Desert Island Vegan


© Michelle Schaefer


My amazing little cousin, Leah, who is in her late teens and finding her way through vegetarianism, occasional veganism, and perhaps some moments she refuses to disclose to her fully vegan cousin (that’d be me), recently asked me a question I hadn’t heard in over 20 years. I suspect one of her friends asked her the question, and she wanted to know what I thought. The question in question was, “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only eat rabbits, would you do it?

Her inquiry brought back a flood of awkward memories from a time in my life when questions like this one were fired at me in regular, unapologetic intervals. I’m so glad those days are behind me, but she reminded me they’re still alive and well in many circles. So, to answer the question of whether I’d eat a rabbit if I were stranded on a desert island with nothing else to eat, of course—but I consider these hypothetical/philosophical (I think ‘philosophical’ is stretching things a bit, but hey) mental masturbatory exercises to be ridiculous distractions designed to take the burden off of the person posing the question from looking at the real question, which is the one they refuse to ask themselves: “What are you willing to look at right now, in this real world, where you actually live?” And, more importantly, “What changes are you willing to make in this oh-so-NOT-hypothetical life you’re living?”

The ‘desert island’ question calls to my mind sanctimonious little a-holes (I’m petty) who think they’ve figured it all out. If the vegan answers, “Yes, I’d eat the rabbit,” she’s labeled a hypocrite and her world views are dismissed entirely. If she answers, “No, I would not eat the rabbit,” she’s labeled an idiot and her world views are dismissed entirely. It’s all a loud smokescreen (bordering on verbal abuse in some cases) to keep purportedly-inquisitive minds (note: not remotely inquisitive in actuality) from considering, even for a moment, that every bite of food they take says something about their attitude toward their own health, the health of the planet, the exploitation of humans forced to work in animal agriculture (i.e., mostly undocumented immigrants), and, of course, the animals themselves. Examining those issues is infinitely more difficult than taking a quick glance at a hypothetical, so I get why the latter gets more play. But still.

When Leah asked me the desert island question, my first reaction was to roll my eyes. This was a mistake. My first metered thought was that these types of questions are primarily found in the teenage/early-twenties crowd, where a whole messa stuff is going on in the brains of these burgeoning adults in general. That was also a mistake, because such inquiries are in fact not at all limited to teenagers and twenty-somethings. There is a learning curve to anything new, and part of learning is clumsily plodding through the early stages before equilibrium and balance are achieved. Some people never get there, but I applaud anyone at any age who approaches new topics with genuine curiosity. The truth is, though some questions fired at vegans are designed to catch the vegan in hypocrisy or ‘prove’ that veganism is dumb, many seemingly-silly questions really are asked in earnest. In fact, Sherry F Colb, author of Mind If I Order The Cheese Burger?, tells us that we vegans must treat all questions seriously. Even if the question strikes us as illogical, we must answer with logic.

Do vegans have oral sex? How can you be vegan but also pro-choice? Don’t animals eat other animals? …are just some of the questions I have heard in recent years. Some of these discussions are more interesting than others. I want to remind my fellow vegan activists, though, that turning the tables and asking your inquisitor more direct, immediate questions is a powerful tool. Saying something along the lines of, “Would I eat a rabbit on a desert island? OK. I’ll be happy to answer that, and I’ll answer it honestly. But first, let me ask you a couple questions. Are you willing to watch this video I have [pulled up on my phone right now] about what really happens on dairy farms? How about we watch Earthlings together and have a discussion about it afterward? How familiar are you with the effects that current animal agricultural practices have on our planet? Do you know how much water it takes to raise one cow for her meat?”

I mean, I’ve been vegetarian for 23 years with 10 of those years vegan. I’m 47 years old. I travel fairly regularly. And I have never ONCE been stranded on a desert island. The animals trapped, tortured, and killed really don’t give-af about what we would do IF we were stranded on a desert island. They care about what we’re going to do while they ARE stranded in factory-farm Hell. To me, that is a much more important question to ask, to consider, and to act upon.

(1) Weight, Weight...Don't Tell Me! [by Michelle Schaefer; @veggiechel]

Sometimes, I feel like my body is a real disappointment to the animals. Human animals, that is. But also factory-farmed animals. How is this? It’s all in the elevator eyes. Scenario: a new or quasi-familiar person and I get to talking, and the subject of my veganism emerges. “You’re a vegan?” they ask, not bothering to maintain direct eye contact. It’s in that moment—that elevator eyeball body scan—that I feel I lose some potential vegan converts. Their words are polite, but their eyeballs are screaming: “If you’re vegan, why aren’t you super skinny?”



Now, I realize that the media promotes primarily bullet-proof, supermodel, vegan-athlete types, and that’s cool. Those Sexy MFs do a lot of good for the vegan community, and if even one person goes veg as a result of looking at Natalie Portman’s hot vegan bod, then a-thousand-times yay. But what about the rest of the 99%?

I do believe veganism is the healthiest diet in the world, and I love to hear health-transformation and cancer-be-gone stories after a person’s given up the meat teat. I also enjoy gazing with respect and envy at hot, healthy, vegan bodies—but sometimes I want to scream: THAT IS SOOOOOO NOT WHY I’M IN THIS.
I’m in this because:
A) Animals are awesome
B) This planet is awesome
C) Veganism is a spiritual mindset that feeds both my body and my soul

Thus, I’m not all about raw veggies and oodles of quinoa. I can savor a tasty raw-veggies and quinoa bowl, don’t get me wrong—but I also love me some Daiya pepperoni pizza piled high with savory Miyoko’s cheese. (That’s called A Typical Saturday Night in my world.)

Now that I’m in my 40s, French fries and Coke—formerly common companions—are rare and special treats, but food (and plenty of it) is a non-negosh. Being hungry is not part of my veganism.

I’ll always be in love with food, and I’ll rarely say no to a vegan doughnut (or a bag of Dandie’s marshmallows, some Nutter Butters, Oreos, Ritz bacon-flavored crackers…). Committing to veganism-for-life has significantly deepened my love of food, because at this point in history, there are just so darn many amazing vegan food options.


These days, you can veganize almost whatever you can imagine. I’ve heard a handful of stories about folks who go vegan and gain a fair amount of weight—and I totally get why. Pre-vegan, food was riddled with subconscious guilt and remorse. Post-vegan, the soul’s been released. It’s like WE are the cows saved from slaughter, jumping and kicking in the field in joyful delight. Only we do this by buying ALL THE VEGAN FOOD and eating it with abandon, reveling in how delicious and cruelty-free it all is. Point is, size doesn’t matter. Passion does. I wasn’t a wraith as a meat-eater, so why would I suddenly become a wraith as a vegan? Wraith isn’t my body type, and obsessively eating arugula while rejecting flesh-based chicken parm hasn’t changed that. And that’s OK.

At any rate, if a person’s sole reason for ‘trying out this new vegan thing’ is to lose weight and look hot, veganism is destined to fail them because it’s being treated as a diet. Those ‘potential converts’ I think I’ve lost by not looking like Natalie Portman are not real converts at all; thus, my un-wraithish body is nobody’s failure. Veganism is not a diet. It’s a mindset that holds passion for compassion at its lovely center. That is what makes me feel juicy, alive, sexy, spiritual, light, happy.

To all vegan body types, all over the world: You are gorgeous. You are doing more to heal this planet than you’ll ever know. You are a passionately compassionate soul, and that emotional eloquence glows all over your face. You are an inspiration, and that makes you unassailably attractive. Thank you. You’re making the world a better place with your bewitching bodies of all shapes and sizes: curvy, skinny, voluptuous, fit, flabby, squishy, stick, thick, muscular, round, sculpted, wish-you-could-lose-10-pounds, happy-right-where-you-are, whatever. Your heartfelt life force will live beyond your body anyhow, no matter what it looks like. So go forth: eat plants, eat dessert, eat dessert again, and love your luscious vegan body.


  Michelle Schaefer has her B.A. in Writing, M.A. in Psychology, and is a Certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach & Educator. She writes a weekly Meatless Monday column for the Journal & Courier (   )   . She may be reached at   .     “ALL THE VEGAN FOOD” meme created by Michelle Schaefer on Image and character created by Hyperbole and a Half.       Photo of Natalie Portman provided by Andrew Macpherson Photoshoot.

Michelle Schaefer has her B.A. in Writing, M.A. in Psychology, and is a Certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach & Educator. She writes a weekly Meatless Monday column for the Journal & Courier ( . She may be reached at

“ALL THE VEGAN FOOD” meme created by Michelle Schaefer on Image and character created by Hyperbole and a Half.

 Photo of Natalie Portman provided by Andrew Macpherson Photoshoot.