Traveling can present real challenges for eating vegan. Recently, though, I’ve been encouraged by several kind and curious interactions. Here are three scenes to illustrate:
Scene 1: When ordering off-menu at a local café, the café owner says, “You know, we should really have more vegan options. I’ll work on that.”
Scene 2: When placing an order with modifications, the waiter asks me to explain: “What’s vegan?”
Scene 3: When visiting a chain restaurant, the waiter reveals she’s also vegan, and she uses my modified order to talk with the manager about their menu, something she’d been wanting to do but was waiting for a customer to provide the rhetorical exigence.
These scenes depict some of the ways that when traveling and eating out, I inadvertently signal the importance of offering plant-based options. Such foods are linked with histories, cultural practices, and religious observances. For many people, myself included, eating vegan is an everyday spiritual practice, and recognizing it as such helps us move away from the language of “accommodations” and toward the necessity of offering food that works for everyone.
By simply asking for soy or almond milk, I hope to contribute to the normalizing of plant-based options. In turn, normalizing can help us rethink inherited and typified ways of doing things, or “business as usual.” Instead of keeping things the way they are, we can ask what is just and equitable for all people. We can ask:
What does it mean when food options work for some, but not all, community members?
Truly, food offerings indicate who belongs and who doesn’t. In workplaces or at conferences, for instance, when halal, kosher, vegetarian, and other dietary practices are not observed, then Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and others are marginalized. Alternately, if meeting organizers offer and label food for a wide-reaching population, then community membership can also be conceived as wide-reaching.
Too often we think of food as “only food,” but food is socially constructed in relation to religion and other organizing social systems. When I ask for vegan + gluten-free options, I see myself de-marginalizing, normalizing, and working to make central foods that can be eaten by people with varied backgrounds, varied food sensitivities, and varied histories with food.
There’s potential within each interaction around food, as food can connect and deepen relations, just as it can fracture or reveal fissures within communities. So, one of the many reasons I’m vegan is that there’s power in everyday conversations and the everyday act of asking for vegan food.