Halfway through the month and I have been vegan (to the best of my knowledge) the entire time! I have also read yet another book that has changed my life, but more on that later. Vegan month has been thoroughly enjoyable thus far. I am blessed to live in one of the most accommodating places for folks with specific dietary needs. New York has a plethora of vegan, or vegan friendly restaurants that I now have a reason to explore! I am also fortunate enough to have supportive friends who have joined me at, or even brought me to some of these places. I was worried that my ability to be social would diminish with such a drastic lifestyle shift, but it has been surprisingly easy. For any other New Yorkers interested in checking out vegan cuisine, here is a run down of some of the restaurants I’ve visited so far:
Go Zen - A delicious entirely vegan restaurant in the West Village! We tried the spring rolls, falafel with yucca fries and sweet and sour soy protein, and it was all delicious. Added bonus: this place is around the corner from where I work!
Brooklyn Mac - A mac and cheese place in Bushwick (?) where any of their dishes can be made vegan or gluten free on request! This one had tomato, spinach and mushrooms. Vegan cheese is…interesting. I would never choose it over regular cheese on the basis of taste, but it satisfied a craving for melty cheese, even it it was “cheese.”
Cocoron - A soba noodle eatery in the Lower East Side. This was probably my favorite place so far! I didn’t realize going in that they had an entire two pages dedicated to vegan soups made with a seaweed based broth instead of bonito broth! I expected that I would have extremely limited options going into this dinner, so discovering this part of the menu was an exciting twist in the night. Plus, the soup was amazing.
Norma’s - Norma’s is my favorite little coffee shop in my neighborhood. Not only do they have a vegan sandwich with hummus and vegetables, they have a bunch of vegan pastries! Unlike vegan “cheese,” these pastries are actually delicious, and I would eat them even if I wasn’t doing a vegan challenge.
Going out to eat exemplifies the two aspects of being vegan that have surprised me so far: 1. Asking for accommodations and 2. Nutrition. In the beginning of the month I made almost all of the food that I ate. Once I started exploring and eating out, I felt like I had to justify asking if things were vegan. I have had trouble asking “do you happen to know if the bread you use is vegan?” or “are these vegetables cooked with butter or any other animal products?” I resist the urge to give people the full story: “I’m vegan for a month as a personal challenge, I just want to make sure whatever I’m ordering doesn’t have meat, egg, dairy, fish sauce, etc. I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience!” Why does requesting nutritional information about your food seem like an inconvenience? I don’t want to be difficult, but I was immediately untrusting. I am committed to doing this for a month, and I didn’t trust that the food I was ordering was vegan, even if it was labeled as such. I can’t imagine how people who have personal, political or health reasons for eating a vegan diet must feel. While I have enjoyed learning about my food privately, I have not enjoyed being a nit-picky restaurant patron as a result of my dietary restrictions.
While I love the vegan restaurants I’ve visited, I do wonder about nutrition. While the ones I have tried are delicious, I am uncomfortable with faux meat and dairy products because I have no idea how they are made. I can only imagine that they are heavily processed and not very healthy. I feel like a lot of people have an image of the vegan diet as nothing but vegetables, seeds and nuts, but there are plenty of ways to eat poorly as a vegan. I hope that for the remainder of the month I can spend less time searching for vegan brands, and more time looking into the political and nutritional aspects of veganism.
While my brainspace has been largely taken up by maintaining a vegan lifestyle this month, it has been equally occupied by wrestling with my most recent read: Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (download a free .pdf of the entire novel here). Stone Butch Blues is the newest book for Queer Book Club, and it was extremely thought provoking, raw and emotionally difficult to read. I loved this book for many reasons, and if you are in book club and don’t want to hear my thoughts before our meeting, stop reading after this paragraph. If you care to skip this section, go ahead to the paragraph that begins with an emboldened sentence.
Stone Butch Blues takes place in the 60s and 70s in New York (first Buffalo, then New York City). It is fiction, but I imagine that there is a lot of truth to the ways homophobia is taken out on the gay characters in the novel. It is so easy to forget how far the gay rights movement has come in the past fifty years; but this novel offers a glimpse into the life of a queer, gender bending person in our country only a few decades ago. The types of abuse the characters in Stone Butch Blues experience seems to come from all directions, and it is unrelenting. While I am overjoyed to think about how far we have come here in the United States, I am disheartened thinking about the LGBTQ+ people who live in situations (families, regions, countries, religions, etc.) that are still oppressive. I am inspired to learn more about LGBTQ+ history here in our country, and in the world, and find/take my place in the fight for equal rights.
Stone Butch Blues discusses gender in ways that I strongly identify with. The main character Jess deals with a lot of issues as someone who identifies between genders. I was forced to confront the fear, confusion, disgust, discomfort, isolation, body image issues and lack of understanding that accompanies identifying separately from your biological gender in new ways. In order to survive, Jess has breast reduction surgery and begins taking testosterone so that she could start passing as a man. There was no space in her society for people of varying gender identities; it was literally unsafe for them to exist as they were. I can’t believe my fortune being born into my family, this country, and this time. I know we have a long way to go to achieve true equality, but I had never confronted the idea that if I was born in a different time or a different place I might have been relentlessly persecuted for my otherness. Jess’ story is both inspiring and heartbreaking. She did not let herself be put into a gender or sexuality box, but she paid a high price for that freedom. I don’t know that I would have been that brave.
The misunderstandings about gender and sexuality in the novel did not come exclusively from people outside of the gay community. There was plenty of chastising within the community itself. At the beginning of Jess’ exploration of gay culture as a teenager, it becomes clear that the community is divided into butches and fems, who conformed in many ways to traditional gender roles. While I don’t have an issue with people identifying as butch or fem, I don’t believe the categorizations are necessary. It forces people to conform to expectations within the community that is supposed to represent and welcome them for their otherness. If someone identifies as butch or fem without feeling pressured to do so, more power to them, but don’t force others to identify themselves in the same way. This issues of the butch fem divide are discussed later in the book with confrontations about two butches dating, or lesbian identifying people being attracted to male bodies dressed in high fem attire, or a stigmatization of butches taking testosterone and what it means for their gender, identity and the identity of the people they date. As raw and difficult as the book was to read, it brought a lot of issues to light, and lent a new context to consider them in.
I am excited to continue exploring gender in literature, and in my life. One of the components of my gender identity that has been on my mind recently is my pronouns. For grammatical reasons, I don’t particularly like the “they” “them” “their” pronouns that some genderqueer people like to use. I also don’t yet feel extremely comfortable asking people to use different pronouns when they refer to me. I have decided, however, that the most neutral way to address me is E or e. It doubles as a name and a pronoun. Everyone will just sound a little cockney when it is used it as a pronoun…so I guess it triples as something that will make me giggle until I’m used to it. I am not going to strongly enforce this change, I’m not quite ready for that yet, but this is my first baby step towards being E.
I have been reading a lot, so as a way of chronicling the books (and in case anyone has similar interests and needs recommendations) I will occasionally post the titles and cover art of books I have recently read and been influenced by, as I did in my post "Vulnerability, Mindfulness and Growing Out Of Dresses". Here are my newest reads:
May is coming up! As always, I am open to suggestions or ideas for month-long challenges.
Thank you, I love you.
“…I panicked because I couldn’t remember what I’d wanted to say. I kept coming back to two simple things I’d never said out loud to her: Thank you and I love you.” - Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues