An open letter to my vegan friends (and others)

TW: discussions of eating disorders, illness, abuse, trauma, violence directed at non-vegans, medical invalidation, and self harm.

Two hands holding a bowl and spoon with various fruits, vegetables, and vegan dishes.

I know you mean well when you tell me I should try to be vegan, I really do. The problem is that I really need you to listen to me (and others) when we explain that we cannot go vegan. While there are a couple of you who do so and who advocate for people like me, far too many of you simply seem to refuse to believe that someone cannot go vegan. You have asked me why I cannot go vegan, so today, I will tell you.

In my case, I have several food allergies that limit what I can eat, including an allergy to soy (which sucks because I love steamed edamame). When that gets added to my issues with texture and taste due to autism, that limits what I can eat down even more. Still adding to the issue is that I am someone who is recoving from an eating disorder. If I have to restrict my diet further than I already have, I will (and have) go right back into that disorder.

When I open up to you and explain that I cannot go vegan, I am tired of the demands to know my exact medical conditions and the exact reasons why I cannot. My medical history and diagnoses are none of your business, just as yours are none of mine. The sheer audacity of some of you to try to shame me for the progress I’ve managed to make, all because I eat meat and cheese, is mind boggling. In some cases, unless I’m 100% vegan, you’ve come right out to tell me I’m a bad person and that I care more about myself than others (um…what?).

I have wound up in the hospital because of some of you. In one case I tried explaining to a now ex-friend that I couldn’t eat certain foods due to allergies, including a mustard allergy. You know what that friend did? They put it in my food and then were shocked when I wound up in the hospital. They outright admitted that they thought I was lying because “who on earth is allergic to mustard?” and tried to claim it must be something else due to mustard growing wild where I live. Never mind that I already take 3 different allergy medications just to function due to said wild growing mustard, they decided they knew more about me than I did.

I deal with both type II diabetes due to PCOS and taking testosterone as well as Hashimoto’s (among other autoimmune disorders and conditions), meaning that a lot of the grains and starches out there are off limits to me. I’m not someone who can just survive off of beans and rice as one shopper snapped at me when I was at the local grocers, even my doctors have pointed this out back when I was eating just that due to my eating disorder.

Due to my socioeconomic status, I cannot afford items such as Quorn™ and I don’t have enough in funds to be able to keep a separate supply of food from the rest of my family, so what I cook for them, I also eat. This means that if we’re going for protein, it’s going to be meat, eggs, and milk. I have to find a way to feed a family of 4–5 (depending on if one of my kids is at home or staying at her worksite) on less than $300 a month, and two of the people in the house are diabetic so we can’t just live off pasta and vegetables. Do I stretch my food dollars as far as I can? Of course I do, I also try my best to only buy local, and to make sure that I know where my food comes from at all times. Remember, I’m trying to feed a family on approximately $2.50/day, and at least two of those people have food restrictions.

I am also recovering from an eating disorder that I have had since I was a teenager (back in the 90s). At times I wouldn’t eat if I could avoid it, and only eat when there were no other options. During those times, I often ate foods that were diuretics or would make me go to the bathroom to try to force out the food as quickly as possible because I needed to hide my eating disorder and throwing up would be too noticable. I had such a restricted diet that for a time I was eating nothing but apples, carrots, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (breakfast usually). I didn’t eat meat during that time, and I became very sick. I refused suppliments because I was so convinced that I needed to lose weight and if I added anything to my diet I would balloon out of control.

When I have been able to, I have worked with family members who hunt for their food to get some of what they get, yet again that’s not good enough for you, because I’m once again caring about my own life above that of another animal. Unless I conform to your wishes (and thus make myself sick and potentially hospitalized or dead) I am an evil person at worst, and a misguided or ignorant person who just needs to have it spelled out for me at best.

Despite all of the cruelty I have been shown by vegans both online and offline, I still value those friends of mine who are vegan but also respect my boundaries and wishes. Despite being yelled at by a woman in a grocery store for buying locally raised meat, despite being told I’m a horrible person for buying an animal from the local 4H and having a local butcher prepare it so I can have meat for the next several months and thus preventing the need for mass production meat, I still wish that I didn’t feel so defensive and hostile when I see my friends retweet or share vegan posts online.

I have done my best to live as ethically and as sustainably as possible as a disabled person with food restrictions and a low socioeconomic status. I have done my best to make sure that what I eat isn’t harming other communities (such as the over harvesting and exporting of quinoa which is making it so the Indigenous populations can’t afford their own food) while still trying to make my food dollar stretch as far as it can.

I just want to live, and sadly, that means that I’m going to need to eat animal products for now. If this is something that is a deal breaker for you, then I don’t know what to say beside that I hope you have a long and happy life.

Queer|Pronouns he/they. Owner of Illuminatus Design. Degrees in Interdisciplinary Studies (GSWS, Psychology, English) & Theology (M:Div)

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