as planned, since that's something we all deal with in all our pursuits...

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Thanks Angela! I always admire your blog's honesty. I'd rather hear both sides of the story – the challenges and the rewards – than these glossy, easy-breezy lifestyles being sold to us.

I've seen so many stories in the past few days about consumer spending and our economic recovery. The worst was a picture of Apple employees 'high-fiving' people lined up to buy their latest expensive gadget du jour. Hopefully, the non-consumer contributions to the economy will be recognized too one day.

machen und tun said...

thanks for being so honest, reading your post i had a "I knew it!"-kind of moment :-)

although i could not live vegan for sure, i am thinking of going back to be a vegetarian again, and i don´t know if i can really do it 100%.

I have been a vegetarian for 11 years (starting way back in the mid 90ies), than started eating meat again bc i felt i missed it for some years..
in the last weeks i ate and drank lots of soy-products - again, after a long time - and remembered my meatless times, all those great recipies, and my way better conscience regarding animals and the environment.
i will keep reading your blog for more inspiration and honest debating what is right for oneself.
again: thanks for the post, it made me think :-)

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Hi Claudia. Thank you for your kind comments and sharing your story.

I think we all get so discouraged by living up to these labels. My mom eats vegetarian most of the time, as do many people I know, and I think that's terrific. Imagine if everyone did that and ate meat sparingly (or smaller portions) instead of at every meal? That would be so good for both the environment and the animals.

Thanks again for keeping an open-mind. Good luck!

Cate said...

I always love the discussion that appears on your blog. I really agree with ConsciouslyFrugal about the perfection thing. I don't always make the most budget-conscious choices, but that doesn't make my blog invalid. (I hope!)

I do sometimes feel like people are afraid to eat meatless meals because they think it's an all or nothing proposition, when it isn't. I try to combat that way of thinking, but the meat industry isn't helping me out any. :-)

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Thanks Cate. I appreciate the independent, critical thinkers who leave thoughtful comments. I cringe at how one-sided some people I have encountered are on other sites. It's truly their way or nothing else.

Emotions run high because of how bad the farm animal welfare situation is (and truly, it's horrendous how farm animals have to endure their life, not live it). Battery cages and gestation crates are worse than anything you'll see in a horror film.

I love all the comments I see on meatless meal posts (like on your site) that people are eating less and less meat. I still feel speechless when being asked as a vegetarian, "but what do you eat?" That's part of the purpose of this blog.

RobbieKay said...

This is such a good post. I have just within the last week started to feel really convicted about my consumption of animal products and am "flirting with Veganism" as Alicia Silverstone would say. You bring up a lot of the same compromises that I've had in my mind, but you've articulated it really well. Just today I was telling my husband that I believe some of my thought patterns have changed for the better and one example I gave is that I am not so much an "all or nothing" thinker anymore. And what made me realize that is my foray into veganism. If I was still stuck in all or nothing thinking, I couldn't do it.

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Thanks very much for the comment and compliment, RobbieKay. I think many trying to eliminate animal products share your frustration since we live in a non-vegan world. Even when trying to be "perfect," for instance, I've asked for no cheese on a salad, they forget and put it on anyway, and sending it back (which I have done) means they'll just scrape it off and throw it away. The examples are endless, and it can be overwhelming and dispiriting. Getting a lecture about how "easy" all of this is doesn't help matters, nor does it help when some vegans make people feel like a failure if they eat a non-vegan brownie at a picnic or such. Everyone's doing the best they can in their circumstances, and should be praised, not criticized, in their path to reduce animal products from their diet as much as possible. Good luck!