Friday, July 2, 2010

Philosophy: Outside Looking In

To any non-vegans this one's for you! Though I don't speak for all vegans, I speak beliefs and viewpoints honestly, as A (singular) vegan.

This scenario has happened time and time again and I do not like it. If you've done this to me before I give you the benefit of the doubt that you were not intentionally trying to make me uncomfortable, or frustrated, so I'm simply letting you know it bothers me. When I am with people from work, (or family, or non-vegan friends- though most times its people who don't know me as well on a personal level that do this) I tend to be introduced as, "The Vegan."

"Hello Everybody. I want you to meet Tyler. She's a vegan."

The term Vegan isn't offensive, its who I am, true. Its not a lie, its a true statement. So what's the problem?

Though "being a vegan" does involve restraining myself from consuming animal products (which most non-vegans seem to view only as a diet- "You're vegan? Oh you just eat carrots,"), its the closest thing that I have to a religion, political view, and philosophical perspective on life. To me and many others, its not just a diet.

I am used to being the token vegan, and the friends that I make have generally been on the basis of similar interests, creative pursuits, career choices, age (more or less), and location. How I think friends should be made. Only recently have I been fortunate enough to find a great network of vegans here in Austin. Vegan friends! It feels so luxurious! The only other time in my life when I was actually surrounded by people "like me" was in college. Very few of those old vegan friends are still vegan to this day... due the fact that they have more money (yes I said MORE money, being vegan is one of the cheapest ways to live, especially on a student's budget), they did it just to meet vegan chicks, or wanted to fit in with a crowd/sub culture. I don't think that any of those are "the wrong" reasons to be vegan, it just seems that none of them stand the test of time. I digress.

In England I met one other vegan I spent time with and tried to seek out others and found two punk rockers with mohawks that were vegan, but they had crazy jealous punk girlfriends that wore spikes and I was scared would beat me up if I hung around their boyfriends too much (though I wasn't interested in dating either of them). So I didn't want to be the 5th wheel and stir anything up. I figured making other friends who were more accessible was better than seeking out British Vegans, just to find more vegans. Plus they were few and far between. In San Francisco I met one as well through work, but I don't think she liked me- because guess what, we are people too! Just because we're vegan doesn't mean we'll all get along. And that was it! All of my other friends, weren't like me. They weren't vegan. Being the odd one out isn't a bad thing, but sometimes it can feel like you're being thrown in the shark-tank when that differentiating characteristic is all that other people see.

Imagine this. You have a friend. You are extremely FAR Left-wing Liberal. Your friend, who you adore and have a lot of great times with is Conservative. You two get along extremely well, but when it comes to politics you are opposites. One day you want to bring your friend to a party. Since you are so Far Left, all of your friends just happen to be Far Left Liberals too. This is the first time your Republican friend meets any of these people, and you think he's GREAT, regardless of the political difference. When you introduce him to everyone do you say, "Hey everyone! This is my friend Stewart. He's a Republican!"

Stewart isn't embarrassed by his beliefs, they are his own; however, labeling him as the token Republican in a room full of Green Party, Liberal Dems would put your friend in an extremely uncomfortable position. Don't you think? Its not very nice to your friend, and its not taking his feelings into consideration- regardless of how opposite your beliefs are- he still has feelings just like you do.

Or how about this. You have another friend, Sally. Sally is an excellent friend. Or no, lets say an excellent employee, or better yet, an excellent boss. Your boss is pro-choice, while you were raised in a Christian household and are pro-life. When you introduce your boss to your Christian, Pro-Life family as a way to improve your work relationship, do you say: "Hey everyone! I would like you to meet Sally. She is Pro-Choice!"?

You may, you may not, but my point being is that labeling Sally as a pigeon-holed role of embodying an entire, larger-encompassing set of morals, philosophies, religion, politics, and school of thought in one small piece of that puzzle (the fact that she is "pro-choice") is taking a very small piece of her grander, larger, set of values and obliterating them. Though it might bring up some interesting conversations, chances are the first time you meet someone people want to talk about the weather, and start things off slowly before treading through high-tension waters. Its uncomfortable and quite frankly rude.

So in conclusion, what I mean by this is that being vegan isn't limited to a small piece of my life that consists of only eating vegetables. There are much larger implications that draw on spirituality, higher education, politics, environmentalism, animal rights, morals, and perception. Its a full way of life, and though I'm not ashamed of who I am, and how I've chosen to continue my life as a vegan, its not always the most appropriate to trivialize these deeply ingrained values and moral codes as disposable small talk. Because unless someone asks me about my lifestyle, chances are new people don't want to hear what I have to say about my vegan "religion," "politics," and "philosophies."

And that's their choice. Personally? I don't want other people unloading their religions on me unless I ask them to. There is a time and a place. Unless I feel comfortable enough to introduce myself as a vegan, I generally don't feel comfortable having that be the FIRST thing that people know about me. 

Let's face it, there are a lot of stereotypes out there, and time and again when I'm introduced as The Vegan in a room full of non-vegans people will automatically assume that I am rich, stuck-up, holier-than-thou, judgmental, and weak before having a single conversation with me. I would like to start proving this misconception wrong, so unless I feel in safe enough company, or a comfortable enough environment to open up about my way of life, can you please notice my other less controversial qualities first when introducing me? (This is Tyler, she's from California, studied English, is a Bookkeeper, is a writer, Loves to cook, Loves vintage fashion and cars, Loves animals... etc).

Any other vegans reading this ever feel the same way? Or is it just me and my abhorrence of small talk that makes it hard for me to smile and shrug when I feel strongly about something but feel obligated to hold my tongue when in mixed company?