Odd Man Out
I started a new job this week; a really great job. Everyone is so nice and welcoming. I've been off work for awhile dealing with a chronic illness and I had to make a major career change and go into something physically easier, so it's a huge change. I got up early, put on my brand new outfit, flat ironed my hair and went back into the working world.
I was extremely nervous. I am qualified, but still it's been a long time since I did this kind of work, and like most people, I wanted my new coworkers to like me. I was on my best behavior, trying to smile as much as possible without looking insane (I have what the internet calls “resting bitch face”!) so I'm always paranoid in a new situation that people will think I look unapproachable. Five minutes in, I'm not kidding – five minutes – my new coworker, the woman I will sit beside every day, whips out a few cartons of eggs and tells me she has a small farm and sells eggs at work. People are coming into our office from other offices and giving her money – apparently, it's egg day and her eggs are the best. This woman tells me that she sells out every week and if I want some she'll put them aside. I thank her as kindly as I'm able, and say “I'm vegan”. Silence. Dead silence. You could actually hear a paperclip drop. Recovering (not very quickly), she smiles and says “Oh......”. And that was that. The other coworker in the room looked from me to the other lady kind of like she was at a ping pong match.
I swear, at the word “vegan” I actually felt the air in the room change; a different mood settled. The rest of the day was fine, these women were really lovely, but I wonder why it is that telling someone you're vegan is almost taboo in some (many) circles. I could have said I'm allergic to eggs, and I'm pretty sure I'd have received nothing but understanding and sympathetic cooing. Having an allergy is not a choice and maybe that's the tipping point although when I was a vegetarian (which is a choice as well obviously) people would just nod and smile; it was acceptable to be a vegetarian. Say you're a vegan and some people freeze up – they really don't know how to respond.
I felt the need to explain. I told her my daughter loves eggs and I'd check with her and maybe buy some next week. Why did I do this? I have no intention of buying the eggs. Ever. And yet I felt a need to make her feel better, and to make excuses for not buying them by saying I had to check with my daughter first. This made me extremely annoyed with myself and my inability to just say what I feel.
My hope is that as time goes on they'll see I'm just a regular person like they are, and maybe, just maybe some good dialogue will happen and I can have some conversations about why, and how and all that good stuff. I guess some of the blame is on me as well, because when my coworker took out the carton of eggs, a little piece of me died inside. I thought “Oh no, here it comes, I have to explain myself right off the top!”. Vegan is who I am, and what I am, and so I need to own it and stop justifying myself to people all the time. Perhaps people's reaction is based on how I present myself; maybe there's a defensive tone there, as opposed to a plain old conversational one.
The next time I'm offered food at work, or the subject of veganism comes up, I'll put on my best non-resting bitch face and talk about the great new vegan work lunch recipes I found on the internet. :)