Essay Winners

"The Hardest Thing About Being Vegan"

by Holly Ellis

My carnivore friends would want me to say that the hardest part of being vegan is that I miss all the things I used to eat, like bacon. But they aren’t even close. I don’t miss any animal products. When my stepson says, “It sucks that you can’t have this because it’s amazing,” I just respond with, “No, it sucks that the rest of the world doesn’t understand how much damage that one burger does to the planet.”

The hardest part about being vegan is knowing that no matter what I do, I can never do enough to save the planet. Every day I share posts on Instagram, but that’s not enough.

The hardest part about being vegan is also having all this knowledge about how devastating industrial farming is to the animals, the workers, and the planet. Spreading this information, thinking that this time will be different, only to have these hopes dashed with a vegan joke. Or worse, someone who says, “I know it’s awful, someone should do something,” and then orders the chicken.

“I know. I’m trying,” I say, and order the eggplant.

I make vegan versions of all my family’s favorites for Thanksgiving. They love them, they can’t believe they’re vegan, but they do not ask for the recipe. I know they only eat it because I made it, and they want to be nice. They haven’t yet had that flash of enlightenment. They’ll leave my home and stop for a burger on the way to theirs. But that’s okay. I was them once.  

But then there are those moments when I meet someone with that same glimmer in their eyes, that inward shine, outlined with worry lines. I’m at an autumn in-service at the college where I work, groaning inwardly because the caterers have once again put cheese on the salad, and before I can unleash a snide comment, the person next to me says, “I see my email about vegan options went far.”

I snap out of my depression and remember: I am not alone.

We both grab green bananas, return our trays to the beginning of the line, and sit together to have a brief discussion about our shared obstacles living in small-town carnivore America. We joke about our worst vegan-options experiences, and this is enough for me. I feel invigorated. When I take my coffee break, I gladly grab a second green banana and carry it like a trophy back to my seat. As I bite into the starchy flesh, I remind myself that living in a vegan wasteland is not forever, because we are growing exponentially. One day the college where I work will withhold the cheese from the salad, so I can have my plate of lettuce. Who knows, I may have a curried tofu or black bean burger with it.

So the hardest part about being vegan is also the reason I stay vegan. Maybe it’s just being the baby of the family, but when I experience ignorance about my lifestyle, it makes me louder, prouder, and stronger in my conviction to make a difference.

I firmly agree with Rumi, the 11th century mystic and poet: “Wherever you are, be the soul of that place.” To me, that means the most important thing I can do is keep talking, keep emailing, and not judge — just educate. And one day my vegan wasteland, and many others, may be enlivened with restaurants and grocery options that allow our bodies to heal and the planet to recover. One day that joker at the barbeque or in the office breakroom may just come over to the green side, and this hardest part of being vegan, standing alone, will be a distant memory. 

I’ll stand firm in my wasteland because my soul is the center of the change to come.

About the Author

Holly Ellis is a novelist, blogger, and writing coach who uses her skills to promote other writers and build on the women’s fiction catalog with strong female protagonists. In addition to women’s fiction and LGTBQ subjects, Holly teaches college writing and leads the Literary Arts Society for Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania.

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