I’m not talking about food labels. I’m talking about people labels. Life’s little hashtags that allow people to put us into boxes in their organized waffle-brains. I’m going to discuss a few areas of life in which those of us out of the mainstream are viewed as weird, strange, or abnormal.
I am vegan once I leave the house. At home, I eat local pasture-raised eggs, zero dairy, and zero meat. I am vaguely considering adding the occasional meat product, but only ethically-raised meat. I avoid GMOs and buy organic groceries. I’m preparing to cut gluten from my diet after realizing that when I eat it, it makes me hurt. I am learning to listen to my body.
Raise your hands if you just thought something like “That sounds like a bunch of froo-froo hippie crap” or similar. Veganism is not the norm. It’s more common than in years prior, but it still gets questions. On top of that, try adding a gluten-free diet! People just freak out. “What are you going to eat?!” “Uh, vegetables. Try them, they are good for you, and they don’t come in a box.”
Before I go to a restaurant, I have to look up the menu online and see if anything is vegan. I also try to avoid soy and corn because of GMOs. Now that I’m going gluten free, eating out will be nearly impossible. Hooray, challenges! They make us stronger, right? Right? Whatever, I’m going to Chipotle (and ignoring the soybean oil because even I have to have a line somewhere. I have also been known to demolish corn chips at Mexican restaurants. I’m not perfect, okay?).
Here’s an example of how my ordering usually goes:
Hi, sorry, mine’s going to be annoying, I’m a craaazy vegan! I’ll have the spaghetti (listed in the menu as spaghetti and meatballs, with cheese), without any meatballs or cheese – just noodles and sauce. And the garlic toast, and do you know if any of the salad dressings are vegan? Okay, no salad, I just won’t worry about it.
Another recent dining experience:
Prior to ordering, I was lamenting the fact that this restaurant had a vegan burger but not a vegan bun. That just seemed stupid to me. I wondered aloud if I could just get the burger without the bun. My dining partner said, “Or you could just deal with it this once.”
The pressure to just stop being a crazy psycho vegan hippie was enough to make me just eat the damn bun. I got sick, but I lack evidence to say it was really the bun. It might have been the greasy fries. Sorry, body.
When I introduce myself in situations as a “dirty hippie,” or a “crazy vegan,” or a “crunchy granola freak,” even in jest or to break the mood, I am putting forward a bad image of myself. Dirty. Crazy. Freak. These are all negative words.
If I don’t eat meat, eggs, or milk at a restaurant, I can ask for the vegan options without making a joke at my own expense to make the server feel better about having to serve me. I am 100% sure there are pickier customers out there. When it comes down to it, I’m pretty easy. Now that gluten is on my chopping block, things will get more complicated (and may result in fewer restaurant outings, sorry friends).
Now if only I can get Chipotle to stop dropping other people’s cheese in the guacamole. Seriously. Join me on this brief diversion from my point:
Back to my point:
Those of us with dietary restrictions, whether self-imposed or medically necessary, should own them. Ask your questions and order your meal the way you want it without apology.
- Print a list of your dietary restrictions for the chef to read, including cross-contamination concerns (i.e., if you order rice pasta, make a note not to boil it in the wheat pasta water)
- Do your homework before you go out. There are a lot of gluten-free and vegan dining websites that can help you find a diet-restriction-friendly restaurant. Check out restaurant websites for the online menu and allergen information
- Dine with patient, supportive people. Someone telling you to just deal with it and eat the bun is not going to help the situation. It is stressful to handle dietary restrictions in your own kitchen, let alone in a restaurant. Sure, a vegan can compromise on a dubious bun, but if someone had an allergy, they wouldn’t have that freedom.
- If you have food allergies, bring your medication/epi-pen just in case.
I don’t use commercial shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, or toothpaste. I smell and look like a normal human! (I may still be figuring out the deodorant, to be perfectly honest; experiment #1 did not go smoothly… literally).
Consider the following explanations:
- I don’t use shampoo, because I’m a dirty hippie freak.
- I don’t use shampoo, because shampoos contain a lot of questionable chemical ingredients and I don’t want them in my body.
I have used both of these explanations. One of them is detrimental to my cause. If I want others to consider the implications of slathering themselves with chemical ingredients, I need to frame my explanations with an educational and health-conscious perspective. I can’t just say, “I’m a dirty hippie,” because (a) I am not dirty and (b) unless YOU want to identify as a dirty hippie (which I am sure you don’t), you won’t even listen to my explanation of why (insert commercial product here) is bad for you. It’s all about presentation.
I think medication is seriously over-prescribed. I focus on natural healing and nutrition over medication, and I feel much better for it. I have not gotten sick all winter, and I haven’t had any medications in months and months. I’m happy with it, and I’m happy to talk to people about it.
The minimalist in me doesn’t shop much anyway, and the environmentalist in me wants to shop used. I do confess that I bought a blender on Amazon for $60 because I couldn’t find a used one that met my criteria. I’m a really picky eco-minimalist I guess. My Christmas list included “cloth napkins, from Goodwill is fine” so I really don’t require “new” to be satisfied. This goes against the grain of so many people’s inclinations that it stands out and gets questions. Instead of the tried-and-untrue “Oh, I’m a tree-hugger and MALLS ARE EVIL,” next time I’ll try a little “It’s better for my bank account and the environment to try and buy things used first!” It might get some better feedback.
If you differ from the mainstream in any way, celebrate it. Don’t apologize for it.
Be awesome, like this mom whose photo showed up in my Facebook feed: