Dear Vegetarians and Vegans

When I was about 10 or 11, I was diagnosed with reactive hypoglycemia, which if unmanaged, can cause hypoglycemia and diabetes. TW: food issues, suicidal thoughts, asshole siblings, disturbing animal tongue gifs, no mainpage Basically, if it is not under control and I eat sugar or carbohydrates, my blood sugar spikes; then my body releases too much insulin, and my blood sugar plummets to a dangerously low level. Everyone in my family has it— on both sides.

This condition, however, is easily controlled with diet. The diet consists of:

  • frequent meals
  • limited sugar intake
  • eating meat at least twice per day

The first two are intended to stabilize the level of sugar that could be absorbed from my digestive tract. The last factor slows digestion of carbohydrates and sugars, stabilizing the absorption rate of the sugars that are there.

I am not able-bodied in a way that allows me to choose vegetarianism. No one is my family is. My sister chose it anyway.

Meat is Murder

Dear Vegetarians and Vegans

It started with an album by The Smiths, Meat is Murder. The Smiths were my sister's favorite band and when the album came out, she decided that meat is murder and went full-on preachy vegetarian. Every night at dinner, the family would have some form of meat, per our personal dietary requirements. My sister insisted on having her own separate meal cooked in different containers than all the meat so that her vegetables wouldn't be contaminated, and she insisted that Mom cook it despite her being a senior in high school and thus perfectly capable of steaming broccoli herself.

She decided that we were all going to be vegetarians with her because meat is murder. Thus, whenever we cut into a steak, she would let out "bloodcurdling moos," a phrase that she used with complete seriousness. She did similarly for chickens and lectured us on how our food had been alive, had big brown eyes, and loved its children.

Dear Vegetarians and Vegans

Eventually, I started countering that her broccoli had been alive until its still living flesh was put in the water to boil; it had many tiny green eyes and loved its children; she was just assuming that it doesn't feel pain and maybe it was screaming but she couldn't hear because plants scream in a way that we can't hear! For this I got grounded out of fear that I might convince my sister to starve herself to death. Soon she realized that eggs were baby chickens and stopped eating them too. Eventually, she joined PETA, gave away all of her leather, and became vegan.

She used to complain that the people at the student health center wouldn't help her with her depression. She said "they won't give me any medicine for it because it's caused by my hypoglycemia; they want me to eat meat! Quacks!" Apparently, she kept going to doctors about her health and they kept telling her to go back on her prescribed diet, which she refused to do, thus her health was the fault of the doctors who "refused" to give her other options. (There is non-dietary treatment for reactive hypoglycemia.)

In the meantime, all family meals were required to be vegan for my sister and omnivorous for the rest of us. She refused to cook meat, so while others were expected to accommodate her for every meal that they cooked, she refused to do the same.

After being sick for years, she switched from vegan to lacto-ovo. Then she decided that if an animal didn't have a central nervous system that it actually was a "lower being" that probably couldn't feel pain so she could eat that. Still the doctors persisted and she went pescatarian. Eventually, the years of sugar spikes and low blood sugar attacks left her with thyroid damage and diabetes. Doctors have also decided that her fibromyalgia and migraines could be caused by the damage that she did to her body during that phase.

The doctors finally convinced her to eat poultry.

Meanwhile, in My Life

I have always had vegetarian friends. If I invited them over for dinner, I would prepare multiple vegetarian side-dishes for me in quantities that they can eat as a meal, in addition to a meat entree for myself and any other non-vegetarians. However, when I attended dinner parties at their houses, I had to bring my own meat dish because they do not buy or cook meat. While I can get by on a high-protein vegetarian meal for 1 meal per day, I can't do that every day. For optimum health, I should eat meat at least twice per day. If I don't get at least one meal with meat per day, I get symptoms by the next day. After several days of not enough meat, I can't even think.

However, as I have mentioned in the past, I also have a huge number of food allergies, which increase in number over time. I am now running at about 70, although I haven't actually compiled a list because that's too depressing. Instead, I stick to certain styles of food and manage allergens for that style of food. This occasionally backfires, like when someone put cumin in my cheesesteak, but hey, since that happened, I stopped being able to eat cheese anyway. Meat now serves a second major purpose in my diet: a nutrient baseline.

An Apple a Day

Dear Vegetarians and Vegans

Now if I attend a dinner party, I have to bring my own full meal.

People love to tell me that I'm eating "wrong." I'm eating "too much" meat. I'm not eating a wide enough variety of vegetables. I need to eat more fruit. Haven't I seen a food pyramid? (Not that the food pyramid can be trusted— too much reliance on meat.)

Yes, I know that my diet is kind of strange. It's strange because I'm allergic to so many things. I eat mostly meat and rice. I can also have goat cheese, but I feel like every time I start concentrating on a food because it's safe, it stops being safe. I have to check the ingredients on things that I buy at the store every time I buy them, because sometimes the recipe will change from "white vinegar" to "apple cider vinegar," from "cane sugar" to "beet sugar," from "taro flour" to "potato flour." Any of those could send me to the ER.

I can't eat carrots to give me beta carotene. I can't eat oranges to give me potassium. I can't eat anything high in vitamin C. I can eat beef to give me low levels of what I need.

Meat fills holes in an unbalanced diet.

Reality Checks

"It's Not Classist Because My Food Bills Went Down"

If you say that your grocery bills went down when you went vegetarian, that's because you were buying the expensive meat. People who are truly poor aren't eating steak and lean ground beef; they're eating fatback with a streak of lean (uncured, high-fat bacon) and fatty ground beef because they're cheap. They're not eating chicken-apple sausage; they're eating hot dogs. That is, of course, assuming that they aren't rural poor people who keep chickens to lay eggs during times of plenty and to eat in case of emergency. We already know how the poor eat. That as a not-dirt-poor person your grocery bill went down when you started eating lentils instead of filet mignon is completely irrelevant.

About Those Lentils

Lentils do not make a balanced diet. In order to eat a healthy vegetarian diet, you have to eat a wide variety of foods, since you aren't getting the nutritional baseline that meat gives. That's time, effort, and knowledge; poor people do not necessarily have time, energy, or the required education. Eating a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet is possible— if you are middle-class, educated, healthy, live in a city or drive a car, and work 9-6 5 days/week.

If Your Diet Is Hurting You, You Don't Necessarily Know It

The problems that can be caused by a poor diet happen over time, so you don't know that the damage is done until after it's too late. You don't necessarily know that a problem that you have could be caused by diet. It's not concern trolling to say that; it would be concern trolling if I were saying that to a specific person as a way to try to get them to change to being omnivorous— without finding out if their diet is actually balanced.

And If It Were, I Only Have So Much Sympathy

Because you made a choice to eat the diet that you eat. You may feel compelled to eat it and I support your right to make that choice. But it is still a choice that I do not have. So when you tell me that people "concern troll" you about what you eat, well, they do that to me too! Only they do it by telling me that I'm a terrible person, that my doctors are wrong, that my dieticians are wrong, and that I'm a liar if I tell them the medical reasons that I can't make that choice.

Do you know what I would give to have that choice? Some days, my food options are so limited and boring and depressing that I can't bring myself to eat anything. The only suicidal thoughts that I have are over food. Some days, it occurs to me that AIDS would kill my immune system and maybe give me a few good years before I die, years where I choose what I eat.

Does your diet ever make you wish you had a terminal illness that has no cure? No?

Oh, Did You Have to Order the Cobb Salad with No Toppings?

Congratulations. I had to order it with no preserved meats, no dairy, and no iceberg lettuce. I just got a chopped boiled egg for dinner or if I'm lucky, some Romaine— not because I chose to be vegetarian, because I'm allergic. You also got more dressing options.

Your Friends Are Assholes, But

If you go out to eat with friends and it's not someone's birthday, you should be picking a place where you can all eat. Birthday girl gets to pick, period. That said, I can't enter most vegan restaurants because vegan food tends to make heavy use of cumin, which I'm so allergic to that the aerosolized version will close my throat. That wonderful Indian food smell? That'll kill me. The desserts are made with apples and coconut and everything has carrots or mango.

When I go out with friends, I veto places that I can't go to and I will say yes to any place that I can enter that has at least one dish that I can eat. Like the place where I ate last night that had 2 things that I could eat if I made a substitution on the side dish. 7 pages of menu, 2 dishes. No problem. Is that what I feel like eating? Doesn't matter.

I have veto power; beyond that, I suck it up. If your friends are always picking the place that only has a Cobb salad with nothing on it and there are other places that accommodate everyone, then your friends are jerks and you need to have a chat with them. But you can eat something.

Sister Did What?

A few years ago, my sister stated on Facebook that having a chronic illness has helped her be more empathetic towards the other sick people in her life. She now has a daughter who has food issues like mine. This year at Christmas, when we were planning the big meal, I said that I couldn't do red mashed potatoes this year because even if I'm not allergic to red potatoes, mashed potatoes have dairy and vegan mashed red potatoes would probably have a terrible texture.

This irritated my sister, who went full indignant sarcasm mode: "Jesus! What are you going to be allergic to next year?" Yeah, sorry that you find accommodating my food allergies irritating after 20 years of insisting that we make a separate vegan or vegetarian meal in advance so your food won't be in the oven with the turkey. Just so you know, next year, I'll be allergic to corn and maybe some other things too. Thanks for alerting me that it's my fault. I'll get right on stopping that.

Then There's Fitspiration/Fat-Shaming

Dear Vegetarians and Vegans

I went to have lunch with Cute Boy Person about 8 months back, to meet his two friends who own and run a gym. I ordered a sandwich at the bar after his friends went outside to the table. I had a choice of sides: fries, potato chips, Doritos, or a spinach salad. I chose the one that I'm not allergic to. Did I want ranch? honey mustard? oh they have a great raspberry vinaigrette! I asked if they had a balsamic vinaigrette because those always use white vinegar. Yes, they have oil and vinegar. And it's plain white vinegar, right? Yes. I was least likely to be allergic to that one.

When my plate was delivered, one of them looked over and said "Oh, good for you, having a salad!" Because clearly as a fat person, I'm eating the salad to try to eat healthy and lose weight, for which I should be congratulated. Yes, congratulations to me for having picked the one option that would neither close my throat nor give me bone pain for 2 days. Thanks for the fat-shaming reminder that I'm sick; it's an excellent side-dish.

Did I Mention That it Affects My Significant Other?

That night CBP ate curry for dinner. I tried to stop him but I didn't want to announce to the table that if he has the curry, I can't make out with him later and I may not be able to sleep in the same bed because he sweats in his sleep and sometimes, cumin comes out in sweat. The last time I kissed him, he'd had pesto pasta for dinner and I had to stop kissing him because it made my lips swell.

Or the Fat-Shaming?

I'm sorry, does my shopping basket have a box of cookies in it? Wow. That's terrible. I'm allergic to 90% of what you're buying and you're giving me side-eye because I bought something to break the monotony of the foods that I get to eat? /shoo

And in the End

Dear Vegetarians and Vegans

Any meal that I eat could kill me. I have to test my meals as I eat. I have to carry 3 antihistamines, 2 auto-injectors, cortisone cream, and 2 inhalers in my purse. I'm not supposed to go to the bathroom without my purse, even if I'm in my own home, I leave every door open, and my purse is 15 yards away.

Remember when I said "I feel like every time I start concentrating on a food because it's safe, it stops being safe?" In fact, that is literally how my allergies are progressing. It doesn't seem that way; it actually is that way. Now that I have dairy allergy again, I will likely become allergic to beef. I'll be down to pork, poultry, fish, and shellfish. Did you notice that the last two are in the big 8 allergens? I'll lose those. I suspect that I may be in the process of losing soy. I'm down 4 tree nuts. I still have peanuts. Oh right, those last 2 are in the big 8. Of course then there's egg, which is cross-reactive with chicken— also in the big 8 and going down. I'll definitely lose tree nuts and once have to eat peanuts all the time, I'll lose those too.

Eventually, I won't be able to eat food; I'll have to eat special formula, potentially by feeding tube. You know what? I'm scared. I'm really scared. And here you are, complaining about restaurants not having enough salad options, talking about "someone lectured me on how difficult it is to eat a healthy vegetarian diet" like it's "just as bad" as people who are lecturing me on why I'm a terrible person and should be ashamed because I eat the limited set of food that I can still eat, strangers who give me side-eye and tsk at me for having meat in my grocery cart.

Because you know how that shaming and tsking sounds to me? Do you know what it sounds like to me when people say that meat is "unethical" and "murder?" It sounds like "why don't you just kill yourself?"

So, I'm sorry that you think that you're treated badly because you're a vegetarian. You're pissed off about occasionally having to eat a plain salad when out with friends and it reminds me that my food issues often make me want to die. Totally, totally the same thing.