Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Tribe


Ten years ago, when I first walked into a local Unitarian Universalist fellowship, immediately I thought, "I found my people!" It's such a great feeling when you find a group of like-minded people. Here was a cluster of left-leaning, NPR-listening, solstice-celebrating, friendly folks who care about social justice, human rights, and so much more. I wanted to be in the club immediately.

I felt much the same way when I got involved in animal rescue. It's nice to have friends who don't think you're a nut job for believing that dogs are worth the trouble, that helping them is worth the trouble.

Are we supposed to limit ourselves to one tribe?  I feel like I want to hang out with a few different ones. In high school, I always liked the theater kids. I wasn't one of them (mostly because I couldn't sing/act/dance), but they weren't judge-y, and I liked that vibe. I did get into the chorus for a musical one time, but the school ended up canceling the whole production. I guess it was probably easier for them to cancel the musical than to have to break it to me that I couldn't sing.

When it comes to the vegan culture, I am not sure if I'm a true member or not. Maybe it's like me and the theater kids all over again - which is fine, really. My journey to veganhood was pretty long. I became a vegetarian when I was 19. I've always had a deep concern about animals and their welfare. In college, every time I had to write a non-fiction piece, I wrote about the evils of animal testing (honestly, I can't believe it's still happening, 25+ years later). I did a lot of reading on the topic of animal rights. I opened my eyes to a lot of very bad things. At that time in my life, I was vaguely aware of the concept of a vegan lifestyle. I didn't know any vegans, certainly. Hell, I was the only vegetarian in most places I went - from work to school to family gatherings.

Over the years, I became more aware of the differences between a vegan diet and a vegetarian diet. A vegan diet is more challenging sometimes (like eating out, for example).  I mean, not impossibly so, of course, but I remember thinking that it would simply be too hard to cut out eggs and such. Unaware at the time that vegan cakes exist, it seemed really sad to think of not being able to eat cake on my birthday. And so I chugged along, eating my usual vegetarian diet. I did make one change, several years ago, which was to cut out dairy milk and switch to almond milk. Finally, two years ago, I followed my baby sister's lead and went vegan. Eating a vegan diet does require a bit of forethought, but it's not nearly as hard as I'd feared it would be. Most days, it's downright easy to follow a plant-based diet.

Being a vegan is as much about a lifestyle as it is about a diet. For most vegans, I don't think the health benefits are even at the top of the list of "good things about being a vegan."  For most, it's more about living a cruelty-free life and trying to leave as small a footprint on the planet as possible. The more I thought about the industries that my vegetarian diet was supporting, the more I felt sick about it.  Sure, a dairy cow usually gets to live for a few years, but that doesn't really make up for what is done to her in those short few years. The ice cream ads show happy, smiling cows that can't wait for you to enjoy the delicious dairy ice cream but what we forget is: that milk wasn't made for us. It was made for the calf that was ripped away from her immediately.  I think being a vegan is about putting your money where your mouth is and living what you believe.

Now, I should state that I don't claim to be super great at some of this stuff. I sort of doubt that my preferred brand of mascara was never tested on animals. But I try to weed the cruelty out of my life as much as I can.  I'm learning. I'm trying.

It was in the interest of trying and learning that I attended a vegan festival last weekend. They had speakers, cooking demos, exhibitors and - most importantly - a food court. I studied the menus ahead of time to figure out which dishes I was most interested in trying. I don't know when I've been so excited. As any vegan will tell you, eating out is not always that easy - some parts of the country are definitely harder than others (depending on whether your part of the country thinks that vegans are simply mentally ill or not).

I arrived at the festival just as it was about to open. I had spent the night at a friend's house the night before since the event was held a couple hours away from my home. The lobby of the expo center was chock full of people waiting to get in. It was really hard to tell where the line was. I got into a line that I thought was the line, but later realized that I had probably (and unwittingly) cut off some people behind me. One thing about a gathering of people who are committed to non-violence . . . I knew no one would say, "Listen, bitch, get to the back of the line where you belong." The whole event turned out to be pretty darned crowded even after we all made it through the turnstile, but everyone was very nice. I felt a little inadequate with my two measly tattoos, though.  The actual requirement seems to be much higher. I have to think about each tattoo for several years ahead of time before getting them, though, so it might take a while for me to catch up.

I hadn't eaten breakfast (on purpose), so my first stop was to get some faux egg salad. I ate that while I perused the list of vendors, speakers, etc. Then I made a loop through the exhibitor room. I picked up an old-school tofu cookbook and scoped out some other stuff I thought I might buy before the day was over. I then decided it was high time for a second breakfast. Two different vendors had cinnamon rolls. I am allergic to flax seed, and since it's a common ingredient in baked goods. I knew I'd better ask. The first vendor was quick to confirm that her cinnamon rolls do contain flax seed. I scored with the second vendor, though.

Next, I attended a cooking demo. The chef was hilarious. It was seriously one of the most entertaining things I've ever attended. He showed us how to make a vegan blue cheese dressing and a seitan dish (by the way, spell check really wants to change seitan to senorita). After the demo, I headed back to the exhibitor area to buy some of the stuff I'd seen earlier: some soap, a tee shirt, and a $7 chocolate bar (I was feeling splurge-y!) After my minor spending spree, I decided it was time for lunch. By this time, the food court was insanely crowded.  So, I picked a restaurant rather randomly - a taco joint.  The line was long but not nightmarishly so.  I enjoyed my tacos and then got in the ice cream line.  The festival featured a vendor selling soy ice cream. I had seen umpteen people walking by with ice cream and I could not resist.  As I stood in line, I decided to get a single scoop of chocolate ice cream in a dish. However, when I got up to the front of the line, I heard my voice say this: "I'll have a double scoop in a waffle cone, please," It was really good. Ben & Jerry's recently came out with a line of dairy-free ice cream. I can't even have it in the house because I will freak the fuck out and eat it in one sitting.

After scarfing down my ice cream, I headed home. It was such a great day. I ran into several friends, talked to a few strangers, picked up some good information, and ate some awesome food. One of the vendors was selling whoopie pies and I was seriously tempted, but I truly did not have one inch of space left in my stomach.

The event reminded me that I'm not the only one. There are many in this tribe. If I do get that next tattoo, I'm thinking of the word Ahimsa.  Definition:  A Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu doctrine expressing belief in the sacredness of all living creatures and urging the avoidance of harm and violence.




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