As you've probably surmised, I not only live in the South, but I was born and raised here. All my years have been spent either in Alabama (most of them) or Louisiana (9 years). So what I give you now is one ignorant southerner's perspective before he was enlightened. A lot of this is written with tongue placed firmly in cheek, but you'll be able to discern the truth from my literary flair!
Before I became a Vegan, or knew any for that matter, the word "Vegan" evoked all sorts of stereotypes and images about who these people were and what they believed. In my mind, Vegan was a Vegetarian on steroids. A bionic Vegetarian, if you will. There was a mystique to being Vegan. An other-worldly quality, if you will. My mind devised images of Vegans as modern hippies, who wore odd-looking clothing, believed strange things, and surfed. Here in the South a person who doesn't eat meat is looked at with a certain level of puzzlement, if not outright disdain. And any southerner east of the Mississippi who doesn't consume large amounts of pork BBQ is often considered a threat to society.
So when I had the opportunity to befriend real life authentic Vegans, I was pleasantly surprised and thankful that my long held stereotypes of who Vegans were and what they were about were dashed. The first "real" Vegan that I came to know was a person who left voice mail for my running podcast. Megan from California, twitter name: veganrunningmom, seemed downright normal. She didn't sound like a hippie. And I came to find out that she neither smoked pot nor did she surf. What had happened? I met a NORMAL person who was also vegan?! This was something I had to process.
I discovered that Vegans were just like any other person I knew. They had hobbies, they had children, they were even decent citizens. Few of them wore sandals or lived on communes. I came to find that Vegans were no different than me, except for their concern for animals, their own bodies, and their planet. And I came to admire them for their belief system, and their convictions. It takes a special person to give up something they were raised with for years and years and start a new life and lifestyle. I respect Vegans for that. And I hope that in my new life as a Vegan I do not let them down, nor disrespect all that they believe and have shared with me in their compassion.
I found that the Vegans I knew treated me with compassion and did not judge my eating lifestyle. Rather, they sought to teach me, educate me, and to welcome me to ask questions. It was this approach that led me to investigate vegetarianism, then to become a veganarian (a word I used to describe what I was at the time: something more then Vegetarian, but not yet Vegan), and to later become Vegan. Funny, I had declared in an early podcast episode that while I could consider vegetarianism, I could NEVER be Vegan because that was just "too hardcore." Hmmm. Funny to think about that now. Funny thing is now it seems natural and not hardcore at all.
So what I realized, was that Vegans, even in the South, don't look much different than me. In fact, they ARE me! What was that about a mystique?