Year for the Planet Week 44: Me, An Accidental Vegan?

Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This year, 2017, is where I deal with my food choices.

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A Very Important Question: If you happen to be an experimental interdisciplinary and super adventurous sci-artist who can eat insects and worms in the name of climate change adaptation, can you still call yourself vegan? What about if you use honey to give people facials? Huh? Huh?

I actually really need to know.

Part 1. Understanding the V Word

“Vegan” is a word I avoid because in the past few years it has felt political. Even the legitimate nutritionists I follow online seem to stick with the awkward and unwieldy term “plant-based”. And so when I was ruminating on whether I am vegan, it isn’t without me wincing. It feels like identifying with those well-intentioned activists who would throw blood on fur-wearing people (which isn’t something I would personally do; it’s impolite and ineffective— wouldn’t they just buy another one?) or that annoying friend you secretly want to dump because he keeps pointing out what’s wrong with the world without offering an original alternative.

Is the V word really the only word that can describe what I’m getting out of a year-long journey? Well, crap.

“Vegan” also feels exclusive, which considering the state of world affairs, is something I’m averse to. I have friends who are stubborn meat-eaters but also bike to work, and have known many a vegetarian who loves to shop in fast-fashion empires. Isn’t getting milk from the family cow better than being a dedicated meal prepper with a freezer full of single-use Ziploc bags and who orders ashwagandha from Goop?

Exclusivity often means we feel the need to draw lines and to defend them. Why is it that the more we try to get out of stale world views, the more we form into these exclusive groups who sees the rest as “the Other”? The planet got into this mess because of our broken systems that most of us were born into, and so it isn’t constructive to play the “my carbon footprint is less than yours because X” argument. It only serves to further divide us.

Part 2. A List of Recommendations

The problem with labels are the strings we didn’t realize were attached to them. And so whild I try to find a word (or resist one) that defines what I am becoming, here are some guidelines I want to give myself:

1. Be generous, not sanctimonious.
I would tell this to myself in the earlier part of this project. Recall that when I investigated whether a sustainable healthy diet was possible to live on for $1 a day, well, the answer is…no. The availability and price points of processed corporation-distributed food together with a scarcity mentality just make it easier for people to eat whatever is available, and to fill up with foods that are unhealthy and over-packaged. And so I didn’t want to keep losing my temper at people who either don’t know any better or simply didn’t have a choice (or were convinced they didn’t). It has been mentally easier  to wordlessly and cheerfully offer people food I just made instead of giving them a lecture.

2. Be versatile.
Regrettably, I’m not Beyoncé. I don’t have the luxury of a personal chef, and honestly, I’m the solitary kind who likes to make things on my own. It’s fun to experiment and to know exactly what I’m putting in my body so that when I do get sick, I’m usually right about the cause. In the past few months, I have streamlined my entire routine and can easily adapt to whatever country I’m in.

3. Keep using your brain.
This is the main problem with labels and tribalism. People who insist on using the Us-Versus-Them argument often miss the bigger picture because of the misleading comfort of “belonging” somewhere. If I order a dish that I didn’t realize comes with fish sauce, I won’t send it back. Wasting food is a lot worse, no?

4. Context is key.
When I travel, I believe it is kinder to the planet to eat fish just caught in the Amazon River when it is a few miles away from me than say, insisting on almond milk that was made in California and shipped to another country. It’s all about context and knowing how to prepare, eat, and enjoy what is available to you.

5. Be practical.
I like plant-based diets because of the variety of meals you can make with one ingredient. Plants can be stored longer and with less refrigeration. As a consequence, I shop less. We’re always whining about how we don’t have enough time; let’s hack into our routines and figure out how to prioritize the more important things.

6. Have fun.
This was the game changer in this project. Like most women who have been mercilessly body-shamed throughout her life, I cannot tell you how many diets I have been on in the past decades. “Diet” became a euphemism for “punishment”—and I realized that’s why my body ended up rebelling through the years. Having fun in this project removed whatever food anxiety I had and made me create a positive feedback loop for myself. I’ve been happy enough to do this on my own despite being surrounded by negativity. Because honestly, sheesh, humanity, we have a long way to go.

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