I didn’t mean to undergo this office experiment. I certainly didn’t mean to set off a brouhaha over eating habits. It’s funny how a simple gesture can spiral into something else entirely. Here’s what happened.
For work, I travel about town quite a bit. One day, I was heading back to the office from a meeting and realized that the bus I was going to be taking stopped very near one of my favorite vegan bakeries. This set off a series of thoughts in my head that went something like this:
“I’ll be passing right by Sweetpea Baking Company.” → “I love their cookies.” → “A cookie would be really good right now. I should get one.” → “Maybe I should get several for my co-workers. My office environment has been stressful lately. It might be a nice treat.” → “Oh, and it’s World Vegan Day! How great to treat everyone and support a local vegan business that I love on today of all days! I will do it!”
So I did.
I used my afternoon break to hop off the bus and buy a box full of cookies and treats which I then took with me back to the office, delivered to the general office kitchen area, and promptly sent out an email to my co-workers that informed everyone: “Vegan cookies are here. Please enjoy. Happy World Vegan Day!”
I fully expected that to be that. I hoped people would enjoy them; I felt good about sharing something nice with everyone, and went about eating my own cookie (oatmeal raisin) while getting back to work.
What I didn’t expect was controversy, judgment, resentment, scorn, entitlement, or an inquisition.
But I got a bunch of all of that anyway.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there were some people that were just appreciative and lovely. They said thanks and enjoyed an afternoon snack. Others . . . not so much. There were, in fact, a few categories of other responses that I’d like to discuss a bit. Here they are. The quotes included are ACTUAL statements that were made in response to vegan items being gifted/shared.
Confusing Response #1: Judgment/Scorn
- “Oh! I thought someone said there was bacon treats – not vegan treats! I don’t want THAT. Ugh.
- “I didn’t see any chocolate chip. It looks like they have raisins. They’re vegan with raisins, so they’re probably healthy. (Healthy was said with disgust. Also, there actually WERE some chocolate chip ones, along with oatmeal raisin, pumpkin chocolate chip, and peanut butter.)
Confusing Response #2: Resentment
“I had to go tell him [another co-worker] that there is holiday candy here, also, because he wants a treat, too, but sure doesn’t want to eat any of THOSE (please imagine derisive emphasis on this last word)”
Confusing Response #3: The Inquisition & Disbelief
- “I really can’t believe this actually tastes good.”
- “Are you vegetarian? Vegan? Where do you possibly find food to eat?? You must have a hard time eating! It must be so expensive! I don’t understand it. No! You’re wrong! You can’t find vegetarian food cheaply!” (head shaking)
Confusing Response #4: The Conspiracy Theory
Lots of whispering with bits and pieces overheard about why people have to bring their beliefs into the workplace, pushing vegan ideas onto others, and how annoying it all was to them in their day.
Yes. This all really happened.
In an attempt to make a kind gesture, that had nothing to do with my politics, converting people to any particular type of lifestyle, or even discussing eating habits, all of this happened.
It was fascinating. Fascinating is my polite word for it.
I’ll admit that I was hurt by these responses. The fact that at least a few of my co-workers seemed to be so judgmental of what I brought, as well as seemed to have some sort of resentment over the fact that I didn’t bring non-vegan items for them (because meat-eaters can’t eat vegan foods, apparently?), was quite an unexpected surprise to me.
I have many thoughts about why this occurred, which I’m actually not going to delve into too deeply, so as not to ramble on with this too long. But, I will say that it was truly an enlightening accidental experiment to see what assumptions people make about a person with such a singular piece of information given to them. For instance, I like vegan baked goods so this must mean [insert a million assumptions here] about me. It was also intriguing to see people’s defenses go up immediately when they felt their habits or ways of eating/living were somehow being questioned or challenged. Finally, it was a loud reminder of the misconceptions of plant-based eating and permissible shunning of those who engage in it.
And yet, I just wanted to share some goodwill and delicious cookies.
Disclaimer: I am, in fact, not a vegan. I am a vegetarian who eats very limited amounts of foods such as dairy and honey, which are generally off a vegan menu. I happen to particularly like eating vegan baked goods and love the treats at Sweetpea Baking Company.