A few months after I moved to Cincinnati, my friends invited me to an evening event called Best of Cincinnati. This event brought together all the popular and up-and-coming restaurants and bars under one roof, where patrons and newbies like me could rub elbows and our bellies once we tasted the fares. I thought it was an awesome opportunity to see what might be out there for a plant-based person like me and meet some new people. I transitioned the year before to an oil-free vegan to support my dad as he adapted to Caldwell Esselstyn’s recs, and because of the strength of the evidence I felt existed about plant based lifestyles. Little did I know that this evening would lead to a meltdown and an epiphany!
It had become the norm for me since becoming plant based to eat some of my home-made food before any event. When you’re plant-based, you learn how easy it is to be caught without edible options, even at an event like this! And when there’s alcohol available, this can make for a rough situation. I love the food I have at home, but I couldn’t help but grumble a bit, remembering I paid for a ticket and probably couldn’t eat its value–though I’d probably attempt to drink it, instead–which is a pretty typical goal when one is on a budget. The second rumble of thunder came when my roommate Michael walked downstairs, and his first comment was, “Dude, why are you eating, we’re about to go to a food event?” Gee thanks; loved ones love reminding us of our “uniqueness.” There’s a storm brewing…
When we pulled up, the line was around the corner. While I had eaten, I could help but think that I’d be standing in line to get in, then possibly trapped in a huge building for 3-4 hours. My brain cringed: I usually have to eat at that interval, and might not be able to. A little warning bell was ringing, and I was irritated that I had to even consider this as part of the “fun” of socializing.
Once we got in, the event itself was pretty cool. It was a huge warehouse with tons of tables serving drinks and food, with great music and a very cool ambiance. A ton of people were there, which was awesome because it meant I’d run into a few friends and maybe even meet a few new ones.
Each table represented a different establishment, bars, restaurants, and shops. And each had tried to outdo the other! Each spread put together the “best” bites of their best dishes: hot and cold offerings, wonderfully rich smells wafting from each, and with color presentations. Unfortunately for me, futher investigation revealed that all of the scrumptious looking dishes had meat or animal products of some kind (or both). If I wanted something, I’d have to get creative, get a magnifying glass and pick out the unwanted parts, or get a drink.
Since food wasn’t an option, I took the time to see how open minded the restaurants were to a plant based lifestyle. The chefs and staff were eager to talk about their fares and ideas, which I thought was sweet; it’s always a plus to find approachable restauranteurs. Unfortunately, when chatting about the possibility of plant-based options, a pattern established itself pretty quickly: there was a bit of hemming and hawing, questions about what vegan and vegetarian means, and finally, if I wanted to eat at that restaurant, I would need to call ahead or eat a salad. Not great for those nights where you just don’t feel like preparing food, or you’re with friends in a neighborhood and everyone wants to stop in for a bite to eat!
I didn’t particularly enjoy watching everyone housing all this awesome looking food, so I turned my attention to a few drinks while talking with my roommate and some of the new people mingling in the warehouse. Quite soon, the buzz ofalcohol started to creep into my head. The friends I was with joked that I was a “cheap date.” When I explained there weren’t many food options for me, that’s when the “usual” questions started pouring in.
“Where do you get your protein?”
“Is [insert food item] vegan?”
“What do you eat for breakfast?”
“How do you do it?”
And along with the questions came the comments:
“I couldn’t do it”
“I don’t see how you do it”
“I couldn’t give up cheese.”
“I can’t believe you don’t eat [insert food item]”
And, to boot, a few people started defending their food choices–as if I had ever even attempted to convert them to my way of thinking.
Okay, at least that’s what I was thinking, even if I didn’t say all of that.
I sort of had an old-school Batman, room-spinning moment and then, *plunk* Where am I? I’m just trying to have a fun, normal night with friends!!! When did this get so HARD! I couldn’t eat the food, had to ask about everything edible around me, met with unaccommodating circumstances. I didn’t fit in, and even if it wasn’t intentional, everyone harassed me about my behavior! Am I on some other PLANET?
It was then that I realized that I had become stranger in a strange land. My voyage into Plant Life made me a plant man in a meat world.
It could have been the craft beers on an extra empty stomach, because I hadn’tactually been transported to an alien world of people shaped like sausages and cuts of beef (that would be weird, though). Instead, one short evening experiencing the frustrations, inconveniences, and pestering words that many plant-based people go through made me see that my choices about lifestyle and health had evolved in such a way that I didn’t fit into “normal” any longer. My plant-based lifestyle brought me in opposition to the customs, diets, and ideas that surrounded me. While I might not be in a foreign place with foreign customs, with me as the outsider, I sure felt like it!
The worst part was seeing how much energyof all kinds it took just to interact with the world we live in! Once routine, many of the experiences of a “normal” evening now required planning, extra work, and withstanding a barrage of opinions, questions, and repetitive conversations. The decision to stop eating animal products constantly–even if it is evidenced-based, rational, and personally gratifying–required me to break with the traditions and ideas of our meat-based world so radically that I no longer felt like a welcome member in it! What a huge stumbling block for every curious person who thinks that wants to explore a Plant Life!
Even though I have grown a lot since then, the feeling of being a Plant Man in a Meat World captures a lot of why through Plant Life I hope to share the adventures of this existence. What we eat is such a fundamental part of our social, emotional, and physical world, it causes quite a stir if we shift our lifestyle in this way. For a person who chooses the plant based life, sometimes it takes an experience like this to realize just how pervasive this fundamental change can be.
Plant Life isn’t just about how to handle the challenges of being plant people. My hope is that everyone living the Plant Life adds up. Eventually, a ‘plant world’ where plant based eating no longer ends up feeling different, inconvenient, or uncomfortable all the time. Making the choice to take a healthier approach to eating should be the easy thing to do, and it should feel normal, not alien!
I think those days are coming, and I want to help be a part of that change. I am still learning how to be a Plant Man in a Meat World, and I hope that many of you will join me in sharing your and my adventures!
PS: The following year, a restaurant called Melt showcased several vegan and vegetarian options at the show, and another restaurant, Bakersfield, had chips and guac (vegan, though in the quantity I consumed maybe not the healthiest)…come on Plant World!