Now, what size did you want that frappuccino?
If being a vegan is akin to belonging to a particular religion, then I must be
Catholic-Lite Episcopalian. What? you say. Vegans are nothing like Episcopalians; they’re militant, strict, judgmental – and they’re anxious to convert carnivores. Rather, vegans are the epitome of dogmatic zealots, much like the speaking-in-tongues, snake-handling, Born Again, fire and brimstone Charismatics that pepper the deep hollers of Appalachia and star in the Super Congregations we see on Sunday morning television. And you, Miss Snarky Pants, are nothing like that.
And you would be right about one thing; I am nothing like that. Although I grew up neck deep in a Pentecostal Christian guilt so mucky I was sucked beneath its surface every time I so much as played a Hall & Oates album, I am no longer that person. To be clear, though I once believed that only the metaphorical blood and body of Jesus – aptly played during Holy Communion by Welch’s grape juice and a stale water cracker, respectively – could save my soul, deep down a part of me was always asking pesky questions:
But there’s, like, hundreds or thousands of religions. How do we know that we’re right? What if the Jews nailed it from the beginning – they’re awfully good with money and just look what they’ve accomplished in the film industry?
What kind of God would send innocent people to Hell just because they live in a third world country and have never heard of The Bible? Is it because they have rickets?
Why would God want elderly people living on Social Security to tithe 10% of their income when they can’t afford their diabetes medication? Is God punishing them for Supersizing one time too many?
Why does God only heal people who attend church on television? And why don’t they have diseases or injuries that we can see? You know, like leprosy or missing limbs?
Despite my early indoctrination into the Assemblies of God faith, I’ve never been much of a follower in other areas of my life. I mean, once you’ve committed yourself to serving an invisible, holey (pun most definitely intended) half-man half-diety, his oft angry dad with a penchant for dishing out natural disasters, and some sort of third-wheel ghostie, becoming a member of the drill team is a bit anticlimatic.
As it turns out, my prospects as a leader were nil. I didn’t like leaders; they were typically mean girls who were good at kickball and quick with insulting and alliterative nicknames for their victims. Though I’m sure I could have become skilled at the latter, my legs were created to bang into stationary furniture with sharp edges. Kicking a rolling ball in a particular direction was beyond my capabilities, prompting me to ask more of my pesky questions:
Why does God want me to be picked last for kickball every single day of my life? Why did He make me so smart that the other kids hate me for setting the bell curve? Why can’t I grow breasts? Does God hate me, too?
As I aged, my disinterest in either leading or following left me in a precarious social position. Though I was no longer unpopular, I refused to fully commit to any particular clique. One day I’d eat lunch with my Smiths and Psychedelic Furs-loving friends and the next, I’d hunker down with my buddies-of-color so that we could argue about which one of us was going to be Michael Jackson’s first ex-wife. Then there were my Journey-loving compatriots; I’ll spare you the painful images of these mullet-sporting, muscle shirt-wearing, air guitar-playing fans, all of whom wore gold eighth notes around their necks in honor of their leader, Steve Perry. Athletics were out of the question. I declined my invitation to join The National Honor Society. Drama only held my interest if I had a lead role which was, erm, never.
After law school, I experimented with multiple careers, but none – including legal practice – satisfied me in the way writing does, though all paid considerably more. I know…poor, little lawyer girl. I’d hate myself, too, but then, I’ve seen my law school debt – and you haven’t.
If I was a devotee of anything at all, it was cow teets. I loved dairy. Cheese was something that I could commit to – after all, it could be sweet, sour, stinky, melty, salty, chewy, stringy, sharp, mild, nutty and creamy. It was as diverse as my interests and never expected me to tithe. Until I was introduced to the chocolate martini in my mid-thirties, milk held the title as my favorite beverage. Sexy, huh? Nothing says “fuck me” like your date ordering a glass of moo juice with her filet mignon.
So when I suddenly decided to abandon the
greatest love of my entire life second greatest love of my entire life (because, of course, Hubby is the first) to join the Church of Vegan, I can assure you that more than a few of my friends and family members were perplexed. After all, these are people who had, over the years, become accustomed to asking me, “What is it you do, again?” Hell, if I couldn’t dedicate myself to one career path, why should they believe that I would deliberately eschew meat and all animal products for the rest of my life just because it’s supposed to be healthier? That never stopped me from mainlining vodka.
However, as the weeks turned into months, it appeared that I had finally made a true commitment. I started cooking, posting photos of one vegan meal after another on Facebook
like those people who have absolutely nothing better to do with their time. Hubby and I joined a gym. I gave up hard liquor. I became the poster child for the kind of person who had embraced a plant-based diet; a kinder, gentler Miss Snarky Pants. Through the Internet, I met other local vegans and soon I was inundated with invitations to attend one non-carnivore event after another. Vegans adore newbies. And like Pentecostals, they love to recruit. Why else would they have some kind of vegan/animal rights festival every bloody weekend?
Being vegan made me feel accepted by a closely-knit group of people who looked at the world with the same pair of eyes. Despite the fact that Hubby and I had only moved to Tampa a few months before my big conversion, new friends were practically crawling out of the woodwork, ready to hang out just because I’d abandoned many of my beloved food choices. At restaurants, I no longer had to worry that the waiter would think I was cheap if I ordered a vegetarian entrée. Nope, all I had to do was explain, “I’m vegan” and every bit of judgment on the server’s face would vanish – only to be replaced with fear. At Whole Foods, it was as if I was wearing a flashing, neon sign around my neck. As the cashier rang up my items, she would invariably ask, “Are you vegan?” Before I could do more than nod, she’d burst out into a huge smile, then whisper loudly, “Me, too! Isn’t Daiya soy-free, vegan cheese the best?”
If by best, you mean barely edible and tastes nothing at all like cheese, then yes, it’s the best!
Gradually, I discovered that worshiping at the Church of Vegan was complicated. Initially, I thought I was giving up dairy, meat and eggs, but there’s a whole lot of small print in the Vegan Bible. Did you know that gelatin is made of horses’ hooves and other disgusting stuff? Adios, Jell-O. Sayonara, marshmallows. See ya later, candy corn and jelly beans. Don’t even think about taking that Nyquil Gel Cap. And what about animal bone char? It’s utilized to refine sugar and turn crude oil into petroleum jelly. Oh, and it’s also used in making many kinds of BEER. Did I type that loudly enough? BEER. At least six thousand newbie vegans just said, “What the fuck?”
However, as a non-beer drinker, my first what-the-fuck? moment occurred when I was informed that I could no longer eat honey. “Why?” I asked a vegan friend. “The bees are just doing their thing. Making honey is kinda like their job…and the last thing we need in this country is a higher unemployment rate.”
“The bees are enslaved,” she responded, without a hint of irony. “They’re exploited by humans.”
Suddenly, my brain was flooded with images of bees humming “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and picking cotton. I imagined them cringing in front of a white-hooded beekeeper, buzzing, “Don’t blow that smoke at me, Massa! I’ll eat mo’ nectar and vomit up mo’ honey!” It occurred to me that some vegans were more concerned about honey bees’ rights than they were about the rights of immigrant field workers – the people usually responsible for raising and harvesting the plant-based diet that sustains the vegan lifestyle.
Shortly after the bee incident, being vegan really hit me where it hurts the most: my liver. At a cooking party I was hosting, a guest advised me that the wine I was drinking may have been clarified with isinglass, a substance derived from fish bladders. Having given up the hard stuff, wine had become my slower, but still lovely, intoxicant. “You’ll want to go online and research the brands of wine that you enjoy. You might have to switch,” she suggested.
Seriously, God – you really hate me, right? You don’t just plant the “Become a Vegan” idea in my head, then casually – at a much later date – drop the wine bomb on me. Oh, and God, in case you’re wondering, I’m officially agnostic.
I realized that these people were serious. Veganism wasn’t a diet; it was an admirable commitment to living life in a way that doesn’t exploit animals in any manner whatsoever. Yet, as much as I respected my new friends for making this difficult, moral choice, I also recognized that I had to be true to myself…and my embossed leather Coach bags. If I didn’t opt for a more compassionate non-leather sofa, I’d soon be a hypocrite – not to mention, I’d spend every spare moment removing fur from
a friggin’ cat hair magnet a cruelty-free fabric recliner. It became clear that I was not an ethical vegan, as most of my friends called themselves. I was doing this for my health – and unless the occasional teaspoon of honey was going to give me cancer or cause Bob Barker’s head to explode, I wasn’t really worried about it. Where did that leave me? Was I an unethical vegan? And, more importantly, why was I letting the word vegan define who I was and what I ate? Vegans aren’t like virgins – you can be just a little bit vegan.
Thus, in the interest of not being a vegan fraud, a hypocrite, a sober person or just plain grumpy, I’ve decided to start my own church: The Church of Vegan-Lite. With all of the health benefits, but only half the guilt and no rosary, a Vegan-Litist, as I like to think of myself, is mostly vegan, but makes exceptions here and there. For example, though I will inform food servers that I’m a vegan, I am quick to reassure them that I’m not militant about it and won’t douse them with a bucket of red paint if they suggest the steak tartare special to Hubby. Likewise, I’ve chosen to integrate certain foods back into my diet, but those foods can’t be too decadent or I’ll be required to self-flagellate like an albino monk. Thus, I’ve reintroduced egg whites to our refrigerator; after all, they’re fucking egg whites. Is there a less-offensive and healthier non-vegan food out there? Doctors practically prescribe them. Dr. Carrie Rubin, back me up here, will ya?
I’ve also discovered that if I drink a sufficient amount of vino, I completely forget all about fish bladders and bone char. Problem solved.
The only remaining issue is my hesitancy to lead – or follow, for that matter – which is why the Church of Vegan-Lite currently has only one member. So if any of you vegans out there are just jonesin’ to spoon some honey into your mug of cruelty-free, organic green tea, go for it. I grant you permission to become the bishop of your own Vegan-Lite parish. Just promise me one thing: switch the Welch’s out for a nice cabernet sauvignon, would ya?
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If you’re an ethical vegan, please know that I respect your views (and the fact that you aren’t, apparently, tempted by cheese every moment of the day) even though I don’t necessarily agree with them fully. So don’t be a hater. I really do love you guys!
***Photo credits: Communion: therubicon.org Madonna: articles.dailynews.com Holy Trinity: catholicbible101.com Kickball: keanradio.com Cheese: igourmet.com Daiya Cheese: mfablog.org Slaves: bbc.co.uk Dog Hair: blog.sfgate.com Albino monk: aveleyman.com