Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why Not to Use the V-Word

I was sitting with one of my favorite people (my daughter) the other night, on the floor of her living room, sharing a picnic dinner procured from the local natural foods market. We had little tubs of wonderfulness spread out on a dishtowel, a bottle of wine, and a lovely pair of glittery gold shoes to add opulence to the scene.

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Although my daughter is not vegan (she's sort of a vegetarian who can't resist bacon), she's always supportive of my vegan work in the world, and super considerate when it comes to feeding me. I've noticed though, that there's an invisible line I sometimes cross in my enthusiasm over amazing vegan food, and my assumption that she will share my excitement.

For example, the other night, when I was all giddy over finally sampling (OK, stuffing my face with) some delightfully rich Fauxmage, smeared in great big blobs on tiny crackers, and offered to share a taste, she shook her head in a tense little way and refused to try it. 

Huh...
Really? 

Confusing behavior is not uncommon in a mother/daughter relationship, but I think we've both long outgrown any use for habitual stubbornness. We like each other. We get along. We respect each other's separateness. We know we're different, and a lot the same, and it's all OK. So I really couldn't sort out how this simple offering of cheese had instantly pushed my girl from comfortable to suspicious.

She took a sniff, and said, It smells like butter. Are you sure it’s vegan? She read the ingredients. Yep. Vegan. But she still wouldn’t taste it.

I asked her why, and the best explanation I can piece together, after some discussion, is that my openness and excitement about “faux” foods like dairy and meat alternatives can come across as a sort of "neener-neener" wave-it-in-your-face attitude that says, See??? This is good! You should like it! You don't need the "real" thing. Just be like me already!!!

Yeah, that one never works, does it?

It's tricky though, because some people feel duped if we don’t point out that those hot dogs are made of soy, not pig, or that that the wonderful herbed cheese is made from nuts, not dairy. Some folks want full disclosure about the "weird" vegan stuff we feed them - like it's fair warning, so they can brace themselves. Others, like my daughter, prefer to come to it from a neutral place of simply tasting something new, not caring whether it’s vegan or dairy, or some sort of imaginary holographic fairy dust cheese, and then deciding if they like it or not, with no expectations from the over-eager vegan across the table.

I think I get it. We sometimes put a lot of pressure on our loved ones to love what we love. But the truth is, if we love them, we have to let them be who they are, eat what they eat, and find their own happy way down their own life path in any way that suits them. We have to stop expecting people - even our nearest and dearest - to be like us just because we think we've found a better way. Maybe we have. But it's not productive or useful or even kind to say things that insinuate that our way is "better," because that automatically makes their way "worse."

What we're really doing here is trying to change the world, and that always gets a lot of resistance. We have to go slow. What we need to remember is that we can never change anyone else. We can only change ourselves. And in this sort of situation, that means to adapt the way we speak, inform, and share to each person we deal with. It doesn’t mean we have to be untrue to our values as vegans. It does mean that we can get further with some folks, and maintain happier relationships, if we do our best to make them feel comfortable rather than confronted. We need to be sensitive to our friends' and families' individual ways of seeing the world, "meet them where they are," as the saying goes, and proceed with our loving food sharing cautiously and non-judgementally.

The people closest to us already know that we’re vegan. They know we’re not going to buy or make or serve animal-based foods. Maybe it’s best to just hush up about it and let the food speak for itself. A lot of terrific vegan restaurants are doing just that. The v-word is never mentioned in their signage or menus, but happy patrons flock to them because the food is wonderful - and just happens to be vegan.

I’m going to leave that lovely cheese in my daughter’s refrigerator when I go home. My guess is, in her own sweet time, she’ll sidle up to it, give it another sniff, and taste it while I’m not there with a silly, expectant look on my face. I think she’ll like it. And I think she’ll eat it all up. Not because it’s vegan, and not because I want her to, but because it tastes absolutely delicious. And that, my friends, is good enough for me.

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