Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Kind of Vegan, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Mona Williams

I became a vegan after reading a leaflet about the suffering of animals raised under factory-like conditions. That day I decided to use up all the animal foods I had and not to buy any more. Eggs hadn’t suddenly become repulsive to me; I just didn’t want to contribute any longer to an industry that was packing laying hens into small cages just to increase their profits.

But I began to see that veganism was complicated. I had to read labels. Powdered whey in cookies was a reason not to buy them. But neither did I want to eat them if other people had bought them. The perfectionist aspects of veganism began to dawn on me.

I know that being a perfectionist isn’t healthy, but I am one anyway. In this respect, veganism suited me fine. I was a perfect vegan, for about a year. Then I got married to a wonderful vegetarian man, who wanted, on our honeymoon, to treat me to what he considered the world’s best cheese omelet. Never, in the preceding year, had I run up against a conflict like this one. And perfectionist that I am, I am also weak. I ate the omelet, and then began ten years of being a vegan except for when it was too hard to say no.


My wonderful vegetarian husband, who is now my ex-husband and best friend, became more of a vegan while I became less of one. We decided to be vegan in our respective homes, where we could control things, and vegetarians on the outside. I became a not-too-bad vegan cook, and introduced many guests to the wonders of tofu mayonnaise and mystery Parmesan.

But, to reveal yet another flaw in myself, I am easily bored. And I was getting bored with my culinary repertoire. Not that I wanted to cook meat again, or even seafood. That was definitely over. But I had once spent two years learning classical French cuisine and I missed, I don’t know, crème anglaise.


I thought about the reason I had originally become a vegan—to reduce, even in a small way, animal suffering. And then I thought about an organic farming conference I had attended one year out of curiosity. There I heard something I knew already—that there are plenty of farmers around who are good to their animals, who raise cage-free hens, happy goats and contented cows. You just have to find them and be willing to pay their price.


So I began to do that. I used the Internet and my formidable label-reading skills. I called 800 numbers. I asked people at the farmer’s market how they treated their animals and found that they were absolutely happy to tell me. And then I made a lemon tart for my friends that both I and the hens involved could feel good about.

Mark Bittman.
(Suzy Allman for The New York Times)
I just don’t know what to call myself these days. Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer, made up his own category when he decided to be a vegan all day and eat whatever he wanted for dinner. He calls himself a vegan till 6. Maybe I can just call myself a kind of vegan.The kind who isn't perfect.
-- Mona Williams lives and cooks in Bridgewater

3 comments:

  1. My husband and I eat meats and animal products, but only from "happy" animals (and not very much meat, because happy meat is expensive). We call ourselves "beativores," like in the Beatitudes. Blessed animals are DELISH! :)

    Thanks for this soap box. It's nice to hear other people's perspectives on the food chain.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think it is okay to be more flexible in one's dietary choices and lifestyle if that is what works for a person. However, I worry about the appropriation of "vegan" with all sorts of qualifiers or exceptions, as they really contradict the point of the term "vegan"--which is to avoid using any animal products whatsoever.

    Yes, it can be a challenge to be vegan, and if that makes it undoable , then do not worry about using the term/label "vegan." Or anything else. What matters is how you live, not what you call yourself.

    Just please try to continue being considerate about the animals, which are dying and/or being utilized for human benefit (and thus are commodities to varying degrees).

    Thanks for bringing attention to this fact, and trying to avoid factory-farmed animal products.

    ReplyDelete
  3. If you eat animals or animal products you have no right to use the word "vegan" to describe yourself. In addition, please understand that "happy animals" are still ultimately murdered so that humans can eat them. Don't just ask your local farmers how the animals are treated; ask how they are killed. I am unsure what the point of this piece was, other than for the author to try and show that she is comfortable with doing less to help the animals (and the world) than she did before. Congratulations?

    ReplyDelete