Ah, the persistent question.
It comes out at my church:
“Why be vegan when God made animals so delicious?” ( ´_ゝ`)
And also my college:
“Why are vegans so judgmental, Nicole? Do you think I’m sinning?” (◞‸ლ)
And all of the PETA campaigns
“Why adhere to a religion that endorses animal slaughter?” (；´Д｀)
And their “societies of knowledge”:
“Why do that to yourself? Aren’t Christians, like, super intolerant?” ヽ(。_゜)ノ
Tell me please – why do you care? Why – this question, it follows me everywhere!
Ahem. I apologize. I couldn’t resist rant-rhyming. And please, never stop asking questions.
Anyways, the purpose of this post is not to justify my personal dietary or spiritual habits. Rather, I want to reflect on my own experiences and conversations with vegans in Christian communities and Christians in vegan communities, respectively, in the hopes that we can all better understand each other. Note, this post is based on the assumption that both communities want to acknowledge and welcome as many people as possible to their ranks. So if you’re not in that camp, this post is not directed at you. Contact me and I’ll give you a list of all of the lonely soul websites I frequented in middle school.
And because I’m too busy making avocado toast to write an extended piece this week, my thoughts on this topic are going to be separated into two different posts. This first one will focus on vegans in Christian communities. Oh, and by the way, that was a joke. I’m not making avocado toast. I’m low-key drowning thinking about student loans and budget cuts in the capital.
Speaking of student loans, I attended an evangelical Christian college for four years. When I was a sophomore, I attended a Forks Over Knives conference and decided to go vegan. During my senior year, my anthropology professor assigned our class a project involving “campus engagement.” I decided to start a vegetarian club.
But before officializing it, I wanted to gather some data on the opinions people had about vegetarianism. So I hung a poster in our cafeteria reading “What Do YOU Think About Vegetarianism?” with markers attached to it. I figured that the people with the strongest opinions would be most keen to write on it, and was expecting *colorful* responses.
And I wasn’t disappointed! Upon returning a few days later, I found scrawled across the paper in orange and green marker (I was going for carrot colors) words and sentences such as “For FARBS**,” “NO PROTEIN,” “My girlfriend used to be a vegetarian, then she got hungry at a gas station and ate a beef stick and hasn’t been the same since,” “SIN,” and… you get the picture.
Also worth noting, once it got out that I was the president of the new vegetarian club, I started getting teased by my peers for being vegan. It wasn’t serious teasing, but it was incessant, and people would usually express mock concern for my protein intake, iron levels, quality of life, salvation status, and so on.
Of course, none of this discouraged us from holding our first meeting. Our cabinet members combined their culinary powers to craft a delicious three-course vegan meal (I still need to ask for the lasagna recipe…), and we played card games and discussed our vegetarian experiences.
Attendees reported mostly positive experiences throughout their years as vegetarians in evangelical households and communities. Two interesting trends did pop out at us, though.
First, while churches and schools within U.S. evangelical Christendom (or at least the parts of it our members came from) are almost always willing to accommodate allergies, lifestyles such as vegetarianism are considered “extreme” personal choices that cannot be considered. Thus, we are oftentimes discouraged from attending social events, potlucks, outings, and so on, because going would either involve compromising our morals to eat, bringing our own food, or not eating at all – and all of these invite ridicule and gossip. Better not to go at all, we figure.
Second, almost everyone in the room had experienced patronization by men for their dietary habits.
One young woman reported having a pork chop shoved in her face the day she became vegetarian - by a man. Another asserted that she had experienced harassment in the cafeteria for refusing to take meat – by a man. Still another was afraid to tell her father about her lifestyle.
I’m going to spare y’all from the critical feminist theory for now, but man or woman, think before you tease – some can handle it, but others don’t take it well. For the latter, feelings of isolation induce cynicism and alienation from the community.
So, basically, such are the struggles of a small sampling of vegans in evangelical Christian communities – take that as you will. Better yet, take it and do something with it – get to know the herbivores in your church or school! We definitely don’t bite. 😉
Part 2: Coming next Tuesday!
* “Evangelicals” are not to be confused with “evangelists.” Evangelists actively seek to share the Bible with non-Christians. “Evangelical” denotes adherence to a basic set of doctrines within Protestant Christianity. Beyond these doctrines, much of the Bible is open to interpretation within evangelicalism, and thus the label can be applied transdenominationally.
** “Farb” is a word used by football players on our campus to denote, somewhat derogatorily, pretty much anyone who is, well, not a football player.