Vegan prejudice

How do you know if someone’s vegan? Don’t worry, their daughter will write a blog post about it!

A new twist on an all-too-popular joke these days. I do amuse myself.

People say that being vegan – or even knowing someone who is – is an eye opener to some of the things that happen in the world. Very often, they mean the level of animal cruelty that so often comes with food production. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, a whole new way of cooking and eating.

For me, being a vegetarian with a vegan family definitely does all that. But there is one thing that makes me wary of trying it myself, and no, it’s not my love of cheese. I’m very fond of cheese, don’t get me wrong, but I used to feel the same about bacon and I honestly don’t miss that as much as I once thought I would.

My real reason is just as cowardly: the hatred and prejudice towards vegans that is spreading at least as quickly as the cause itself. The internet practically exploded when Greggs started making vegan sausage rolls. So did Piers Morgan when he tried a gelatin free Percy Pig. You see it in day-to-day life as well. People often don’t object to food that doesn’t contain animal products, or is bacon or cheese flavoured but has no traces of the real thing. Until you put the word “vegan” in front of it. Then they can’t get away fast enough.

Plus, any article on the subject will inevitably be followed with comments like “why not just eat an ACTUAL sausage roll?” Or “vegans should go stuff themselves with kale and leave our sweets alone”. Or “vegans are some of the preachiest hypocrites I have ever met, they should all just shut up and stop shoving their views in my face…”

So here’s what I have to say to those comments:

  1. Vegans – and vegetarians – rarely give up meat because they hate the taste. They simply do not want to eat something that an animal had to die for. Some love meat/dairy/egg substitutes. What’s wrong with that? Others see no need for them and can still have as wide a cooking repertoire as anyone.
  2. Having a veggie version of a popular chewy sweet in no way interferes with your right to keep eating the regular ones. Being a vegan doesn’t make you want variety and indulgence any less. Why does it bother so many meat eaters when vegans try to achieve that?
  3. Many of the most preachy, hypocritical articles and comments I have read have come from meat eaters who complain about vegans shoving their opinions down people’s throats but have no issue in doing the same. Then maybe for good measure, they’ll throw in a quip about how veganism is a lie because it’s impossible to go through life without causing harm. As someone from a family who feeds their cats meat, I KNOW. That’s not the point. The idea of veganism is to simply reduce your part in cruelty as much as possible.

I may not be a vegan myself, but prejudice in any form gets my blood boiling, and I’m glad to have got that out of my system. Being a vegetarian can be enough hassle, and I’m still working on dealing with the minority categories I’m already in before I choose to put myself in another. Through years of meat eating, vegetarianism, and veganism between us, my family and I have always been firm about not forcing our own ways on other people. Yet once people get it in their heads that this should go one way, they forget it actually applies to everyone. Couldn’t we all benefit from remembering that?

The VEGAN Christmas cake a made and decorated the other year.

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Getting healed?! Further thoughts

A couple of years ago, back when I was an intern at a Christian bookshop, you may remember I had a customer who was dead set on asking God to cure me of Asperger’s. That’s right. I gently explained that it isn’t an illness, or a flaw, and that implying that there is something wrong with the way I am is actually pretty insulting. A crazy thought, I know, but I think I managed to get it across.

What first got me thinking back to this incident was the comments thread on an article I read about autism. People were going off on all sorts of tangents, and I don’t really remember what the article was about. The comment that got my attention was from someone who had a child on the severe end of the spectrum. They mentioned that their child was having a pretty tough time with autism, unable to communicate clearly, and in need of constant care. And their point was that when people talk about how autism is a key part of who they are that doesn’t need fixing, it is actually harmful to people like that child for whom it is nothing but a burden. Because they would have a better life without it.

Wow. That definitely got me questioning my perspective.

Which – in regards to myself – hasn’t changed. AS does mean I have frustrations that many people don’t have to deal with. But if I wasn’t autistic, I would be a different person.

It did, however, pose a question that had never occurred to me before. Autism isn’t actually one thing. It’s a wide spectrum of very different conditions. That much I know. When I explain to people I’m autistic, I’m aware that, to them, that could mean anything. So of course there are people who don’t know how to talk to me, and who are surprised when I don’t always need help. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you have people who constantly struggle in a world that doesn’t meet their needs at all, and who would change it if they could. Is it problematic to label so many different conditions with the same name?

But of course, it’s not even that simple, because whatever end of the spectrum someone falls on, there will be other – often external – factors contributing to their quality of life. A person with Asperger’s may have experienced so much loneliness and isolation growing up, that they would give anything to change. A severely autistic person, on the other hand, may have a pretty comfortable life with just the right support.

So it looks like my reflection on this issue is inconclusive, and I’m sorry if that’s unsatisfying. I also hope there was nothing patronising or condescending about anything I said. If so, I’m more than willing to edit this post. Mostly I just wanted to share a few thoughts I’d never had before, and see how other people feel about this. What are your opinions?

10 assumptions I have had to deal with

Oh the joys of being a mixed race, autistic woman…

  1.  I got into a conversation with someone at a church I went to a while back. Having briefly mentioned I have Asperger’s, they asked me if I had ever been to uni. Their response when I said yes? “And what did you study? I bet it was Maths, Science, or IT! All autistic people I know did something like that.”
  2.  I was walking through town one day when an older woman – a complete stranger – tried to offer me Chinese literature.
  3. Someone once asked my mum if I could talk.
  4. At least one person my mum has spoken to has assumed I must be prone to rage and aggression. The irony is, many of my problems at school and uni were a result of me being a complete pushover.
  5.  I mentioned on a job application that I’m half Taiwanese and was born in Taiwan. Despite me also stating that I live in the UK, they contacted me asking what time would work for an over-the-phone interview, given the 8 hour time difference between here and Taiwan.
  6. At primary school, a couple of kids in the year below me came up to me and asked – completely seriously – if I had brain damage.
  7.  Someone at church who I’d never met (not all Christians are prone to things like this, I assure you), came up to me and asked if I spoke English. On realising I did, they then told me that they had met a French student, and were trying to find other foreigners for this student to make friends with.
  8. This was more about my mum than me: when I first started school, my teachers noticed something was different about me. Rather than considering autism, or any learning difference to be a possibility, they were sure it was a result of having a recently divorced mother. When they arranged for me to be seen by a doctor, or a psychologist, or someone along those lines, the person in question tried to get me to take my clothes off so they could check for bruises! To which I replied: “But it’s rude to show someone your knickers!” I made my mother proud that day.
  9.  When I studied French at secondary school, I was put in the “mixed ability” class. I spent the next 5 years feeling frustrated by how basic the work was, and trying, with my parents, to get the teachers to move me up a class, only to be told I would not be able to cope with being in top set. Weeks before my GCSE French exams, I was moved up a set, and passed my exams with a high B.
  10.  At uni, I joined the choir, only to find the communication impossible to keep up with and the events we did overwhelming. Choir was supposed to take priority over any other non-study related things in my life, yet I felt completely invisible there. I tried to get through to the leader, but as friendly and well-meaning as they were, they were sure I was doing fine because they hadn’t noticed any struggles I was having and were sure I must be doing fine.

Inspiration porn

Before I get to the point, don’t be fooled by the word “porn”. This is not that kind of blog! Now do read on.

In a recent issue of my writing magazine, I read an article about how to write about disabled characters sensibly. It covered several pretty good points – person first vs identity first language, don’t use slurs, make disabled characters as well rounded as non disabled characters – but I thought I’d look at one that got me thinking: disabled people being seen as inspiring for managing the simplest daily tasks. Or, as the magazine put it, inspiration porn.

For a start, I should probably differentiate between validating someone’s struggles and achievements, and inspiration porn. We all survive tough times, and accomplish things that we’re proud of, and chances are, we appreciate it when people understand our struggles and admire our achievements. I don’t know about other people with disabilities, but for me, being autistic doesn’t change this.

Then you see articles on the Internet about people with physical disabilities, learning differences, etc., depicting them as being an example to everyone just for getting through life with their condition. Maybe they’re shown doing a normal activity that may or may not be harder for them, leaving everyone amazed that they managed it at all. I remember people at school saying they felt sorry for me because of “that thing” I have. Or they need help or friendship, someone offers it, and suddenly that person is a saint. It seems that everything the disabled person does is either because of, or in spite of, their disability.

Now I understand these reactions are well meant. There are things that are harder to manage when you have a disability or illness. Showing kindness to someone who has one is a good thing. But there will be many things in a disabled person’s life that are just routine to them and/or are unrelated to their disability. We don’t exist solely to inspire others by managing these things. Like pity, showering someone in praise over the smallest thing implies that you don’t expect them to be that capable.

I remember I once touched upon a similar topic: being kind vs being patronising. I said that pity is feeling sorry for someone just because of the way they are, as if that makes them lesser. Sympathy is understanding what someone is going through and supporting them accordingly. Perhaps you could compare it to attitude towards race – I don’t want or need to be pitied or admired for being half Taiwanese. On the other hand, I’m sick to death of racist catcalls, and the more people understand why this bothers me, the better.

Do you see? Stories about disabled people making any kind of achievement may be heartwarming, but to truly appreciate the things someone has mastered, you have to get to know them like any other person.

Am I autistic, or do I have autism?

Am I a brunette, or do I have brown hair? Am I tall, or do I have long legs? You get the point. No? Ok, I’ll explain.

When talking about autism, some people prefer person-first language – that is, saying “people with autism” or “people who have autism”. They say that doing so identifies a person with autism as…well, a person first and foremost, and that their condition shouldn’t be the first thing that defines their identity.

Other people prefer to say “autistic people”, which is known as identity first language. They see it as being a part of their identity that shouldn’t be brushed to the sidelines as if it’s something to be ashamed of, and some autistic people feel that person-first language does just that.

This issue doesn’t just apply to autism, by the way. I’ve heard opinions on this from people with other social and learning differences, physical disabilities, and chronic illnesses. But having had no experiences in those departments, I’m going to focus on autism.

And on that note, what’s my take on this?

Honestly, it’s not something that ever occurred to me to have any strong feelings about. To me, they are just different ways of saying the same thing. If I’m talking about myself, or just generally, I will use whichever one pops into my head. Don’t get me wrong, if a person on the spectrum – or with any other condition – said they have a specific preference, I will respect that and use whichever way of phrasing they are more comfortable with. But I don’t want to be told by a non-autistic person how to describe myself.

To me, the exact phrasing someone uses isn’t as important as the bigger picture of how they treat me. Whether they talk to me like an adult or a child and whether they approach me with an open mind or preconceptions say more about how they see me than whether they say the A word first or second. Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism that is equally part of my identity and not all of it.

Besides, it doesn’t need to be mentioned every time you talk about me. I’ve heard people tell stories about their “autistic child” or their “friend with autism” in which the condition is of no significance. It’s one thing to mention it if it’s relevant to your story, but if not, I would rather just be known as “your child”* or “your friend.”

To conclude, I feel I should add that I do not see my stance as being any more right than anyone else’s. It’s just how I feel, and I think we should all be free to describe ourselves the way we want, without feeling like we have to conform to the same preference. I see both sides as being valid and personally feel disinclined to take either one. I am autistic. I have autism/Asperger’s. It’s a fact. But it doesn’t define me.

 

 

*If you are my mother or stepfather. Otherwise that would be creepy.

Is knowledge too powerful?

When I was 14, my parents – usually individually – and I often read together, and one particular book I remember reading with Mum was If Cats Could Fly. In hindsight, it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen – do we really want cats to be able to reach the top shelf of the fridge effortlessly? – but it actually had quite a profound theme.

Picture it: a couple of aliens who have just crash landed on Earth grant two cats the ability to fly. The cats have a heck of a time at first, but because they can go wherever they want now, it’s not long before they are exposed to harsh realities of the world such as factory farming and destruction of the environment. Not surprisingly, they quickly succumb to despair at knowing so much and being powerless to change anything.

What got me thinking about this was my participation in a toxic habit that is all too common in millenials: scrolling through Facebook. I was seeing all these posts and articles that seemed to serve no purpose but to stir up hate towards people of opposing views. Statements about what God apparently wants to happen regarding Brexit. Warnings against getting too friendly with LGBT people. Prejudice towards vegans. You get the picture.

We have more access to knowledge now than ever before. Thanks to the internet, it’s so much easier to spread awareness of issues that, up until now, people have been ignoring. We can make our voices heard, and get closer glimpses of other ways of thinking and living.

But of course, there are two sides to every coin. Now we are more vulnerable. Now it’s easier to tear each other apart over a simple disagreement about a trending topic. We can so easily become both perpetrators and victims of misinformation, because now, stories don’t have to be authentic to be made public. We read things that are toxic to our emotional wellbeing – from prejudiced articles on why people like me are sick to posts saying people in (insert minority) should just deal with it – and then we keep coming back for more.

Well, I do. No, I’m not proud of it.

Do you see the connection? Easy access to knowledge can be a great thing in many ways, but does it also expose us to the darker side of people and the world we live in? People complain that we have less freedom of speech than before, but I think the opposite is true. We have more means of expressing ourselves, and at a time when more people are being given a chance to be heard. And that’s where divisions arise.

Self care

I have had many conversations recently about the importance of self care. With friends struggling with their health, or who have had to support someone who is. With friends who have a demanding workload and are simply trying to find enough time to eat and sleep. Most of all with my mother and stepfather, who have been through a lot, taken on a lot, and still supported me a lot.

My life is about as full as it has ever been. I’ve got a job which, including the commute, keeps me out for 11 hours every weekday. I take Chinese evening classes on Thursdays. Choir on Saturdays. Gym, cooking, writing, and blogging when I have time. I’ve found a church where I belong, with a worship band I’m in once a month. Suffice it to say I’m very lucky indeed.

The thing is, though, it’s time consuming. Plus at work, however easier things are now, I still struggle with being an autistic person surrounded by neurotypicals. I also don’t get much time to either exercise or rest. In the limited amount of time I spend at home, I’m usually exhausted. And I’ve come to realise the importance of looking after my mind and body. Like so:

  • Earlier bedtimes. Despite feeling uncool next to people my age who thrive on long nights out, I’m stricter with myself about this. I’m a light sleeper, I hate being overtired at work, and I have a 7:30am bus to catch. Now I try to get into my pyjamas at 9:30pm, with minimal screen time or work for 30-60 minutes beforehand. It’s a small difference, yet I’m much less sleepy in the afternoons.
  • Healthier lunches. I’ve started having salad for 3 out of 5 work lunches, and at the risk of sounding like a snob, I genuinely enjoy it. I keep up the sandwiches and random snack lunches twice a week for the variety, but increasing my vegetable intake while reducing refined carbs and sugar does help me feel better in myself.
  • My work routine. I have at least 2-3 scheduled water breaks (not counting lunch) during the day, especially the afternoon. It keeps me moving as well as drinking, and helps me stay alert.
  • Emotional support. If I’m stressed or unhappy, I need a mix of alone time and emotional support. I keep a couple of hours to myself everyday regardless, and when I need to be heard, I’m lucky enough to be able to chat with my parents, or message a friend.
  • Finding something in each week to look forward to. This is hopefully about as cliched as I’m going to get. Once summer was over and I passed my probation, every day and week felt just like the last one. Before I even realised I was doing it, I began thinking about each upcoming week, and what made it even a little special. One week it was visiting family. Another, it was a new book coming out. Next week, it’ll be the first day of advent. Bring on the countdown to Christmas!

As much as I feel like an old lady, trying to go to bed at 9:30, self care is a key part of staying healthy. If you look after your body, heart, and mind, you can give so much more of yourself to the things you do and the people you know. So to conclude, may I ask what do you do in the way of self care?