18 June 2012

Living among carnivores: A how-to guide

My father owns a meat smoker. My mother thinks a meal isn't complete without some form of chicken. My sister worships the god of the ham steak. I'm an herbivore living among carnivores, and it's a role I still haven't completely mastered, even after five years. However, I have learned some tips and tricks on how to make cohabiting with the meat eaters easier and enjoyable for everyone.

1. Be patient. You will be asked to explain your life choice—repeatedly. You will be called upon to defend it. Do so with grace...and, if you'd like, statistics. Remember, when explaining to the umpteenth family member why you did not partake in the Thanksgiving turkey that although you are obliged to explain, you do not have to justify your beliefs to anyone else. Some people will not understand your life choice, as you do not understand theirs. That is fine, as long as you both maintain a mutual sense of respect.

2. Compromise, don't convert. There is no point in lecturing die-hard carnivores to switch to a vegan lifestyle, and you shouldn't try to do so. As a vegetarian/vegan, I am sure people have tried to reconvert you, and you did not like it. The same goes for our carnivorous counterparts. Let them eat (beef)cake. You can offer to make them veggie sides to go along with their meat, but if they are dead set on having a hamburger you have to let them do it. You don't want them heckling you while you much peacefully on your kale, so the same goes for them as they bite into their animal of choice.

3. Have a sense of humor. Don't be offended the first time someone (jokingly) asks you if you want the biggest piece of meat being served. Just laugh it off, say yup with an exuberant nod, and proceed in eating your veggies. I would like to say that eventually, the more accustomed the carnivores come to living with your herbivore habits, the less they will joke about them. However, I know from personal experience that the jokes do not end, which might not be a bad thing. You should never take yourself too seriously about anything, eating habits included.

4. Get creative (and a food processor). A great way to create understanding and acceptance between herbivore and carnivore roomies is by integrating vegan meals into the daily household menu. This means getting creative with all the recipes available on the internet, sometimes combining two into one or making vegan substitutions. This also means getting a food processor, since many vegan recipes call for one. I truly believe that a good food processor can bring herbivores and carnivores together. Case in point: my family can't get enough of my homemade hummus, and I'm more than happy to make it for them.

5. Be the hunter-gatherer. By this I mean—do the grocery shopping. It seems like a small gesture, but this act can yield amazing results. Most households live on a budget, so you may have to keep that in mind as you shop. However, pre-packaged foods usually cost more than fresh produce. By reducing your companions' consumption of the former, you will have more room in your budget to introduce a larger variation of the latter into the kitchen. And of course, the best way to live with carnivores is to create understanding between you and them. If you want carnivores to understand your herbivore lifestyle, don't show them, feed them.

6. Feed the carnivores. Most carnivores reject a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle on pure unfamiliarity. They don't know what they can eat with a vegan lifestyle, so they think that they can't hack it. Show them that they can by plopping a plate brimming with colorful veggies, fruits, quinoa, tofu, seitan, whatever you eat down in front of them, at least once. If they don't like it, then you have to respect that. If they do, however, try it again. Only feed them when they want to be fed. Let them have their bacon cheeseburgers when they want them, but don't hesitate to offer the idea of vegetable paella the next time the question “What's for dinner?” inevitably rolls around.

7. Learn to fend for yourself. This how-to rule mostly applies for young vegetarians still living under their parents' roof. You should learn to make your own food, or else your diet will most likely consist of white pasta and marinara sauce and nothing else. For some reason, pasta is the go-to food for carnivores when they are trying to feed an herbivore. Pasta is great, but not really healthy, especially if that's all you eat. Therefore, it is important for you to learn to make your own food so that you have control over what goes into your body. You don't need to become a full-fledged veggie gourmand, but knowing enough to follow an online recipe successfully is a must.

8. Don't sweat the small stuff. So your veggie burger is lying next to a beef patty on the grill. This is not the end of the world. As long as they don't get completely mashed together to form one super patty, they might as well be on different sides of the earth. The extra fridge in my house smells like the smoked meat my father stores in it, but I'll still eat the watermelon we put in there because it was too big to fit in the normal fridge. Sure, I don't love the meat smell that somehow sticks to the juicy, pink wedges, but I'm willing to let it slide. The watermelon was bought specifically upon my request, so its inadvertent smokiness isn't a big deal.

9. Vegetarian/vegan food loves your body, but the carnivores love YOU. Never forget that, when all is said and done, it's the people you live with that make life worth living. I don't know about you, but even if I'm eating the most delicious and healthy vegan dish, I'm not really happy consuming it at an empty dinner table. For me, the people in my life will always be more important than food because food cannot love you. Food can fuel you, enrich you, empower you, but it can't hug you, kiss you, or tell you that having a full-blown Game of Thrones addiction is completely normal. This doesn't mean giving up your herbivore tendencies for the carnivores in your life, just that those carnivores, those actual people, are more important.

So yes, I live among the carnivores. And no, I still haven't perfected it. However, I've survived long enough to write this piece, so I must be doing something right...right?

Lindsay Geller | Blog | Twitter| Pinterest | LinkedIn
Boston, MA Lindsay is a Writing, Literature, and Publishing and Marketing Communications double major at Emerson College. She originally hails from rural northeastern Pennsylvania where the first day of hunting season merited a day off from school. She has been a vegetarian for over five years and is currently transitioning into veganism. When she isn't writing magazine articles, she writes touching and/or creepy and/or sarcastic fiction which can be found at her blog. She also enjoys making 140 character diary entries comparing her life to a Lifetime movie on her Twitter.

Photo credit: TDIV