Real Life

Amateur Vegan

Picture me checking ingredient labels in Safeway while wearing a wool sweater and leather boots.

Picture me squeezing honey into my mug in lieu of vegan creamer.

Picture me wolfing down a Caprese sandwich because the catered work lunch didn’t offer vegan options.

Hi. I’m an amateur vegan.


I’d like to say I do these things because I’m “new” to veganism.

I want to wash away these actions with promises of butter (I mean, better) behavior in the future.

These “screwups,” though are fairly consistent and unlikely to change.

I’m learning to accept that this is okay.


Adopting the “good enough” metric has been hard for me.

For much of high school and college, I tried to be the perfect student, friend, and Christian.

Every couple of months, I’d perform a guilt-induced purge of my music, book, and film collections. (I’d read somewhere that a good Christian wouldn’t tolerate even a hint of immorality in their chosen entertainment.)

I bid sad farewells to my favorite club anthems and foul-mouthed breakup ballads.

I ruined book clubs and movie groups by avoiding media with excessive violence or graphic sex scenes.

Eventually, self-righteousness took sadness’ place.

After all, I’d purified my media consumption, unlike my sinner friends.

I justified this attitude as a symptom of sanctification.


Meanwhile, minor slips in my “flawless” lifestyle sent me into eddies of shame.

I begged God to forgive me for the occasional curse word (bad), for my increasing frustrations with church culture (really bad), and for not meeting the demure, feminine standard set by other “godly” women (inexcusable.)

I tortured myself, believing forgiveness impossible. I thought I deserved the humiliation brought by my failure.


When I stopped trying to be perfect, my friends freaked.

Arriving ten minutes late to church warranted frantic texts.

Skipping a weekend event prompted worried questions.

After I quit my church leadership team (on which I’d served two years), the coordinator bemoaned my lack of discipline and commitment.

You would have thought I’d denounced God and dropped out of school the way they my community reacted.

Meanwhile, in this same community, a number of the male members routinely disappeared. Their frequent absences at church and other weekly events shocked no one. I often didn’t see or hear from these men for weeks (sometimes months) at a time.

I resented these men for the freedom they felt to disappear from people’s lives.

I hated how easily my friends gave these men a pass when my sleeping in on a Sunday triggered community intervention.

I also felt crushed by the shame of letting people down.

I’d been so “good” for years.

I called myself a “Christian” when what I was was a “fraud.”


I chose veganism to combat the cognitive dissonance I felt as an omnivore who claimed to care about animals and the environment.

Related image
Googling “cute cows” was my downfall.

Seeing my best friend in tears at an animal rights protest shifted my thinking. We both ate meat, yet shared fond memories of interacting with (living) cattle. After some discussion, we found that discrepancy no longer made sense to us.

(My friend still eats meat, though she now opts to buy from reputable local farms.)

At this protest, I learned I could lessen my impact on the environment, contribute to a better world, and still thrive.

Because I live in a veggie-friendly city, I decided veganism could work for me.


It bothers me that I’m not perfect.

At times, I let the details get to me.

As I mentioned, I buy honey (made by bees) to combat sore throats.

I eat snacks made with red dye and use sugar whitened with bone char.

When my office orders food for us, I request egg- or cheese-based dishes instead of salad (because, vegan or not, I STILL HATE SALAD.)

I feel like a hypocrite when I accept beef soup from a gracious host instead of demanding an animal-free meal.

Worse, I enjoy the soup.

A lot.


Some of my friends joke that, because I (sometimes) eat cheese, I’m not a “real” vegan.

In reality, none of them care all that much about what I eat.

Still, when they laugh at my passion for paneer, I hear, “You don’t deserve the label.”

I hear, “You’re not good enough.”

I hear, “Try harder.”

Or maybe I tell myself these things so often, I treat them as the subtext of every conversation.


Before making the switch, I researched strategies for eating out as a vegan.

Some websites recommended loading up on side dishes, eating beforehand, or asking the server for a secret vegan menu.

Others were more realistic in their offerings. These sites claimed that the goal of the movement was not to be perfect, but to increase awareness of environmental issues.

Some vegans admitted to still using leather items purchased pre-conversion. (As someone who wears Doc Martens daily, I found this comforting.)

These vegans considered any effort a worthwhile step.


I have an idea of things I won’t do as a new convert.

I won’t cut sugar or preach the health gospel.

I won’t claim banana soft-serve tastes “just like” ice cream made with cow’s milk. (I also won’t eat banana soft-serve.)

I won’t be ashamed of “slip-ups” or refer to non-vegan meals as “cheating.”

Easier said than done, of course, but it’s nice to have boundaries.


I fill days with dairy-free meals and snacks, trying to plan ahead so I don’t fall back on cheese sticks and parmesan chips from the office kitchen.

I Google recipes that use rice as a main ingredient.

I take multivitamins to make up for nutrients I’ve missed.

And, yes, I read labels in Safeway while wearing leather and wool.

Some might call this hypocritical.

I say I’m trying.

That’s good enough for me.

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