Couldn’t vs. Wouldn’t

I don’t really know who this David guy is, but stumbled upon his post on his blog about going vegan, if only for a little while. I did not agree with everything he said, but thought it was a concise, well-written piece that mirrors a lot of my thoughts at the moment. You can find his full post here:

Of particular note was his comment about cheese. I think this applies to so much about life, not just food:

“I would do it but I could never give up cheese.”

There’s an interesting phenomenon I noticed that I think is worth bringing up. I encountered this a lot: people who have an interest in going vegan for health or ethical reasons, but claim they  couldn’t give up cheese.

I used to say that too, that exact phrase: I could never give up cheese. It’s such a typical response that it’s a perennial joke in vegan forums. What’s fascinating to me is that no non-vegan with vegan sympathies wants to just say they won’t give up cheese, it’s always can’t. The implication is that they are different than me in that they have no real choice as to whether they eat cheese or not, while I am lucky to have such a choice.

Of course, in the developed world we adults all choose what we eat. There’s nobody who can’t give up cheese. I mention this because I know I used the word “couldn’t” when I meant “wouldn’t” as a way of exempting myself from any expectation on my part to attempt to live my values when it comes to food. It was a convenient disqualifier: “well maybe I should be vegan, but clearly that’s not an option because I’m not one of those people who could give up cheese.”

Kind of interesting thoughts, no? I couldn’t give up processed foods, I couldn’t make my own veggie-sausages, I couldn’t give up milk, I couldn’t keep all of the necessary ingredients/equipment in my small kitchen, I couldn’t stop eating burgers, I couldn’t spend all that time cooking, I couldn’t eat vegetables all the time, I couldn’t be vegan because I have kids, I couldn’t find good restaurants, I couldn’t give up ice cream.

It is funny once you give this vegan diet a chance, how many barriers people put up to somehow isolate themselves from your bizarre eating habits. And they are fairly automatic responses, not even thought out. And yet, if anyone just stopped and looked at their own habits, or even at the ones we had before changing, they would see just how easy it would be to start adding more veggies to a diet and taking in less cheese and meat until the proportions were switched around and eventually the McEd foods go away.

Maybe people who switch to a vegan diet are the weird folks out there that just don’t like to be told they can’t do something. You can’t give up dairy – you need calcium for crying out loud! Why? I have seen people who weigh close to 400 pounds, seriously diabetic, who refuse to even try alternatives. And their spouses too, seem to cater to the can’t-s and the couldn’t-s, putting in their own as well.

Hard to be preachy though, because we all have something that we “couldn’t” do, even if it is to just cut out the junk foods from a vegan diet.

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