Table for one, please
written by Denise Marcelo
Let’s begin with why being vegan is easy, especially as a college student and a dormer. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s a relatively inexpensive lifestyle. On the weekends, I cook meals plentiful enough to last an entire school week, then bring them with me to my Katipunan residence. I get to save a lot of money by subsisting on my own food. Turning vegan erased the excesses of Food Panda surcharges and Regis trips from worry.
The convenience ends there.
“You’re vegan? How?” is the expression of disbelief that possesses most people when they learn about my diet. They either think it’s unfathomable, ridiculous, or extraordinarily admirable that I am vegan, forgetting that up until that moment of revelation I was quite simply, like everyone else. I want to think I am just like everyone else.
But there are social repercussions to negotiate with. I’ve gotten quite stealthy at navigating them. Feigning normalcy is easy when my arsenal of excuses respond promptly to raised eyebrows and the classic “why aren’t you coming?” questions. The art of deception lies in trotting out a fantasy where my character is implicit. It’s striking a believable balance between nonchalance and regret as I deliver all the plausible reasons as to why I can’t meet my friends in Jollibee, as if God himself had forbidden everything from disrupting the continuity of my studious nature.
I can usually tell when this part of me borders on being discovered. In occasions where food is presented to me directly or when I eat my packed, vegetable-dense lunch in plain view, I’m found out or forced to admit what I am. Most of the time, it’s the latter. I throw my hands in the air and sheepishly attest to being vegan, then entertain the barrage of curiosities that flow from this confession.
I guess what I hate about being vegan most is that it puts me squarely at the center of people’s attention. I start wishing that I could disappear beneath my skin. I know my friends mean well, but I’ve also grown tired of explaining that there are no intricacies to my veganism. I can literally eat anything not made of nor derived from animals. Pretty straightforward, right?
But there is a sense of nakedness that comes with being accidentally unmasked and with it, an indispensable shame. Shame over having to bring my own food when my friends eat in a place that can’t accommodate. Shame over suppressing my hunger pangs when I forget to bring my food, but join them anyway. They say that food brings people together, but that rings false for someone like me, who spends most nights quietly microwaving pre-cooked dinners or in the few places that recognize me or at the very least, vegetarianism.
Some JSEC stalls, like Wrap It Up! (and the fallen Blendabowls and Healthy Co., the health-conscious community misses you) offer veganizable selections, but it’s not enough to feel included in the research and deliberation that goes into crafting their menus.
Fortunately, there are spaces where people like me set the norm, not the exception.
Tucked behind Yellow Cab in the FDR Building is Roots Katipunan, a co-working space and retail store that has an in-house vegan eatery. Along Esteban Abada is Dahon-Dahan, a health restaurant that sells a number of vegan-friendly wraps, salads, and rice meals. A little farther in UP Diliman’s Area 2 is Good Clean Cart, a fully vegan enterprise that doles out fast-food and Filipino cuisine for cheap. These places are often what I mean when I say, “Sorry! I have an LT tomorrow. Can’t go to McDo with you guys.”
At the heart of the secrecy I shroud my veganism in is that I don’t want to be treated any differently. When you are approached like a mystery and studied with exotic fascination, there comes a point where you don’t want to be seen. Going unnoticed is a blessing that permits me to share essential college experiences with my peers, where this part of me does not eclipse everything else that I am.
Because frankly, I don’t feel that different at all. And because I don’t feel different, neither do I think that my friends should care so much about my choices. But the reality is that I am still a rare statistical deviation in a population of omnivores, and it shows in the calculation veganism requires. The timing of my meals, the contingencies for events where I am hard-pressed to find something to eat. And this is something I’ve accepted.
It has dawned on me that the struggle of being vegan in an unfriendly environment ultimately mirrors an inner struggle for self-acceptance. I have readily adapted to the externalities of at all. Yes, it’s mighty difficult, especially in our samgyupsal-crazed society. But maybe I can make being vegan easier, if I finally overcome the mentality that it can only be done in isolation.