In this Vegan Ithaca guest post, Danielle Klock writes about her journey through veganism to a place beyond labels: “I am hoping that we can move from a place of evaluating and judging each other to a place of acceptance…”
A year ago today I shifted to eating only plant-based foods. After twelve months of calling myself vegan and living on the planet with people who call themselves vegans, vegetarians, omnivores, fructarians, etc., I’m looking back at my experience wanting to be label-free.
I became a vegan within a moment’s time, upon the realization that the chicken stir-fry I was preparing for my family just didn’t belong in my body. It was similar to noticing that a square peg will not go into a round hole. It just doesn’t fit. The square peg doesn’t have a reason or even a preference. It’s just they way it is.
I was aware of the usual reasons why people decide to become vegan. I knew about the ethical, environmental and personal health issues related to the foods we consume, but I didn’t have a reason for going vegan. It was just the closest word I could find to fit what I was being.
It was a subtle feeling that carried a huge impact. And I still struggle with finding the exact words to explain how I knew that putting animal products in my body was not in alignment with my constitution. But for me, it was nothing more than a knowing and a declaration. I can’t give you a reason why, and honestly I don’t need one for myself.
Sure, I can empathize with animals, I’m concerned about a sustainable future for our planet, and I want to have a healthy body (especially when I think about my family’s history with heart disease and cancer). So talking to vegans is pretty easy for me, whatever their reasons, because I share their values. But my shift had nothing to with my values.
Because I didn’t have reasons for eating a plant-based diet I haven’t craved food that I would have loved before. I just don’t love it anymore, which is a pretty difficult concept for many people to get. And this fundamental difference of learning to relate to people within the context of veganism has been the most challenging shift for me. People knew me as a pretty hearty meat eater, so naturally the most common question I get is, “Why?”
I have had this conversation possibly a hundred times or more, and still I don’t have a perfect answer. I start by explaining that eating animals just didn’t feel right, but then I find myself backing up my actions with the more typical vegan values, maybe thinking that somehow that will make my choice more acceptable to the person listening. Sometimes I feel like a real sell-out when I say it’s just my preference, because that seems so superficial and does not convey how truly fundamental this choice is for me.
Most people ask “Why?” simply because they want to understand. As humans that’s what we do, and without communication, there can be no understanding among people. So from that perspective, I really want people to ask me about this shift in my life. But so often, understanding quickly turns into evaluation, and answering the question leaves us vulnerable to the judgment of others.
Some vegans have taken it upon themselves to judge if I am vegan enough, while some omnivores and vegetarians have expressed a myriad of concerns, ranging from my nutritional needs to their own discomfort with my choice. So I’m going to continue being me, and eating exclusively plant-derived foods, but I’m dropping the vegan label.
I know it won’t put a stop to the questions, but I am hoping that we can move from a place of evaluating and judging each other to a place of acceptance. What if we stopped looking for other people’s reasons for being who they are and just accepted them that way without judgment? It could create a new opening for people to express themselves and be free to share their feelings within a context of peace and compassion. And isn’t that vegan?
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