I went vegetarian 12 years ago and vegan 10 years later. I am currently a pescetarian.
While vegetarian and vegan ideals appeal to me tremendously and align with my values (mainly the rejection of capitalist exploitation of people, land, animals and resources), I am unearthing a lot about myself and my motives this year.
Autonomy is what it boils down to. It all comes down to the perceived right to say “no.”
Being vegan and vegetarian gave me a strong sense of autonomy I’d never felt the “right” to feel. I could be picky. I could have overt preferences. I could ask, even demand something special with little to no push back.
As an eldest, female child I learned not to rock the boat. Be a good girl, be easy, go with the flow, be agreeable. It rewards you with accolades and praise. “You’re easy to please” and “you’re going to be such a great wife one day” are huge compliments in Christian circles. If I had a dollar for everytime I heard “A man that findeth a wife, findeth a good thing” I’d be a billionaire. Good wives are “submissive.” I wanted more than anything in life to be a “good thing,” to be found, to be seen.
No one enjoys a difficult child. Few people enjoy difficult adults. I have always longed to be enjoyable. I ate what was prepared, I wore what was clean, I received what was given with gratitude.
I did my best to follow the rules and any of my short-lived attempts to break free from this sort of compulsory, repressive molding were met with disappointment, confusion and intense disapproval from adults. Disapproval from those whom I desperately sought approval cut like a knife on fire.
That may seem more extreme and less nuanced than the reality but this was my perceived reality. That is how I felt. Sure, there were times I was allowed to make choices for myself, but the pressure to make the “right” choice was constantly looming. Which choice would be the choice my parents or mentors would make for me? That was how I made decisions, from childhood, into adulthood.
I am not saying this is completely negative. I had a fine childhood. I have two amazing parents who did their very best and a phenomenal family. But we all have our struggles and our areas for growth. That’s just the way it is.
Being vegetarian and vegan gave me the space to be choosy, to have preferences outside of the majority, to get special treatment without feeling guilty.
Eating a completely plant based diet gave me a space to practice being different. It gave me a safe ground to try out having an unpopular preference. It gave me the opportunity to practice speaking up for myself, accepting the reality of scarcity and ridicule and unacceptance. Sometimes everyone else had steak and lobster, but my only option was a bowl of mistreated tomatoes, questionable carrots and wilted greens trying to pass as a salad.
I needed that. I needed the space to unpack who I was becoming. And I was becoming who I’d always been. Thoughtful, curious, joyful, flexible and unsure, but solid.
I fully accepted the fact that I am queer last year. It wasn’t easy and took almost an entire year of therapy. It’s one thing to have a hint of same sex attraction, trendy even. But to realize the same sex attraction is actually dominant, that having a partner of the opposite sex was no longer really an option for me… that was hard.
But the relief in being able to say “no” is thrilling.
The absolute freedom in having an unabashed preference is effervescent.
The ability to understand there will be tables where I can no longer eat because of this truth is something I can live with.
I practiced it for the last 12 years as a vegetarian.