The following is a version of a letter to the editor of our school newspaper in response to an opinion piece about vegans and their diet. I’ve removed any reference to specific individuals and the school where I teach; the facts and my position regarding my vegan choice remain:
I am writing in response to an opinion piece regarding “food limits”. Most members of this school’s community know that I am vegan; another article in the same edition of newspaper mentions that I’ve lived this dietary lifestyle for 3 years. (In fact, my vegan-versary just passed on May 20th.) I am one of approximately 1 million Americans who’ve made the choice not to consume or in many cases use anything derived from an animal (Vegetarian Resource Group, 2008).
What we eat is a personal choice. My daughter came home from a field trip in third grade and announced over her chicken dinner that she couldn’t possibly eat this chicken after holding baby chicks at a local farm. She is an ethical vegetarian and still prefers not to eat meat. As her mother, I could easily have forced her to eat that chicken and other meat dinners I prepared at the time, but I respect her choice then and now.
I do not consider my daughter or myself to be a dietary “over achiever” or “’holy roller’ of restrictive dieting” as many may suggest. As an environmental vegan, I oppose the consumption of animal based foods and consumer products due to the environmental impact involved in their production. Teachers who lunch with me in the faculty room remark on what I’m eating and, yes, a few tease me about my choices, but you won’t hear me berating anyone for chowing down on a chicken salad sandwich. Friends outside the school community kindly consider my dietary habits when they invite me to dinner or ask me to join them at a restaurant, but I never insist that we eat at a vegan only establishment or that others dining with me refrain from eating animal products. Again, it comes down to respect.
A number of people say they avoid movies like Food Inc. because they don’t want to go through life afraid. They’re right – ignorance promotes fear. That’s why parents and teachers strive to educate the next generation so they can make informed choices. People who watch Food Inc. then go to Foodtown and buy a Perdue chicken have made an informed choice. It may not be my choice, but this isn’t the former Soviet Union.
Americans can choose what they eat whether it’s good for them, the animal it came from, or the environment. What’s frightening is when they make that choice without weighing the outcomes.
If movies like Food Inc. are too graphic for you, I’d suggest books like Forks Over Knives by Gene Stone or In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. The latter author suggests that we “eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Neither book pushes weird soy products or frozen entrees. Their sole purpose is to educate. With regard to many omnivore’s assumption that vegans suffer a self imposed misery, most of the vegans I know as well as both Pollan and Stone began eating a plant based diet due to health concerns. I’ve yet to hear a vegan bemoan their choice, and most, if not all, find themselves happier and healthier as a result.
I respect your eating choices and ask that you respect mine. Don’t make assumptions out of ignorance; don’t make sweeping judgments based on limited experiences … and don’t lump us all in with PETA, the epitome of radical veganism. Every group contains extreme factions, and perhaps these are the most vocal of the vegan population, but please don’t make such broad based assumptions about any group based on a few brief encounters.
Educate yourself then make the choice that’s right for you. I made that choice 3 years ago, and I stand by it today. Why not try living a limited vegan lifestyle such as meatless mondays or vegan before 6? You may find you’re happier and healthier after you do!