Okay, that title is a little misleading; obviously eating in public is not hard, or something we need to be instructed on. What I want to discuss today is issues with eating healthy plant-based meals in a work-place environment that may not appreciate “healthy plant-based meals” (or know what it means!).
I will start with a conversation I overheard in the lunchroom at my work the other day:
Girl 1: I have these “thin” bagels for breakfast because they’re low fat or something, but they never fill me up enough.
Me: Yeah, for the extra 50 calories, you might as well just have a regular bagel.
Girl 2: You know what has surprisingly good ingredients in it? Wonderbread. It really doesn’t have that many calories at all, and they fortify it with all sorts of nutrients.
(That’s when I left the kitchen)
Here’s another one, also overheard in the lunchroom:
Guy1: Ugh, what is that? Is that vegetables? I hate vegetables. I honestly don’t think I’ve had one in like 10 years.
And finally, the most common:
Anyone: What are you eating?
Me: It’s *enter some sort of vegan health-food dish*
Anyone: Vegan? Like no milk or cheese?
Me: Nope, no eggs either.
Anyone: So how do you get your protein? I could never give up cheese.
I know I’m not alone in being barraged with remarks like this in the workplace, or anywhere you might be sharing a meal that you’ve brought from home. It can be easy to get frustrated and annoyed (I should walk around with a pamphlet entitled “Where I Get My Protein!”) but there are a few things I like to remind myself of that I want to share with you:
1. People love talking about food! Especially people who don’t know each other very well. Food is an easy way to bond. No matter how you eat, people will want to talk about food. I think it’s because people like to find similarities. You like tomatoes? I like tomatoes! You like sprouting chickpeas? I like sprouting chickpeas! So remind yourself that when someone starts a conversation, it might not be a judgement on how you eat, but just that you eat in general.
2. Any opportunity to talk about why you eat this way is a good opportunity, even if it feels hostile at first. Look, I’m not going to lie to you. It doesn’t get any easier. I have no idea the percentage of herbivores vs. omnivores, but I assume it’s still pretty low. You will be asked the same questions about food over and over again, for the rest of your life. But think about the flip side of it. You might be the 3rd or 4th person the questioner has met who does not eat animal products. And maybe it will be the 10th person they meet that make it sound not so crazy. You might be a step for them, that is inevitably leading them to a more accepting place. Maybe even a place where they want to stop eating animals too!
3. Don’t forget about preconceptions. For those who have never met a vegan before, they might have ideas in their heads that you will gag and vomit just looking at meat, and you’ll throw red-paint on their leather boots and you’ll show them pictures of animals in factory farms. Sometimes, when someone seems a bit nervous asking me about how I eat, I remind them that I ate meat once too, and that many (almost all) of the people I love in my life still eat meat. I tell them that this is right for me right now, because I have done my research and I know that I don’t need meat to be healthy, which leads to my next point.
4. They have been told their whole life that eating meat is healthy. Think about it, we are basically running around saying that the world is round instead of flat. Most people, including doctors, nutritionists, television, smart people everywhere, believe that eating meat is healthy. Telling someone the opposite is not going to change their minds over night. It might get them thinking though.
5. Keep bringing in food! Don’t let stares or comments stop you. Sometimes the best way to win people over is by showing them, not just telling them. As you sit around the lunch table gobbling up left-over vegan shepherd’s pie and slurping on a green juice, show them how tasty it is, how healthy you are and how easy it can be. They ask for a recipe? Give it to them! They suggest a pot-luck? Bring enough vegan shepherd’s pie for everyone!
6. Say nothing. I bet you didn’t see that one coming. There are some people out there that just won’t get it. They will always think that meat is the basis of a meal. They will always think you’re a crazy tree-hugger, and they will ignore any common sense argument that you can think of. These people will just never see the world the way that you do. And there’s nothing you can say to change that. Sometimes you just have to smile and walk away. Don’t take it personally. And don’t waste time being angry or sad. Read your favourite blog, pick up the latest Brendan Brazier book, and remember that you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone.
Here’s one last conversation I had a few weeks ago (I’m paraphrasing a bit, but you’ll get the idea):
T (My husband’s cousin who is now eating a plant-based diet): Just think of how many people’s lives you’ve affected by eating the way you do.
T: When we first met, I thought you were crazy, but now I don’t eat meat anymore, and I never would’ve thought that was possible until I met someone who was doing it.
Me: I had never thought of it that way, I was just doing it because it seemed like the right thing to do.
And maybe that’s the lesson. If you’re living authentically, just doing what you know is right, you affect those around you, whether you realize it or not.
Tomorrow I will get you the recipe for The Husband’s Vegan Shepherd’s Pie. He makes up his recipes, so I’m working on getting it out of his head and written down! Here’s a teaser: