Today I’d like to talk about the word “vegan.” At the very basic level, a vegan is a person who does not consume animal products, and therefore does not eat meat, fish, dairy products, or eggs. Since I’ve been a vegetarian for a very long time, I sense that this topic may scare you. It’s as if I said I want to talk to you about the word “Christian”. You may think I plan to convert you, or that there is a nasty lecture to follow. You may think of PETA and envision some photos of eviscerated animals, but here’s the thing: I don’t care what you eat. Really. I do what I do for personal reasons, and I believe that everyone makes their own choices according to what is right for them. I’ll happily discuss the topic with someone who asks, but everyone else I leave alone. It’s the same for many religious people, too.
Vegans and vegetarians often get attacked because of the virulent proselytizers in our midst, and so many of the people I’ve met who don’t eat any meat or animal products simply say that they follow a “plant-based diet”. It sounds less threatening somehow. No one assumes that you’re nasty and intolerant. I get hostile reactions to the word, too, and for a while I used the “plant-based diet” line, but I’ve gone back to using the word “vegan”. Here’s why—if all the friendly vegans won’t use the word, a perfectly good word will be lost. Some people think there are no friendly vegans because many of us friendly folk refuse to use the word. It’s as if all the friendly religious people stopped using the words that stood for their faith traditions—these are good words, which convey complex meanings. I’m not doing this just to defend vegans, I’m doing it to defend the English language. I encourage you to do the same.
Stand up for the words that define you and your traditions. Don’t let others add meaning to them that isn’t there. As a gay person, this has special meaning to me. Others have tried to define the word “queer” or the word “lesbian” to be inherently negative. They aren’t, and I’ll proudly continue to use those words, too. Be proud to be yourself— whether vegan, omnivore, gay, straight, bi, Christian, atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, or any other designation. This is true joy.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
226. What words do you use to define yourself? What baggage do others attach to those labels? Consider what you might do to reclaim the word.