The Delicious Kind

When searching for meme’s about being a vegan, there are plenty to choose from. Mostly their punchlines are concerned with the extreme level of scrutiny from friends, family, co-workers and often complete strangers. Its novel to see the amount of dialogue food choices can make, and the judgement rains down from both sides. Veganism has a definite spectrum of participants, (much like life). People are passionate about their health and about the welfare of animals, and their activism can be passive to hyper vigilant.

I struggled with coming out as vegan, and felt quite alienated by some of the rhetoric and judgement I saw coming out of the vegan community towards others who ate meat, or wore leather, or hunted, or any of the actions that can cause animals pain.  I didn’t want to do those things, but I also could smell my recent meat eating history in the not too distant past. My butcher, with whom I had and still have a very good relationship has a photo of me on his Facebook page holding aloft two giant rib eyes on bone, and if you look closely, I’m probably drooling.

My journey to veganism has a direct lineage to my yogic practice. I became a vegetarian when I went to yoga school at an ashram for 2 months where I knew I would be in an all veg yogi diet. I wanted to get the withdrawals out of the way before I went, so I stopped all meats and fish a month before. I had no plans on becoming a vegetarian. I had already tried to be a vegetarian several times before in my life, but unlike giving up smoking, I kept going back to the BBQ. It was just going to be my method approach to yogic life, I was going the full yogi with all the austerities and renunciation I could manage till it was over.

I was as surprised as anyone that halfway in to my yogic immersion, I had a strong epiphany about my connection to sentient beings, not just animals, but all critters. It was a real moment of awareness, the kind you get when you make the space to listen and still down the noise of the daily doing. In that moment, meat and I broke up for good. I still didn’t want to be a vegan though, as those cats always seemed to be angry and defensive. Cheese and eggs weren’t hurting anyone, and were delicious, so when I returned to my civilian life, I figured being a vegetarian was enough. But it wasn’t. Compassion badgered me like a naggy little friend. Now I’d shone the light into the impacts of my eating, I couldn’t just squint and block out the realities of the impacts of the production of other animal based products. It’s hard to explain the depth of that feeling. I’d continued on with my yoga and meditation practice when I left the ashram and the more I did of that, the more I knew that I had to eliminate the remaining animal products out of my life and commit to a plant based life.

There is a joke that goes “A vegan and a Buddhist walk into a bar. How did you know? They announced it in the first minute.” (I’ve also heard a version where the bar entrants are a venture capitalist and a Startup CEO.) I find both of these hilarious, because there is a strangely declarative element to those lifestyle choices, no doubt based on risk and marginalisation. I do that declarative stuff too, its hard not to - part of you is excited, it feels great to be plant based, on a physical and spiritual level and you do want to tell the world. I love feeling everyday that in the most mundane way I can participate in ahimsa and honour my commitment to all sentient beings to relieve suffering. And tasty treats.

And herein lies part of my discomfort with veganism when it is used as a tool for righteousness. If we are all one, and the roughly 7.6 billion humans that co-habit the world with me right now are also part of that one, then their suffering and relief from suffering is also part of my spiritual remit. Judging them, criticising their choices, (and to be fair, the criticism/judgement dance is a two-way superhighway with plenty of traffic), positioning my lifestyle as the dominant part of the binary makes me so far from loving kindness for all, and puts me front row in the only valuing people that share my beliefs. It’s culinary apartheid, and I’m not comfortable with that.

Behaviour doesn’t change unless people have an active motivator that is personal. I clearly knew that smashing massive steaks into my face had impacts on the very dead animal I was eating and my health. That didn’t stop me doing it. I stopped because of a very conscious daily yoga practice where consumption is a key element to the path to enlightenment. The billions of people now facing significant obesity related health issues know their condition is directly related to their consumption, but until their issues are acute (and sometimes even not then) behaviour is driven by sense pleasure, with consequence in the back seat. Even making that comparison is an act of judgement (on my part) as its only my behaviour and its consequences that I need to really be concerned with. Which again is where the tension of having to constantly have conversations and defend or explain veganism is, well, tricky.

I don’t want to convert people. Sure, I want to share tasty treats with them, but that in and of itself is the act of love. MC Yogi raps about being ‘compassion in action, devotion in motion.’ That resonates with me, I look at veganism as my compassionate activism. I’m being the change, and the most impactful way for me to sing the benefits to the rooftop is to just be my regular food and yoga obsessed self, feeding as many people as I can along the way, posting shots of what the delicious kind looks like on social media channels, and fully, truly, honestly celebrating with joy the choices others are making on their own journey to wherever. Now having said that sure, I’ll call out any kind of animal or human cruelty loudly and strongly, and intervene if needed. But not because I’m a vegan, because that’s my line that I can’t see crossed without doing something.

I ran into Shane my butcher the other day after a couple of years of not seeing him. I hadn’t been honest or courageous about telling him I was breaking up with meat. I knew he’d see my #endless #vegan posts on Instagram and Facebook.  We broke up digitally, and I was a coward. I didn’t want to tell him in person mainly because I couldn’t think of a way that it wouldn’t seem like I was rejecting his whole intergenerational butchering lifestyle. His passion for his work, his love of customers, the extra mile he went, that was one of the reasons I became a loyal customer and stayed one. I’m sure he wouldn’t have taken it personally, but I chickened out and let social media do my dirty work. It was great to see him again.

The first words out of his mouth of course were ‘so you’re a vegan now’. He ribbed me good naturedly about that turducken I had made once, and then we moved onto our usual banter about running, tattoos, dogs and life. He will be tucking into a range of succulent meats this Christmas, while I’ll be shining with pride about my vegan wellington. Both of us will be happy, overeat and be grateful to be with our families and dogs. That moment of contentment and gratitude is what enlightenment feels like when we truly connect with what we love.

I’m part of the vegan community now, and I’m much less awkward about the dialogues that go on around me, the deep debates on the ethics of everything and I am pleased that there are a range of voices to continue the discussion. The zeitgeist of plant based eating is upon the Western world, and you can see the tick over from militant animal welfare to multinational food production and economics shifting as the driver. Any minute now veganism will be so mainstream that everyone will be claiming to have done it before it was cool. The good news is that compassion will always be cool.

Polly McGee