Monday, July 29, 2013

Vegan Pagan "Defense against the Dark Arts" (or just some nosy nellies)

You can expect a fair amount of curiosity, questioning, and perhaps even hostility from the people around you if you suddenly start sharing your paganism or veganism with them. Like for any other marginalized and/or oppressed group, it truly is a “coming out” process.

You may want to get started and find your personal comfort zone with your path before you share it with others, if it is possible. Having done both I realize it is harder to keep veganism to yourself if you eat with coworkers regularly or dine with extended family, have a date night with friends, etc. It may help to just say, “I want to experiment with this kind of eating to see how I feel on it” or something else (which is likely true) in order to give yourself time to adjust before having to defend your philosophies.

Just about anyone who has written a vegan blog or book or rant of some kind has discussed the challenges met in one’s community when becoming vegan. The typical questions range from “where will you get your protein?” or “how can you live without cheese/creamer/milk chocolate?!” to more aggressive or juvenile things like, “I hate vegans. I saw one being so rude to a waitress once.” or “What, do you care more about cows than you do about people?” or something ridiculous like, “Oh, owwwwww…that poor broccoli! You killed it!”

I believe these all come from a defensive place. Unless people assume you are either trying to lose weight or have food allergies, they may feel judged by your eating choices even when you don’t say a word. Some of these are best laughed off but for many you can develop a pat answer. You may choose to educate them with actual facts about where you get your protein or simply develop simple responses to protect your choices like, “you know, it takes all kinds. I’ll eat what I want and you do the same.”

Many people in the new wave of vegans are choosing to call themselves “plant based” eaters, focusing on the diet and wellness aspects. Some people do so genuinely because the choice is purely dietary. Some others find that their coworkers, friends, and other peers are more accepting of this term than “vegan.” As both a pagan and a vegan it reminds me of the reason so many people might use “pagan” instead of “witch” or whatever the name of their actual pagan tradition may be. Society has a lot of stereotypes of certain words. Whether you decide to embrace or “reclaim” such words in your own life is totally personal choice and personal sense of safety. Both vegans and pagans have been investigated by child welfare simply for parenting their children within these lifestyles, for example.

I think the safest way to make these choices for yourself and your family is to do your research on both lifestyles before you jump out of the broom closet or the kitchen cupboard.  If there are local shops or community groups where a lot of vegans or pagans gather, perhaps you can find out from them what the local vibe is. Knowing of local resources and online resources can also help you advocate for yourself if you encounter any discrimination.

When there is a community presence around veganism or paganism, it can make it easier to face peer pressure or overt discrimination. Please know I am not saying you will definitely face these issues. Yet this can be serious business so forewarned is forearmed.

Although you can probably keep it private longer, the same goes for your choices about paganism. People you never expected to take it badly may get really upset by this choice and unload a lot of stereotypes onto you about evil, animal abuse, devil worship, or going to Hell when you die. Most generally it seems to me that the people who think about their own religion the least may have the most vitriolic reactions to yours.

I taught introductory paganism classes online for several years and had several students who had been in the broom closet for very good reasons, and did not expect to come out of it in the near future. I really believe you have the right to keep your path to yourself if it seems right to you. Not only does religious freedom imply a right to privacy, but there are definitely very real dangers and discriminations out there, depending on your culture and community.

Perhaps it is most disappointing of all when you finally find a vegan community and suddenly you find that your paganism is not accepted. Or you are a pagan trying out veganism and experience peer pressure or even bullying from members of your group. Both of these have happened to me at one time or another. I cannot pretend it doesn’t hurt, and I can’t tell you definitively what to do. I think the best advice that I can offer you is that you stay true to yourself, patiently educate your communities when possible, and cut your losses where you must. Eventually your true circle of friends will form. It helps that you have the world wide web to look to in many cases, besides your own locale.

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