Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Omnivore: Fail

This essay was born of the recent trend of people publicly disavowing their once passionately held vegan or vegetarian beliefs. For many years, when people would identify themselves to me as former vegetarians, I would counter, tongue-in-cheek, that I was a former omnivore. This is my attempt to flesh out my inability to thrive - emotionally, spiritually and physically - as an omnivore. 


I wanted to be an omnivore. I really did.


The path from which I began straying from omnivorism was painful, difficult, heart-wrenching even. People might try to tell me that I did something wrong, that I just didn't try hard enough, but they are mistaken: I tried with all my being to live as an omnivore. When it shattered around me, I wondered how could something that I believed with such a passionate, deeply held conviction - that animals were ours to do what we pleased with - be wrong? Who was I if I were no longer an omnivore? My core values, my deepest beliefs about my place on the earth, were inextricably tied to my omnivorism. When things started going downhill with my animal consumption, when it no longer felt like a natural or decent thing to do, I grieved for that part of myself that I was losing and desperately tried to cling to it more tightly. It was no use, though: eating animals was making me sick, literally and figuratively. Toward the end, it was clear that I was just going through the motions.

If I can trace my falling out with omnivorism, the path would lead back to our family dog. His being helped to usher in the first inkling that something was wrong. I could observe that he had emotions, that he had preferences and the same reasons anyone else would have for not wanting to be exploited, abused, killed. Then, somehow, this view expanded outward, try as I might to contain it, and it grew like a thing out of control to encompass the birds, pigs, cows. Before I knew it, it no longer felt justifiable or rational to eat some but not others.

In other words, it no longer felt natural.

That first bite of cheeseless pizza was something I dreaded but in reality, it was remarkably easy and welcoming. Despite this new consciousness that nagged at me, I tried to continue to live like I had grown accustomed to living, to put cheese on that pizza. I even tried to put chicken on it, but I couldn't bring myself to live the lie any longer. When I threw away the cheese, tossed the chicken in the garbage, it just felt so profoundly right: even more, when I piled the pizza high with gorgeous roasted vegetables, a cornucopia from our local farms, it just felt so correct, deep inside, and I felt the ancient echo of uncomplicated contentment I had been missing from my life for so long as an omnivore. I don't know if I had ever been so hungry or had that innate hunger so completely satisified. Yes, my starving soul nearly screamed with each voluptuous bite of silky roasted vegetables and chewy crust, yes.

I knew then that my days as an omnivore were numbered. I was entering a territory I'd long scorned and derided. The more I tried to force my body to listen to my head, the more it became an inevitability: my body was insisting on becoming herbivorous despite my most fervent wishes.

Nearly from the beginning, when I would see produce in the farmers markets, I realized that there was no escaping the fact that I was part of their demise. The snow peas, proud carrots, pears, ripe little raspberries: they once burst with life. In the market, they are still colorful and plump, but they are no longer alive. They were killed for me. Not long after intitially dabbling in veganism, I realized that I couldn't ask another to do bring these plants to market without being able to face the process myself, so as I moved away from omnivorism, I decided to start my own garden. At first, I started small, just a few packets of salad greens in a sunny little patch, but as I've fully moved toward a life rich in plant material, it has since grown much larger.

As uncertain as I was at first, I still took deep pride in the tender shoots that confidently sprang up and thrived because of my care, because of my nurturing. They could be natural, fully realized vegetables in their ideal setting with the sun warming their leaves, the wind in blowing through their stems, rain gulped thirstily by their roots. That first year of gardening, I understood on a deeper level something that I'd always known: to live was also to die, and that the natural order after birth and life would be death. When it came time to pluck those first spring lettuces, soft, sweet and delicate like a baby's satiny cheek, I was distraught. I cried and thought of asking a friend to do it instead, one who had done this many times before in his own garden. "No," I told myself. "No, I need to do this."

And so I took a deep breath and I did it, tentatively at first. My stomach hurt, my hands seemed shaky. The peppery arugula, the red leaf, the baby mizuna, they yielded at once to my touch, like a sigh. They were so alive at one moment, so clearly no longer attached to the earth the next.  As much as it pained me to admit it, pulling them just felt natural and right. The depth to which I felt that I was at the right place at the right time doing the right thing was profoundly stirring. Once the initial sadness subsided, I immediately realized that I was doing more than pulling up plants. I was reconnecting with my vegetable-loving ancestors. My fingers were digging in the rich soil, pulling up the plants and brushing off the dirt to return to the cycle of life and death in my garden. It felt like a dance. The thing I thought I would never do - could never do - felt as intuitive and native to me as anything I'd ever experienced. And I thanked the greens as I collected them in my colander: thank you for giving your life to me.

Almost immediately after I quietly shifted from being an omnivore, I found that I had more energy. I felt lighter, liberated, and the heaviness I'd once felt after a big meal filled with meat and cheese was no longer evident. My heart was light, too, unburdened of the weight of all those hard, undigestible feelings that I'd suppressed for so long. I felt like singing to the world, “This feels right! Finally, I am back to being who I was meant to be!”

I dared not tell my friends, though, the omnivores who expected me to maintain the status quo, who expected me to eat chicken wings with them, to laugh at the selfish, smug meat-abstainers we knew. How could I keep my secret safe at Super Bowl parties, after-work get-togethers, holiday meals? The thought of my parents and how they would accept this betrayal of them and the core omnivorous values they raised me with brought me the most pain and worry. It was too much to bear at times and I suffered in my silence. I continued to eat my delicious stir-fries and curries, but I did it alone, surreptitiously, the light from the refrigerator the only thing illuminating me in my quiet, now-herbivorous kitchen.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep up the charade any longer and the deception I’d created came crashing around me. How many times could I tell co-workers that, no, I was saving money so I would not be going to order with them from the chicken place before they'd realize that something was up? How many creative ways could I conceal the lack of meat in my lunch before people begin to notice? How many times could I fail to take antacids or suffer from heartburn before those around me would start to wonder? When it all crashed down around me, precipitated by a busybody and a vegan cookbook I'd carelessly left out on my desk, it was horrifying but it was also a relief. The double-life I'd be leading was shattered, a permanent fissure finally ripped through. I could no longer keep the lie alive.

So today in the spirit of full disclosure, I lay myself bare. I am a failed omnivore. I did my best, I really did, for years and years but it just didn't work. The hamburgers, chicken wings, tuna casserole...ew. It's not you, it's me. Instead, when I bite into roasted red peppers, grilled corn on the cob, mangoes, black bean burgers, guacamole, I know this is me as I am. It just feels right. I love the voluptuousness, the harmlessness, the juicy, life-sustaining properties and I am no longer going to be shamed into hiding.

I am a failed omnivore. Judge me if you must, but please know that I tried my very best.

61 comments:

Stephanie said...

This is amazing. Thank you for making my day. :)

nicklovin said...

This is such an incredible blog. With all this talk of ex-vegans new found love of bacon, this is exactly what people need to hear.

VegNews Magazine said...

Beautiful, Marla. Thank you. I'm grinning ear-to-ear.

Vegan Burnout said...

Your snark is a balm to my soul, Marla.

Word verification fail: "bacen."

tuttianimali said...

bless you for this! <3

Jessica @ Lima's Vegan Kitchen said...

You just made everything a little better.

Ethically Engineered said...

Winner of an essay Marla! I may borrow the framework and spread the message with my own experiences as well. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a powerful week.

Candy Beans said...

Wonderful. This is awesome and an all too rare example of true satire. Thank you.

MeShell said...

Love this so much. Thank you.

veganefcliz said...

Thankyou for this. A moment of sanity.

Rebecca & Brendon said...

There's no reason to apologize to anyone; you're doing a world of good and making it better! This post is amazing and wonderful to read. Thank you so much for sharing.

Mandee said...

Hee! Thanks for sharing your story of being a failed omnivore with us! It put a gigantic smile on my face! :D

Desdemona said...

Brilliant; your variation on the tedious "it just felt so natural and right" theme was particularly note perfect. I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Lenore's Sucker said...

I'm so happy after reading this that I almost want to cry a little. I totally feel you. Happy Thanksgiving!!

redtagcrazy said...

THANK YOU!!!!

Marla said...

Thank you, lovely people! It just blurted out of me in a couple of hours but it was obviously something that had been brewing for a long time. Anything I can do to help stir up the predictable dialogue on this tired matter, I am happy to do, and if I can bring a smile to a few vegan faces, I'm even more happy to do it. Viva la vegans!

jayedee said...

bravo! just bravo!

Animal said...

Too funny! Thanks for this.

stantoro said...

Brilliant, note-perfect, hilariously observed, and deeply heartfelt. Thanks for another winner Marla!

K- said...

I wuv you with an Earth "W." Thank you.

Scu said...

Perfection. This is the best response ever.

Allysia said...

I just scrolled through all of the comments (and definitely laughed at Vegan Burnout's word verification fail...HA!), and they're totally well-deserved. It's nice to know there are still others who feel the way I do! This made my night, for real. :)

Andrea said...

Perfect!

Christina said...

Thank you! I was sooooo happy to read this! I hope it gets equal twittering and play, it's brilliant!

Kathy said...

Love it!!

GreatMonkeyMan said...

Nice post! :D

The Tasty Vegan said...

I am in awe... what excellent satire. Voluptuous vegetables indeed.

Looking forward to reading more from you... this whole ex-vegan thing has happened just as I rejoined the online vegan 'blogosphere'and very nearly put me off staying. With writers such as yourself displaying talent, humility, intelligence, and humour, I'm very definitely remaining involved!

Thank you, you made a jaded vegan smile.

Leigh

fw said...

This post SAVED MY LIFE!

I accept now, that I needn't hide my own unwillingness to uphold the status quo.

Although goodness knows that I, too, haven't wanted to disappoint those family and friends who would so prefer that I maintain childlike innocence and ignore the fact that billions of animals are raised for needless slaughter to uphold the MYTH of protein...and human supremacy.

I've tried, oh goddess how I've tried, to convince myself that animals not crammed into factory farms are far more willing to meet the butcher's knife or stun gun than their wholly confined cousins crammmed mercilessly into factory farms.

But I am now obligated to come out and embrace the ADULT knowledge that plant-based food choices are founded not on abstract ideals or even on compassion alone but on sound science!

Contrary to the beliefs of some flesh purveyors, life as a vegan is not lived in ignorant denial of the allegation by anti-civilization proponents that agriculture is somehow the root of all evil. We simply do not agree! www.veganorganic.net

In fact, it is precisely because so many of us DO understand soil fertility, the fact that all life requires death in the sacred round, and that our food choices play a very significant role in reducing unnecessary suffering that we will continue to renounce their self-serving...woops, I mean, well-intentioned, so they say... carnist agenda.

Thankyou, sistah!!!

skepticalvegan said...

Great satire! this ex-vegan, anti-civ, trend is annoying, thanks for responding.
If you're interested I wrote a post about the Lipid Hypothesis and cholesterol denial among ex-vegans on my blog.

aerobica said...

I can't imagine how much courage this must've taken to post.

Bea Elliott said...

A fabulous rendition of what is reality to many of us! Very clever -
Thanks for the smiles! :)

vasilisab said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. That was so refreshing after reading about ex-vegans for the last several months. And in regards to the burgers and chicken wings? it is not just you, it is me too. And it seems like a lot more people who wrote comments here.

I loved the part of the essay, where you mentioned that it felt right. It made me smile : )

"I don't know if I had ever been so hungry or had that innate hunger so completely satisified. Yes, my starving soul nearly screamed with each voluptuous bite of silky roasted vegetables and chewy crust, yes."

Brandon Becker said...

Great post. Thanks so much!

Jenny said...

:)

ACTIVEGAN said...

This is a great post. I can relate to a lot of it.
Check out my vegan/activist blog.

http://www.vegan-activegan.blogspot.com/

Rhea Parsons said...

This is brilliant. Sounds just like so many "confessions" I've read lately about ex-vegans but so much better. You are a genius!! Thank you for this.

Suki said...

Absolutely loved this post!! Thanks for putting a smile on my face.

Rose said...

Brilliant, simply brilliant.
:)

taleoftwovegans said...

Too funny! Thanks for the humour - all the ex-vegan stuff leaves me with a seriously bad taste in my mouth. And, now I know what to counter with the next time I meet an 'ex-veg*n'! -Eve

Robert said...

This is the first time I've seen your blog, and I love it.

This is brilliant satire, and also bold truth-telling. But then, at their best, they're the same thing, aren't they?

Keep it up! :)

Marla said...

Thank you, you wonderful people! Honestly, it brings me so much joy to bring smiles to the faces of "my people" that it's my pleasure. The privilege of being a vegan, that we can reinforce our values with how we live, is an incredible one, and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I have met so many just staggeringly impressive people in the vegan movement, and the littlest thing I can do to lighten the load of swimming against the current, I am happy to do. We are blessed but we also have a lot of weight on our shoulders: I am very thankful to be going down this path with so many damn cool people. Thank you for all you do!

jamfranbo said...

This is a really fine piece of writing Maria. I guess the "I've tried veganism but I think I've got over it" bandwagon must be more US than UK because I've not picked up on it (I stay in Scotland). I'm thinking of giving my (now omnivore) children framed copies of your essay for Christmas. You're funny and intelligent and sensible all at the same time - I think that's rather a cool combination!

Kelly said...

Fantastic! a real antidote to the po-faced last couple of weeks of ex-vegan blogs :D

yseult the fair said...

Thank you! Very refreshing take on recent hoopla, which was just same old tired Nourishing Traditions cult talk. It's apparently new to some people but sadly old to me--vegans becoming 'born again carnivores'. My view is that they are novelty addicts, and that if its veganism this week, grass-fed beef next week, who knows what it'll be next month?

Marla said...

"Funny and intelligent and sensible all at the same time..."Wow! I will take the sweet compliment, Jamfranbo, and I will quote you the next time I'm having a disagreement with my husband. :) Yes, sadly the trend is here but if you really think about it, it's a few voices. People will always move toward veganism and move away. Now it's just a lot louder because of the internet. May this be just another shallow trend.

Marla said...

I totally agree, Yseult the Fair! I was saying that to my friend the other day.

radioactivegan said...

Just to reiterate what everyone has already said -- This was awesome! Thanks for giving us the modest proposal for veganism! I'm so happy about this post :)

radioactivegan said...

Just to reiterate what everyone has already said -- This was awesome! Thanks for giving us the modest proposal for veganism! I'm so happy about this post :)

weeona said...

Oh, this made me grin.

All these ex-vegan blogs are making me heartsick. :(
Thanks for providing some balm. It was MUCH needed.

Heather said...

Oh my gosh, you're just SO BRAVE to listen to your body. Frankly, mine tells me to smoke, drink and sit on the couch but funnily enough it never says chow down on a steak :p.

Vegan Valerie said...

Hey! I'm a failed omnivore too! Although I never thought of myself that way before. :)

I thank you for your post. It is well timed and much needed.

pradtf said...

wonderful indeed, martha!!
i've taken the liberty of posting this on our forum:
http://www.30bananasaday.com/forum/topics/failed-omnivore

with link back to your blog! i know it will be appreciated greatly there.

if you are ever in our neighborhood, do drop by to 30bad. you'd be most welcome, i'm sure.

in friendship,
prad

bitt said...

thanks for this! plants make me happy too.

Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day said...

This is great. I laughed out loud several times while reading it.

Sara said...

Haha, this was excellent! Love it!

peasoupeats said...

Absolutely brilliant!!

Jillian of Bitchin' Vegan Kitchen said...

Tables. This is how your turn them.

Yes! And thank you!

Marla said...

I continue to be so heartwarmed (yes, I made that into a verb, but whatever, it fits) with this wonderful feedback. Thank you so much! As I said earlier, any little thing I can do to give back to the community I love so much - as well as the lifestyle, which is the best decision I ever made - is an absolute pleasure. The animals suffer so needlessly and the idea that someone is rebelling by doing what 97% of the population does is so patently ridiculous that it becomes instant comedy.

Prad, I will definitely check out your forum. Oh, and my name is Marla. No apologies: it happens all the time but I've grown attached to my name over the years. :)

Vanilla Rose said...

A brilliant parody, but with a point to it. Did I mention my ex-vegan ex-friend? (She's not an ex-friend because she started eating meat, but because she became so hostile to me as a person as well as to veganism.) She said vegans seemed to be denying part of their humanity.

dirtybreeze said...

I love this. I literally took the jump from vegetarianism to veganism just this month, and I was rather disheartened by a certain blog by a Vivacious or Voracious or Covetous or w/e vegan-no-more blogger. But this has lifted my spirits, I love a good satire ^^ xx

Veggierunner said...

Holy cow, just found this site and article a year after everyone else...I loved it! Very witty.
The funny thing is that I actually have tried to stop being a vegetarian several times (for various reasons which I will spare you) but I justcannot. I guess some of us were meant for tofu. However, it's a whole different thing transitioning to being a vegan...this is hard; I'm not there yet.
Great blog.