No, Grandma, I’m perfectly well, thank you

If you’re a vegan, and you don’t live in a cave, you are probably aware of how many types of non-vegans there are. There are people who support veganism, but won’t adapt the lifestyle themselves because they live under certain circumstances, people who accept it but claim that they could never go vegan because they “love the taste of *insert any animal product here*”, vegetarians who believe that as long as the animals get to live they remain unharmed… the list could go on forever. The type I’m going to focus on today, though, is the one that is usually the most difficult type to explain your veganism to: the people who think it’s impossible to be vegan, and question and criticise you to the point where you start to wonder if they look at you as an alien. These are people who have lived for a very long time with the idea that you need animal products to survive, and that’s just the way it’s supposed to be, and normally this makes them quite old (though this does obviously not indicate that every old person is like this). And when do most of us have to spend time with old people? Big family dinners.

IMG_0904

A situation many of us can relate to

Every year at Christmas, or whatever holiday your family celebrates, the dinner table is filled with all kinds of animals and foods that have come out of animals. You’re sitting there with your plate of everything vegan you could find, probably just some potatoes or bread, and a lonely little pile of vegetables. The smells make you mentally vomit, and you try your best not to think about who everybody else is eating and what they had to go through in order to end up in your relatives’ mouths. Across the table is your grandmother, who belongs to That Group of non-vegans and doesn’t yet know that you’re vegan. Desperately, you try to prevent her from finding out, because you know what big of a deal she’s going to make of it. And when she inevitably asks if you want some chicken, because “you’ve only got rabbit food on your plate”, and you politely say no, someone who happens to know that you’re vegan overhears the conversation. To your terror this person has to tell your grandmother “no, they’re vegan“, in a way that makes vegan sound like something exotic and as far from their lifestyle as you could possibly come. And then there’s the reaction.

How to handle the reaction

Your grandmother will find it difficult to understand – to her, the freakiness of being vegan is equivalent to the freakiness of suddenly growing two heads. So it’s up to you how you choose to explain it, and motivate it to her, especially if she’s the kind of person who won’t stop talking about it until she can at least to some extent wrap her head around it.

”I don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs.” Naturally you know that veganism is so much more than just what you eat, but maybe this is the easiest way to define it to someone who has no idea what it is. If you go with the whole ”to exclude the exploitation of animals for any purpose”-talk, then she’d probably lose track pretty fast.

”How can you not eat meat, dairy or eggs? What do you even eat?”

What you want to say could sound something like this: ”Well, Grandma, have you ever heard of plants? Beans, rice, potatoes? The things that the human body is actually supposed to thrive on, instead of corpses, milk meant for babies of another species and someone’s ovulation?” And you’re completely right about that. But if you start screaming this at a family dinner, it’s likely to, instead of making everyone want to instantly go vegan, just make everyone uncomfortable and weirded out (unless your family members need to be yelled at in order to understand something, and that’s just the way you talk to each other). If I might suggest a different approach: ”I eat just the foods that you eat, except I replace the animal products with things like beans, lentils and soy products. And there are tons of different meat, dairy and egg substitutes for vegans to buy.”

”But your body needs the nutrients that animal products contain!”

The classic. The thing people tell themselves to feel better about not being vegan. And the thing your grandmother takes as a plain truth. Now, your instincts tell you to start talking about the higher rate of cancer and heart disease you get by eating animal products, but that won’t make your stubborn relative shut up. It’s way more sustainable to in this situation simply state that you get the same nutrients from the foods you eat, and that you feel perfectly healthy.

”The animals are fine; we treat them well.”

Taking up your phone and showing your grandmother some footage of animals being murdered will not be seen as an appropriate thing to do during a family dinner (or any dinner at all). Neither will explaining graphically why the animals suffer. This statement is difficult to respond to, because you don’t just have to explain with facts how veganism works, but you have to motivate why you would decide to do something so drastic without making everyone feel super guilty or grossed out. Of course you can if you think it’s worth it, and some families may have their own “cultures” that would allow this more than others, but generally speaking this doesn’t seem to be the smartest move. I think I’d personally go with something like: ”I just don’t feel right supporting the industry, without really knowing what’s going on in it.” Which probably wouldn’t end the questions. This is about the very core of veganism, and I have to admit I need help with figuring out a good response suitable for the dinner situation.

I know it doesn’t feel right to sit there smiling politely and pretending to accept your family’s choice to eat meat, while innocent animals are stuffed into small, dirty spaces and having their heads blown off. It feels like you’re not doing enough for them. But not every situation is suitable for activism. Save your ”meat is murder”-t-shirt for a different occasion, when you more appropriately and successfully can affect people and spread your veganism. And just sit through those family dinners when it’s needed, and try to take your focus off your veganism and place it on spending time with the people who are important to you (even if they aren’t, but you don’t want to make them feel bad by not being there). As they’re usually the ones who necessarily have to bring up your veganism, it’s best to find the most simple way possible of handling the topic, even if it in that moment doesn’t feel like you’re doing the animals complete justice. The important thing to remember is that everyone is capable of going vegan, and you can help them do it, even if some people are easier to convert than others. And since your grandmother is one of the most difficult people to convert, you do the animals the most justice by saving your energy to when you have the actual power and conditions to turn people vegan.

image

Advertisements

Meat eater becomes vegetarian becomes vegan

So before I get started on discussions on here, perhaps a more personal post is required. And while I don’t want to fully give away who I am, what’s stopping me from telling you how I went vegan? Personally I find it very interesting to hear people’s stories about how they found veganism and connected to it, and I’d say it makes us better activists to learn about the different ways of making the connection there are.

Let’s take it from the beginning. My memory of the first step of the journey is the one of a dinner when I was maybe six or seven years old. It takes place at the dining table of my childhood home, where I sat with a plate in front of me with a schnitzel on it. It matters that it was a schnitzel, because I remember wondering for many years what specific animal that dish was actually made of (disturbing, right?). I believe the plate was blue, and that the piece of mysterious meat was accompanied by mashed potatoes and peas. A classic in my house. And for the first time of my life I reflected on what it actually was I was eating. That’s an animal. That piece of food is an animal. It has, like, had a life. And I didn’t feel good about it. Something was off about eating someone that had had a life. But, as almost everyone else who has been raised in this world, I was told that I needed to eat meat. That I wouldn’t survive without it. So that first questioning of eating animals was quickly neglected.

However, the feeling that it was wrong to eat meat didn’t completely vanish. It stayed hidden somewhere deep inside my little child brain, and sometimes it would crawl back up in the shape of guilt. I have always seen myself as an animal lover, and I felt that eating animals didn’t go very well with this identity. Did animals actually have to die for me to live? But again, I was convinced that this was in fact the case. Animals kill each other, circle of life, blah blah blah. And of course I was happy with that response. I did like the taste of meat, and as every other meat eater who does, I was looking for a justification for eating animals. In addition to that, whenever I talked to an adult about the possibility of being vegetarian, they would tell me that if I didn’t eat meat, I would need to eat beans to get the nutrients I needed. And the word beans automatically repulsed me, even though I had probably never tried them. Hating beans was just something that kids did in my world.

So, this justification went on and on. I kept eating my meat, but avoided it in forms when I was reminded of it actually being animals. Like chicken legs, for example. It wouldn’t go on forever, though – only till I was thirteen. I had always cared about the environment, constantly and possibly annoyingly encouraging my parents to recycle everything and walk instead of drive short distances. One day I found an article online about the impact on the environment that eating meat, especially cow meat, had. As I wanted to do everything I could for the planet, that was enough to convince me to go vegetarian overnight. I don’t think it would have worked if I hadn’t already been familiar with there being loads of realistic meat substitutes, though. (This was in 2014 – yes, I’m that young – so vegetarianism and veganism were already quite known concepts.) I do want to emphasise that I was vegetarian, and for the first six months I even ate fish for some unjustifiable reason, so I guess I was really a pescetarian. By the emphasis I mean that I ate a lot of eggs and dairy. When people (meat-eaters) asked me about it, I simply said that if the animals didn’t die, it was fine. Then in January 2015 I cut out fish as well, and another dash of guilt left my conscience. Obviously I felt that being vegetarian, and not eating the flesh of what was once living beings, was a good thing, and the idea of eating meat slowly began to disgust me. And I stayed on this vegetarian, but very not vegan, diet for another year and a half.

 

Egg and dairy industries in France – Photos by L214 Éthique & Animaux

It was in the spring 2016 that I finally realised the downsides of eggs and dairy. My sister had recently gone vegan, and as animal products started to disappear from the dinners in our household, I figured I should look into what veganism was. I recognised the suffering of hens and cows, and saw the connection between the meat, dairy and egg industries (even the animals raised for eggs and dairy are eventually going to be killed and eaten). Despite this new understanding of veganism, I was sure that I would never go vegan. Partly because it just seemed so extreme, and partly because I didn’t want to give up my milk chocolate and cheese. So while I did reduce my egg and dairy consumption to a minimum, I remained vegetarian. However, this wouldn’t last long. I came across the youtubers That Vegan Couple, and their way of explaining dairy as a child being taken from their mother and in general making it clear for me that humans had no right to use animals for their own pleasure, made me feel extremely guilty every time I ate animal products. I wasn’t so sure anymore that I would never go vegan. And when I on June 8th 2016 was served a veggie burger containing both eggs and milk, that was the end for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor baby cows that didn’t get to stay with their mothers and the male chicks being murdered directly after hatching. The regret of eating that burger was so intense that that was when I decided to go vegan. To never, ever again be the cause of the suffering of the animals. Today, as a seventeen year old, I have been vegan for two years, eating an amount of beans (and a lot of other foods) that would have freaked my seven year old self out, and I can confidently say that it’s the best choice I’ve ever made. Hell, it was hardly even a choice – I felt obligated to make the transition. And my only regret is not going vegan when that first thought appeared in my head ten years ago.

There you have it – my vegan story. I apologise for not keeping it shorter, but if you stuck with me till the end, thank you. Please share yours as well!

image

A shoe story

 

One day I was walking down the street, thinking oh, what a nice day, wearing as I had done every day for the past three years my pair of black converse sneakers. I suddenly froze, startled, as the alarming sound of fabric being ripped up reached my ears from somewhere below me, and I looked down at my feet to see my beloved left shoe now on the verge of becoming two shoes. The sole was no longer steadily attached to the rest of the shoe. Walking back home very carefully, I thought to myself that I might finally have to let go of these converse, and that maybe it wasn’t such a nice day after all.

The thing was, now I didn’t have any shoes that I actually liked walking around in. And when I started planning buying a new pair, something occurred to me: are converse even vegan? Fabric, rubber, some metal, and… what’s really hidden in that glue? And how in the world am I supposed to know if it’s vegan?

This happened about a year ago, and it was the first time I had to buy new shoes as a vegan. I had during the already one year that had passed since I went vegan become familiar with animal products not only being used in food, but also in, or in the producing of, things like cosmetics, clothes, furniture and even electronic devices, so the shoe issue was just another step of learning how to be vegan and veganize my life. Another thing you learn is that there is a limit to how vegan one can be; The Vegan Society in short defines the word as “to seek to exclude all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals as far as possible and practicable”. Maybe avoiding all electricity is not the most practicable, but if it’s possible to find vegan shoes, then I’d much rather wear those than the ones with boiled animal bones and connective tissue in their glue.

image1-4

As companies usually aren’t very straight-forward with their use of body part-containing glue, knowing which shoes are vegan can be difficult. Sometimes a google search is enough, but sometimes you have to dig deep and not that rarely you need to contact the company yourself to be sure. When I first went vegan, learning how to handle these things really scared me, and I’m still learning. You have to face new situations in your everyday life where you have to figure out how to stay vegan, and it can be a real challenge.

So how do you know when you’ve gone too far? Should you spend hours and hours trying to find out every single step included in the production of a pair of shoes just to make sure that no animal was harmed whatsoever, or should you just buy any shoes that don’t have leather in them because everything else is categorised as not practicable and therefore vegan? I don’t think there is any general rule – I think you have to judge every situation for itself and your circumstances. My tactics usually involve trying to see the matter from the victim’s perspective, to remember why I’m vegan, and still maintain some sort of sanity and sense of reality. Sometimes it’s simply impossible to stay vegan, for instance if you can only afford the most available option. But I also think that if there are vegan shoes available, then those are the ones we should buy, because the more we promote them, the more available they will become to everyone and the less animals will be harmed. As the vegan community is growing and veganism is becoming more normalised, finding vegan products is getting so much easier. And I want to do what I can to help the world become more vegan by helping people find vegan products, if that includes shoes, toothpaste, dietary supplements or whatever.

I ended up not buying a new pair of converse, as what google seemed to tell me was that the company couldn’t clearly state that their glue was vegan. Instead I contacted another common shoe producer to ask if their non-leather shoes were vegan, and they were, so I got myself a pair of their shoes instead. Being that I’m not very comfortable socialising, I of course found it scary to email them, but it was so worth it as I now know that I did what I could to minimise the suffering my living in this world causes animals.image