By Lindsay Geller
When you’re a vegan living on your own, making your own decisions about what goes on your fork and into your body is easy. But for those of us who started their veg journey living with an omnivorous family, especially if your family is supporting you, you don’t have this luxury.
In this manner, I am a burden. I’ve been a burden since the day I was born, but when I was fourteen I multiplied my mental weight exponentially–I became an herbivore in an household full of omnivores. After I stopped eating meat, my mom had to take special care whenever she made dinner, preparing both meat and non-meat versions of whatever was on the menu. I tried making her life easier by thinking of vegetarian equivalents for carnivorous entrees. At first, I thought this meant finding frozen vegetarian meat substitutes like vegetarian chicken nuggets and burgers.
The plant-lover I am now shudders at how much processed food I was eating. At the time, however, it seemed a fair compromise. When I realized that I was being a “bad” vegetarian, I immediately wanted to eliminate all processed foods from my diet. Unfortunately, I was living under another person’s roof and budget, so I had to take what I could convince my mother to buy specifically for me. Cue the patented mixture of Irish Catholic guilt about starving children in Africa and Jewish guilt about wasting money, and you have my mental state at age sixteen.
My mom really did her best trying to include me in family meals. My dad joked good-naturedly with me about wanting the biggest piece of meat that was being served. They were, and still are, really great and understanding about my vegetarianism. Despite their best efforts, however, it just became easier for me to fend for myself when it came to meal time. This situation turned in my favor when I got my license and was often given grocery shopping duty. Finally, I had (a marginal amount of) freedom to choose the kinds of foods that entered our house and my stomach. I was far from a gourmand at age seventeen, but I could certainly make a mean salad.
In this way, my mother, the kitchen, and I entered into a symbiotic relationship. My mom didn’t have to worry about making a meal that would satisfy everyone, the kitchen was always nicely stocked with fairly healthy food, and I didn’t have to scavenge at the dinner table. It wasn’t a perfect situation, but it served its purpose.
When I originally became a vegetarian, I doubted that I would be able to continue my herbivore tendency in college. After all, most college dining halls aren’t vegetarian friendly. However, my small, private, liberal-minded communications and arts school in the heart of Boston is a grass eater magnet. Emerson College is basically, in the world of college dining facilities, a vegetarian/vegan sanctuary. Their plant-based food station, Legrain and Legume, is probably the most coveted section of the dining hall—for herbivores and omnivores alike. Initially, I thought that the omnivore’s dilemma of feeding the herbivore was solved.
And then a new omnivore entered my life, and upon him I bestowed myself as a burden and my nourishment as a dilemma. My boyfriend lived off-campus, and therefore bought all of his own food. Unfortunately for him, feeding me was a non-negotiable clause in our relationship contract.
Unfortunately for me, he had a penchant for grilling, which meant perpetual veggie burgers. Of course, that is not to say that he wasn’t considerate of my vegetarianism.
The first time he invited me over for a barbecue, he tentatively appealed the idea of a veggie burger to me, stating the exact type and brand to make sure it met my standards. Thinking this was a one time deal, I assured him that I had eaten veggie burgers dozens of times before, and it was fine. I neglected to mention that I preferred not to eat them, because he was doing the best he could with what he had.
Had we been living together, the feeding situation would have been different because I would have been buying my own food as well. As it stood, however, the food I was consuming was his and not mine, so I was, again, slave to the offerings of another person’s kitchen.
Now here comes my confession: I’m not a high maintenance vegetarian, but I got tired of the veggie burgers pretty quickly. I was glad that he factored me into his dinner preparation, but he didn’t quite “get it.” I think that’s one of the most difficult things for omnivores to understand about herbivores.
For a long time my parents, too, wanted to give me a veggie burger and call it a day. And, for a long time, it was okay. However, now, I know too much about nutrition to think that eating processed vegetarian foods is the same as eating whole fruits and veggies. I know this, but my omnivore relations do not. Omnivores can easily tell the difference between fauna and flora, but they often have a far more difficult time distinguishing between good flora and bad flora. Just because four vegetarian chicken nuggets and a pile of grains and greens have the same calorie count does not mean that they have the same long term effect on the human body.
I think that this misunderstanding is a direct result of the food industry espousing the false idea that if something is made from a vegetable, it has the same nutritional value. Herbivores realize this farce, but many omnivores, simply because they do not need to make this choice, do not understand the difference.
This, in my opinion, is the omnivore’s greatest dilemma when it comes to feeding an herbivore. Some herbivores accept their fake vegetarian meats, while others prefer to go all natural. Of the latter group, I have helped my family overcome the omnivore’s dilemma by putting myself in control.
Since I came home from college, I have become the resident chef, feeding my family delicious and healthy plant-based dinners. Sometimes they miss their meat, but my mother really appreciates coming home to an already prepared meal. My father enjoys the health benefits that his own willpower can’t provide. And my younger sister, well, she’s learning that there’s more to life than chicken breasts and ham steaks. Maybe the key to solving the omnivore’s dilemma of feeding the herbivore is turning the tables. Perhaps the best way to feed an herbivore is to make her feed everyone else too.
Lindsay Geller is a Writing, Literature, and Publishing and Marketing Communications double major at Emerson College in Boston, MA. (She’s only double majoring to please her parents and because it sounds impressive.) She originally hails from rural northeastern Pennsylvania where the first day of hunting season merits a day off from school. She often writes on her blog, www.lindsaygeller.blogspot.com, and also enjoys making 140 character diary entries comparing her life to a Lifetime movie via her Twitter handle, @LGells.