I stopped consuming animal products three years ago.
It is Thanksgiving day and I'm invited to a family dinner.
Now, combine those two previous sentences and let your imagination run wild.
- Have some turkey.
- I don't eat meat.
- Just take a bite.
- I don't eat meat.
- It's ok, no one is looking.
This is how this sort of conversations start and I always hope they can lead to awareness. Of course, my experience so far has shown me that, usually (luckily not always), they end up in a fiasco with goggling eyes. Towards me or the floor. They are, also, combined with expressions of wonder, disgust or pity, as well as with the coverted, disapproving smiles, that obviously imply something like "Poor guy, what happened to him...".
Whether we decide to enter such a conversation, or not, depends on many things. Such as our mood, who and how many are the rest of the speakers, as well as how open we think they are to new ideas or whether there are other like-minded people at the table. Ultimately, the decision is completely personal and doesn't have to be the same on every occasion. How many "not even fish?", "what's wrong with honey?", "where do you get protein from?" and "a child with vegan parents died" can we bear?
First of all, let's keep in mind the possible positive outcome of such a debate. In other words, sometimes somebody might understand and immediately accept that the exploitation of animals by humans is actually happening. They simply had not realized it until then (besides, that's what happened to me too). This does not necessarily mean that they will instantly change their way of life, which, however, may happen. For that reason, I believe that it is worth participating in such conversations. Let's not forget that the rest of the people listening, or disagreeing, are inevitably exposed to new ideas, which I also think is positive.
So we will examine both cases. That is, whether we get involved in the conversation or not. But first, let's take a look at the practical part of the food itself.
What are we going to eat?
Talking about a vegan diet while our belly is growling probably won't create positive cohesions to the rest of the people at the table. So, let's see what we are going to eat if we find ourselves in such situations.
If we are invited to a relative's or friend's house and feel comfortable enough, we can ask them in advance what kind of food there will be, so we are not taken by surprise. We can also ask for some simple adjustments. Such as keeping part of the salad without cheese or honey sauce for us, cooking the rice with olive oil instead of butter or baking the potatoes separately from the meat.
If we decide to eat in a restaurant, we can recommend going to a restaurant with vegan choices on the menu. Or, why not, even to a vegan restaurant. Something that can be a pleasant surprise for those who have never tried such recipes and even lead to interesting conversations. I believe that places like that make people more receptive to a vegan diet, as the myth that it only includes lettuce and broccoli is automatically wiped out.
However, if we end up, for whatever reason, in a non-vegan restaurant, we can look at the menu for vegan options. It's possible that we can find a salad or a dish that we can ask, for example without grated cheese. Of course, if we know in advance that we will not have many choices or even none, we can eat before we go to dinner. In that case, we can just have a drink with the others.
So we overcame the adversity of having to talk while being hungry. Now, let us look at both versions. That is, whether we have the conversation or not.
If we decide not to have the conversation
If we don't get into the conversation and that's where it ends, it will be, let's say, a painless way out for us. We will survive intact, or worst-case scenario with a few contemptuous glances, but we will have missed an opportunity for discussion.
Of course, there is always the possibility that we will want this conversation to end, but instead, it will flare up. There is a chance that we will get taunted. Then, we will have to choose whether we stay still until the nightmare is over or get involved in the conversation. If we decide to stay still, we should be patient. It all ends at some point.
If we get involved in the conversation
1. We stay calm
So if we have the courage to explain how we ended up to that decision (against the exploitation of animals by humans), I think the most important thing is to remain calm. I have to admit I don't always manage to do that. Nevertheless, I try. I have seen that whenever I describe in detail, for example how a cow's milk is "produced", I get upset and intense. Thus, whoever is listening to me feels like I'm attacking them and, reasonably, gets into a defense mode. Being in defense, they immediately block any new information, with no intention of processing it any further. In the best-case scenario, they are waiting for me to stop talking.
So stay calm.
2. We stick to the subject
We do not give in to the disorientation of the conversation. It is common for someone who participates in such a discussion for the first time to raise many issues all at once. Such as that "we are carnivores," "when we harvest the broccoli, it also dies", "we are at the top of the food chain," "lions eat meat as well".
The more the interlocutors, the more suggestions for new discussions there will be. The more subjects we bring up, the harder it will be to close them, as well as for the others to focus on the essence, which is the exploitation of animals by humans. So, let's not be tempted to enter into such conversations. Otherwise we are risking ending up discussing (if not arguing) for hours, and in the end we will not have said what we really wanted to say in the first place.
Our main message, which we want to be heard, must also be the most essential. That is, whether humans have the right to capture, exploit, abuse, and kill the rest of the animals. We stick to it and we do not change the subject. In order to do this, whenever we are suggested to talk about something else, for example, "don't lions eat meat as well?", we can kindly mention that this is a whole different conversation and if they wish we can discuss it later. In order to do so, whenever we are offered another debate, for example, "And the lions do not eat meat?", We can kindly say that this is another debate, and if we want to discuss it later.
3. We choose our words and attitude carefully
We should be careful about our phrasing and attitude. Anything that might seem aggressive or like an accusation will lead to defense. Something that will prevent him from being receptive to new information.
Direct expressions, such as "you pay someone else to kill the pig you eat", "you eat cheese, though", could be perceived as accusations. But also indirect ones, such as "whoever consumes milk is responsible for the slaughtering of calves", "those who go to the zoo pay for the captivity of animals". Negative facial expressions, such as ironically raised eyebrows and obvious indignation may have the same result, as well.
We try to express what we want to say as detached as possible, by simply stating the facts. For example: "Cows on farms are constantly, artificially, being impregnated, in order to keep producing milk, and the newborn calves are being slaughtered so they don't drink their mother's milk". This kind of approach is more likely to lead to second thoughts, than to defense.
We avoid generalizations and we do not mention any information that we are not sure is valid. Anything that prompts the others to question us, may lead them to completely reject everything we say.
We speak only for ourselves. For example, we say, "I do not want to eat meat, I do not agree with animals being exploited and slaughtered". We avoid talking about what we assume others think or know. If we want to know what they believe or think, we can just ask them. These assumptions simply inflame the conversation. Expressions such as "why do you eat meat?" and "you believe whatever ads sell you" will probably have the opposite of the desired result.
4. We should be pleased even if the other person is just being troubled.
I have noticed that if we bring up a lot of information with many details, people might get upset. Let's keep in mind that they might not be in the mood or that they might not want to spend so much time in that conversation. Also, they might consider us some kind of organization member trying to lecture them.
In similar cases, I have decided to try to focus only on one case of animal exploitation, and not to bombard people with too much information. I wish I had the time to talk about furs, animal milk, eggs, meat, fish, honey, hens, experiments on animals, pâté, palm oil, leather clothes, zoos, shows with animals, etc. However, this is all too much information and will probably wear the others out.
Let's not hurry. Let's be realistic and accept the fact that when someone is informed about the exploitation of animals for the first time, it is enough if he is just troubled. He doesn't have to embrace the vegan way of life, and certainly not at that very moment.
5. We avoid using "labels"
We should avoid designating and, by extension, "labeling" the others (and ourselves).
As far as we are concerned, we should clarify that choosing this particular way of life is purely a personal and conscious choice, as we do not want to be a part of the exploitation of animals. To label ourselves as "vegans" gives the opportunity to the people we talk to, to charge us with everything that has been falsely reproduced. Such as that "a vegan couple adopted a broccoli", in order to contradict us real quick. That way they make us seem like crazy so they can get over with us.
If anything, precisely news like these is what is mostly widespread about vegans. So let's avoid using the word "vegan" to facilitate the flow of the discussion and not having to talk about whether everything that is reproduced about vegans is true or not.
We should also avoid characterizing the others. As well as accusing them, or even scaring them with the possible risks for their health, due to the consumption of animal products. Expressions like "murderer", "remorseless," but also more indirect ones, such as "eventually you will understand" and "your arteries will be blocked," will simply make them focus on their "defend". As a result, they will ignore everything regarding the exploitation of animals.
6. We listen to the others carefully
Listening to others' opinions carefully is not just polite but also helps and benefits the conversation.
If we truly want to communicate, we must be the first to be really open to new ideas. After all, this is what we ask from the people we talk to. This is the only way for us to learn something new, as well. If we begin a conversation knowing the only truth, this no longer a conversation, but a lecture. If we perceive the conversation as a co-quest, that is, that we are on a quest together, I believe it will benefit both of us a lot.
Let's not forget that most of us were once in a similar position to theirs. Let's think about the way we would wish someone had talked to our then-self and let's do the same. Gratitude and respect can only have positive results.
It is very likely they are unaware of the extent of exploitation and abuse of animals by humans. It's reasonable for them to have questions, not to believe everything we say or even believe that animals are not being abused. Let's listen carefully. Perhaps the conversation would take a turn we did not expect. Maybe we can learn something new. Perhaps they also learn something they did not know.
Let's stay close to the people we love
Let us transfer the relevant information around us, and let us keep in mind that even if they decide to change their habits, each will follow his own pace. Let's spread the things we learned to the people around us, keeping in mind that, even if they decide to change their habits, each one will do it at their own pace. Taking all these into consideration, I hope we can still have fun over dinner with our friends and family and have beneficial conversations.
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