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What the hell is wrong with you, you dirty, hippie vegan?

Since going vegan, one thing has fascinated me more than anything — other people’s reactions. Who would have thought simply trying to eat more vegetables would be a cause for such concern among friends, acquaintances and random strangers. Some people even seem downright offended. “Are you serious?” they practically ask with a sneer. “Who doesn’t want cheese on their pizza?”

People being curious, sometimes idiotic, occasionally judgmental — no surprise there. That’s life. What’s odd is how no one used to be any of those things or continues to be any of those things when I swing to the other end of the spectrum. I can show up with a gallon of mountain dew, a large double cheese and pepperoni pizza, and a container full of cookies and no one bats an eye.

But show up with some fruit and pass on the greasy hamburgers? Suddenly, everyone looks at you like you showed up at an important business meeting and forgot to bring your pants.

For me, okay, I get it. I’m a 330 pound bearded, hobo-looking, motorcycle driving, formerly leather wearing beast of a man. Asking to pass the broccoli doesn’t exactly fit the caricature surrounding those descriptions. But it’s not just me. I hear it from everyone from skinny young girls to older male runners. It’s the same story. Drop 50 pounds, take control of your life, and then listen to day in, day out criticism.

“Lose any more weight and we won’t be able to see you. You’ll look like a cancer patient. That can’t be healthy.”

“Are you sure it’s safe to eliminate meat and cheese, to forgo fried chicken wings and ranch dressing and fat-filled cheese? You know that you can eat too many vegetables, right? I think you should be be more moderate.”

“Running will destroy your knees. Oh, you’re going to run a marathon. You realize people’s hearts give out every year while they run those? Good luck.”

But no one asks how often people’s hearts explode sitting on the couch drinking Coca Cola and eating Cheetos. Are these serious questions? When did becoming lean and giving a shit about your health become taboo? When did becoming an overweight fat-ass slob (a group to which I currently belong) become the status quo. I only ask, because it’s something I hear from everybody who says they’re trying to change their life.

Then I came across this quote a few days ago, and in my mind it all suddenly made sense.

All of us cherish our beliefs. They are, to a degree, self-defining. When someone comes along who challenges our belief system as insufficiently well-based – or who, like Socrates, merely asks embarrassing questions that we haven’t thought of, or demonstrates that we’ve swept key underlying assumptions under the rug – it becomes much more than a search for knowledge. It feels like a personal assault. –Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

36 Comments

  1. Great post. I’ve been vegan for 37 years and it never gets easier. Ignoring them or laughing at them are my current policies, depending on the day. But I once got punched in the face because I was vegan. That probably doesn’t happen when you’re a big motorcycle-riding guy. And it’s true. The status quo does not like to be threatened.

    • There has got to be a story behind that punch.

      • Yeah. It was at a Thanksgiving party and I had brought a dish I could eat. This guy asked why. I told him. He started screaming that I had caused his father’s cattle ranch to go bankrupt. Then he punched me in the face. When I came to, he was being hauled away by the police and I was being taken to the hospital. He was about 6’5″ and muscular, I was a tiny 5’5″, very thin girl. Not the best day in my vegan life.

        • Wow…I am so sorry you had to experience that. We live in a crazy world! Congrats on keeping true and doing so for 37 years and counting 🙂

          • Yes but if I hadn’t experienced it very early on, I might be more sensitive when people ridiculed my diet. Now I just think “I got punched in the face. This is nothing in comparison.” Besides, after that his karma must has sucked.

        • Crazy! Some people are just . . . sad to hear.

        • Yes, that’s a horrible thing to have happen (I’m a tiny bit sexist when I say especially to a woman! But I just hate that!). I’ve ridden a motorcycle most of my live, and I have been punched in the face several times. It happens. My wife and I are vegan, now. All the cool people were since ancient times! So ya’ll stay safe now! I’m glad the man’s slaughterhouse went bankrupt; cattle-ranching is causing Global Warming way more than driving automobiles!
          Neal D. Barnard, MD (1953-present) – The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined. If beef is your idea of “real food for real people,” you’d better live real close to a real good hospital.

  2. Ain’t that the truth! I get the same senseless comments and reactions. I just smile & walk away. Some questions are genuine requests for information (just….poorly worded) but others….beg to be disregarded! Keep it up Jeff!!!

  3. Powerful post! Definitely resonates with me, as I have been vegan off and on for ten years. Really love the quote, too, and needed this reminder. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I became a vegan five months ago. I’ve lost a lot of weight and people have noticed; however, I pretty much keep it to myself. I suppose if someone questioned whether the diet is safe I could say that my doctor has been checking my bloodwork and has informed me that everything looks great.

    It saddened me to hear that your friends/co-workers weren’t more supportive of you. Love the Sagan quote. Take care! Great post! 🙂

  5. Oh what a great quote! People often act oddly when I tell them I’m vegan, which has always been hard for me to understand. But this quote really says it all!! Celeste:)

  6. I totally agree with your post. Sometimes I think people are a bit negative about it because they want you to eat bad so they don’t feel bad about themselves.

  7. I’m with you, Brother. Like Farm Girl demonstrated, we challenge an entrenched way of life. Growing up on a farm and still living in the heart of the corn belt, I *know* they take the way I eat personally. Most recently, my sister called me a snob. But I also have encountered folks who are genuinely supportive and curious.

    I love your point about no one picking on our overweight, fat-ass slob diets. WTF?

  8. Absolutely. Everyone has cherished beliefs. Often people who tout themselves as “open-minded”, valuing “diversity” and “tolerance” can be the most judgmental of others who have strong convictions to the contrary. Keep your convictions and stay healthy.

  9. Welcome to the club! I find ignoring people like this is the sometimes the best way to handle it, because frankly, they’ve already made up their minds that you’re nuts even before you speak. In the end, you’ll have the last (and healthiest) laugh.

  10. Reblogged this on Honk If You're Vegan and commented:
    Jeff Peters has a great writing style, and this post is something that all vegans can relate to.

  11. I went through the same thing when I was a raw foodist. I had women half my age tell me I looked anorexic (when I was a normal size 3 — three sizes more than a fashion model!). If I ate a pineapple for lunch people would be like, “OMG you’re going to eat ALL THAT!” Yet no one bat an eye at the person next to me who ate three slices of pizza. I even had a woman accuse me of having bulimia because I ate so much (healthy) and never gained weight.

    I don’t get why people have to be so intimidated by good eating habits.

  12. Hi Jeff, I saw this post reblogged on Celeste’s site. Loved reading this–spot on, and I love your humour. I’m a vegan trying to make it as a writer, too, so it’s great to “meet” you. Can’t wait to check out your other posts, especially the ones on writing.

    • As I read this I’m writing a new installment on writing advice. How’s your writing going? Are you new to it or currently working? Just curious. 🙂

      • I’ve done a fair bit of writing on and off over the years, but have only submitted a few things, mostly to comps, recently to literary journals. Got my first rejection yesterday, which was exciting. I’m working on a humanities degree with a focus on creative writing. I love it and I hate it. I’m sure you know what I mean.

  13. Wow, very well put and so very true. It’s by far the most difficult thing about being vegan – the food and clothing is the easy part! Great blog by the way, glad I found you!

  14. I am so glad I read this, reblogged by Celeste. I have been dealing with quite a bit of judgement recently, and ironically, I am not vegan, but vegetarian. I write a food blog, and happen to mostly cook vegan food. It’s unbelievable how much criticism I receive the moment I through the word ‘vegan’ into my recipes. Was recently told no one eats what I eat, except for Yoga queens?! What the?! Anyhow, I do have incredible friends and family who are supportive, love my food, and love the creativity that goes behind making a delicious veg meal!

    • Yeah, I will never understand completely why it offends so many people. That’s the great thing about our online community though, usually we can all be pretty supportive.

      • That’s so true, Jeff!! I am so grateful for the community we have here. So positive, encouraging, creative and downright awesome. It somehow helps me forget the negativity.
        Have a great day 🙂
        Sophia

  15. Just found your blog 🙂 Love! I think going vegan takes a lot of guts. I love the quote… it’s so true… something as simple as making choosing a veggie burger instead of a beef burger can make your friends think twice about their choices — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just earth shattering for some.

  16. Thanks for this! I recently switched back to being vegetarian, and plan to transition to being vegan. This change is new, and I haven’t announced it to co-workers or anyone, per se so, they don’t know about it. Somehow, though out of the blue last week, my co-workers launched into this long, mean tirade against vegetarians and vegans. I was faced with the question “Do I tell them that I’m vegetarian?”

    My decision not to tell them was based on the idea that a) They would probably be mortified, and I saw no purpose in that, and b) I’m not sure that, if they feel that way about vegetarians without really knowing one, or being willing to make the broad, sweeping generalizations they were making, that I would want to ‘let them in’ anyway.

    In any event, thanks for this post. It’s good to know I’m not alone in this.

    • Best of luck on you new change! I don’t really hide, but I don’t go around announcing it to everyone either, except on this blog ;-). It’s easy to judge a whole group of people when you don’t know any personally. I think history has proven that, at least.

  17. you know what this says to me? I mean I hardly know you, I don’t know you but based on this post alone, if you can do this! Anyone can change their life, if they want to. I support my son in his choices fully, also his girl. But I know exactly what your mean. When great grandma asked the GF if she would partake in cake, and she refused, great grandma made a sour face and didn’t hide her displeasure. I mean really, if the girl doesn’t want cake what’s wrong with that? Love this post.

    • There’s huge amounts of socializing and social pressure built around food, and on one hand I understand some people can get upset when you don’t try things. People get used to it though. Now they don’t even offer anymore.

  18. Great post and so true, it seems to me that it seems to be a terrible crime to comment on an unhealthy diet (I never do btw), but perfectly acceptable to criticise, question and even ridicule a healthy one, vegan or otherwise…..

  19. Great quote. Explains so, so many of the nutballs I met at that disappointing party last night.

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