Animal-free crackers in my soup . . .
Marieke HardyMay 14, 2010
I became a vegan for a week in October 2008 partly due to a dare. A boy I adored was a long-term vegan and I wanted to impress him and I have literally zero faith in my own abilities to charm someone into liking me through wit and personality alone. I was also curious about the life change and the food, and the idea of hurting an animal made me want to vomit blood — so it was a path I'd always been vaguely interested in. I loved eating meat, I just didn't really want to think about how it made its way to my plate.
Being vegan just seemed so restrictive from a distance, though. And I'm obsessed with food. I essentially know what I'm going to eat at least three days in advance. The idea of carrying around little Tupperware containers of broccoli and textured vegetable protein "just in case" worried me. Vegans were limp, iron-deficient, sanctimonious. They went to straight-edge gigs and wore bark underpants and had companion ferrets named Squinty. They were different in a way I found confronting. Jason Mraz is vegan, for God's sake. Who in their right mind would want to be Jason Mraz?
Believe me, nobody is more surprised than me that after 19 months I am still a vegan, and have no intention of ever eating meat again. I don't eat eggs. I don't eat dairy products. Gastronomically, I continue to live like a king. Go figure.
So what do vegans eat? A great deal, as it happens. The "pure vegetarian" diet is continually unfolding before my eyes and I'm yet to find an eggplant dish I don't like. Dark chocolate is vegan. Oreo cookies are vegan. Coles brand salt and vinegar chips are vegan. I am making it a mission to single-handedly unearth every devilish piece of vegan junk food in existence, and then eat it sitting on the couch and listening to Gillian Welch. Which is not to say I don't love vegetables. I just love food. All of it. In abundance.
Being vegan has uncovered a Julia Childs-esque love for cooking I never knew I had, minus the deboning of quails and simmering of pigs' heads and French-style and what not. I make lasagna and shepherd's pie and chilli con carne and if you can't for the life of you figure out how such things can exist without meat or dairy, then you are just not trying hard enough, friend. I make brownies and cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies. I drink wine and gin and cocktails. I eat ice-cream sandwiches made of tofu that honestly taste much better than they sound. Eating out isn't an issue for vegans unless they find themselves in a steak restaurant, at which point everybody at the table has a legal obligation to stand up and sing the Smiths' Meat is Murder eight times in full, or until the chef comes out of the kitchen angrily wiping bloodied hands on his apron, whichever comes first. Otherwise it's easy. Basil chilli stir-fry, minus the fish sauce, is a staple dish when out for Thai. Avocado nori rolls, creamy nasu dengaku, soba teriyaki noodles and salt and pepper tofu is just the tip of Japanese cuisine. And don't start me on Middle Eastern food. Glorious.
The word "vegan" still sounds foreign to me, though, like I'm faking a whole new personality and any moment now someone will rumble my ruse and snatch my food away from me with a glare.
"I'm sorry, I can't eat that, I'm gay," I imagine myself saying. "I'm a Jehovah's Witness. Is there dairy in that? Because I'm a Muslim and in about five minutes I need to go pray to Allah." It was never a road I thought I'd travel down, let alone stick with. What a strange and beautiful turn of events.
Do I believe in animal rights? Ferociously. Do I believe that the way I eat affects the earth? I do. Do I have to take myself seriously like a po-faced flag-waver at every given turn? Absolutely not. This is my way of life and I find it hilarious and goofy and full of joy.
And I'm not sanctimonious about it, I'm not. I find it difficult to put into words how being a vegan makes my heart sing, how it makes everything better, how I feel that a little compassion and understanding about what I eat and where it comes from makes me feel more connected to the world I live in.
I know that sounds like a particularly bad Ani DiFranco lyric, and I apologise. Everybody has a different perspective on food and what works for them personally, and that's OK.
Veganism became an option for me because I stopped being scared of it and realised that it was a rich, fulfilling, exciting, compassionate way to live. Outside of meeting Shaun Micallef, it's pretty much the best thing that's ever happened to me.