Food For Thought – How A Trip ‘Home’ Made Me See How Far I’ve Come.

by L Matthews on April 19, 2013

be curious not judgemental walt whitmanI recently went on a trip back to my mother country, England, with grand plans to forage for vegan Easter eggs and old favourites from the first few years of my vegan life (porkless pork pies! Sosmix rolls! Fry’s ‘beef’ style strips!). While my trip had some amazing highlights, including indulging myself at a delightful vegan restaurant in Brighton (Terre à Terre), I found myself being really disappointed in the vegan fare on offer in the UK. Then I realised that, actually, I didn’t eat that stuff here in Vancouver so why would I be eating it while visiting?! Why I don’t tend to eat vegan convenience foods is not just simply a matter of health and taste, however. This is a tale of food snobbery, classism, fear and how changing your thinking on tarts can, well, change your thinking on ‘tarts’.

Turning Vegan

Turning vegan nine years ago during the final year of my first degree, and subsequently working in health retail meant that I had a lot of processed vegan foods and meat and dairy ‘substitutes’ to fall back on as I switched to a plant-based diet. I won’t lie, I ate my fair share of fake meat slices and vegan sosages, burgers and pies. I still had a pretty healthy diet, even with these few processed goodies lingering on the shelves of my refrigerator, but I knew I wanted to do better, to be more mindful of my food choices, to make the way I ate a more central part of my life, my work and my social interaction.

Food Classism

The problem I had was that I was scared of food. I couldn’t even contemplate cooking for someone who knew anything about food, certainly not any of those middle class friends I’d made at university. Anyone who pronounced French wines properly was not going to be invited over for dinner because my anxiety would just skyrocket at the idea that I might not season something correctly or mispronounce orrrrderrve.

Overcoming Food Fears

Food was not an important thing for my family while I grew up and so I had no real sense of how to cook, how things should taste or the nutritional merits of anything I consumed. Doing my second degree, this time in nutrition, really consolidated the learning I’d been doing outside of school and, gradually, I’ve switched to an eating pattern that is significantly healthier and which makes me much happier than I was in the my early to mid twenties.

the tasty vegan L Matthews

If I smile and be quiet I can probably be queer and vegan when I'm older, right?

Why My Fear of Food Was a Fear of Life and Self

Realising why food, as a concept, scared me was pretty revolutionary in terms of how I thought about other aspects of my life. Perhaps this is why there seems to be a high correlation between veganism and unorthodox gender politics, sexuality, government and community. ‘Posh’ food, ‘fancy’ restaurants and anything that looked like it was a bit uppity, a bit yuppie-ish or highfalutin wasn’t for me as I was a working class girl raised to call a spade a spade and no messing. Having fancy politics or neo-liberal views on gender and sex-positivity fell under the same spell. I had to keep my head down, work hard and make sure no one noticed me or my fanciful thoughts about how society might work a little differently, how people might be a little happier in themselves and work towards a more positive atmosphere for all.

Living and Eating and Eating to Live

I’m still far from being a foodie and my palate is not as refined as I’d like it to be. I still get some serious anxiety when an unlabelled jar of herbs or spices is passed my way for identification, but I’m getting there and I like it. As for the other stuff, that’s working out pretty well too as I learn to be more open and honest about the choices I make and why I make those choices. By sticking to the status quo I avoided confrontation, avoided having to voice my opinion and stand behind it. This was borne from the idea that such intellectual pursuit was not for me, that life was for working hard and getting by and that enjoying it in any way was a privilege I should not expect to have.

Food and Privilege

Where does food come back into this? Well, vegan convenience foods were, essentially, a way for me to pretend that nothing had really changed in my thinking, that I was still that working class girl with no ideas above her station. Fake ham slices for lunch and a porkless pork pie for tea. The very idea of making a tofu ricotta, caramelised onion and sunblushed tomato tart was terrifying. If I did it wrong I failed at passing as a privileged foodie, if I did it at all then I turned my back on my roots. Of course, I realise that talking about the terror of tarts smacks of privilege itself but it is not a privilege I take for granted and I wish that all were in the position to have only these concerns.

Food for Thought

welcome home canada cake

If only this cake were vegan it'd be perfect!

Vegan convenience foods can, then, be a great way to transition to veganism from an omnivorous or even vegetarian or pescatarian diet and I get that not everybody wants to prioritise cooking and baking from scratch or has the time and financial resources to do so. For me, good food is a priority and I believe veganism is a great way to shake up your thinking on food and cooking and so much more, at least it was for me. Had I not turned vegan I might still have a huge amount of food anxiety, restaurant anxiety and general fear of living. As it is, by having made vegan friends in Vancouver as enthusiastic about foodstuffs and new restaurants as I am, I have had to face a lot of that fear, inverted snobbery and classism entrenched through years in the UK. Canada may have a widely ranging demographic but there is nothing like the classism of the UK here and that is just one of the things I love about my new home.

I never got round to tracking down that porkless pie but I did bring back some smoked tomatoes, a merlot onion marmalade and a bag of sosmix so that, when I want a taste of the old country, I can eat a homemade vegan sausage roll, have a nice cuppa and stare out at the mountains that gave my brain some room to breathe.

Green Web Hosting! This site hosted by DreamHost. Want carbon-neutral webhosting with great customer service? Try DreamHost and use code 'Vegans' for a third off!

Leave a Comment

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Previous post:

Next post: