A lot of people I follow online celebrate “veganniversaries” on the date that they became vegan, whether it be a month ago or ten years. For me, there is no such date, no switch that flipped from one day to the next. More like a dimmer, becoming vegan has been a 20-year process for me, one that is still evolving, and probably always will. These days, I do consider myself vegan, but I also knowingly consume small amounts of animal products from time to time. Sound hypocritical? It’s not. It’s reality. I find that the world does not exist in black and white. No matter how neatly we try to separate it, life lives in the gray areas. It’s like trying to hold water back with your hands, and everything seeps and muddles together, regardless of how hard you try.
The path that would eventually lead me here started in the sixth grade when I wrote a 38-page report (more like a scrapbook) on animal testing. I became a PETA member and barred all Gillette products (and more) from our home. All my school projects, papers, and speeches became devoted to animal cruelty. Still, I ate meat. It wasn’t until the next year that I realized my hypocrisy, and promptly decided to fix it. I became a vegetarian at age 12.
As a 12-year-old vegetarian who didn’t like vegetables, I survived off of pasta and cheese (the dairy industry was not something I learned about in my studies). My mother eventually stepped in and forced me to occasionally eat chicken (I conceded), but it didn’t last very long. I remained a steadfast vegetarian for the next 10+ years, flirting with veganism every now and again. When I was 25, for whatever reason (I honestly don’t know why), I started eating fish. Later that year, I met my future husband, a vegetarian himself, and I found it so ironic that I finally snagged myself a vegetarian man when I myself was not one. Over the next four years, I’d rarely but occasionally eat fish (and my husband never gave in, despite it being the only meat he missed). These fish-eating years are actually the time in which I first started becoming interested in vegan cookbooks, and started cooking vegan at home. Even though I wasn’t vegan, it was my attempt to move beyond the flirting into more of a casual dating relationship. However, I would still occasionally eat fish of two varieties while out: sushi, or the fish tacos from this taqueria by my house. Pregnancy eventually eliminated the sushi from my diet, and I never bothered going back to it. The fish tacos (which I sometimes ate while pregnant) eventually got phased out as well, once I started cooking every day and decided to get more serious with veganism after I had my kid.
Things move slowly though. At first, since I was cooking at home so much, I committed to eating vegan at home, and vegetarian when I was out and about. My favorite meal out was always breakfast, and yet, it’s the cuisine with usually the least vegan-friendly options. So when we’d go out for breakfast, I’d eat eggs and not let it bother me. Eggs were always my weakness, though. I could live without cheese, but eggs were harder for me. Eventually though, I stopped wanting even those. Nowadays, if we go to a restaurant that isn’t exactly vegan-friendly (really only when we’re out with family), I still make it work. Breakfast might involve ordering dry toast with a side of avocado and tomato, which I am more than happy to eat. But sometimes… that dry toast doesn’t come out so dry (I usually order rye, and the combo of “dry” and “rye” has apparently caused some confusion). However, I don’t send it back and waste it. Wasted animal products are worse than eaten ones. I will eat the toast, and I learn to be even more clear in the future.
I’ve never been a hardline vegan. If a kind stranger bought me a coffee drink, I’ll say thank you and take a few sips. There’s a time and a place for the vegan convo, and that is not one of them. If a new friend who didn’t know my diet brings me traditional homemade treats, I’m going to thank her, eat a couple bites, and share the rest with everyone I can. I refuse to feel guilty about it, or make my friend feel that way. By not alienating her, next time she brings vegan treats. When friends or family try to make vegan meals for me, but didn’t realize certain store-bought ingredients weren’t vegan until it was too late, I’m still going to eat it. All of these things have happened to me just this past year, and I don’t consider myself any less vegan for them. You might, but I don’t really care what you think about me. The most important thing for me has never been to keep my body “pure” from animal products, but to not support their suffering with my money. That’s not to say if there’s free food, all bets are off, but I can’t always help it when it comes to other people’s actions. All I can do is put my money where my mouth is, and animals don’t go near it.
Despite those occasional glances the other way, veganism and I have been in a committed relationship now for about two years, casually dated for a year or two before that, and have known each other for over 15. We don’t have an anniversary, and like any relationship, ours isn’t always perfect. But no matter what anyone thinks about it, our relationship is ours, and we’re happy together.