What I Eat, What I Don’t, and Why

This post is necessarily about me, but I want to make it as much NOT about me as possible. I’m not writing this because I assume that people have a genuine interest in what *I* eat. I’m just an anonymous blogger. No, I think some people are curious just because, as far as I can tell, there aren’t a ton of people that are vegan except for freegan exceptions that are out there blogging about it. So please understand that I’m not writing this because I assume people find me fascinating. I’m writing it because I really believe that non-vegan freegan food (NVFF) is compatible with vegan ethics and I want to make it known that this is a perfectly valid “type” of veganism that is viable and workable. I think there is potentially a segment of people (probably fairly small) that might actually give veganism MORE consideration if they knew that becoming vegan doesn’t have to mean that you’ll never eat another piece of cheese as long as you live.

When I say that I make freegan exceptions, my criteria is this: 1) I did not pay for it and 2) the food would otherwise go to waste. And so far my freegan exceptions have all been vegetarian, mostly involving cheese. At first it was a little bit weird, but I’ve come a long way in being okay with it again. I just stopped vilifying the substance itself, because the substance itself is not the problem. The fact that it would otherwise go to waste makes it essentially ethically neutral as far as I’m concerned.

And there really haven’t been a ton of actual occurrences. A girl that I work with was going to throw away the last three pieces of a cheese/veggie pizza that she ordered. So I ate it. My wife kept putting off eating a mozza-covered tostada, and after the second or third time she didn’t eat it after I reminded her it was still in the fridge, I knew it was nearing the point where it would go bad. So I ate it. My friend gave me the last 1/3 of an order of tortilla chips at a baseball game and he didn’t use hardly any of the nacho cheese sauce. So I ate it. I ordered some fries at a bar last weekend and, even though it wasn’t stated on the menu, it came out with a side of chipotle mayonnaise. So I ate it. I attended a bachelor party where no one wanted to take home the cheese slices (and tons of other vegan items) at the end of the weekend, so I took it all home and ate it. That’s about it as far as “interesting” examples go.

The majority of the other examples (maybe 5 or 6 times) involve restaurants putting cheese on my food after I specifically asked them not to. About a year ago I started being more lenient with “mistakes” at restaurants. If something comes out with cheese on it (after I specifically said “no cheese”), I’ll usually offer whatever I can scrape off to any dinner companions. If they don’t want it, or if I’m alone, I just eat it. I used to scrape it off, but I actually find this less ethical than eating it. It’s food. If I don’t eat it, I’m just letting food go to waste, and that’s something that I really hate for reasons that have nothing to do with veganism. Now that I’ve realized this and now that I’ve started to get over my self-imposed dislike for a food that I used to enjoy, it’s really not a problem for me. I know a lot of vegans will dislike that I’m saying this, but I’m actually to a point where I can enjoy it again. Let’s face it: cheese tastes good. There is a reason that so many people say that it was the hardest thing for them to give up (giving up cheese for me was WAY more difficult than giving up meat). I still enjoyed the taste of it the day I gave it up, so why shouldn’t I allow myself to enjoy it again when it’s ethically neutral? And the more I do it, the more I feel okay about it. So I think it’s actually a case of “practice makes perfect.”

Some people, mainly cynical vegans, probably think that I just miss cheese and that I’m just rationalizing ways to get my fix. This is a really cynical view and I won’t take it seriously if that person can’t give me a good argument why eating it is worse than letting it go to the dump. And if you do want to try, let me just say that it’s very unlikely that you can bring up a point that I haven’t already considered. I gave this new approach tons of thought before implementing it. If your point has anything to do with “what kind of message it sends to non-vegans,” you might as well just save your fingers the work of having to type it.

But just to illustrate why these people would be wrong even if they were inclined to think this, let me share an experience I had just a few weeks ago. I was hanging out with two friends at a bar, and these two friends are actually vegan (hanging out with other vegans is fairly rare for me). They ordered some fries and they came out with finely shredded parmesan cheese on them. They immediately balked at the sight of it (which I would have done a few years ago), and I could tell that this was going to be one of those “send it back to the kitchen” situations. I didn’t want that to happen because that often means they just trash it, so I offered to just eat the top layer with all the cheese on it. By this point the waiter had pieced together that my friends were vegan, so he said that we could keep them or that he would just take them back to the kitchen and that he and the other waiters would eat them. At that point it was clear that it wouldn’t be wasted, so my desire to eat them was gone. They got their vegan fries and no food went to waste. No worries. I wasn’t bummed that I didn’t get to eat the cheese. I was really full on a fully vegan burrito already.

I’ve yet to eat meat. Since becoming vegetarian 4.5 years ago, I’ve only had meat in my mouth a handful of times and it’s always been by accident. I just have a mental block on meat. Even though I am totally okay with eating freegan meat in principle, I can’t get myself to do it. I would like to be able to do it, but all of the shit that I put into my head for 3+ years has just made it really hard for me to get to a point where I want to eat it again. I’m okay being around it, smelling it etc. but I just have too much mental/emotional baggage. I think I probably will try it eventually, though. If it’s something that I can actually start to enjoy again, I would probably make it a more regular thing. But only when it’s freegan.

One thing that I do want to get into eventually is dumpstering. I know the idea really skeeves some people out, but it’s not like people eat things indiscriminately. When I used to eat eggs, cheese, milk, etc. I used to mostly ignore “Best By” dates and just trust my nose. It never failed me then and I don’t see why food from a dumpster would be different. Best By dates are a fucking joke, for the most part, and people that throw out food just because it’s past the Best By dates are idiots. Okay, that’s too strong. But they’re making a dumb choice for dumb reasons. Best By dates are a very general guideline and nothing more. But grocery stores have good legal/liability reasons to chuck stuff past its date. The majority of the things I used to chuck when I worked at a grocery were perfectly edible.

So, anyway, I hope my experience can show people that it is possible to keep your vegan values, still eat NVFF, and not “fall off the wagon” just because you lose your disgust for something. Every good vegan claims it’s not about personal purity, but their unwillingness to prove this by eating NVFF makes these claims a lot harder to believe. I really, really, really wish there were more vegans out there doing this. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we tend to come off as puritanical and finicky.

I share the feeling, expressed by people like Adam and Dave D, that what you eat shouldn’t really be an expression of who you are as a person (sorry if you feel I’m mischaracterizing what you think – feel free to clarify your opinions if you think I am). Diet definitely shouldn’t be on a list of criteria for how one chooses friends. Vegans that don’t like to hang out with non-vegans make me want to barffffffffff.

I don’t like the fact that vegans are perceived as a group of people that take pleasure in being perceived as “more ethical.” I don’t really like it when people try to use their veganism as a badge of how much they care, or their “superior” lifestyle choices. I think I used to like veganism because it is an obviously political expression that challenges the mores of society at large. But I don’t feel that way anymore. Now it’s just what I do, it’s just the way I eat.

As much as I disagree with the “veganism is the moral baseline” idea, I do feel that, on the whole, veganism is the ethically better choice, for the most part. I eat what I eat (and don’t eat what I don’t eat) because I feel that, given my options (and my privileged ability to eat exactly what I want – an option that not everyone has), veganism is just the best way to try to align my behavior with my values. And that’s why, after 3 years of straight-up consumer veganism, I started allowing for freegan exceptions to my veganism. I don’t think I deserve a medal for it. At this point, I would settle for just being able to pursue my path in life and not have my dietary choices be a point of contention. But that’s not realistic. Eating in a way that reflects my values is an inherently political statement, so at this point I’m just trying, as much as possible, to make that statement be one that doesn’t turn people off from the idea that they can make more ethical dietary choices if they want to.

Okay… enough about me.

– – thanks for reading – –

SV

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17 Responses to What I Eat, What I Don’t, and Why

  1. I think it’s fine for diet to be an expression of one’s personality, though ideally it would only be one of many expressions of that personality. I might think of a better formulation of this point later, but for now I’ll say that I do think it’s bad to let one’s personality and values become an expression of one’s diet.

  2. FeralSpirit says:

    WOW. just wow.
    THIS:
    “I make freegan exceptions, my criteria is this: 1) I did not pay for it and 2) the food would otherwise go to waste. And so far my freegan exceptions have all been vegetarian, mostly involving cheese. At first it was a little bit weird, but I’ve come a long way in being okay with it again. I just stopped vilifying the substance itself, because the substance itself is not the problem. The fact that it would otherwise go to waste makes it essentially ethically neutral as far as I’m concerned.”
    and THIS:
    “Even though I am totally okay with eating freegan meat in principle, I can’t get myself to do it. I would like to be able to do it, but all of the shit that I put into my head for 3+ years has just made it really hard for me to get to a point where I want to eat it again. I’m okay being around it, smelling it etc. but I just have too much mental/emotional baggage. ”

    you have just describe EXACTLY where I am. Thanks for your all great thoughts in this write up and BTW you should really try to do some dumpstering. Start at Trader Joes if you have one in your area. once you get passed any preconceived skeeve-out notions, I promise that you won’t regret it! 😉

    • Thanks, FeralSpirit. I’m really glad that there is at least one other person that is with me on this.

      I actually looked around the Trader Joe’s for dumpsters and I did not see them anywhere. I’m guessing that they have them in an indoor area, possibly specifically to thwart dumpstering. Kinda lame.

    • Cat Hess says:

      I feel exactly the same. I’ve only been vegan a couple of months but I’m just beginning to come out of the whole ‘black and white’ area and realise how much grey there is! Thanks so much for this – I can really relate and it’s great to know there are others out there who feel the same way.

      • Yes, there definitely is a lot of gray area. Good luck in finding what works for you. Once you do find it (at least when you find “it” for the time being), please take some time to practice being able to elaborate WHY to other people. I’ve found that this makes it much easier to get by socially. People are always looking for “hypocrisy” in vegans.

        Good luck.

  3. LiseyDuck says:

    Yes, a lot of places either lock up their skips to keep people out, or do things to render the food inedible – for example pouring bleach over the whole lot or throwing dog mess in with it. I’m not sure why they feel the need to go to such lengths, if anything it would probably cut down on the amount of shoplifting if they allowed people to take the thrown-out food without a fight.

    • FeralSpirit says:

      yikes that is amazingly crummy, sorry to hear that shop owners do that sort of thing in your area. in my area, many places leave their roll up bay doors open and more then a few times workers have come out while we were dumpstering and just handed us pre-dumpstered food, wishing us well. shopkeepers here don’t much care about folks dumpstering as long as you don’t throw trash around the place and re bundle any trash bags you rip open.

  4. Bazu says:

    I agree with most of your points. Happy to have found your blog!

  5. Nicola says:

    I liked this.

    I suppose I have to admit that I agree with the personal purity thing. I do find satisfaction in thinking ‘I haven’t eaten such and such for however long’ and as it gets longer I do get a little, dare I say it – smugger. I don’t know, I’m happy with it making me feel good about myself, as long as I don’t come across that way to other people. It ensures I don’t cave, because there are some foods I really really miss. So having the feeling of satisfaction in refraining from eating it is better than the feeling of eating it – whatever works I guess.

    I was at a restaurant the other night and there was some of my friend’s cheese pizza left over and I was still a bit hungry. I knew absolutely no harm would come from eating it. Actually I knew it was technically more harmful for me to have it get thrown out and into a landfill, and for me to have to buy some vegan food in its place to fill me up, but there was a mental block there, and I just didn’t want to eat it. Well, we’re not trying to be perfect, just better so that’ll have to do for me!

    I think there’s absolutely no logical argument that I can think of against the way you eat, and if it tempts people to consider eating more ethically, then I think it could be brilliant. Keep us posted on what other people (non vegans) attitudes towards it is, I’m intrigued.

    • So far I haven’t really eaten NVFF in front of non-vegans many times. In the nacho cheese example from above, my friend was like “wait, what… that’s cheese” or something like that. I said something like “I’m okay eating it if it’s either in my stomach or in the garbage” and he just said “yeah, okay” or something like that. It didn’t seem to phase him, but I guess what he “really” thinks is anyone’s guess. So I don’t have much experience with eating NVFF in front of omnivores yet. But… I do have an interview coming up soon with a guy that is vegetarian and makes freegan exceptions for meat. Hopefully what he says will be insightful or at least interesting. Stay tuned.

      I understand where you’re coming from with not wanting to eat the cheese pizza. I was vegan for roughly 3 years before I gave serious thought to eating NVFF. By that time, I didn’t even want to eat non-vegan food because I had convinced myself that it’s disgusting. If you still have cravings, I think that means you’re not as far gone as I was. There’s still hope for you 😉 I’m working on a post right now about vegans using disgust as a way to force discipline on themselves. I think you’ll enjoy it.

      In any case, you’re one of the vegans that would “get it” if another vegan wanted to eat NVFF, and that’s almost a coup in itself. Hopefully more and more of us can come around to this idea.

  6. Fiona says:

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for writing this post! I have been a vegetarian for 10 years and trying valiantly to be vegan for about four. I want to be vegan so badly for ethical reasons, but find myself unable to stop eating milk chocolate, yogurt, and desserts in general (I do eat a lot less dairy than I did four years ago and almost no eggs now). I think I struggle with sticking with veganism because of my past with disordered eating, where foods were off-limits. I now automatically rebel and eat a food when a part of me thinks a food is off-limits (even if I don’t even want to eat it out of principle). I had thought of the idea of freeganism before myself, but never knew that people actually did it and that there was a term for it! This excites me because I whole-heartedly agree with it and it will mean that I can continue to still eat dairy occasionally without feeling guilty! One of my only worries about eating food that would be thrown away anyway was that I would eventually end up going back to meat-eating, but I feel hopeful now because you said, “it is possible to keep your vegan values, still eat NVFF, and not ‘fall off the wagon’ just because you lose your disgust for something.” I have just found your blog but love it already btw! I will be subscribing!

  7. Great, I’m glad you like it. And I’m totally sympathetic to your position, given your experience with disordered eating.

    I don’t know what else you’ve read here, but I think this and this might be especially relevant to where you’re coming from.

    Just know that you can indulge in some dairy and eggs here and there and still be 95% vegan, which I maintain is pretty good. You obviously don;t want to get too wrapped up in the calorie counting and whatnot, but you can just use that chart as a guideline. Don’t think of not being 100% vegan as you constantly failing. Own it. Do what you do because that’s what’s best for you.

    Take care and good luck.

    • Fiona says:

      Those posts were fantastic and I also thought your Vegan Street Cred post was hilarious! 🙂 I look forward to reading through more of your posts and thanks for the support!

      • Yeah, I had a lot of fun writing the Street Cred piece. I got to a point where I just thought that I don’t want veganism (or what I eat in general) to be a basis for my identity. I find foodies to be ridiculous in a lot of the same ways, and I don’t want to be like that. I became vegetarian and then vegan for my own reasons, but then I became lumped into this whole group of people (vegans) and I realized that I wasn’t comfortable being lumped in with them. And once I came to terms with being speciesist and being okay with NVFF, it all just kinda gelled for me.

        So, to bring this back to you, I hope you can find a way to try to be as vegan as you want to be and then find a way to stick with that. It might be 95% or 90% or whatever. You obviously have something in you that strives for the vegan end of the spectrum, but you also have something in you telling you that maybe 100% veganism isn’t the thing for you. Just find a way to strike a balance and make it yours. I said this before, but you need to own it. Feeling like you’re constantly failing can be a shitty thing. But it doesn’t have to be like that, not if you allow yourself some “exceptions” or however you want to think about it.

        • Fiona says:

          Your ideas about “owning it” and “making it mine” really struck a chord with me. I was picking no meat/dairy/eggs as my arbitrary line just because so many others choose that, but it really is arbitrary (to some extent) so I should choose a line that works for me! I like that you have the courage to eat in a way that works for you; it’s very inspiring to me. I realized after reading your 95% vegan post how much room that actually is, so I am fairly certain now that I am already 95% vegan, yet I was always feeling bad about myself for not doing enough! I think I will have to do some thinking as to what my personal line will be (or if there even will be a line – I may just focus on doing the best I can each day) and it will probably change over time as well (since over the last four years my dairy/egg intake has dropped). It’s awesome to find like-minded people on the Internet! 🙂

  8. TaVe says:

    I started being a vegan with some items at my house that no one else ate- I still considered myself a vegan when I ate them (although it took me some time to get myself to eat some of it…). And I still use my old leather belt, wallet and shoes. Just earlier today while I was asleep, my family ordered pizza, and got one without cheese- I was afraid they may have got the crust with whey, but if it was I would have eaten it. If the options are eat or waste, the answer seems obvious.

    One problem I have is I don’t want people “accidentally” getting too much and then asking me if I want it cause they think it would be funny or something. Perhaps I’m just a little paranoid.

  9. James says:

    I’m actually really excited about finding this blog. I used to follow the vegetarian and later the vegan hype when I was 11 or so, but I’ve grown out of it quite fast. I usually feel like shit, letting food go to waste just because it’s not vegan, so I’m fine with eating most non-vegan products, as long as I know I am not contributing in any way to the industry. After all, veganism means making the ethical choice, driven by common sense rather than by an almost religious obsession with so called rules usually imposed by PETA type of nutters. Even when consuming vegetables and fruit, the whole point is to find the most ethical source for it, if possible.
    I’m even looking into ostroveganism. Anti-speciesism, to a certain degree, is important. But not all beings are equal in all senses. I personally don’t consider mussels sentient enough to care for them and I refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt concerning pain just because most vegans insist to. They are very beneficial for the environment, clean the water and are easy and very ‘green’ to grow. I’m not especially found of the way they taste, but they cause less damage to the world than your usual veggie agriculture.
    I would eat roadkill. I would and will probably dumpster dive and eat any food, regardless of whether it’s vegan or not, as long as I can stomach it. And after I look into it some more, I’ll possibly start eating mussels too.
    I took a vegetarian girl out for a pizza once and even though she asked that they remove the chicken, they forgot to. I cringed when she sent it back and ordered another one. This is not veganism. This is pure lack of common sense. If you can’t stomach meat or cheese, fine, but letting it go to waste just to stick to your silly commandments is NOT vegan.

holler!

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