What would my 15-year-old self, newly vegan and knowing exactly two other vegans (one of whom I was related to) living in a Southwestern hellscape and mail-ordering tiny pots of vegan lip gloss (on my $5.50/hour vet tech salary, so devoted to vegan purity was I and so unavailable was anything, ANYTHING, vegan in my city), have thought of my self today, 17 years later: wearing chic black hemp boots and organic cotton white jeans and a couture 100% eco-friendly vegan coat, sitting in a vegan cafe in the West Village of a city she wouldn’t visit for the first time for another four years, emailing farmers about produce for her vegan meal delivery service, reading reviews of her beautiful vegan chocolates on the internet (two things I knew nothing about at fifteen: the internet and chocolate), dreaming big dreams, waking up to new excitements every day in her adorable house, next to her adorable boyfriend, squished in tightly in the vintage bed with their three adorable cats?
You were supposed to be your generation’s Gandhi. Instead you make a chocolate named for Vandana Shiva, which you then ship all around the country in belching airplanes. You wake up every morning excited about—what, exactly? Truffle box designs? Cool new vegan cheeses? Springtime, and ramps? What the fuck is a ramp, anyway? (Or, for that matter, springtime?) What about animals in factory farms, animals in labs, people in Haiti? You’re living the high life, she would tell me, her face stormy with disappointment. You’re luxuriating in bed, petting cats while the world burns. What are you doing for your birthday this week? Telling your friends to donate money to animal rights groups in your name? Nope. Spending too much money on a restaurant meal, then a fancy NYC hotel room so you can drink as much sake as you want with your friends, then wake up the next morning and go to museums and see non-proletariat art (at fifteen I’m sure I believed that art at MoMA, by definition, was anti-revolutionary art—revolutionary art, I would have told you, doesn’t hang on white museum walls in New York City). Pathetic, she’d shake her head. And even though I’d protest that the restaurant is all vegan and the hotel room was deeply discounted….nothing would work.
I see her all the time: that weirdly dressed, gawky kid. She follows me around on my bad days, disapproving of my choices and what I’m wasting my precious energy on: washing dishes, chopping onions. This is not the revolution, she says. No matter how you spin it to yourself.
Ah, but: I’d reply. I’m not where I thought I’d be, that’s true, but that’s intentional: once I got out of the hellscape I realized that I no longer wanted to live in squalor, as all good foot soldiers of the revolution must. I discovered love, and creature comforts, and restaurants, and that the world is for enjoying, as well as improving.
At fifteen, I figured that at thirty-two I’d be above reproach: an ascetic devoted to The Cause. Instead, I’m an aesthete devoted to political perfection without sacrificing beauty. It’s a much less hardcore path, true, but myriad times more sustainable. And isn’t sustainability what it’s all about?
I see her face as I say this, and I want to hold her hand and tell her: you’ll see. It’ll get so, so much better. Your drug-dealing father will go to prison (truly, the first and best step toward the betterness), your mother will move to Chicago, you’ll go to the East Coast. You’re obsessed with animal rights right now, and though your passion will never diminish, you will find a way to live without that passion painfully engulfing you. At fifteen you need that passion, quite literally, to survive. The stakes are high. Guns and drugs and scary people are all around you. No one is able to protect you. Your a/r meetings and your books on transcendentalism will get you out of the house and out your head. Your Ayn Rand novels, however deeply flawed you already know them to be, will give you ferocity and strength. Your Gandhi biographies will nourish your softness and your heart.
And not long after a 5-hour plane ride that late August day in 1996, and ever-faster beginning around March, 2007 when a certain curly-headed boy entered your life, you’ll see that the world is not only for fighting against. There’s a hell of a lot of good there, too. You’ll become more complicated than you ever thought was possible.
And many times more awesome.
You can’t see this now, I’d tell her, my heart just about bursting with care and concern and love for this sensitive, wild, passionate, terrified, terrified, terrified girl, but just:
give yourself some time.