born southern, going vegan

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own identity as a Southerner and its relationship with the way I live my life now, as a transplant to a Rust Belt City. Discovering Mississippi Vegan’s blog has been a catalyst for that (and I’m hoping to get my hands on his cookbook ASAP).

Food in the South is its own language, and food in Louisiana is the most vibrant dialect of that language.

I grew up in the south-central region of the state, in a small town known for its duck hunting. I remember being 6 or 7 years old, sitting on an ice chest on our back porch in December, wearing my dad’s oversized denim jacket as I plucked the feathers from the ducks and geese that he’d shot in our field early that morning. He would make gumbo from the birds, but I never liked it much. I preferred my mom’s chicken-and-sausage gumbo and my Mawmaw’s shrimp-and-okra gumbo, with sausage made in a nearby town and fresh Gulf shrimp that was sold door-to-door.

We ate things like creamy étouffée or fettuccine with crawfish, hot fried catfish, beef roast with rice swimming in gravy. When I was in high school, my dad shot a buck, and that meat fed us for over a year. A life without eating animal products was unfathomable.

Fast forward to last week, when I visited my family in Louisiana for a few days. I consumed no meat, almost no dairy products, and actually told my full-blooded Cajun father that I was going vegan for the environment. His reaction was better than I expected — he didn’t call me a crazy hippie, although I’m sure he was thinking it. He mostly just seemed confused. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It was strange to drive around Baton Rouge without stopping at Raising Cane’s for a three-finger combo with extra toast, and to skip my usual visit to The Chimes, where I always order the blackened alligator appetizer. But I didn’t miss those things as much as I thought I would. More than anything, I was struck by how different my lifestyle has become since I left the South, with its meat-heavy cuisine and generally poor public transportation systems.

Because I’m a transitioning environmental vegan, not a strict ethical vegan, I don’t feel quite as at odds with my upbringing as some Southerners-gone-plant-based might. I’ve started to view eating meat as akin to eating my own pets, but I don’t have a problem with people hunting animals to feed themselves, particularly in rural areas. And if I fulfill my dream of raising chickens, I’ll eat the eggs they produce, because they won’t have been laid by mistreated hens and shipped to my grocery store. (P.S. I know environmental veganism can be a controversial topic within the vegan community, but I’m not super interested in a debate about it. 😉 I’m more of a I’ll-do-mine, you-do-yours type person when it comes to this.)

Food is and always has been the way I show affection, to myself and to others. I used to love nothing more than bringing a decadent macaroni and cheese to a potluck or browning chicken thighs for gumbo. But now I take more pride in the way I prepare healthy, flavorful, plant-based meals at home, knowing that my daily choices benefit the Earth in some small way, just like my choice to live without a car. I don’t cook exclusively vegan meals for other people, but I do talk as much as I can about how if someone has the privilege and the means to do so, going vegan is easier than it’s ever been, and it’s one of the best things we can do for the planet.

Now I’ve just got to make a vegan gumbo good enough for my parents to eat.

it’s hard even when you’re lucky

Happy Monday! Last week kinda sucked.

It was mostly because of the world being shit and my anxiety, and also my anxiety being worse because of the world being shit. But the leaves were really pretty and I saw reminders all over the city that love and good people still exist, even if the bad ones are screeching at us from every angle right now. Also, goddamn I love fall. All weather should be fall weather.

I cried in therapy for the first time in at least a couple of months, I think. It happened as I told my therapist how I spent six hours Tuesday paralyzed on my couch worrying about the midterm elections but also worrying about every other thing in my life, which tends to be how anxiety happens for me. It just hadn’t been that severe in a while, which scared me big time. All of this was also mixed in with a good old fashioned depressive spell I’d been in for a couple weeks. Wooooo! Love when my mental illnesses get together and throw a party.

My therapist is awesome because she’s a social worker, so she gives me worksheets and anxiety management strategies but we also talk about politics and social justice and the steps I’m taking to eventually get my master’s degree in social work (which is at least, like, 5 years in the future). This time we mostly talked coping strategies though cause, as I said, I was not great last week.

She told me to write down the things we talked about me doing this week to keep the bad brain juju at bay. They are:

  • make a list of fun activities to do in the mornings before work, and schedule them the night before (I already try to do this but I slack off when I’m depressed)
  • wake up with Joe at 7 a.m. (lol kill me) so I can enjoy the morning and nap before work if needed (this was his suggestion and it’s a really good one! He’s the sweetest and I love him a lot. Mornings are my favorite but never get to experience them fully because I work nights and it bums me out.)
  • take drop-in yoga classes (only if I can drag a friend along cause group classes scare me and I can never relax :/)
  • keep journaling (doing that now. yay!)
  • start up the daily gratitude practice again (a thing I really enjoyed that I stopped for no good reason)

Sometimes I get really frustrated that I have to do things like this to make my brain hate itself a little less. I hate that I have to do so much every day just to feel a little bit normal, and that sometimes it doesn’t even work. What the fuck?!

I’m super duper thankful to have good health insurance and a good therapist and people who love and support me, but goddamn it gets tiring sometimes. And then I feel guilty for being frustrated because I know I have it easier than so many people who have seriously physically debilitating chronic illnesses.

But then I stop and remind myself that my chronic illnesses are debilitating physically, because Jesus, I just sat on my couch rocking back and forth for six hours with my heart racing the entire time because I was so anxious. But it’s not the same, right? It doesn’t feel like it should be the same thing. I dunno. That’s still something I struggle with a lot — how to think about my mental health in the overall context of chronic illness and disability.

I know chronic mental illness is a serious thing, so I don’t want to discredit my own problems, and I’d never do that to anyone else. But also, I can walk and talk and see and hear and exercise and eat most things without getting sick. I can get up most days and do what I need to do, even if my brain is yelling at me the whole time. I’m one of the lucky ones. I think I just get sad knowing that even when you’re lucky, it’s still so hard.

The whole point of me starting this blog in the first place was to document the things that fuel me and keep me mostly sane, so I’m aware that it’s not exactly productive to think this way. But life would be way too boring if we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes, I guess.

Anyway, I’m gonna finish The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina before I call it a night. Here’s a picture of my own familiar from back before the leaves changed. She was almost certainly angry that I wasn’t inside feeding her at that very instant.

This is Chloe. She’s cute and mean and I love her.

P.S. Joe and I went to the Lord of the Rings festival at a local indie movie theater on Friday and watched all four hours of the extended edition of Fellowship of the Ring. It reminded me how much I love and identify with Hobbits and also of this eerily apropos-for-our-society bit of dialogue:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”