From the time my friend non-vegan friend Diane threw a vegan party—lovely!
As promised, I'm taking questions! Here's one from a fellow newsletter member, A.K. from the UK:
Q. My vegan fiancee and I are getting married. We intend to provide tea and coffee after the reception meal, but I don't want to serve cow's milk. Do I tell invitees in advance (thus encouraging them to bring their own, and "making a fuss about it"), let them find out when they're here (thus aggravating lots of people and encouraging them to ask all the questions we get asked so often), or, though I'm wary of this, just provide cow milk from a local, "humane" farm?
A. Entertaining non-vegans is a common quandry, but feeling torn about what to serve is more about us than our guests. What should be a celebratory event/holiday dinner/birthday party/etc. may still inspire guilt and ambivalence if you're still thinking of your vegan ways as "abnormal." Like a punk rock kid at a prep school, you "know" (assume) the other kids are basically disappointed with you and think your choices are weird and annoying. Well, the bully species can smell this apologetic scent of surrender a mile away. It actually makes them hungry, I think.
What advice would you tell our young punk rocker? Should he cave and throw on a collared shirt or rock his spikes with pride?
Be proud! The way you think and eat is beautiful, and entertaining is about sharing—beautiful food from wonderful recipes, a gorgeous table or buffet full of sparkling candles, shiny dinnerware, and fresh flowers! Forget "veganism," think beauty, marketing, and presentation! Change your own approach to entertaining, stop anticipating predatory reactions, and envision your guests stunned with delight at the exceptionally gorgeous options (remember—you can always serve a variety of vegan milk options, for example—hemp, almond, oat, rice, etc.).
Anyway, I don't ever recall having seen a menu manifesto on any party invitation—brides and grooms don't generally explain why they're serving fish or chicken. Every party menu has its limits. So stick to normal protocol. Surprise your guests with a gorgeous spread, or, if you're including a menu on the invitation, just lay out the options without any explanation or defense (make it sound gourmet—use adjectives! "Loose-Leaf Lavender Infusion Tea with Steamed Almond Milk, Orange Blossom Oolong with...)
But by all means, don't compromise your deepest beliefs, especially when you're the center of the party. You are the host, you get to decide...and what a great opportunity to share vegan choices.
Got questions? Email Ruby here.
My dear, dear, dear agent of change!
(I was feeling a little fragile and I'm really glad you're here.
Last week on Facebook, I posted a tidbit about Jennifer Lopez going vegan—it was just a bit of pop sugar water-cooler-chit-chat stuff. Not important.
Well, the post was met with a venom I haven't experienced since the angry media frenzy around my vegan children's books! Except this time, the spew wasn't coming from meat-eaters, but from vegans, furious that J Lo was getting the spotlight when her "veganism" isn't being extended to her clothing or cosmetics line, both of which are apparently full of animals.
I get it. She profits off the backs of animals in a way that eclipses any positive diet choice she could make. Yet the cussing! The name-calling! The condescension, as if I didn't know the difference between health and ethical veganism. I've seen the worst hateration, and these comments compete.
I've long trained to make peace with online comments, but I felt so repulsed by the harsh negativity, the nastiness toward me, and toward each other, that for a split second I felt like shutting down the whole page of 80,000+ fans and getting out of this "community" if this is who we are. As big as the "angry vegan" reputation is, I'd never seen anything like this—a hateful line drawn by people who live vegan against those who eat vegan, and even against those who celebrate anyone else that begins to eat vegan!
Reading angry comments, I grew angrier. Not at the outrage at J Lo's other animal product endeavors—which is fair—and not at impatience itself—but at the hateful impatience. It was injudicious, carnivorous behavior, and I expect better of this community. Celebrities are not all-knowing superhumans and most of us do not give up leather or change our careers in our first few days of veganism. And no one is immune to being picked apart if that's what we want to do (even ink can contain animal products—do you own pens?), but I don't think creating over-the-top ugliness amongst ourselves, or toward others is effective activism.
Bowing to the point, however (because I do appreciate a philosophical argument and semantics, too), I amended the Facebook post language from "vegan" to "plant-based." I didn't know there were so many hardcore vegans on my page. I added a note to them: "Where have you been? I hope you take this much action on the REAL good news I post from now on." No one likes to think of themselves this way, but positive news about animals never gets as much traction as any news about celebrities.
The anger stuck, though, and I stewed in my upset for several hours, like a child. When I grew up later that evening, I laid on the floor to "train" and rid myself of this deeply bad feeling about nasty people, a nasty world.
Let me state my position on these "angry vegans" for whom small steps are never enough (this is me on the floor, slowing my pulse):
The anger is justified, and I always say so in interviews. There are no bigger zealots than industries who use animals. If the masses truly knew the extent of the destruction and abuse involved in producing animal products, their critique would be directed at the industries, not at "militant" vegans.
Anger can be effective—not when it is raw, but crafted and molded with care by its speaker. One of my heroes, Gary Yourofsky, gets called an "angry vegan," yet he's one of the most effective activists in the world, converting thousands. His words can be tough, but his answers are always air-tight, logical, and I've seen him, with hands clasped, literally beg a meat-eater for compassion. If that's anger, it's been polished with love.
Of course J Lo isn't vegan with a capital V, and she's no hero for the real cause. But she's just chosen a positive new practice that's the only one likely to ever get her to change her businesses. I wish we could throw a media blitz celebrating everyone who decides to eat vegan. Animal agriculture is a major supporting beam in the architecture of animal product industries. If it were to topple around the world, regardless of the motives, it would take many other atrocities down with it. And J Lo influnces lots of fans around the world.
Whether with peace or anger, nothing any of us ever do in our lifetimes will be enough for the crimes committed against animals and the earth—I feel urgent and impatient and angry over this at times, too. But I try to deal with my anger internally so that it is released effectively. I remember that everyone is doing their best at the moment until there's a revelation that makes them do better. That revelation is more likely to occur the more the word vegan is normalized. So I am happy for any positive mention in the media, whose machinists generally throw away press releases about animals, let alone ethical veganism. If it weren't for news about health veganism, we'd have almost no coverage at all.
Flat on my back, I turned my attention toward thoughts opposite of anger. I prayed, to no god in particular, for our effectiveness as humans, for the earth to be spared the poison of everyone's anger, for the heart-health of a sick acquaintance, and for an anti-GMO layman-leader friend who is running for mayor of Kauai, the Hawaiian island increasingly poisoned by the largest biotech corporations in existence.
The anger dissolved, first into tears, and then a kind of serenity about simply continuing my work.
With some intention paid, we can be transformed by our anger. We can practice managing its presence within us so that we are not the vessel of this poison, but a filter that becomes a remedy for the earth.
I recommend laying on the floor.
Thoughts? Leave me a comment below:
If you live in a split household and feel like you're letting yourself and your family down by not "forcing" the veg issue; if your quiet acceptance of others' omni ways makes you feel complacent; if, despite your familiy being understanding about your choices, you wish they'd join you, but you don't want to push or cause scenes, here are some thoughts and suggestions to ease the struggle.
In the same week that I received hundreds of responses to my Facebook post about split veg/omni families, I happened to have a family session with a brilliant professor/rabbi about a sticky family issue. Though the two matters were unrelated, what I learned from the latter gave me some insight into the former...you'll see.
Reading over the responses to my question about how veg people are dealing with their omni families, I felt tumbled—perfectly parallel, I suppose, to the quandry one faces when on the one hand, you reach a conclusion of conscience so profound that you want to change your life and society in its service; and on the other, you need to maintain a peaceful household full of individuals with fully formed habits.
What I learned from the Facebook feedback is that some vegans in split fams are at ease and have a profound committment to animals despite any obstacle, pushback, or even ostracization (one young woman's schoolmates throw meat at her in the cafeteria and yet she maintains).
It seemed, though, that most vegans in split families constantly struggle to reconcile their views and choices with life in an omni household.
I was moved to tears by the depths of some people's care, and if you'll allow me to be vulnerably honest, very deflated to hear that in order to keep peace in their families, many vegans—mostly women—continue to treat animals like junk food—"not so bad in moderation." (Peace for whom? I kept thinking.)
But I empathize with the realities. Maybe you were already vegan when you met the love of your life—who isn't (yet?). Or you recently became vegan after marriage or having kids.
Keeping any household a sanctuary for all its members is a major daily endeavor to begin with—and one that's most often assumed by the woman of the household, whose cortex fair-ibulus keeps a running inventory of every individual's needs and wants—and tries to meet them all. It's women especially, who are most susceptible to this quandry, historically balancing self with the rest of the planet.
Rewind. In my counseling session with the rabbi, I was harping on another family member for an issue she didn't believe to be one..."You're judging me and it's not true," she (basically) said. I was ready to argue the full hour to try and get her to see my point, but the rabbi cut me short. "She says it's not true," he said, "That's all there is to it."
His solution was to ignore the underlying issue for the time being and give us tools, instead, to make our interactions liveable. It was in that moment, and in the days after, that one of his consistent lessons hit me on a level deeper than ever before.
"It doesn't matter what other people do," he often says, "it only matters what kind of person you want to be."
Holy...He saw that we weren't going to get to the bottom of the matter. So he aimed to make us harmonious and respectful instead. Whether we ever get to the root of a negative behavior doesn't matter—it only matters that we behave virtuously by managing our own minds.
It's a painfully sane lesson. When I monitor my own thoughts and behavior with this in mind, and when I think about the compromises a vegan must make in an omni family, the lesson gets more and more true, no matter how much I want to argue that "superficial" peace isn't enough. When you think about it, what other choice is there? Fight until your relationships deteriorate?
If you're going to be in an omni family, you really have to wrap your head around what Psychology 101 tells us: you can't change others, you can only change yourself. Applied to any relationship—familial, business, or otherwise, this doesn't mean giving up or being soft, but navigating the terrain wisely. Trust me, I'm still wrapping my own head around the excruciatingly inarguable rationality of the underlying lesson.
Note: these are not my suggestions for activists in general, but specifically for vegans struggling in omni families.
1. Wait for it.
If a family member is unwilling, or not ready to absorb the motives for veganism (and the most hardcore bar-none animal activist I know will tell you the same), nothing you do in one moment will change their minds (insert your sense of urgency here, it's okay). Something inside the other must click—and maybe someday it will, especially with you as a leading example.
2. Don't complain, don't criticize.
Oh heaven help us, I know it's hard to hold your tongue. But seriously, does either ever do any good? Unless you're going to break up a marriage for your beliefs (as one woman did, saying of an already-troubled marriage, "Though I think of myself as a very accommodating and understanding person, in the end, I could not come to terms with the deep chasm of disparity regarding the obvious underlying moral issues."), the most practical next step to maintaining peace and harmony in an omni family is to live your beliefs without arguing them. What other choice is there?
3. Stop policing.
You can't force anyone to go veg. Even if your spouse and kids enjoy your vegan cooking, they'll eat animal products if they want to (maybe most respectfully, behind your back?). Policing will only create conflict, resentment, and rebellion in your household. Grown vegan kids—who have stayed vegan—have told me that the worst thing their parents could have done would have been to force the issue when they were young. Straight from the horse's mouth! Take this to heart and stop driving yourself crazy. If you're trying to raise veg kids but they don't get it yet, then they don't get it yet! All there is to it. Refer to #1 and #7.
4. Keep YOUR values sacred.
Just like no can be forced to go vegan, you shouldn't feel obliged to purchase or cook animal products if it's against your morals and values. If you truly believe in the motives underlying your own veganism (do you?), don't compromise your values. When your spouse and kids choose to eat meat, you don't have to have anything to do with it. You might even ask them to use separate cookware if sharing bothers you. If you don't want to smell fish cooking, go see a movie and let them eat without you. You're not punishing them, but taking care of your own need.
5. Keep your values sacred (part II).
If you're buying grass-fed organic meat and dairy for your family members just so they won't go out and eat even worse stuff, you're sending the message that you're only half-hearted about your veg motives (in which case you wouldn't feel torn in the first place). You might think that veganism is a choice your kids should someday make on their own terms, but if you, yourself, don't take your purchases seriously, don't expect the values to suddenly occur to your children when they're "old enough to decide." My mom was a meat-cooking, quiet vegetarian my entire life and I thought of her choice as nothing more than a taste preference until I discovered the motives in my 20s through more vocal vegans.
6. Show, don't tell.
Chances are, you're the Executive Director of Grocery Shopping & Dining. Hello! YOU get to plan all the healthy, nutrient-filled menus you want! Instead of flailing your gavel and suddenly laying down the law, simply begin to change the menu. Don't say it, just do it.
7. Be awesome.
Nothing makes veganism more attractive than a happy, healthy, excited diplomat. Wave around your green juice like you're having the best time ever, contribute your best vegan cookies to the family reunion, wear vegan statement T-shirts, bring your kids to sanctuaries instead of zoos, and continue the conversation as you attract it. Whenever you feel frustrated or "complacent," go do something for animals—donate, volunteer, etc. Be an example, you're planting seeds!
Which suggestion do you relate to most? Leave a comment below: