Thursday, January 12, 2012

To “V” or Not to “V”

There has been a lot of discussion, buzz, arguing about whether or not we should use the word “vegan” or the word “vegetarian” in our outreach and discussions.  Some folks say that using the “V” word (vegan) turns people off and we should just say “vegetarian” because it is seen as less “extreme”.  While cooking at the meditation center I go to, I was told I could not label things vegan, even if they were vegan, because that word is too “political”.
Last night we had two “couch surfers” stay at our house.  Neither one was vegan or vegetarian, but they shared their perspectives.  One of our guests said that the only vegans she ever met, before us, ate junk all the time and were very unhealthy.  I told her that they certainly did not represent all vegans and in fact were the worst “poster children” for veganism.  It only reinforced for me how important it is to be a healthy representative of our community.  While I was having the discussion with her, our other guest said she thought it was better to say “plant-based” than vegan.  The problem with saying plant-based is that this term only addresses what we eat.  Choosing to practice veganism is about so much more than what we eat.  As a vegan we use our compassionate yard stick to decide which clothing, cosmetics, household products, entertainment and food we will support as consumers.  It goes so far beyond our food choices.

The discussions around using the V word or not, reminded me of a childhood experience.  I grew up in a Jewish family in a very non-Jewish community.  In our little community, our family was the poster family for Jews everywhere.  The preconceived ideas about Jews that existed in the community before we even arrived there made this a very tough job.  Without even meeting us, there were homes, yards and some business who banned us from stepping on their property.  I spent many years trying to hide the fact that my family was Jewish.  I wanted to enjoy the ease of just being places without the judgments.   When people did know that I was from a Jewish family, I felt it was my job to personally dispel all the myths about Jews.  This is a big job for a kid.  At some point, I decided that my unwillingness to readily admit that I came from a Jewish family only reflected that I had the same judgments as those around me.  I was giving in to the myths and prejudices.  Everyone wants to be seen as an individual and not be judged based on prejudices and cultural stories.  I do not want people to assume they know all about me because I am a woman, over 50, Caucasian, etc.  If it is true that most myths are based on the truth of a particular group, then surely there are exceptions to these myths.  There are individuals who blow these stereotypes out of the water.  Every group is made up of unique individuals.

If we feel good about our compassionate vegan path, then it is very important to be honest with people about who we are.  We vegans come in all shapes, ages, colors, and education and economic levels.  Some of us are very healthy and some of us are not.  Some of us exercise and eat pure foods and some of us sit on our butts and eat junk.  None of that changes the fact that we are all choosing a practice that is alleviating some suffering in the world.  Honestly, there are times when I have met people who are vegan, but are, in my opinion, not the best representatives of our community.  They might be physically unhealthy or mean-spirited or self-righteous.  Because we are such a small percentage of the population, you may be the first vegan or the only vegan that someone meets personally.
You can think of this as a two-step process.  First, think of yourself as the poster child for veganism.  If not for yourself, than for the animals who will be saved when people meet you and say “Whatever you are doing, I want to do it!”  They meet an energetic, healthy, loving person and want to be part of their community.  You can be that invitation.  Do all that you can to care for yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually and you will be like a flower to the bees.
Photo credit: Zoltán Futó via BigStock
Second, be willing to use the “V” word when you feel like you are a positive representative of the community.  It may be you who dispels the myths that this person is carrying around.  It may be you who opens them up to the possibility that someone practicing veganism can be healthy and loving.  Your choice to walk the vegan path is about compassion for all beings, including yourself and all those you connect with in life.  Take this job seriously.  It is an honor to be chosen for this role.  You are the ambassador who is speaking up for all life.  So, care for yourself and go out into the world unapologetically, letting your vegan light shine.  The animals and the earth and all people will be better off for your efforts and honesty.
Photo credit: meepoohfoto‘s

Need some encouragement in your practice?  Watch these short, inspiring films:

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