“What the heck do you eat, then?”
When I was three, my family and I were out to dinner at one of the restaurants we frequented. I’m told that I liked to eat the chicken nuggets (I was three – I don’t remember much of this), but on this particular day, my older brother, who had already chosen to become vegetarian, was laying down the facts of life for me.
“Chicken nuggets are made of chicken. The animals.”
Oh shit, thought three-year-old me, that’s not good. Chickens are way cute.
“Mom, I don’t want to eat animals anymore.”
And that’s when I became vegetarian. I haven’t eaten an animal since.
One of my first vegetarian memories is of going to my school friend Alex’s birthday. It was a hotdog party, so naturally, if I wanted to participate and not be force fed meat (you’d be surprised what other kids’ parents would try to tell me to get me to eat meat when my mom wasn’t around, to which I always said no), I had to bring my own hotdogs.
So there I was, sitting in the back of our van with a small Tupperware container holding two veggie dogs for the party. I remember walking up the front sidewalk and feeling anxious about what all the other kids would say.
“What is that?”
“What are you eating?
“That looks weird.”
“You don’t eat meat? What the heck DO you eat?”
These are all questions I’ve gotten used to and then sick of, but even now, they never end. When I became a vegetarian in 1989, there was one brand of veggie burger, one brand of veggie dog, and soy milk was only available in powdered form a lot of the time. Now there are tons of options, but somehow it’s still pretty weird to be vegetarian or vegan.
If people are genuinely curious, I totally don’t mind the questions. When I first got to know one of my BFFs, Louise, for example, she wasn’t very familiar with vegan foods, so she would randomly list off foods in my presence to see if I could eat them. Occasionally, I’d get a phone call that would go something like this:
“Hey! How’s it going?”
“…Pasta? Can you eat pasta?”
“Yup, totally. Except not like, super traditional fresh pasta. That’s made with eggs.”
Those conversations made me love Louise a little more. Okay, a lot more. (Hi, Louise!)
On the flip side, when people are confrontational and rude about my being a vegan, I get super frustrated. For some reason, the same way people feel like they need to touch my tattoos, some people feel instantly compelled to tell me about everything that’s wrong with me because I don’t eat meat.
“Oh, you’re gonna be sick from low iron.”
“Your body must be lacking so much protein. That’s unhealthy.”
“When you get older, you’re going to get osteoporosis.”
Thanks, people! It’s been 23 years since I went vegetarian and nearly 10 since I went vegan, and I haven’t starved to death yet (except for when I almost did in Ireland that one time), so I think I’m okay! My iron levels are actually great, and I’m never lacking protein, but it never hurts to be told I’m an idiot, so cheers!
When I was a kid, it was awful getting told this stuff constantly. Now I don’t really care. I’m not a crazy vegan who lives life trying to convert the masses. I’m not trying to convert anyone, for that matter. You do what you do, I do what I do. I don’t judge. Just don’t tell me I’m an idiot or I’ll rip you a new one.
What I’ve learned from this: When you’re weird for long enough, weird becomes normal and good, so stick to your guns.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t eat a lot of nuts. I don’t really like nuts very much. I also don’t eat very much spinach. But thank you for your concern.
P.P.S. If you ever really want to blow someone’s mind, tell them you’re a gluten-free vegan.