One time, in a vegan-friendly omni restaurant, there was this young woman conversing with her server over a platter of sushi. She could be overheard explaining that she is “vegetarian, but I still eat fish” and that she has a “friend who is vegan,” but she didn’t see the need, worries about protein, blah blah blah. You know the rest. The server was very pleasant and explained that she had recently gone vegan and felt great about her decision. The young woman nodded along and then went back to eating her meal of seafood sushi rolls.
If I were to overhear the same conversation today, I would probably cringe. Especially because the young woman in the story was me. I became vegan at age 21, following about a month of vegetarianism – rather, pescetarianism. The process was both slow and rapid as I assimilated what I was learning during night after late night of researching animal agriculture and what in the world a vegetarian is supposed to eat.
I made commitments and concessions about the food I was willing to eliminate and the new foods I was willing to try. Justifications, uncertainty, and disappointment (especially the first time trying vegan mayo) dropped in from time to time, but it was still a part of my journey. If I hadn’t gone through that tumultuous identity development period I would not be the person I am happy to be today. So why does that story make me want to cringe?
Established or seasoned vegans are all guilty of acting like the “vegan police” from time to time, even if it’s in their own minds and not out loud. We judge the people who aren’t quite vegan enough and may roll our eyes at the omnipresent Protein Question from the veg-curious. But what we forget is that we have all been there at one point or another. If we pictured ourselves – or remembered ourselves – in those inquisitive beginning days, would we have more compassion?
If we want to see a world where ethical veganism is seen as an inclusive and inviting lifestyle, we must emulate those qualities to people just getting started. Meet people wherever they are on their journey, provide support and guidance, and avoid casting judgment and condescension. If compassion is what we preach, it must also be what we practice – in every setting.
So, to the “pregan” me from years back – and, for that matter, the me of today: you go, girl. Keep on learning and striving to be the most empathic version of yourself you can be.