These past few months threw me for a loop. I got a new job (my first real-deal job since college) and since I had been so focused on that, I neglected this blog. I have also spent a few months wrestling with veganism, minimalist, and zero-waste practices in my life, and in general feeling like a big ol' failure a lot of the time. It may seem like these lifestyles overlap, and they do for the most part, but there are some glaring issues when they combined that can make fulfilling those lifestyle choices perfectly very difficult. For example, when it comes to food, vegan options where I live are almost always packaged (like cheese, milk, tofu, etc.) and so while they are vegan, they are not zero-waste. Minimalism and zero-waste can even find conflict, when you find the perfect item you need but it happens to be made out of 100% plastic that is not recyclable or compostable at the end of it usable life. Or, the fact that I keep a set of dishes and silverware I have no use for other than to avoid using disposables for guests or when I host parties. They take up an entire shelf in my tiny kitchen, so which value do I compromise on - being zero-waste or being minimalist?
For a few months it was really bad and I was being very hard on myself about it, feeling almost like a fraud and a traitor to what I was spewing out here. I've since let go of some of those feelings, and while it doesn't feel great to do what feels like backtracking on my ideals, I feel strangely happier about it all. I think a big part was just figuring out the appropriate levels of zero-waste and veganism I should have, comfortably, in my life, in order to continue those lifestyle choices with gusto.
Too often zero-waste blogs only show the "pretty" side of things, where everyone adheres to all of the zero-waste "rules" perfectly and everything is just peachy. While this is certainly a good thing (and I am being just a touch dramatic) it kinda sucks seeing those blogs sometimes when you can't or don't follow all the "rules". I know I'm not the first person to talk about this (see Fort Negrita's post about a similar topic here), nor is this my first blog post about the subject. It's just that sometimes it does seem to be a rarity for people to talk candidly about their personal zero-waste failures. And what I mean by that is instead of choosing the zero-waste choice, you choose the wasteful option. Instead of saying no straw, you say nothing. That sort of thing.
In regards to all of that, I've been having a bit of a struggle as I said. My first struggles started with veganism. I have been vegan since February of 2016 and had done pretty well maintaining that lifestyle and diet for a long time. I did not feel restricted or deprived but at some moments, it was definitely an adjustment (especially for my meat-eating, fast food loving husband). All in all, I felt satisfied though. I'm not sure what happened from then to now; maybe it was hormones, maybe just laziness, maybe I was just tired of some inconveniences, but I switched back to a vegetarian diet for a while (and am currently, slightly, eating that way). It all started with cheese. I missed it so much, and it wasn't so much cheese itself I missed but cheese's convenience. Meat, eggs, and other dairy products I had next to no issue with, just CHEESE.
Once you go vegan, you realize cheese is in literally everything, just like eggs and other dairy are. Cheese almost ALWAYS in the vegetarian option at restaurants. There were usually plenty of vegetarian options wherever I went, but I always had to "veganize" them, making dinners out stressful at times. I always had to think about my orders and rethink them, to be sure I said everything I needed to say to make them vegan. And let's not even talk about the fact that my only stress-free vegan options at times are Chipotle, Panera, and Taco Bell (and even then, aside from Chipotle, there is no guarantee your order will be vegan - I'm looking at you, Taco Bell).
Then there was the added frustration of my cravings, trying to find solutions around them, only to feel disappointed. Maybe I'm a bit of an emotional eater, but I tend to get intense cravings for food and don't feel satisfied unless I eat what I am craving. Pizza? Not anymore, especially after the workers complained my vegan pizza was too difficult to make - I can only get vegan pizza if I make it myself, which I don't always want to do. Grilled cheese? Not unless I wanted to buy Daiya, which I didn't mostly due to the wasteful packaging (update - Daiya is amazing and helps me stay vegan; it is one of the few things I buy in packaging for that reason now). Lasagna, that wasn't just the vegetables I had been eating already for months now and didn't particularly enjoy but had to because they were growing outside and I wasn't trying to be wasteful? Nope. Nothing felt fun anymore. I also live in an area where vegan restaurants and ideals are very uncommon, and would go to countless events, parties, celebrations, and just see the food around me and think, "can't eat that....can't eat that. Nope, not that either. Brownies? No. No, no, no, no, no.....". It just got so frustrating!
I think now in regards to veganism/vegetarianism, I've reached a bit of a personal conclusion. First is the realization that I can be extreme and set extreme goals for myself, that aren't necessarily unattainable, and that I push myself to the limit sometimes trying to reach these extreme goals. I could be a strict vegan at times, and tried my best to stay with what I felt like what my ideal version of veganism was. I found that while I could do it, and live that lifestyle, was it easy? No, not always. Was it worth it? Kinda. Was I enjoying it? To be honest, less than I would like to admit. And that's what made me reevaluate everything.
Being a perfect vegan didn't matter to me if I hated it. I certainly didn't want to resent it, and I still believe in a lot of vegan values and ideals. But it has to work with my life. Even if that makes me a "fake" vegan or a cheater, I don't care. There has to be some push and pull.
So, my compromise is this. I live in an area where vegan restaurants are very rare, and clearly labeled vegan dishes just as rare. My compromise is that if I can easily eat vegan, I will, and I will do my best to patronize restaurants that feature these dishes. If I have to completely gut the dish, ask the waiter countless questions, and generally just make things harder than I feel they have to be to enjoy a vegan meal, I will opt for a simpler vegetarian option instead and do my best to eat less of the non-vegan items as possible.
I will never eat meat again, so staying vegetarian is not going be hard. I can avoid honey, eggs and milk fairly easily, so really my main non-vegan food is cheese.
But my point is, I'm not going to waste my time fiddling around trying to find vegan options everywhere I go. I support vegan foods, dishes, restaurants, and brands when possible (and when affordable) but if I can't get it vegan easily, I'm opting for vegetarian at least. So sue me.
Then comes the issue of not being very zero-waste lately...
- I had to make a compromise between zero-waste and veganism. I found it way easier to stay vegan if I bought some vegan products at Kroger like Daiya, almond-based coffee creamer, and tofu (I plan on making a separate blog post about this soon!). These are some of the only things I buy in packaging anymore, and what they do to save my sanity and time is worth every cent even if they are wrapped in plastic. I recycle as much as as can, if not all of it (knowing full well that "recycling is NOT the answer"...again, sue me). I feel so much happier with this compromise because I can stay fairly zero-waste and completely vegan. Otherwise, all of my other food items and staples can be easily sourced zero-waste.
- I bought new clothes (from Kohl's and Target). Granted, it wasn't very much, and it was all stuff I needed...but it was new. I felt really bad about this. But one thing no one talks about when buying clothes secondhand is HOW HARD it can be, or at least how limited. For example, let's say you are trying to buy a wool sweater, secondhand, on Etsy. I usually refine my searches by US only, then specify the color I want, and what type of sweater (cardigan, pull-over, whatever) and then see my results. What was once over thousands of results can easily turn into 20 or less, and then there is the issue of finding the right size, one that I actually like, and one reasonably priced. Usually, I end up with nothing but frustration because my hunt, never having really been started, is now over. Or worse, going to Goodwill (which, don't get me wrong, I love!) and searching through racks of clothing, seeing something you like and - Nope, not 100% cotton. Oh, this one's 100% silk, but hideous. This sweater is perfect...aside from it being three sizes too big for me. Often, as a result of this, I would leave tired and empty-handed, and frustrated. I know there are loads of online options now, but it just gets exhausting to me after just looking through Ebay and Etsy and finding nothing. Maybe I'm really strict or picky, but I much prefer going in somewhere, knowing what I need, and being able to get it, as simply as possible, especially now that I've had to replace a lot of worn out items in my closet. I can't wait months for the perfect shirt - mine is covered in holes! I've had to make a compromise in this regard because even though I am buying some new, I am buying with minimalist principles in mind - I am buying much less than I would have one, two, three years ago, and am really careful and picky about what I am choosing to buy in the first place. So while it is new, it is being used. And loved. And carefully thought about. I buy secondhand when convenient and possible, and only when I find the perfect item.
- I bought new furniture pieces...made of polyester. That I needed...but new.
- I am dreaming of replacing my couch...when there is nothing wrong with it. Replacing it with a new couch made from questionable materials and from questionable practices. (Update - I didn't throw out my old couch, but I did score a nice one for $20 secondhand! It's micro-suede and had a faint cigarette smell, which thankfully came out. It paid to wait, and now I have more seating for guests!)
- I have become less strict with throwing things out, and find myself throwing away the plastics I find in my home (that I share with my non zero-waste husband) because I can't find a use for them and am not going to hoard them until I do, like:
-Twist ties (I now donate them to my classroom's "Inventor Center" and keep the black ones for computer cords)
-Items I've been keeping for years and have no use for and can't donate (and just plain can't stand looking at anymore)
-Plastic taggies from clothing items (bought new or from Goodwill)
-And other weird odds and ends that find their way in
I figured I do so much already to prevent waste that this isn't a huge issue, and that I feel so much happier with that clutter gone. I still feel like a colossal failure every time I open the trash can lid though, but counter it with more resolve to remove those plastics from my life. It certainly prevents me from buying those things again, knowing how much trouble they put me through at disposal time.
All in all, it feels really good to talk about this so freely. I don't know if it's just me, but it feels almost like a taboo to talk about these things in this community, or at the very least, it's not something a lot of people do. Maybe I'm just not doing it right? Anything right? I don't know. But I know I can't be the only one. And I hope this helps at least one other person, who may or may not be going through the same situation, to feel less strict in this lifestyle. That it really can and should be customized to your life and your location, and that it is perfectly acceptable to be 20%, 75% or even 99% vegan or zero-waste. You will not find judgement from me.
I also will never regret introducing zero-waste, minimalist, and vegan ideas into my life. It has literally been life-changing! I highly recommend it and when I can be vegan, zero-waste, and minimalist, I am happier than ever! But I do believe we need to talk more about our struggles and not just present blanket solutions that will eventually need to be altered for each individual anyway. And also encourage the fact that these lifestyle choices are NOT all or nothing. If you are like me and have that mentality, be GENTLE with yourself. I know it sucks. I know you feel like a failure. But you are still doing something, even if it means one less piece of trash in your trash can or one more vegan option during your week. That is ENOUGH. ENOUGH is ENOUGH. You are still doing your part!
I hope to keep up with updating this blog more frequently, especially now that I have found a good work/life balance and feel that I can handle the extra time this blog will take. See you soon litterbugs!