Saturday, November 17, 2012

Going (Vegan) Native

Let's get this out of the way: The term "going native" at its origin is patronizing, Eurocentric, and... well, kind of offensive. But it's also the only term I can think of that represents the idea of adaptations to a lifestyle different than one's early indoctrination becoming ingrained to the point of feeling more natural than the lifestyle into which one was raised. So for lack of a better term (and feel free to suggest one for my future use)...

I've gone native.

Here's the thing. For me and the majority of vegans in the U.S., we're raised in a highly carnistic culture. The lifestyle ingrained in us from youth revolves around the unhealthy, unkind foods that we vegans give up. Think of any culture-specific activities in the U.S., and chances are they involve carnism. Independence Day? (Or Memorial Day, or Labor Day?) Hamburgers, hot dogs and apple pie with ice cream on top. Super Bowl party? Hot wings or chili con carne. Thanksgiving? Yeah.

Of course, it's not just meat and dairy. Sugar, fried food, high sodium foods, chemical-laden pre-packaged foods are all part of our daily lives, and we're indoctrinated to think of them as culturally necessary. We can't conceive of going to a movie without popcorn slathered in chemical-based "butter" flavor or a big box of sugary candy. When we need a bite in a hurry, we run through the closest fast food drive-thru. It's normal to toss in a bag of chips and a Twinkie with your child's sandwich when you pack them a lunch. And a day without soda? When does that get fun?

When you go vegan, that thinking doesn't magically disappear. I can't count the number of times in the first few years of being vegan that I was running late for work and just thought, "Well, I'll grab breakfast on the way to work," not even remembering that fast-food vegan breakfasts are not a thing that exists. Or the number of times my eyes ran down the snack foods lining the checkout in my local grocery store, thinking I'd find some little treat to impulse buy.

Even when I got over that, I still had the subtle "vegetables are a chore to eat, unless they're deep fried" mindset. Not that I didn't like veg, but if you gave me a choice between carrot sticks or salt-and-vinegar potato chips as a snack, I wouldn't think twice about grabbing the chips. Chips are "fun" food; vegetables are "health" food.

Here's what happened today: I went to the farmer's market and bought my fruit and veg for the week. I stopped at their little vegan cafe counter and bought some raw zucchini chips and a chocolate mint brownie. Not having had lunch, on the drive home I pulled out the chips and brownie. And ignored them.

Without thinking about it, I stuck my hand in the big bag of fresh spinach and chomped on a leaf. Then another. Then another, like it was a bag of potato chips in the 'old days.' By the time I got home, I'd eaten half the bag.

When I realized what I'd done, I was pretty shocked. Right at hand, I'd had seasoned 'chips' (even if they were healthy dehydrated ones instead of fried carbs). I'd had a sweet chocolate-y brownie (even if it was a raw, natural one). I'd had fruit, for cryin' out loud! And yet I subconsciously chose to eat a leafy green veggie in its utterly unadorned state - no salt, no oil, no tangy salad dressing.

At the point when your subconscious bucks that lifetime of indoctrination and chooses your new way of thinking, then you've officially gone native, right? As far as I'm concerned, today is a milestone - the official end of my transition from carnist to vegan.

Feel free to congratulate me!

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