T.O.F.U. #11 | All the Small Things by Sarah Louise

Cover for All the Small Things

Since I spent the better part of last week debating fat shaming with people on Facebook, I thought it might be appropriate to post Sarah Louise’s article from the upcoming issue to help spread more light on why veganism (and the world in general) needs to work on its problematic promotion of thinness, diets, and much more surrounding the issue of weight.

All the Small Things

Observations from a Cupcake Slinger

Words by Sarah Louise | Illustrations by Matt Gauck

I remember the first time it happened to me. I was sixteen, working in my family’s small town diner over the summer. Being the lone vegan in the kitchen, I held myself accountable for mostly desserts and home fries, the two most essential food groups, clearly. As I rolled out a dozen pie crusts, completely engrossed in whatever pop punk song blared into my headphones at the time, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, Margaret, the breakfast cook. Her expression was grave, “Sarah, my son is refusing to eat meat. I’m so worried he’ll turn into a twig. What do you eat that you still stay so large on your vegan diet?”

I paused a moment, stunned at her blunt commentary on my body type. An ethical vegan most influenced by some cool bands and a few documentaries, it never really occurred to me that someone would consider veganism a diet. It was a lifestyle choice to me, really. Wait, are vegans notoriously thin? Is that a thing? Should I place concern on my size? Despite being one of the only vegans I knew, I suddenly felt like a fat, radical exception to a stereotype.

I can’t remember how I answered Margaret’s question that day, truth be told. What I do recall, is the awkward silence that followed as my face burned, flustered, the deep fryer sizzling distantly. I recall the shame I carried as I rode home on my bike that afternoon, suddenly hyper aware of my body, its size. Am I a blatant contradiction to vegans everywhere?

I wish this little blip in time only lingered in my memory because it’s the only instance I’ve felt shamed for my body and diet while living a vegan lifestyle. However, the more the vegan movement gains popularity in my neck of the woods, the more I find myself in this situation. Of course, not everyone gives up animal products for the same cause. For this reason, veganism often finds itself marketed as more of a “diet” than a lifestyle. My heart does grow with the notion of less animals consumed overall, despite peoples’ choice in doing so. However, judging one another for these choices can also divide veganism as a movement, if we’re not careful.

Before quitting the 9-5 grind to sling vegan cupcakes, an employer got pretty stoked to hear about my lifestyle too; she was giving plant-eating life a go as well. She was so stoked, in fact, that she had to share her copy of the most “life-changing” book she had ever read, Skinny Bitch. I had an idea of what the contents would be, but accepted the book out of polite obligation, and excitement to bond over our shared veganism. I opened it up to the introduction, “Are you sick and tired of being fat? Good. If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to get skinny.” (Barnouin, Freedman, page 10). This was literally the very first line of the book. Are you fat? Do you hate yourself? Good. The first chapter alone hurdles so many triggering, food-shaming one liners at the reader, I had to put it down. I also had to bring “hey you’re fabulous” cookies to work the next day, when I returned it to its lender. It was either that, or spiteful pizza grease stains.

I don’t fault that person for lending me Skinny Bitch, at all. She was trying to find common ground, and this unfortunate title was the first thing she associated with veganism. Now, I work for myself, as a vegan baker. None of my coworkers want to lend me diet books, partially due to the fact that I work all alone, so that might get weird. I’ve collected all sorts of vegan friends and acquaintances in the city who love cupcakes and are not sorry about it. I love the idea of exerting activism through treats. Everyday, I have the opportunity to try and prove that a vegan lifestyle does not require compromising taste, comfort, or the strong nostalgic ties we associate with our favourite food. All of that can be enjoyed vegan. I also love having the ability to interact with other businesses locally and globally, who are also on a mission to provide vegans (and also non-vegans) with cruelty-free options. I like referring to this commonality that groups this little community together as a “vegan umbrella.” Sometimes though, I still find myself standing next to someone underneath that umbrella who perceives veganism differently.

Fast forwarding a decade from the aforementioned Margaret Incident of 2005. I’m hanging out at a farmer’s market, slingin’ some handmade pizza rolls and top notch cupcakes, feeling just aces. A fellow vegan vendor lingers, reads my ingredients, and comments that I could be thinner if I stopped baking with oil and wheat products, “After all, you’re already vegan. Otherwise, what’s the point?” There are customers around me, uncomfortably clenching boxes of treats. Only weeks before, we had bonded over being vegan in a market full of free range eggs and freezers full of assorted animal parts. However, this draws a clear line between our values. My face burns, not unlike the Margaret Incident of 2005. This time though, I’m not frozen, “The point is, I care about animals and not really carbs, if you could spare us all the food-shaming.” While obviously not impressed with her triggering, body-shaming language, I’m more upset that as two vegan folks who previously stuck together, this divided us.

My heart breaks every time I hear someone “joke” about how many kilometres (that’s MILES, for you folks in the States) they’d have to run to enjoy a cupcake, because I think they deserve both. Vegan friendly businesses, publications, bloggers, continue to pop up, associating words with the vegan diet vernacular such as “cleanse,” “no regrets,” “detox,” and “guilt free,” implying to us that some food should be regretted. This language encourages us to scrutinize our habits, and not in a way that is comfortable, healthy, or manageable for everyone. What if this language were shifted to explore what our food can be, as opposed to what it shouldn’t be? Could negative reinforcement be replaced with language that makes their offerings shine to a certain target market, without shaming the rest of us? What does that look like? Should I stop asking rhetorical questions? Probably. Did I just spill broccoli soup on my lap whilst typing because I got distracted trying to find more bread? Yes, yes I did.

I don’t know if I believe that we can just tune out all of this noise on demand. I have been absorbing this dialogue from both inside and outside my vegan bubble since the Margaret Incident of 2005, and it’s very likely to continue. It shapes my self perception in strange and interesting ways. Most days, I wake up stoked that my job is to make people awesome vegan food, promoting a kinder lifestyle. Other days though, the weight of this discussion is a bit too much, and I’m convinced I need to stop what I’m doing and find out what spirulina is. There’s nothing wrong with either adaptation of veganism, but those latter thoughts are distracting, and I know they make me a weaker activist, some days. It’s doubtful that there will ever be a moment where we all pile in under this strangely large vegan umbrella for the same reason, but collectively, our actions are reducing animal consumption as a whole, and that is so important. Let’s just try to exercise compassion, acknowledging that we are all trying to be our best selves, and the best advocates for the shit we care about. Let’s maybe try not to leave anyone out from under this metaphorical umbrella, because there’s room for everyone. Also, if anyone knows where to find a literal umbrella that big, please hit me up. It’s been a real rainy spring.

Sarah Louise is a vegan bake-tivist & blogger, hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She can most often be found in her kitchen creating cakes & naming them after cringe-worthy puns whilst listening to pop punk, frantically meeting some sort of writing deadline (*cough*), or watching The X-Files! You can find her lurking about the Internet at:
w: bluerosevegan.ca | t: @bluerosevegan

Matt Gauck is a freelance illustrator and screen printer living in Portland, Oregon, USA. He spends most of his time drawing, riding his bike, and watching awful horror movies. He is also good at handstands.
w: mattgauck.com | ig: @veganpatches

Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in reading this issue, it’s now available in the online store to download for whatever price you want to pay, including free.

Related Posts

Post Response