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Vegan Challenge, Vancouver cliché

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Follow rabble staff and contributors as they take the 2013 Vegan Challenge in our rabble Vegan Challenge Diary, where participants will chronicle their experiences eating vegan throughout the week!

"Are any of these muffins vegan?"

The barista smiled at me, pausing to consider my question. "Um, I'm really not sure... No. The only thing here that's vegan are these cookies." She pointed helpfully to the tray of giant cookies right next to the cash register.

"Sure, OK, I guess I'll take one of these… thanks."

"OK, that'll be $6.75 please..." The cookie cost me four bucks. The rest was for the medium coffee I'd ordered. There was no soy milk in sight, so I promptly retreated with my black coffee and my overpriced, bland and crumbly cookie.

This awkward exchange marked the beginning of my first attempt at the Vegan Challenge, which just wrapped up its third year here at rabble.ca. Failing to make a trip to the grocery store in preparation had meant that, within mere seconds, my attempt at eating vegan had transformed me into a bad Vancouver cliché. Downtown Vancouver, you see, is the unofficial world capital of the overpriced vegan cookie.

There was no good excuse for my lack of preparation. Many rabble.ca staff and colleagues were taking the Challenge along with me, and had been sharing recipes and tips beforehand. The experiences and knowledge they shared this week helped pull me through -- that, and a ton of quinoa.

What I like most about the Vegan Challenge is that it treats the politics of food as part of our collective struggle for a better world. What we eat is not primarily a personal moral or ethical choice. Our choices, or lack of choices, are conditioned by class and other systemic factors. To be able to make healthier and more ethical personal choices, in terms of what we eat, requires collective organization and support.

The best recent example I can cite is the remarkable work of Food Not Bombs during Occupy Vancouver. For more than a month, a volunteer, self-organized collective delivered thousands of healthy, free, vegetarian meals to anybody and everybody. This is just one concrete example of the potential that Occupy provided a glimpse of; imagine if we could replicate this kind of collective cooking and sharing of food in all our neighbourhoods and communities.

Eating vegan or vegetarian doesn't have to involve a steady diet of $4 muffins and cookies. Steffanie Pinch, in this piece, does a great job of breaking down the class politics of food and diet. I'm grateful for her article, and the many other educational and entertaining contributions from rabble staff and colleagues during this year's Vegan Challenge.

Next year I'll be better prepared.

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