Putting 7 day challenges in perspective

January 8, 2010

Photo by Roland

Photo by Roland

From time to time, a paper (that’s the old-timer version of these here internets) or magazine will run a story about a writer who’s going vegan or vegetarian for a week, sometimes with his or her family, sometimes solo, and boom, it’s an easy page to fill with day by day synopses.

I did a quick scan on Google News, but as luck would have it, nobody seems to be doing this right now, but the subject’s been on my mind for a while and my personal situation, which I’ll get into in a second, is such that now’s the time to talk these things through.  Hopefully everyone gets the basic idea of a reporter’s diarized challenge without an illustrative link or two.

The thing that always gets me with these types of pieces is the reactions they draw from the veg community if the author makes things look hard.  Of course it’s hard: you’re doing it for your job!  While some people report feeling a little clearer headed at the end of the week, it’s pretty rare, if it ever happens, that the writer actually evolves into a vegan full time after the assignment’s done.  That’s all it is, after all: an assignment.  The piece could just as easily be about living on welfare wages, or spending a week on stilts.

In other words, I don’t care too much about these kinds of articles, other than the fact that the skewed perspective might influence people away from trying it for themselves, when they might find real reasons to change their lives other than “not getting fired.”

That said, it occurred to me sometime last year that there might be some value in taking the exercise in the other direction: if a reporter has a problem doing something that I find easy, what if I was to spend a week or more eating in a way that’s hard for me but that most people find really easy?

If you’ve been vegan for more than a year or two, it’s really easy to forget how hard that kind of transition can be – I see it all the time with relatively new vegans getting angry and frustrated about how the rest of the world can’t instantly convert to something they themselves took most of their lifetimes to figure out. What if I get into an omnivore’s shoes for a bit  so I could understand them better and in the process maybe become a better activist?

Of course, I wasn’t going to start eating meat, but there had to be something that would be the equivalent.  I had the theory that learning recipes and meal combinations weren’t the real barriers to conversion, but rather it’s the social structures we’re surrounded by that make it really hard to change, so I started looking for parallels there.

And then it hit me.

Giving up booze and coffee for a month might be the closest way to approximate the omnivore to vegan conversion.

Think about it – neither booze nor coffee are really that harmful, in moderation (that’s my non-medical opinion, but I’ve seen enough studies that show nice things about consuming a bit of both every once in a while,) and when you tell people you’re cutting back (but not stopping, because that’d be “weird,”) you usually get some sympathy from the other person.  They realize they also have too much of one or the other for their liking too, and would kind of like to scale back – maybe they even have a story or two about that time they quit.

Sound familiar?

The kicker for both is that they’re very social activities, much like food.  If you tell your family you’re not eating meat anymore, on some level you’re telling them (in their minds) that you can’t eat together.  It’s silly, but that’s a big part of how food works in our society.  With booze and coffee, there’s a very social aspect to it as well – people meet over both all the time, and if one person’s indulging and the other’s abstaining, well, there’s a barrier forming as it happens.

So this is my theory: vegans who’ve been vegan for a while might want to try giving up booze and coffee for a while to see how it feels – not from a health perspective, but from a social standpoint – and use that experience to reflect back on activism and outreach to understand a bit about what the potential vegan you’re talking to might be facing.

Of course, if you already don’t consume either booze or coffee (as many vegans don’t,) this exercise won’t work at all.  I’m drawing from my own experiences here, but I don’t know what another equivalent would be – post some thoughts in the comments please!

And speaking of experiences, here’s a little secret: I’ve never managed to do this trick. I’ve scheduled it in a few times, but there was always some birthday or get together on the calendar that I didn’t want to miss, by which I mean I didn’t want it to go by without having a drink with my friends.  (I know this is starting to sound weird and maybe a little too revealing, so let me just say that I’m both aware of and comfortable with the amount I consume of both product types…)  My point here is that I simply found a lot of parallels between my own social situations and what I imagine a lot of omnivores considering veganism might be facing.

If you’re worried about me at this point, don’t be – I’m amused to report that as of this writing, I’m 9 days sober.  I’m still drinking coffee though – I figured if I couldn’t pull off the double, I could at least try for a single.

Socially, it’s been a bit of a pain, but I’m helped by the fact it’s New Year’s Resolution season, so I get to say, as I did at lunch today, “sorry, I’m drying out this month” and people generally get it.

Just like the people who write those self-challenge articles though, my mini-challenge has a deadline, and while I’m sure I’ll find out some interesting things about myself this month, well, let me put it this way:

As I was leaving lunch, I said we should do it again.  One friend replied, “when are you drinking again?”

“February.”

(Photo credit: roland)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

stephie137 January 9, 2010 at 4:26 am

Ha! That would be me, too. Except for when I was pregnant. That was a good excuse, people usually bought that one.

They never talk about the good stuff that happens only after you've been vegan a while and figure out the perks – like how you get the freshest, most creative off-the-menu dishes at shmancy restaurants.

jasondoucette January 9, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Pregnancy is probably the best excuse out there. I have to lie and say I'm a surgeon or a pilot. 🙂

A friend of mine recently had to buy some wine for a party – she was pregnant, but not showing yet, and the wine was for other people, but she said she'd never felt more self-conscious.

stephie137 January 13, 2010 at 11:53 pm

I had the same thing – as soon as I started showing, I didn't like going into the LCBO. But the better half would always forget to pick up Food & Drink. Bah!

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