The Worthwhile Trek
As vegans, it seems like we make our lives much more difficult in many ways. After all, it isn’t easy to see the circus come to town, chaining elephants by their feet, yet there are still people lined up down the block.
And who among us hasn’t been driving down the highway only to pass a truck carrying hundreds of animals to their fate at the slaughterhouse? Not to mention how nauseating it can be to be seated in a restaurant where the table next to yours is ordering the all-you-can eat rib special. Yes, we don’t have to look very far or hard to see that our world is far from being perfect. While battling this negativity is a feat analogous to climbing Mount Everest, it is surprisingly most difficult to maintain in family relationships. What if the person ordering the all-you-can-eat ribs is seated at your very own table? In this case, if you wish to advance veganism and animal rights in our world, it is imperative to learn how to maintain the peace when our family members question our lifestyle (not to mention it is imperative to maintaining your sanity!).
Learning not to become bitter and judgmental towards the people we love-our family and friends-is certainly not easy. This is especially true because they are not always understanding of our ethics nor even willing to hear them. But what is one to do, when grandma is insulted you won’t try her gravy, and Uncle teases you for caring for four-legged beings? It would be all too easy to come up with some snappy comebacks, but where does this lead except to closed ears and a family feast gone awry? Worse yet, no one at the table wants to hear your hour-long negative critique of how wrong they are for eating meat. In my experience, the best thing to do here is be positive. Don’t expect your family and friends to convert to your lifestyle overnight (or possibly ever), because you would be wasting time and energy.
Instead, keep a positive attitude in remembering that you can make the most impact in their hearts and minds by treating them with compassion instead of belittlement. Explain your case of why you are vegan, and leave it at that. Don’t glare at them for grabbing a drumstick or give them the “evil eye” when they ask for second helpings of meat loaf. That won’t get you anywhere except ostracized from any future family get-togethers.
Stay positive, for in leading by example, they will be more likely to consider your view points and think twice next time they’re at the supermarket.
How do I know this works? It may seem like keeping the peace is the passivist’s method, but let me share with you a few of my own family experiences to illustrate its efficacy. At the age of eight, I watched the movie “Babe” and made the connection that pork = baby pigs (and realized our society is good at using euphemisms to hide the true identity of food).
It was then that I decided to be vegetarian. I was lucky, because I had parents who were willing to accommodate my new lifestyle, even if they thought it was only a phase. Whatever the case, I was still sad to see those I loved eating animals when I now saw it as so wrong. I would do research on PETA websites and every now and then tell my parents about the things I learned. My brother of course, being typical of big brothers, teased me about loving animals to such an extent, and he would try to force meat into my mouth.
But a child’s spirit is ever without limits and negativity, and I stayed positive and knew that one person, even just little eight-year-old me, could make a difference in the suffering of animals. My endurance did not go unnoticed. It wasn’t long before my parents began paying attention to the reasons why I wasn’t eating meat. I noticed my mother began cooking less beef, and soon the only meat they were eating was poultry. As time went on, I grew up healthier than my meat-eating peers. My parents would notice how I was now very rarely, if ever, sick-while my meat-eating friends were frequently caught with the flu or stomachaches. They were inspired by my positive outlook on my health and on the future of animals everywhere, and began researching on their own. Long story short, today my parents are vegetarian and moving towards becoming vegan. Perhaps if I would have had a negative outlook, and nagged them constantly or simply given up, they would still be eating meat today. I can never really know for sure, but what I do know is that leading by example works, because no one is motivated when they are criticized or feel they are doing wrong.
And what about my brother who used to force animal products on my plate? Today, the boy who was once determined to turn me back into a meat eater is a fellow vegan. Yes, I never would have dreamed it would be possible, but after seeing how well I lived on a vegan lifestyle, how I was in better shape and enjoyed delicious, flavorful and animal-free meals, he began to change a few of his thoughts. He’s not the only one: my aunts and uncles have become vegetarian, and several of my friends tell me that because of me, they now consume drastically less meat. It seems like veganism is a contagious lifestyle, spread in part by leading by example.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my whole family is not born again vegan. I still have plenty of family members who still eat meat and continue along their merry way. However, what I can say is this: not turning negative by looking for all of their faults has saved my relationships with them. After all, they are still my family and I love them for many reasons. I have heard from far too many young vegetarians whose new changes have made them enemies to their friends and family, and the negative toll this takes on the vegetarian often leads them to want to give up. Therefore, I have been led to the conclusion that it is best to learn to look at the good in those around us, and realize that each person has their own time for change and their own decisions as to what is right for them.
Perhaps this is not the answer we want to hear, but it is the most logical and truthful. If this sounds depressing to you, surround yourself with positivity- remember, every year in the United States alone, there are one million new vegetarians. That amounts to hundreds of thousands of animals that are being saved, not to mention the ripple effect these new vegetarians will have on those around them. It may also be helpful to use your motivation and energy towards making a difference wherever you can: volunteer at an animal shelter, write letters to animal rights abusers, or join a local vegetarian group. There are plenty of ways to see a positive change in the world around you, you just have to look for them.
So next time you find yourself in a frustrating family conversation, take a breather and bite your tongue from saying anything that you might regret. In leading by example, you can concentrate on bettering yourself and putting your energy into meaningful and influential causes. Not to mention that others will take notice of your progress and perhaps even implement some of your changes into their own lives. If not, at least you will still be talking to your family members come Christmas time. As hard as keeping the peace may seem, you can climb to the top of this Mount Everest of a dilemma.
Remember that once you are up there, it is not only the best place to be for yourself, but also for your family and for all animals.