March 25, 2010
Trista Cornelius, Contributing Writer
After I attempted a vegan diet for 10 days while my husband was out of town a few years ago, I knew I wanted the experiment to become permanent. When my husband came home and I told him how much I loved being vegan, he accepted my new diet effortlessly. The first thing he said was, "Okay, we'll stop cooking meat in the house." I hadn't even thought that far ahead. In fact, I said I didn't think that would be necessary. As usual, he had the foresight to know how important a meatless home would become to me over time. Our home is the one place I can fully express the values of my vegan lifestyle. Nevertheless, it's equally important to me that my friends feel welcomed in my home and comfortable.
A friend asked if I would mind if she brought meat to my house for a monthly potluck--a side of meat that could be added to her dish or left out. Of the seven of us who gather at my house to share a meal, I'm the only vegan, and yet, everyone has brought meatless, and often dairy-and-eggless, meals to share. During our gatherings, I balance my plate on my knees and listen to oohs and ahhs as we savor the menu. My friends compliment my vegan dish, curious about all the ingredients and how it can be so savory without butter or cream. Their eagerness to try the vegan meal and their passionate embrace of it makes me happy. When they set their side dishes on the table, they are quick to say, "Itís vegan!" often telling me that they asked the baker at the deli to be sure, or explaining how they adapted one of their own recipes, taking out the cheese or replacing the chicken broth with veggie. Touched by this attention to my diet, but also feeling badly that one person's palate shapes the table's contents so completely, hospitality overtakes my tongue, and I hear myself say, "Please donít feel you have to bring only vegan food. Bring what you like." Recently, however, I've noticed that each time I say that, I've felt the truth of that statement less and less genuinely.
My diet informs the rest of my life, and I strive to live compassionately at all times. It seems like compassion includes accepting others for who they are. My best friendships are founded on an unspoken acceptance of each other, especially when our personalities and lifestyles go in different directions and leave us bewildered by the other. For the recent potluck, I told my friend that the idea of meat left me unsettled but that I wanted her to feel comfortable in my home--and really, I don't want her to feel she has to curb some part of her personality and character when around me. She decided not to bring meat and assured me she felt perfectly at ease in my home.
This particular incident worked out just fine, but it leaves me wondering how to negotiate the situations where my ethics conflict with another's culture, traditions, heritage, or lifestyle. What if, as my vegan ethics continue to unfurl, leading me to more insights about living compassionately and conscientiously, there is less middle ground?