The V Word

You know.  It ends with “egan.”

For the better part of the last five and a half years, I have eschewed food and beverages made from animal flesh or secretions. In addition, over the past year I have almost entirely eliminated products containing animal-derived ingredients (as well as harmful chemicals such as parabens and phthalates) from my collection of cosmetics, personal hygiene products, and cleaning supplies. I’m now turning my attention to the materials from which my clothing and accessories are made, with the goal of gradually eliminating and replacing items in my wardrobe with cruelty-free alternatives.

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My choice to do these things is rooted in many deeply personal reasons, some of which include my personal health, the health of our planet, and our global society’s treatment of our fellow creatures and human beings.  I am happy and healthy, and entirely comfortable and satisfied with my choices.  However, I rarely talk about them (outside of the blog, of course), even with family or people I consider close friends.

And I hardly EVER use the V word.

Why not?  There are several reasons, but the main one is that I don’t really think people typically know what it means.  Even those who self-identify as “vegan” sometimes don’t know what it really means.  And in general, I don’t like using labels.


I read an interesting post on Happy Herbivore a week or two ago about the difference between the terms “vegan” and “plant-based.”  Read it here.  The distinction between the terms is not really something I had ever thought about, but it does make sense.  In the context of the HH article, I suppose “vegan” is the better term to describe me, as I do apply my ethics in other realms of my life outside of diet, and I do enjoy Oreos and other foods that are “vegan” but not really “plant-based.”  This fun bit of self-reflection, however, doesn’t do much to make me more comfortable with using the word.

Being married to an omnivore, I go out to eat at a lot of non-vegan establishments.  We try to choose places that have good options for both of us.  I’ve become a master of studying menus ahead of time to assess whether there are things I can eat or at least customize with relative ease.

Nevertheless, when ordering at a restaurant, I prefer to use a benign query about a particular entree (e.g., “Does the sauce contain dairy?”) than to ask, “Is this dish vegan?” or, “What vegan options do you have?”  I certainly never lead off with, “I’m vegan.  Can you bring me something with no dairy/cheese/butter?”  I know there are many vegans who would disagree with my prevarication, and while I recognize that dining-out situations represent something of a teachable moment, I’d rather just do what I need to do to assure myself that my meal comports with my ethics/diet and avoid getting into a discussion with a server who either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care.


All that being said, my general discomfort with the V word is greatly alleviated when someone I’m ordering from brings it up on their own.  As lame as it sounds, it’s a huge relief and something of a joy to me when this happens!

Last week, I was in Boloco, one of my favorite Boston-area establishments due to its varied menu, plethora of vegan options, and for actually knowing how to cook and season tofu.  I noticed that they had a couple of new menu items, one of them being the Jaffa Falafel burrito (falafel, roasted jalapeno hummus, romaine, cucumber, tomato, cilantro, green garbanzo beans, and lemon tahini sauce).  Knowing that some people don’t know the difference between tahini and tzatziki, however, I double-checked at the counter, “Does the tahini sauce contain dairy?”  “No,” replied the employee, “the Falafel is entirely vegan.”

Say what?!? I loved that she knew that.  I loved that she came right out and said it.

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The falafel wasn’t bad either!

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Green chickpeas.  How I love them.

Bottom line: this small thing made me smile and inspired me to write this post.  While I realize that the majority of restaurants aren’t going to become 100% (or, let’s be honest, even 5%) cruelty-free anytime soon, I really do appreciate when places take the time to train their employees to understand and accommodate customers with diets that are restricted by ethics, religion, or allergies.  Boloco is great about this.  Frankly, I wish more places were.