I Cheated On My Vegan Diet.
The other day I was in Toronto and after a day full of walking around on an empty stomach I decided to go to A&W before starting my 2 hour commute home. I ordered a lettuce wrapped beyond meat burger then got on the subway only to find thick white gunk slathered all over my food.
I almost lost it.
Stage 1: Shock
I just stared at it. I looked around me to see if anyone else was as confused as me, no one was. The stranger sitting across from me had no way of knowing I was vegan, or that A&W was trying to kill me. I hoped perhaps they would see the urgency in my eyes and pull a freshly made replacement burger out of their pocket but… no such luck.
Eventually I just closed the bag and sat there in disbelief.
Stage 2: Denial
I closed the bag. I chuckled to myself reassuringly, clearly I was seeing things. This had never happened before and surely it wasn’t happening now.
Not when I had 2 hours until I got home.
Not when all I’d eaten since morning was one banana and a handful of cashews.
Not when the only other choice was for me to sit in agony while my stomach began to eat itself.
I reopened the bag.
It was still there.
Stage 3: Anger
What kind of person can’t read an order and get it right? You mean to tell me you saw “no mayonnaise” on the receipt and just decided that it was more of a suggestion than anything else? Ridiculous.
But what if it wasn’t the chef’s fault…
That cashier must be incompetent. I clearly said no mayonnaise. I should have been paying more attention to the little monitor on the cash register to catch her mistake.
But what it if wasn’t the cashier’s fault…
Did I even say no mayonnaise? I can’t remember. I’ve ordered this burger too many times to have forgotten to mention it.
I remember that the cashier asked me if I wanted cheese, I said no. We didn’t discuss the mayonnaise and now here we are.
I’m an idiot.
Stage 4: Bargaining
“Dear Lord, if you send an angel from heaven to wipe this mayonnaise from my otherwise saintly vegan burger I will personally invite 3 rescue cows to live in my backyard.”
Step 5: Acceptance
So here’s the thing… I ate the burger.
I had never knowingly eaten non-vegan food in my almost two years of veganism. This was the first time, hopefully the last.
A few weeks prior I’d recorded a podcast giving my commentary on the grey areas of veganism as discussed by Rose (Cheap Lazy Vegan on Youtube) and when she mentioned eating non-vegan food on occasion when it would otherwise go to waste I wondered what I would do in a similar situation. But at the time I realized that I knew exactly what I would do because I’d been in this situation before.
A few months before this crisis on the subway, a Starbucks barista had accidentally used cow’s milk in my drink and I simply requested that a new one be made, this time with non-dairy milk. Crisis averted. But this time wasn’t so simple.
There was no 3 second walk back to the counter to rectify the mistake.
There was no feeling of urgency to stuff my gut with something, anything before I passed out.
There was only eating or going hungry. There was only mayonnaise or throwing the whole thing away. I opted for the mayonnaise.
Recently I’ve been focusing a lot more on being practical and less on holding myself to a purist standard of veganism.
I’ve noticed that the stress and anxiety I feel about making mistakes is less attached to a feeling of guilt because of my mistakes and is more so linked to a fear of being “caught” being a subpar vegan.
But I don’t want my veganism to be rooted more in people pleasing than … animal pleasing?
In no other aspect of my life, regardless of the consequence, do I stress this much over simple mistakes. Especially when there is no “going back”. Like I said, me and the mayonnaise were now stuck on this journey home together.
No matter what I did, the damage had already been done and all I could hope to do was be more careful moving forward.
Me eating or not eating the mayonnaise infested burger would have no real impact beyond how people would perceive me if by chance one of my friends happened upon the same subway, noticed some white sauce creeping out the corner of my mouth and loudly exclaimed, “I thought you were vegan!” Which would force the secret agents of the The Vegan Society to come out of hiding, take my vegan license, then drag me into the streets to be pelted violently with almonds by purer, more deserving members of the vegan community. Is that really what I was worried about?
I would never knowingly purchase animal products because I don’t want to contribute to the demand. And had things played out differently (perhaps if I’d caught myself before I left A&W and had the opportunity to run back up to the counter and beg them to keep the mayo away from me) I wouldn’t even consider eating this non-vegan food.
But in that moment, punishing myself by starving for the sake of purity would do no one any good.
So I ate the mayonnaise, while I scolded myself silently to never forget the simple phrase, “no cheese or mayo please” ever again.