I can’t believe I’m not vegan!


Kavya Iyer

Writer Elena Williams shares her thoughs on her dietary choices.

Elena Williams, Editor-in-Chief

Ah, vegetarianism. The easy middle ground for those of us who aren’t quite comfortable with eating meat, but are a bit too attached to our grilled cheeses and milk chocolate to go full vegan. 

I grew up more or less vegetarian in observance of my family’s religion. Like many Hindus, I eat no meat or fish (with some exceptions, like when I have no self-control and the pasta bolognese is right there). As I grew older, however, my dietary choices became more about ethics than religion. I learned more about the meat industry, and I realized I did not want to support its cruelty toward animals or its emissions’ contributions to global warming. My vegetarianism became an easy way for me to stand up to cruelty and negligence — and an easy way for me to feel good about myself for standing by my values.

It didn’t occur to me until much later that I was still taking the easy way out. If I really were so willing to change my practices based on my beliefs, then I would have become vegan rather than vegetarian, as the industries that handle animal products are no more ethical than meat industries. I was too proud of myself for adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, ignoring the fact that I was still far from perfect. 

All my attempts at veganism have failed, though. When my family plans a dinner with dairy products, am I supposed to turn my nose up at it? When someone offers me a donut at school, what am I supposed to do? Not take it? And am I really supposed to eat — gasp — dark chocolate? Blasphemy! 

Becoming vegetarian was easy; growing up, I ate meat rarely, so eliminating it from my diet was simple. There were no awkward moments with my family, since they are all vegetarian as well and could easily support my diet choices. Because of this, I underestimated the power of convenience, which made it much harder to fully align my practices with my values. I did succeed at consuming fewer animal products, however, if not totally changing my diet. This, I realized, was a more reasonable goal.

As consumers, we often face choices between doing what we believe is right and doing what is convenient or practical. Even if you have no issue with eating meat, your personal values might conflict with another consumer choice you make — for example, buying cheap clothes that might not have been made with ethical labor, or supporting large corporations over local businesses. But there are limits to what choices we can make based on our principles. I might care about the environment and want to lower emissions, but if I don’t have the money for a fully electric vehicle, it would be impractical to buy it.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of ourselves for having our limits, but we can’t throw our hands in the air either. We can settle for a middle ground, making choices not so inconvenient that they derail our lives, but enough so that we stay true to what we believe in. For me, that means working toward eating fewer animal products — despite my seething hatred for vegan cupcakes. 

If you’re not vegan or vegetarian, I’m not judging. But I hope that if you’re making choices that don’t align with your own values, you can work to nudge the line forward, inch by inch. I’ll keep trying to do so myself — though I’m not budging on the cupcakes.