Happy (Rainy) Sunday, everyone.

I was supposed to meet the lovely April of Raw Food Passion for lunch today, but her flight was (sadly) delayed. So instead, I’m taking a moment to make an announcement, and to share an article that’s near and dear to my heart.

First things first: Miss Jenna (of Eat Live Run) and I are inviting our mutual readers to join us for a Raw Foods Wednesday Challenge! Now, you all know that every day is a raw day for me; I want this blog to encourage each and every one of you to eat raw as often as your lifestyle will healthily and happily make room for. But there’s nothing wrong with a little motivation, now is there? So here’s the deal: each Wednesday, Jenna and I challenge you to eat one raw meal and one raw snack. We’ll be doing two fabulous giveaways for our participants, one midway through the month and another at the end. And we’re sure to be collecting lots of great feedback from readers all over the blogosphere. If you’re just starting with raw foods, this is a fun way to get involved. Please leave a comment on this post if you want to join us!

In other news, I want to share an article that I recently wrote for my friend Mary’s Beam Green newsletter (which you can all subscribe to for free on her website!). The article is about being proud of one’s dietary perspective in the face of social pressure. It’s somewhat reminiscent of this guest post I wrote for the wonderful Melissa on restaurant dining not so long ago, but with a slightly broader emphasis: my intention was to encourage women of all ages, but especially young women, to feel proud of their healthy habits.

It’s a sad truth that sometimes the very habits that women should feel proudest of—eating well, being mindful of alcohol consumption, getting adequate rest—are the things they’re forced to apologize for. One of the major challenges in adopting a raw or vegan diet is finding comfort with the declaration, “I’m vegan,” “I’m raw,” or even “I don’t feel like eating meat tonight.” Young women in particular fear being perceived as weird, as “crunchy,” or as holier-than-thou. When it comes to moderation with alcohol, the fear is being perceived as a stick in the mud.

Ladies, let’s get real here. If you feel ambivalent about being raw or vegan because you’re not certain that it’s healthy or feasible for your lifestyle, then hey, don’t sweat it. You’ll find a great way to take steps towards raw that don’t necessarily entail the whole commitment. But if your big fear is social perception, I urge you to rise above pettiness, and take a proud stand! Without further ado, “The Power of Choice.”

The Power of Choice

Raw foodists know plenty about social pressure. The choice to eat vegan and raw is not only a matter of what one does or doesn’t put on the plate. It’s a decision to step outside of mainstream norms. At first, these decisions can be difficult, especially since so few of our friends or acquaintances are making them with us.

For no matter how much you maintain that eating for health and compassion need not mean sacrificing a vibrant social life (and I do!), there’s no denying that going vegan and/or raw will mean that your social dining habits shift a little. You may be ordering differently when you dine out. You may start bringing your own dishes to dinner parties. You may be defending your lifestyle to family members or friends, whose judgments will be stunningly sharp. You may find yourself explaining what raw foods are to the CEO of your company at a business lunch. You may have to tell your boyfriend that no, you don’t want to split that pizza with him at 2 AM. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say that you will, at some point, be called upon to weigh your devotion to a healthy lifestyle against social convenience.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the health benefits and benefit to animals make all of these scenarios well worth it. So the challenge is to move through the initial adjustments with commitment. This can be particularly hard for women, not because we lack the forbearance to make changes, but because we’re disadvantaged when it comes to resisting social pressure. We ladies are socialized—by our families, our culture, and the media—to be accommodating. This gives us many strengths: we’re peacekeepers in times of crisis. We’re empathetic. We’re good caretakers and active, engaged friends. We’re good listeners. But these strengths come at a price.

“Men look at women,” the art critic John Berger writes. “Women watch themselves being looked at.” It’s an overstatement, perhaps, but there’s truth to it: women worry about how they are perceived far more than their male counterparts seem to. And when it comes to dietary and lifestyle choices, this anxiety can be a bit of a handicap. Female friends will often confess to me that they want to make healthier choices in their lives, but they fear how their friends, families, or boyfriends will react. This may mean hesitation about ordering a salad in a restaurant for fear of being teased about eating “bird food” or interrogated by friends: “A salad? That’s all you’re getting? You’re not on a diet, are you?”. It may be fear of looking like a stick-in-the-mud: hey, no one likes to be the only virtuous person drinking club soda at a bar. Or it may be fear of coming off as “odd” to others: I admit that the catalog of raised eyebrows and bewildered responses I’ve gotten when I say the words “raw foodist” is downright impressive.

But let’s think about the big picture, shall we? What could possibly matter more than our health and our personal sense of right and wrong? Don’t let social insecurities interfere with the way you approach your diet and lifestyle.

Here’s a fun experiment. The next time you feel criticized by friends or family for eating healthy, take a moment to examine where those sentiments come from. Do you envy this friend or family member’s habits, health, outlook? If the answer is no—as it probably is—remember that, in nine cases out of ten, a friend who makes this kind of criticism is feeling envious and threatened by your choice to be more health-conscious than she. So let’s state the obvious: the choices you make about food may be influenced by the people around you, but their consequences will only affect you. Your health, your conscience.

Here’s another good example: I choose not to drink. It’s not always easy, especially at parties or work events, but it’s a choice that I’m proud of, and I stick to it. Countless female friends, especially in their mid-twenties, have told me that they’re tired of drinking and want to stop, but fear how they’ll be perceived if they do. I’ve even heard stories of women ordering “faux” cocktails (soda water dressed up as a vodka tonic). Guess what? I remember that urge well. No one likes looking prudish. But once again, it all boils down to personal choice: you should never feel compelled to make choices that go against your own impulses. And if your impulse is to have some soda water and call it a night, you should listen. You’ll feel better without the headache tomorrow morning, anyway.

And take pride in your choices! With each of those healthy entrees you order at a restaurant and each of those surplus cocktails you turn down, you’re making decisions that will protect and nourish your body and protect your animal neighbors. It’s easy to forget that so many social habits are ingrained only by force of habit. That they’re commonplace doesn’t mean they’re right, or that they’re good for us.

Take pride, too, in the fact that you are, little by little, learning to shake off your social insecurities. Confidence and bullheadedness are not the same things. Embrace your confidence. Be open and enthusiastic about your lifestyle. I assure you that taking a warm, self-assured approach (bringing a delicious, healthy dish to a dinner party and offering it to other guests, for instance) is the best way to protect yourself against naysayers and to feel the rewards of a plant-based lifestyle. There’s a time and a place for compromise, but the dinner table isn’t one of them. So order that giant salad, and relish every bite. Your body is yours to nourish as you see fit.

PS — Keep the entries into the spiralizer contest coming, everyone! I’m loving each and every one of your great emails and comments.

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