Plant-based diets and the vegan lifestyle are more popular than ever. It’s amazing to see people living consciously and ethically and even making it cool. Sure, some still think we’re crazy radicals or hippie freaks, but veganism is being accepted like never before. If you’re in the right city or active online, vegan people and restaurants seem to be everywhere. I love this lifestyle, but in small town America, it’s hard when you’re the only vegan you know.
I transitioned to veganism last summer and while I knew I would have to shop differently, find new recipes and adjust to changes in my body, I wasn’t anticipating the social implications of my newfound lifestyle. It got uncomfortable fast.
I don’t know any other vegans offline and the vast majority of people I encounter in my day-to-day life don’t know any either. It’s all fine until food enters the picture and then I have to explain that I can’t eat what was offered because I’m vegan. As soon as the words leave my mouth, I can see it in their faces. Confusion, a snap judgement, and then then onslaught of opinions and questions.
“What’s that mean?”
“So what do you eat?”
“How do you get protein?”
“What do you miss eating?”
“I could never do that.”
“Do you have to take a lot of supplements?”
“Why don’t you eat meat?”
“That must be hard.”
“So you just eat vegetables?”
“That’s why you’re so skinny.”
There I am, forcing a smile and doing my best to sell it. To them, I’m the poster child for veganism. This is my one shot to shape their opinions of what vegans are like and I don’t want to fuck it up. I keep it positive because my experience truly has been. I say that it’s easy to get protein, I don’t miss anything, I feel great, anyone can do it. It almost feels rehearsed at this point, but it’s the easiest thing to do when you’re constantly having to justify and defend your lifestyle.
Of course, there are people who think it’s great or cool and just accept it. There are also those who are just genuinely curious and want to learn. I’m happy to share my experience with them and help eradicate myths and stereotypes. It just becomes exhausting when people, sometimes that you hardly know, are passing judgement and criticizing you and you have to keep your composure, so they don’t live the rest of their life thinking vegans are crazy angry people because you told them off for being a jerk.
Because you’re the sole vegan in town, there’s no one to vent to and laugh it off with. Honestly, it sucks. The people in my life are largely very accepting and I appreciate it, but it would be nice to have someone who just “gets” it. It can be a little lonely.
I really wasn’t expecting any of this when I went vegan and I think that’s why it bothers me. I was prepared for the other challenges, but I didn’t realize people would have such a strong reaction to what I ate. If you’re spent any amount of time in online in the vegan community, you know some people are very outspoken about how “awful” vegans are, but people feel pretty big behind a screen, you know? Granted, people aren’t as brutal in person, but there is definite tension and it’s worth talking about.
If you’re a small town vegan, know that I understand your struggles. I know what’s it like being marveled at like you’re in a freakshow and I know the pressure you feel when faced with questions and opinions. In that moment, you may feel like the face of veganism, but remember that there are so many others out there. Remind who you’re dealing with, too. Tell them how it’s so popular now and there’s a huge community. Maybe in response to the ever so common protein question, add in that there are even vegan bodybuilders. Make the discussion bigger than just what you eat and how you live. It feels less intrusive and I find that people generally simmer down after that.
On the other hand, you don’t have to do any of that. You don’t have to carry the weight of the movement on your shoulders. If you just want to shut down the conversation because it’s draining, you’re allowed. You may be the only vegan around, but you’re still a person and don’t have to spend every opportunity fighting for your cause.
How do you deal with this weird side effect of being vegan? If you relate to my experience or want to contribute to the discussion, please do so in the comments and I’ll get back to you.