In an era of resource depletion, climate change and political instability, now more than ever is the time for us to rethink our relationship with animals.

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Bobby Flay is on the NFL Live TV show on ESPN right now. He is standing with the hosts in front of a grill that is covered end-to-end with meat. Oh wait, he just threw a slice of cheese on one of the patties. I can’t hear what he’s saying, but the visual is enough.

Meat rules. Meat is the man. But why? I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the food we eat and how it relates to inclusion. Flay could include some roasted veggies on the grill in an attempt to include the growing plant-based population, but that wouldn’t be manly enough, right? They just threw a brioche bun on the grill and are preparing a few massive burgers. And now Bobby Flay is stuffing his face.

Grilling meat is so easy. It doesn’t take any thought, and in our society where the foundation of democracy is majority rules, there really is no incentive to be inclusive. Instead, this TV segment is an all too common example of exclusion.

I never cared about this sort of thing when I was a meat eater, because I was in the majority and always included. Now I find myself constantly worrying about whether or not the places I visit will have vegan options. This is even more problematic when making plans with friends. The last thing I want to do is hold them up or inconvenience them with my dietary “restrictions.” I have never really given much thought to what the people around me do or do not eat, but now it feels like everyone is concerned with what I am eating.

  • “Sorry, you can’t eat anything here.”
  • “This place has nothing for you.”
  • “You can’t eat that.”
  • “Hurry up and grab those veggies because they are the only vegan options here.”

If I had a dollar for every time someone commented on the food I eat since going vegan, I’d be rich.

As a meat eater I was included and people let me be. Now I feel like what I eat is under a microscope. If I accidentally eat something that may or may not have dairy or egg in it, people will comment. (The same thing happens with my zero waste lifestyle) After nearly three-quarters of a year into my vegan journey, I feel alienated and excluded far more than included.

Here are two great examples to illustrate both sides of the coin.

On Friday I attended a professional luncheon that was meant to be all-inclusive. I reached out in advance to see if there were be vegan options and was told that there would be vegetarian options. I, like I often do, had to explain the differences between vegan- and vegetarian-friendly meals. My contact said he would look into it and later got back to me saying there would be something vegan to eat. He was right. There was a plain mixed greens salad with olive oil dressing. While more than 100 people enjoyed their lunches, I ate the one vegan option: a bland salad. I left feeling hungry and left out, which are not two components of an inclusive meal.

On Saturday I attended a potluck at a friend’s house. She and her husband are both vegan and asked their guests to bring vegan or vegetarian dishes, but preferably vegan. Although most of the guests were not vegan or vegetarian, they respected the host’s wishes. I don’t think one person brought a meat-based item. As the day progressed and guests came and went, more plant-based food arrived. From what I could observe, all of the food was eaten. I was impressed with the number of guests whom prepared vegan dishes for the first time and/or tried vegan dishes for the first time. I left that party feeling sated and included, a 360 degree rotation from the previous day.

I never thought I would say something like this, but veganism is the only true way to inclusion. Everyone eats (or at least should eat) veggies and grains. I am yet to hear of a religion that recommends a meat-based diet. In fact, best I can tell the majority of religions respect animal life.

In a political climate filled with rhetoric that is meant to exclude and divide, we must fight back with peace, generosity and inclusion. I have had the best, deepest and most fulfilling conversations over homemade vegan meals. Plant-based meals (with the exception of heavily processed foods) are better for you and better for the planet. (I’ll have to discuss how eating meat impacts the environment another time, but please email me if you have questions.) I didn’t feel this way when I was eating meat, but that could have been the beef sweats.