7 Tips for Dealing with Split Veg/Omni Families

February 10, 2014

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:

How to Help Kids Relate to the Ethics of Veganism

January 7, 2014

While oodles of kids are being born and raised vegan these days without a bump in the road (they’re like a new super-species of human, right?), many other kids are newly being introduced to the lifestyle through parents or other family members who’ve only recently gone veg.

The transition can be immediate—some kids get it like *snap*—but for others, the road can be a little rockier:

I want my chicken nuggets!

But everyone else is eating string cheese! Why ca-ha-ha-an't I?!

Or, cue the adult peanut gallery: For god’s sake [your name here], let him have the birthday cake. It’s just cake! (It is of course not just cake, you will say to yourself, but a suffering pus-muffin).

So when the entire world is set on undermining the vegan choice, you just have to work a bit harder to get kids on board.

One way you can help a child relate to the ethical motives of veganism is through movement and physical play or role-playing. Using movement and imagination helps kids with ideation and conceptualization, engaging their motor skills, attention spans, and focused awareness. You might read my books if you need a visual starting place, or watch a nature program, or wait for a moment where animals come up in the conversation. Then, for example, try these questions:

Let’s talk about the animals we’re not eating. How does a happy chicken move? Can you show me with your body? What does she do with her wings? How does she show her feelings? What if she’s in a cage and it’s only a little bigger than her body? How does she behave now? How about a herd of wild elephants in the desert—what do they look like when they’re running free? What are they doing with their trunks and legs? Ok, now you’re an elephant in the zoo all alone. What does that look like? Wow, I can tell you really understand animals.

Instead of telling your child what to think, invoke his or her own capacity for empathy and understanding. It’s there—make room and your kids will start to formulate their own opinions and considerate values. By physically experiencing their soul’s capacity, they’ll begin to answer their own questions about veganism and our treatment of animals, breathing life into the space that connects humans to the living world. This is the grandness of a vegan education—it is expansive and mind-opening far beyond its practical benefits. So much so, that what seems at first like a rocky road ahead might just turn out to be a treasure trail.

In the comments below, tell me who you'll try this strategy on and how—specifically—you foresee it being a help in your life. Report back once you've tried it, too!

The Proof

December 3, 2013

A vegan mama sent me her son's kindergarten book report on Vegan Is Love—I could die happy! Truly effective change is underway RIGHT NOW, proof that if you give kids the education they need, they'll choose wisely.  My heart beats faster for our future!