When David and I moved away from the expense of a big city, one of the things we were most looking forward to was living in a house. In our adult lives up until that point, we’d shared walls, floors, and/or ceilings with strangers. From dorm rooms, to apartments, to townhomes, we were always aware of the people sharing the roof above us.
If neighbors were smoking cigarettes or cooking a big roast, the smell wafted in through our vents. If they had friends over for a party singing or playing video games until all hours, we could hear them through the walls. If they got into raging fights and then blared Celine Dion afterwards, we knew what was happening through every second of the drama. (Their heart did go on. And on. And on.) We never truly had control over our environments.
So one of the things we were eager to experience with our cross country move was having a vegan home. We yearned to have a sanctuary from the outside world. (The one exception is cat food for our carnivorous kitties. While humans can thrive on a vegan diet, cats are obligate carnivores and cannot. So we feed Jezebel and Avon a species-appropriate diet.)
Whenever I use our wood cutting boards, I don’t have to worry about which one has had meat cut on it and which one has just been used on raw vegetables. If I need a spoon or fork to stir something and there is one already laying out, I don’t have to wonder what it has been touching. If I lay bell peppers or cucumbers directly on the rack in the refrigerator, I don’t have to be concerned that a package of meat has been there before them, leaving germs behind. The kitchen sponge and sink never have meaty remnants on them. It makes my home a very comfortable place for me to be.
All of the cleaning products we use are vegan and haven’t been tested on animals. We have cloth couches and chairs, pillows that aren’t stuffed with feathers, and an outdoor grill that has only been used for asparagus, bell peppers, onions, and the like. When I walk in the door, I relish the smells of spices, sautéed onions, massaged kale, or freshly squeezed juice. (A home that smells like a juice bar may be one of my favorite smells ever. It’s like fresh cut grass but inside.)
This is a non-vegan world that we live in, and whenever we go out into it, there are reminders of the animal industry. Whether it’s billboards, the sights and smells of the meat counter at the grocery store, seeing a semi truck full of pigs on the highway on their way to be slaughtered, overhearing people order lamb at a restaurant, or going on a bike ride and seeing tags on the ears of the cows we pass in the field, viewing the world through a vegan lens can be depressing. But the one space we can control is our own home.
So what does that mean when it comes to guests?
We all make boundaries for our homes that we expect guests to follow. When we see that our host takes off her shoes at the door, as a guest, we do the same. If the guest is a smoker but the host is not, most people would assume that lighting up a cigarette in the living room would not be appropriate. If a guest came over with a dog, he would ask the host before allowing the dog to sit on the furniture. If a person kept kosher, it would be rude for a guest to show up with a lunch of BLT’s.
In that vein, David and I also set boundaries in our own home. When we were moving, I mentioned to those people closest to us (and who would be most likely to stop by with food) that we kept a vegan home. I think it’s important to be honest and open with those people that you care about on the things that matter to you. It’s also best to have those conversations well ahead of time to avoid awkwardness or embarrassment at some point in the future. (For example, it’s much better to discuss it in a relaxed phone conversation and not when the person shows up with a whole turkey to roast in your oven.)
To my relief, it wasn’t a big issue and has been pretty seamless.
The people closest to us know our values, and it didn’t come as a huge surprise. Admittedly, sometimes that means they stop and eat fast food before they come and see us. And with people in our lives who are afraid of foods like guacamole (because it’s green), we go out for pizza when they visit.
When we have friends over, I make snacks/meals/drinks that I think they would be comfortable eating. For some people that means something ordinary like popcorn and potato chips. For others that means something a little more adventurous. But no matter what, the food that I serve is always vegan. And if a friend would like to bring a dish with her/him, that item is always vegan too. Personally, I can’t imagine going to the house of someone who is gluten intolerant and bringing a loaf of wheat bread or going to the house of someone with a nut allergy and bringing noodles in peanut sauce. I don’t bring wine to the home of friends who are against the use of alcohol. It makes sense to bring something that everyone can enjoy.
And what about out of town guests?
A few years ago, a friend was coming to our town for a visit. He asked about staying with us, and I let him know that he was more than welcome but animal products were not. I knew that might be a deal breaker with him, because he eats a very meat-heavy diet. Unsurprisingly, he decided to stay with a different friend in town instead. When I went to her place to pick him up, I can’t tell you how happy I was about setting clear boundaries. He was cooking, and the whole apartment smelled like his breakfast of eggs and sausage. I was glad that those weren’t my pans he was cooking on and that they wouldn’t be soaking later in my sink.
For other guests who did opt to stay at our house, I bought fruit, made smoothies, provided bagels & non-dairy cream cheese along with hummus, and cereal with non-dairy milk… Not everyone has eaten the things we’ve offered. Sometimes they left early for breakfast elsewhere. This is a home, not a restaurant. Not everyone will want what we are offering. All I can do is try and hope they appreciate the gesture if nothing else.
When I go to someone else’s home, I don’t have the expectation that it will be meat-free. I’m under no delusions that this is a vegan world. But it touches me when my friends and family are considerate of us, our feelings, and our values when they come to visit.