What does it matter?

I kept my vegan-ness unknown around my workplace until I ordered the “vegan wrap” for a work lunch and my cover was blown.

I was still pretty new. I wanted to be known for my work and my personality, not as “the vegan one.”

But my boss has been super-de-duper nice about it since she learned about my leanings. Whereas pizza is the go-to working meal for journalists normally, last election night she opted to order us Thai food, which made it possible for me to order something without imposing on anyone else. She thinks of me any time there’s a meal on the company dime.

Same for when this representative for a web video distributor came to Seattle last week and brought us lunch. My boss told him ahead of time there’s a vegan in the newsroom and though he planned on getting pizza, he’d bring me a salad.

I don’t expect people to go out of their way to accommodate me. But I’m grateful for every thoughtful gesture.

The guy came with boxes of pizza and a bag containing my salad. My boss peeked inside, came to my desk and whispered, fretfully, “I think there was a mistake. The salad is covered in cheese.”

“No big deal,” I assured her, “I’ll pick it off.”

Didn’t want to bite the hand that fed me. I hate waste as much as I love free food.

But as I furtively flicked blue cheese bits from my salad into a trash can with a fork, I wondered why I was taking such pains. I used to love blue cheese. And it’s not like I’m saving a cow by throwing out the cheese, already made, distributed and sold. Can’t unring that bell, as one might say.

And in order to remove most of the cheese presence, I had to sacrifice the tomatoes and cucumbers with them, leaving mostly just greens. And there were still itty bits of cheese here and there that I was not anal enough to pick through. So basically I chucked nearly half my salad just for my choice – not an allergy or life-threatening condition, but a choice and a stance.

As I picked through greens and walnuts while the rest of my colleagues piled up on cheese, pepperoni, Canadian bacon and sausage pizza – and oh, it smelled so good – I felt a mix of pride and a strange guilt. Why can’t I just eat the cheese if it’s served to me? I just wasted perfectly good food, didn’t I?

I’m not pure. Sometimes I’ll find mayonnaise slipped into a sandwich I’m eating or I’ll find that the bag of chips I’m eating has a dairy product in it (damn you, Miss Vickie’s salt and vinegar, I just want the SALT AND VINEGAR). And I let it go because I know I do my best when I’m in full control of what I’m eating.

Still, I have nightmares about failing at being a good herbie. I’ll wake up feeling a sense of defeat – that I ate a bunch of cheese or knowingly ate meat – and I have to review my recent meals in my head and remember it was just a dream.

I haven’t quite answered to myself why it’s so important that I pick out the cheese. I know why it’s important for me not to financially support dairy and meat businesses that do harm to animals and the environment. I know why it’s important for me to order my bean burger with no mayo or cheese. But for something that’s free to me and already made, it’s hard to believe that my picking out the cheese has any net benefit – maybe a near-negligible one on my health that day.

These quandaries extend to the wool coat or the silk scarf I own, bought years before I went plant-based. I wonder how far I need to go to be a good soldier and whether any small caveats make a difference.

These are things I still ask myself.

I figured that if nothing else, I’m still setting the herbie example, though I’m sure not one of my colleagues envied my picking through mixed greens while they got to nosh on meat, cheese and dough.

And, luckily, I still brought a plant-based lunch to work that day – chipotle pasta and lentils – in case such a mistake should happen.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Richa
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 12:08:37

    hubbs used to run into similar problems at work. he usually got around by giving the food to a friend even if it hand picked, all the guys seem to be perennially hungry anyway so they finish everything up.


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