Why should I have to opt out of violence? brutality and bloodshed shouldn't be weaved into the very structures of society I hate proclaiming "I'm vegan" like it's something special and exotic othering myself in the eyes of those around me Why am I the odd man out for not killing animals? it feels like I'm living life upside down having to justify myself to those with viscera and flesh stuck between their teeth receiving weird looks for eating a plum rather than slitting the throat of another being Why is it my responsibility to explain choosing peace? compassion and kindness were supposed to be the default but in reality they are so far from the norm that I am a sensation, a social pariah for caring for others for simply trying to exist without victimizing those not even worthy enough to be considered victims Why is it my job to not ruffle any feathers? years spent learning how to make myself small enough not to offend the inhumane actions of the masses choking off my own inner sense of justice and morality just to share a meal with those I love as they grin between bites of slaughtered babies and mock me for not partaking in the carnage Why am I the one left to make sense of this madness? the surreal sensation of a sinking stone inside my stomach as I snuff out the ever swelling righteous rage before it spills out of my tight lips and separates me from all the "normal" people that I desperately want to share my life with despite their conditioned participation in egregious daily cruelty Why is it weird and sentimental for me to cry when the realities of this world come crashing down on me? when I can't help but remember the shuddering suffering of billions and billions of precious innocent beings being exploited and mercilessly tortured and confined on behalf of my own friends and family Why do I have to opt out of violence? why am I part of a pathetically small minority of people who live by the values we all pretend to have I'll never understand why it's even up for debate whether we should subjugate and slaughter or take the life of another for a fucking flavor
This weekend I went to two different summer parties with the people I work with. One was with my coworkers from the Child Advocacy Center and one was with my yoga studio friends. It used to be a bigger deal to go out to restaurants and parties and other social events when I was first finding me vegan footing. Now I don’t really give it a second thought. I’m used to either ordering a garden salad or bringing my own party favors when I go out. What I did find interesting was the distinctly different experiences I had at these two parties this weekend.
Since I began working at my new job, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how accepting and considerate of my veganism my coworkers have been. Despite the popular trope that vegans “love to tell you they’re vegan” I actually usually keep it hidden from new people I meet for as long as I can. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it or anything. Talking about it just usually ends up turning into an invitation for all the age old vegan questions. “Where do you get your protein? What do you eat? Can you eat eggs? Do you eat fish?” Etc. etc. It’s quite exhausting. I quickly got tired of dispelling common myths and teaching everyone I met about my diet. But when my friends at work found out, they didn’t seem shocked and horrified like most people. They were great. They were respectful and a lot of them even told me how great it was that I was vegan.
At my work party, I came with a bag of food to eat and share, assuming I wouldn’t have much available there. It was a fondue party after all. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. There were two giants vegan dishes (pasta salad & a quinoa dish) as well as hummus. All were labeled very clearly too! It honestly nearly brought tears to my eyes. I had never felt so respected and well taken care of at a party before. (Plus I made chocolate chip cookies that everyone ate up immediately, not even noticing they were vegan.)
Now I must have gotten a little cocky after that party on Saturday. I didn’t really expect my veganism to even come up at the annual studio picnic I went to yesterday. I’ve known these people for years now and I thought we’d gotten past the question and answer stage. Unfortunately it was immediately brought up when I offered tabouli to everyone. To be fair I guess that’s not an ideal dish to offer since not many people even know what it is. I only know because I’m Greek and my grandmother used to make it, not because I’m vegan. Anyway, I digress, it seemed like quite a bit of my time there was just spend explaining veganism and nutrition to everyone. I got all the classics. “Where do you get your protein?” That one always kills me. I also had people acting upset that the impossible burger wasn’t “healthy.” Well yea, neither is a regular burger. It’s a junk food replacement, not a health food. Someone even told me, “It’s great being vegan works for your body. I don’t think it would work for my body.” What the hell does that even mean? Haven’t heard that excuse before.
I was so disappointed that my fellow yogis were the ones that made me spend my time at this party lecturing and justifying my lifestyle. They all seemed to be much more defensive than my work friends. It’s interesting to observe the way different people react to my veganism. It says a lot about a person. What I’ve seemed to notice is that the more in line with vegan principles someone already is, the more threatened they seem to be by me. Not always, but a lot. Ahimsa or non-harming is one of the main principles of a yogic lifestyle. Of course that can be interpreted different ways by different people, but obviously veganism is the way I interpret it. I think veganism is quite threatening to some people. They hear you saying you’re better than them even when you’re not. They feel attacked and become hostile towards you. It’s a visceral reaction brought on by the cognitive dissonance within their own minds. They see the value in veganism and know that it aligns with their beliefs, yet they aren’t ready to give up their current habits. The discomfort that creates is then a problem that the vegan catalyst is blamed for subconsciously.
Whatever you opinions of veganism are, I just want to point out that it’s not polite to put a vegan on the spot with endless questions, especially at a party. I went there to have fun, not to answer questions that are quite frankly boring and irritating to me at this point. I used to think that it was a great opportunity to educate people and even though I didn’t really enjoy doing so, I tried my best to answer everything adequately. After being vegan for nearly a decade now and hearing the same questions from the same people again and again, I see it a bit differently. I don’t think most people really care what your answers are. They are just asking questions to make conversation. If they truly had any interest in the answers to those questions, they could have just googled it and gotten a much more comprehensive and helpful explanation.
One of the questions I always get is: “what do you miss most?” They are expecting it to be a “food.” But honestly I miss fitting in better, being able to blend into the crowd. The social ostracizing it the hardest part. It’s practically the only difficulty that still has stayed with me after all these years as a vegan.
My office is somewhat out in the countryside. Most of the road there is lined with rolling fields with cows grazing. This morning as I was driving to work, I saw one of the cows wading chest deep into this little pond. It made me so happy. What a little goof, I thought to myself. I really enjoy watching them everyday when I’m commuting to and from the office or when we take walks during our lunch break. Sometimes there are even curious babies that approach the fence to watch us as we pass by.
Knowing that my friends at work also enjoy our cow neighbors, I was excited to talk about what I saw this morning. I was quite shocked and caught off guard by the reply I received though. Instead of smiling and laughing at what a silly cow I saw earlier, my friend sadly commented on how he thought the cows were starving. I asked him what he meant, since I hadn’t noticed them looking particularly unhealthy or anything. He told me that he could see their ribs. While this made me very sad, it also made me confused and curious. He seemed awfully upset and sad about it. I almost asked him why he cared.
Obviously I care, and I think it’s right and natural to care about other living beings. That’s why I’m a vegan and don’t include these sentient beings in my diet. But my friend at work is not a vegan or even a vegetarian. Therefore this strange disconnect always intrigues me. It’s amazing how rarely human beings follow their thoughts and beliefs to their logical conclusion. Clearly he cares for these cows and doesn’t want to see them suffer. Yet the suffering that he pays for and ingests at each and every meal is far more gruesome than merely going hungry. If underfed cows could cause him so much sadness, why does he perpetuate far greater abuses?
I’m not trying to blame him or even shame him for the way he lives his life. I am just fascinated by the psychology behind this common hypocrisy. Even though I was once a part of the exact same mindset (animal lover/animal eater) it still doesn’t make any sense to me. But I want to understand how I overcame that mental block. I want to find a way to get other people to make the same connection that I finally made nearly a decade ago.
People often look at others in small religious sects, cults, political parties, or those who subscribe to other ideologies in general and wonder how on earth they could believe the things they do. We tend to think there is just something wrong with those people. Unfortunately we are all susceptible to these oversights in judgement. I would even go so far as to say we all participate in actions that conflict with our personal beliefs. A lot of the time we can recognize these inconsistencies, but feel unable to reconcile them. But there are probably still quite a few that each of us have that we don’t even acknowledge. I, for one, am very concerned about the ones that may exist within my own mind.
I’d like to think I would be grateful if someone were to point these hypocritical behaviors to me so that I could work towards becoming a more consistent and principled person. Yet I don’t know how I would actually feel were I confronted in this way. Most people tend to just get angry and think you are a jerk. This is why, despite my feelings, I don’t bring these types of things up to people anymore. It never seems to help the situation, only hurt our relationship. The mind is truly a fascinating thing. I hope to someday understand it better so that I may use that understanding to help myself, my fellow humans, and the other beings that we brutalize every day.
When I first became vegan I was extremely motivated to push others to become vegan as well. I did this by sharing the unbelievable information that I had been exposing myself to. I shared videos, scholarly articles, statistics, quotes, and powerful personal statements about my transformation and new perspectives regarding animal agriculture and carnism. It is even the reason I began this blog. I was certain that if others only knew about the things I had learned that they would have no choice but to eliminate meat and dairy from their diets in order to alleviate their cognitive dissonance between being a good person and participating in the ending of innocent lives.
I quickly became disheartened and emotionally exhausted in this fight. I couldn’t believe the backlash I received. So many people felt attacked and angered by what I thought were straight forward facts. I got into argument after argument with people online desperately trying to change their minds or at least the minds of those reading the exchange. Yet, I never really felt as though I was getting anywhere even though some of my more open minded friends did contact me and tell me that they were inspired to transition to veganism because of me. I was continuously being eaten up inside by my own resentments and disgust with humanity for all the atrocities it refused to acknowledge.
As this strenuous and emotional effort began to overwhelm me, I had to reevaluate my actions in order to preserve my sanity and emotional wellbeing. I felt immense guilt about not putting enough energy into fighting for the animals of this earth that I dearly loved. I just didn’t know how I could make a difference on their behalf. I turned to working on myself through mindfulness and meditation. These practices have recently led me to a powerful realization.
Instead of directly encouraging others to accept that their current lifestyle includes cruelty and that they need to change, I’ve decided to take a different approach. I remember watching a video by Gary Yourofsky where he explained that it didn’t matter how aggressive or gentle you were with your activism. People would listen to you when they were ready. So how can we get others ready to listen?
I think that by promoting the practice of loving-kindness and meditation that inevitably veganism will follow. This approach now seems much more logical to me. No one wants to be told that the way they are currently living and have been living for their whole lives is wrong. It is a natural reaction to become defensive and try to justify ourselves in some way. I can still remember not long ago being on this side of the argument myself. If someone is ready to change they may listen. Otherwise you are only creating a wider division and more tension between these opposing perspectives.
I used to believe that the facts were all that were needed. But after so many conflicts I realized that you can find studies to backup whatever you wish to believe. It can be incredibly difficult to decipher which studies are funded by those with vested interests and which have flawed methodology, etc. So rather than trying to force change, I want to try something different.
I want to give people the tools they need to be strong enough and loving enough to make changes on their own. Unlike directly promoting veganism, encouraging others to practice loving kindness and mindfulness does not create the same violent reaction and need for defensive tactics. People can easily become interested in these practices for their innate ability to improve all of our lives. More and more people are discovering the benefits of mindfulness, yoga, and loving-kindness meditation. I believe that veganism is the natural response to the shift in consciousness these practices cultivate. It, at the very least, creates the right awareness to allow others to become ready to receive the message of veganism.
By promoting these ancient and beautiful heart opening exercises, I am able to contribute to the movement without destroying myself in the process. I hope that more vegans will begin to adopt this peaceful approach and accept that most people cannot be swayed by hard facts and aggression. Rather they are swayed by the example we all can set by living lives of tranquility and compassion. The energy you emit is the energy that you will receive back from the world around you. Let’s let go of our anger and anguish at the injustices others are perpetrating and instead embrace all that is with an attitude of acceptance and loving awareness. Let’s show others what our world can be if we all just open our hearts to the possibilities.
It is still hard for me at times when I begin to dwell on the immense amount of suffering our fellow earthlings are experiencing every day. But I don’t want to add more anger, despair, and aggression into our world. I want to fill the space around me with love and light, encouraging others to do the same.
The task before us to save our earth is daunting. But we cannot allow ourselves to dwell on the negative. We must continue to fill ourselves with hope, contentment, and gratitude. Others will reach this realization when they are ready. Let us help them prepare. Let us teach the world through example. We can only truly try to improve ourselves. And in this way we can change the world.
Sending you all my abundant love and encouragement. ♥