Aloe Bud

How I White-Lied My Way To Being A Vegetarian

By: Andrea Ayres

A lot of people become vegetarians for altruistic reasons. Some have compelling moral objections or dietary concerns. Me… well, I lied my way into vegetarianism.

I went to college at a small liberal arts institution about 30 miles outside Chicago. Each student was assigned an advisor. Our advisors were often the same people we had as professors, so they usually knew us well.

Doc* was his name — everyone called him that. He liked to tell his advisees that it was up to them to make the most of their sessions. It was our responsibility to come prepared with questions; otherwise, we were just wasting both of our time.

I never came with questions. I was too afraid to look at him, much less ask him anything. So we’d sit there. I’d stare at the books on his shelf, and he’d look at me over the top of his glasses and wait for me to talk. He loved painful bouts of silence — he lived for them.

Finally, he spoke. “So why don’t you ever raise your hand in my class, Andrea? I see the wheels spinning in there, but you just sit there nodding your head. Why?”

My face flushed.

“I’m afraid,” I mumbled.

“What are you afraid of?”

“Getting the answer wrong,” I told him.

“So what?”

“So what?! Everyone will think I’m stupid!”

“No one is going to think you’re stupid.”

“Wellll…”

“Andrea, listen. You can’t go on in life expecting to learn anything without speaking up, asking questions and making mistakes.”

I wasn’t so sure. He sat back in his chair, his eyes twinkling, the way they always did when he was about to propose something he knew students would hate.

“I have an idea. You should join Model United Nations.”

I sighed.

“I’m serious, Andrea — I think it’d be really good for you.”

Our session ended with him giving me the date and time of a mock tournament, which I was to attend to get the feeling for Model UN. I went to the damn tournament because I couldn’t bear the thought of having to tell Doc I didn’t go. And while I absolutely despise working with others, I adored the idea of getting to dress up, memorize a bunch of facts and argue with people.

So I took the plunge and joined Model UN.

***

Every student who joined Model UN was required to take two classes, International Organizations and a Model UN seminar — a two-hour extravaganza held every Tuesday and Thursday. I walked into my first-ever Model UN seminar on a Tuesday in fall and chose what I believed to be the most inconspicuous seat. (Second row from the left, nearest the door.) I took out my spiral notebook and began to write my name in the upper righthand corner. I then thought about how writing my own name in my own notebook was probably a sign of narcissism, so I turned to a fresh page.

Other students began filing in, chatting amongst themselves. They had a calm familiarity with one another, the kind that only comes from seeing the same people every day on campus. As a commuter student, I lacked this.

Doc walked into the classroom at 1:56 p.m., shut the door, stood at the podium in front of the class, and smiled. He gripped the sides of the podium. “Okay, move your desks into a circle!”

Great. Just great. Now everyone would be looking directly at my face if I had to speak in class.

I got up and began moving my desk into the circle, looking for an opening and a friendly face. I saw one: a boy named James. James looked like the kind of person who sympathized with quiet people.

Doc sat down at a desk and surveyed us before diving into his length discussion. He talked about the country we would be representing this year (Sudan), what a giant responsibility it was, and how it was incumbent upon all of us to take that responsibility seriously.

“The time you spend in this class is only the beginning, the bulk of the preparation for this will be done outside of class, so if you can’t commit to that, you should leave now. Go get lunch together, schedule dinners together — the more time you all spend together, the better off we’ll be when it comes to competition time.”

Nearly an hour had passed and Doc announced that we would have a brief 10-minute recess.

No one moved. We all sat there and stared at one another, waiting for someone else to talk. Then someone said it, a girl who smiled all the time: “Should we go get lunch together sometime this week then?”

Everyone murmured in agreement. At first, I figured that whatever time they chose to have lunch, I would just say I had work or something. But then I thought better of that plan. What if I missed out on a really good inside joke or something? No, I would have to go.

“I’m a vegetarian soooo…” the smiling girl said.

“I’m a vegetarian too,” said another student.

“Me too,” someone else called out.

“Okay,” said Smiles McGee, “Let’s go around in a circle and say if we are vegetarian or not so we can figure out where to go.”

One of the girls opposite me started off. “I am a vegetarian,” she proclaimed. And one by one: vegetarian, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegetarian. How did I miss out on everyone becoming a vegetarian? When did this happen culturally?

These people will hate me if I say I’m not a vegetarian. I know it.

It was getting closer to my turn.

Oh god.

Oh god.

My turn.

“VEGETARIAN!” I shouted.

Why did I say that?! Now I have to act like a vegetarian around everyone! Okay, that’s not a problem. I can do that. I’ll see these people what, a few times outside of class? Not an issue.

It quickly became an issue.

We all ended spending a great deal of time together. There were late nights working on our research binders, preparing our position papers, and printing out United Nations Peacekeeper documents. Invariably, lunch or dinner would be involved, and I would have no choice but to order a vegetarian meal each time.

For a few weeks after the lie, while at home, I still ate meat. But now, even doing that made me feel guilty, because it reminded me of the damn lie. I didn’t enjoy lying, but I didn’t see telling everyone the truth as an option either. What would I say? “Hey everyone, uh guess what? I’m not actually a vegetarian. I just figured you would all like me better if I was, so …” That would never do.

But then, the solution came to me.

It’s not a lie if you make it true.

Yes! It would be much easier for me simply become a vegetarian. So I did. I announced to my mother that I would no longer be eating meat, and that was that. I cut meat out of my diet completely, and thus the lie became truth. At the crux of it, I didn’t trust that my classmates would like me — the real me. It was much easier for me to change who I was, rather than risk the possibility of rejection (however slim) by a group I so longed to be a part of.

And this is how I have largely lived my life — until recently.

Eight months ago, my mom passed away. Her death has caused me to reflect on what it means to live an authentic life. I didn’t believe the person at my core was good enough, smart enough, brave enough or funny enough to share with others. So I molded myself into someone I thought people would like more. I thought this was the answer for how to belong.

I know now that it isn’t. Over the past few months, as I have explored denying the compulsion to change myself to fit in, I’ve found that my authentic self isn’t nearly as bad or scary as I thought she was.

*Some names and details of the story have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned, but I did indeed lie about being a vegetarian. I have finally come clean about this to my former MUN pals. They have graciously decided to still talk to me.

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