I remember when my daughter, Emily, decided she wanted to be vegan. For one thing, I was concerned with how this was going to impact how we cooked at home. At the time we were a family of four with one definite meatasaurus, one new devout vegan, one aspiring vegan and one young follower who loved ice cream, cheese, and hamburgers. I wasn’t looking forward to making more than one dinner each night, not alone possibly more than that! And being a full time mom with a full time career outside of the home I wasn’t okay with Wawa for dinner every night.
The meatasaurus in the family grew up thinking that for the perfect dinner you needed meat, a vegetable and a starch at every dinner. It wasn’t dinner if you didn’t have a plate with those three combinations and the meat was the focal point for the dinner. This would just be a very difficult mindset to overturn when we would try to have a vegetable pasta dinner or vegetable stir fry rice. The meatasaurus would need to go visit a local fast food establishment to “fill up”. I’d often feel like I just wasn’t meeting my job of cooking dinner adequately for my family, but I was doing my best to support my daughter on living her vegan lifestyle. I didn’t expect the rest of the family to make the change as I did for my daughter. But my youngest daughter decided to be supportive as well and with that we discovered she is lactose sensitive. As we made alternative milk products available and she chose those products more and more she found she started to feel better. The stomachaches she so frequently complained of started to diminish. And if she did have the bowl of ice cream or yogurt or cereal with milk we would notice the stomachache return.
And it wasn’t just my daughters’ lifestyle. I was doing this too. I didn’t just eat vegan at home. Deciding to support her meant that I would be vegan with her. I would understand her challenges fully and embrace it all the way. The second thing I was concerned about was eating out. Eating vegan out was difficult. In our area as we first embraced being vegan the culture in restaurants had not grown. There were not many options on the menu for a vegan other than house salads and frequently they came with cheese and non-vegan croutons and your only vegan option of dressing was oil and vinegar. I recall one of my early dining experiences with my aunt. We were at lunch at a local restaurant and the only options were a house salad or a veggie burger. As I ordered the veggie burger, my aunt, who had been vegetarian for years, says to me “you know the veggie burger is probably not vegan”.
Being new to being vegan I hadn’t thought that a vegetable burger would have animal products in it. But when my aunt explained that several veggie burgers have egg products in them it kind of made sense to me because I had spent many years using eggs as binders to make burgers. But, dang! That just added a layer of complexity to eating out! And then my aunt said something very profound to me that helped ease my transition into veganism and eating out…she said, “You don’t have to be perfect.” WHHAATT???? No, I’m vegan, not vegetarian. She told me it’s like everything else you do, do the best that you can, be your best self. You can’t always be perfect and it’s okay when you’re in a tough situation to go with what you have available. If you are served something that isn’t perfect you make the best of it, as it is better to use it than waste it (this will lead me to another post about how much food is wasted, geez!!).
You don’t have to be perfect is a message I’ve passed along to other people who are starting along the vegan journey as well. The transition can be challenging and if you are tough on yourself it makes it even more difficult. Know that there will be these challenges and allow for them. Allow for imperfections especially as you begin the journey and learn from them. I learned about the veggie burger and now when I see one on the menu before I order I’m sure to ask “Is your veggie burger vegan?”