Becoming Un-vegan ~ An Introduction

This is the first post in a eight post series. Most of my blog posts have quite a few photos, anywhere from 6 to 12, most often 8. (Yes, I count these things.)

This is a series of posts about food, cooking, eating, and diet. I don't photograph this part of my life very much and so I don't have a lot of photos to illustrate or accompany these posts. I'll be lucky to find 2 for each post and they'll probably be throwbacks, you may have seen them on the blog before.

One more thing, there's an f-bomb in today's post specifically. I don't usually swear in my writing, so I just thought I'd give you a heads up.

When I was pregnant with Laurent, nearly seventeen years ago, Damien and I changed the way we ate. We decided to follow a plant-based diet, basically vegan, but not completely vegan. We were house-vegans. We only ate vegan at home but when we visited other people's homes or celebrated family holidays we would eat what people served.

I threw my full-time homemaker efforts into this way of eating. I gestated and birthed two babies on this diet, raised three children from infancy to pre-teen/teen years. Damien and I taught plant-based diet courses in our living room to friends. I wrote about it on my blog and published freelance essays and articles for other sources.

I was never a complete vegan. I was "mostly" vegan. Vegan was an easy, though inaccurate label, so I didn't use it very often. Whole-food, plant-based eating was a more accurate description. What this meant was very minimal processed food in our diet, included flour, sugar, and oil. For years those ingredients were very limited in our family's diet, on top of no animal products. This meant a lot of things for our family (like weird shredded beet birthday cakes) and for me it meant a lot of time spent cooking.

And then some stuff happened in our life and our marriage and I quit this way of eating. (I know, you're like "what does marriage have to do with this?" I'll get there.)

I officially became unvegan. My exact phrasology for the change was "Fuck it. I'm done."

I said as much to my family. I wrote it in my journal and in an email to an online friend and work collaborator. The same friend who I wrote "how-to be vegan" essays for in the past.

I quit.

I've written sporadically about food and eating in the context of health, homemaking, and homeschooling over the years.

Food is a part of my life so it's shown up on the blog for sure. And there were a few years, 2009 through 2012, when I was writing more food content. This happened to coincide with the peak of my blog readership which was fueled by a lot of publishing around topics that were connecting with people and were showing up in google searches: homeschooling, homemaking, and soapmaking especially. But as personal growth and the inner life, not to mention other life activities, became more compelling to me, food and kitchen content showed up less and less on the blog.

When I stopped being a mostly-vegan I was busy dealing with a bunch of other stuff in my writing. Moving to montreal, raising teens, healing from the trail, figuring out vocation, deconstructing my faith, etc. I had no bandwidth, energy or even desire to talk about food on my blog. So I didn't publish any "I'm done being vegan" posts, though I did write lots of drafts as a tool for processing my decision.

A small aside about writing:

Writing helps me frame my experiences and understand my life. In part because to write something coherent, I have to order things in my mind. But also because writing, perhaps especially a memoirist style, is a type of story telling that helps a person make sense of one's life.

We are driven to make sense of our lives through story.

I've come to accept that even if our non-fiction narratives are full of inaccuracies and colored by personal perception (for example, it's well-known that memories are fallible) they are still absolutely essential for making meaning of our lives. I tell a story about my life, to myself, as a way of making meaning in my life. We all do. I tell a story about my life on my blog as a way of sharing meaning with others.

I wrote stuff, to myself, about my change in eating, cooking, and more significantly my mindset around food, to try to understand myself and my life experience. There was a lot to sort through. But I didn't publish any of it. It wasn't time.

Now is the time.

There is no particular significance to this moment or month being better than any other to tell this story. But I do know that my daughter sharing her own ethical vegan stance on her YouTube channel did trigger a response in me to close the vegan chapter of my own life, officially, on the blog.

These posts are coming from a place of struggle, transition, and re-definition in my own life. And just as I've sloughed off, like the dead skin it was, the religious dogma in my life, I have no dogma anymore around food. None.

I do still carry a couple core beliefs about food and one is the importance of sharing this part of our life with others because it's who we are as humans. We are communal, sharing creatures and we gather around food as a means to gather around each other, figuratively and literally. The food feeds our bellies, the relationship feeds our spirits.

But gathering around food feels complicated in our world of dietary preferences and restrictions, contradictory "healthy" food paradigms, inequitable access to good food, and debates about food production in the modern world (GMO, organics, etc.). It's hard to navigate these differences of opinion and taste on a big scale because it's hard to navigate them in our own bodies and around our family dinner tables.

Food matters, a lot. It matters globally, locally, and individually.

So I'm going to share my food story, bring it up to date, and explain why I stopped being mostly-vegan and why I would go vegan again (if I do). I'll talk about how food and cooking was closely linked to my ideas of marriage and motherhood, and how "Fuck it" was as much as response to those ideas (what it meant to be a good wife, a good mom), as it was to a mostly-vegan diet.

I'm going to talk about how I disentangled an old definition of health that was tied to physical health and have redefined what is healthy in a more holistic way. I'm going to talk about (lament) why food, cooking, and eating is so damn complicated, sharing my own experience with the cultural, societal, cognitive, and spiritual reasons for that.

I'm going to talk about what our family eats these days and how we share the responsibility. And I'm going to talk about the importance of food culture and hospitality in building relationships and community, how hard this can be with everything I've already mentioned, but how our spirits need to do it anyway.

Next post: Becoming mostly-vegan ~ Following an authority I could trust

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Becoming mostly-vegan ~ Following an authority I could trust »
  • jen liminalluminous

    jen liminalluminous on Aug. 13, 2018, 1:58 p.m.

    gosh ... first of all, sorry for the lack of commenting of late... I've been reading, but not had energy to comment. but I wnted to comment on this specifically as I was worried you may get some haters - although your readership is lovely, you may pick someone up from elsewhere.

    I think we all have to do what is right for us, food is intensely personal and is so much more than food - as you hint at in this article.

    Sometimes all we can do is the best we can, however that looks for us


  • Renee

    Renee on Aug. 13, 2018, 2:25 p.m.

    Hi Jen,

    Thanks for commenting! I'm not too worried about haters (Maybe I should be? But no, I'm not going to worry about that.) This series is my personal story. I'm not telling anyone how to eat or how not to eat. I truly have no answers or dogma. And it's so complicated, which is why I need 8 posts to tell it! I do have a comment policy and I'm not afraid to enforce it. And thanks for your concern.


  • Karen Toews

    Karen Toews on Aug. 13, 2018, 3:29 p.m.

    I've been hands-on involved with your food story and look forward to reading your series. As you know I love drawing people to our kitchen and the table; I guess in part thanks to the 'natural' example from both sets of your grandparents! But blending the complicated, time-consuming, essential elements of food with its holistic 'groaning board' opportunity for friendship, conversation and meaningful relationships - can indeed make one 'throw up your hands and say___' I've been there too.


    • Renee

      Renee on Aug. 13, 2018, 3:46 p.m.

      Mom, loved how you wrote that. You will show up in these posts :) Can't imagine you dropping an f-bomb on your family though! Ha!


      • Mom

        Mom on Aug. 15, 2018, 1:22 p.m.

        I have other word-bombs in my vocabulary :) The food topic is always a big attraction - maybe there's some love-hate relationship with it. I popped awake in the night and started thinking about my part two "what are you hungry for" blog - guess we're on a parallel track! Have fun with it xoxo


  • Tina

    Tina on Aug. 13, 2018, 6:48 p.m.

    I was at a wedding this weekend where interestingly the minister talked about the importance of community and food (and wine...Wedding of Cana connection), especially true in my Midwestern US region. Rather than reiterating the same thought, I'll just agree with your mom's comment.


  • S

    S on Aug. 14, 2018, 7:45 a.m.

    Change and adaptability means you're growing and evolving. I'm so glad to hear you'll be sharing this with us. I'm looking forward to it and supporting you on your journey. Thank you!


  • Anna

    Anna on Aug. 14, 2018, 9:08 p.m.

    Thank you. I've followed your writing for years and have had my own food challenges through parenting teens and focus shifts in life. My 18 year old recently started eating meat after being a self professed vegetarian since age 7. He was afraid to tell me but I'm proud that he's strong enough to follow his own convictions. And shared food for community really appeals to me and is a big part of extended family culture. Looking forward to these posts.


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Aug. 15, 2018, 12:53 p.m.

    I'm very excited about this series. I relate a lot to what you say and love the part about writing. I've become a good enough cook, mom, partner... A Fuck it professional. And it is freeing. I was losing the joy of sharing food with people and that made me very sad and frustrated, especially since I come from a tradition of communal meals and hours at the table!


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