The word ‘can’t’ is often used incorrectly. It’s a force of habit and we don’t notice ourselves doing it… unless you’re an annoying grammar snob like yours truly, in which case you’ll constantly correct yourself and others [that wish they weren’t] around you.
“Can you pass the salt, Lei?”
“Yes… BECAUSE I am physically able to pass you the salt… but may I????…”
“Stop being condescending and leave me to my mash potato.”
“It’s actually mashed potato.”
“Leila, piss off.”
“I’m going, I’m going.”
(I’m really enjoying writing mini, self-deprecating dialogues at the moment. Have you noticed?)
However, the word ‘can’t’ doesn’t always seem to be an accidental choice of wording but a fundamental misunderstanding – and it’s getting pretty annoying.
Since going vegan nearly two years ago, (Oh here it comes – YES, WE KNOW YOU’RE VEGAN, STOP TELLING EVERYONE AND EAT SOME HUMOUS) I’ve heard the words ‘you can’t’ more times than I’ve overcooked red split lentils. “Want some of this cake? Oh, I’m so sorry! You can’t, can you? Oh, how stupid of me.” The heart is in the right place, and I get that it can be difficult to adjust to, but it is a choice. I choose not to eat the cake you’ve just offered me. This isn’t like offering someone who has a severe nut allergy a peanut butter brownie. They can’t have any because their body will explode. If I wanted it, trust me – I would have devoured the thing right off the palm of your hand like a rabid animal… But I don’t want it, so I won’t do that. Thank you for the offer, though. I really like what you’ve done with the icing.
Dieting programmes tell you to instead say ‘don’t’ or ‘won’t’. You’re taught to say No thank you, I won’t have any pink wafer biscuits rather than I can’t. I’m on a diet. You’re actively making a choice to improve your physical health through what you consume and it’s the same with veganism. You’ve chosen this lifestyle because:
[Delete as appropriate.]
a) you want to improve your health
b) you care about the environment
c) you like animals
d) Sainsbury’s always has loads of great vegetables in its reduced section and you’re a poor, struggling artist and you’d rather spend your money on fun things/rent
… and not because someone has made you. That last bit seems to get forgotten, though.
Case in point: A few months ago, I worked in a fancy Spanish restaurant in central Manchester. I was there for two and a half shifts and had to invest in a white shirt because I didn’t have one and the uniform demanded it. It cost a fifth of my total earnings which was really fucking annoying at the time but I’m completely over it now, the stupid bastards. I should have known it wasn’t the right job for me when I asked where the keys for the staff room were and a chef yelled, “Next to the pig!” Anyway, on my first shift, a man who I’ll call Ted – a) because I can’t actually remember his real name, and b) because he looked like a character called Ted in the children’s TV show Postman Pat(click here to get in the loop) – offered me some of the new cheeses the chefs had cut for him to try. I said, “I’m alright, thank you,” to which he looked startled and then replied, “YOU DON’T LIKE CHEESE?!” to which I explained, “Nah, I don’t eat it because I’m vegan.” Ted stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me as if I’d just told him I’d shat in his rucksack while I was on my break. He took a moment to process this awful news then said in a grave voice, “Oh my god, I am so sorry to hear that.”
I wanted to say, “Ted mate, it was my choice. This wasn’t thrust upon me against my will. I wasn’t dragged into a dark alley on my way home one fateful night, pinned up against a wall by the scruff of my dungarees, a knife against my throat and threatened in a low, husky, cockney, male voice (as it is in my head as I imagine this scenario), ‘You better fackin’ go vegan, you posh cant, or I’ll fackin’ slice ya n dice ya like the poor baby animaws that you eat f’dinna! GODDIT?!’ I didn’t whimper and cry silently, ladylike-ly, and promise I’d never hurt a baby animaw again even though steak is really really nice. The Animal Rights Bandit (known on the streets as ‘ARB’) didn’t then throw me to into some rubble and leap into the night after slashing a paw print into some conveniently-placed fabric with his blade, like Zoro. None of this happened because
it was my decision (and because reality isn’t as dramatic and cinematic as my imagination)."
I was writing that last paragraph at Cheltenham Spa station on my way to my Grandma’s for her birthday and the girl sat next to me on the bench was definitely peering over my shoulder as I ferociously typed. From what I could see from my peripherals, she looked extremely horrified and confused at what she was reading and she SHOULD BE because I’m a maniac and also because people honestly look at me with such pity when I say I’m vegan. Either that or they roll their eyes because typical vegan, mentioning that they’re vegan when it makes sense to bring it up in conversation.
I’ve already written a blog about why I gave up meat and dairy et al. so I won’t harp on about that now – if you’re interested and not already sick of my ‘stupid preachy’ writing then scroll back to June of 2016 and you’ll find a trio of posts called The Veganniversary.
To be fair, a lot of people ‘get it’. I regularly have great conversations and debates with my aunty at the dinner table because she used to run a farm and completely knows what goes on behind closed doors in commercial and non-commercial settings, so she understands my reasonings. However, I guess the reason I’m writing this post is because of all the Teds in the world. Ted, I know you probably don’t care about any of this and you probably don’t even remember me now because why the hell should you? But I’ve needed to get this off my chest because it grates on me like that stinky cheese that you love so much grates onto the tapas you drool over (not literally – he was a pretty hygienic waiter, from what I could tell).
I know that 90% of the time it’s just an incorrect phrasing, but I stand by the fact that saying ‘you can’t’ takes away from the fact that something was a voluntary choice. Maybe a solution to this is for everyone to keep a packet of supermarkets’ own-brand bourbons in their house? They’re almost always plant-based (I’ve said the V word a lot so I’m actively avoiding it this last time) and that would alleviate the need for this whole blog post in the first place.
I think I’ll leave it there.
Oh, actually – if anyone knows Ted’s real name, please don’t tell me. Nothing else could suit him better and I’ve already changed his outfit into overalls and a flat-cap in my head so I would prefer to keep him that way.