Being a vegan in China is frustrating but not impossible

By Ke Rensi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/22 18:43:39

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Six years ago, I went vegan cold-turkey for health reasons. I gave up two months later. Nonetheless, I kept educating myself on how to maintain a balanced vegan diet. One year later, I went back to veganism.

I cheated many times at the beginning of my second try, sometimes because I ran out of options when dining out, sometimes because I was too afraid to "come out," worrying that people would think I was weird, and sometimes just because I lost my willpower. 

Will Tuttle wrote in The World Peace Diet that if people don't go vegan for animal rights they will be more likely to slip back to the omnivorous diet. Reflecting on my experience, I think he is right.

It was easy for me to stop using animal products and quit eating meat, but eschewing eggs and dairy was difficult. Even now, when I see snacks whose nutritional labels contain eggs or milk, all I can do is grumble and curse.

I also ran into a situation that happens all too often to Chinese vegans: skeptical friends and family. My friends questioned me, "You don't even eat fish? Fish is scrumptious!" My parents chastised me, "You'll be malnourished! How about eating some eggs?"

Growing up malnourished themselves, my parents hold that having convenient access to meat and seafood is a privilege to be treasured. Even when I check Weibo, I run into quips like this every now and then: "I didn't spend tens of thousands of years ascending to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables!" In a culture where eating meat is associated with masculinity, male vegans are particularly at risk of being stigmatized as effeminate.

An Italian friend recently told me that he saw many "angry" vegans in his home country and wondered if I was also one of those "radical" animal rights advocates. His question got me thinking about how people can discuss and debate veganism through nonviolent communication.

Many hard-core vegans and omnivores live in their respective "bubbles," self-justified about their lifestyles. Vegans blame omnivores for inflicting pain on animals; omnivores scoff at our asceticism.

In the West, where the rhetorical tradition aims for persuasion, many vegans and omnivores discuss their dietary choices like professional lobbyists. These people tend to be more interested in winning the debate instead of seeing the bigger picture and recognizing the validity (and benefit) of differing opinions.

I refuse to fall into that pattern. After all, I was not born vegan and my transitioning to a vegan lifestyle has not been smooth sailing. So I'm in no position to feel morally superior to meat-eaters. Even if I was born vegan, I would try not to guilt-trip non-vegans. I only hope people go vegan after realizing that it'll make them healthier and happier.

Many non-vegans fear that veganism means starving or depriving themselves of the pleasure of eating. Their concerns are partly legitimate, given that strictly vegan restaurants are a rarity in China.

However, according to Public Radio International back in 2014, nearly 5 percent of the population in China consider themselves "cruelty-free," which means over 50 million people here do not eat meat or dairy.

The burgeoning market for vegan products in China await more health-conscious entrepreneurs to open up vegan diners, invent meat substitutes, sell plant milk and create vegan snacks.

Some Weibo and WeChat accounts have been promoting vegan lifestyles, but I don't like their method of feeding on (pun intended) people's body image anxiety. The vegan diet did help me lose weight, but more importantly, veganism taught me compassion.

At the end of the day, only when we have more vegan food options and cooking tutorials, can we cultivate more vegan taste buds. And only when we look at veganism as a lifestyle to elevate people's physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, can we create a win-win situation for all beings in the world.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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