Photo by: Aaron Anderer
Knowing when and where to get into a discussion about why being vegetarian is good for people, the planet and animals is the key to opening people's minds to a new state of consciousness.
By Tina Page
After being forced to dissect a fetal pig in sixth grade, my little sister became a vegetarian. It drove me crazy. Aside from all the other abuse I put her through, I'd feign generosity and offer to make her a sandwich, usually laced with some kind of flesh and hot pepper just to get some kind of reaction.
Why did it bother me so much that she didn't want to eat meat? My mother, a single parent with absolutely no support from our father, was an animal lover in every sense of the word. She'd stop traffic for a hurt pigeon in the road. She caught spiders in cups and released them outside. I watched her spend hours diligently removing each ant raiding our kitchen. Yet, we ate meat with no second thought.
Riding the wave to vegetarianism
I've been a vegetarian for 10 years now, and a vegan for the last two of those. It took me a callous boyfriend with little compassion for animals and hours of arguments against his St. Thomas Aquinas* logic to make me start seeing the hypocrisy in my advocacy for animals and my consuming their dead bodies for pleasure. Then it all came together thanks to just one statement.
On a trip to Montreal I met a guy who also loved animals. When I ordered my pizza with pepperoni, he said simply and without judgment, "if you really love animals you wouldn't eat them." That was it. That was all it took. Because I was open to it, that little statement changed the course of my life forever.
I now have three children and a Spanish (from Spain) husband who are all virtually vegan. I say virtually because I have made exceptions when we visit grandma to allow them ice creams and occasionally eggs.
But the fact that we are all vegetarians drives people crazy, like my sister's premature clarity in grade school did to me. According to my husband's Spanish mother, we are killing our children by depriving them of antibiotic-filled, hormone-saturated muscle meat. She has no idea our kids have never tasted cow juice.
Timing is everything
At a cousin's baby shower this past weekend, I was relegated to the grandma table. I stood out because VEGAN, highlighted in pink, followed the name on my name card. I always welcome the opportunity to explain my reasons for choosing to ditch animal products. But I am very conscious about choosing the appropriate time to discuss them, and how far to push the issue.
There are a few questions to ask yourself:
1. Is there anyone listening who seems open to even considering the possibility that what I am saying may have an ounce of truth to it?
2. Will a discussion do more harm than good? Meaning, will it turn people off?
3. Is this the right venue?
So I tread carefully. When asked by one of the grandmas why I didn't drink milk, I told them my body didn't like it, which is true. They pushed further and asked if my kids drink milk. I told them no way.
I got grunts in response to that because many of these women grew up drinking milk squeezed straight from a cow's lady parts.
"It's really good for you," one of the nicest women in the world said to all at the table. Everyone nodded in agreement.
Would have responding by explaining the lunacy of consuming the breast milk of another species past infancy done any good at that moment? No. I chose to keep my mouth shut.
When I told my husband about an article* I had read about how many billionaires were choosing to go vegan because they wanted to enjoy their money for as long as possible being as healthy as possible, my husband jumped on the wagon.
"I'm not dying before you do," he told me. Whatever turns you on, I guess.
When I was telling the story to my aunt, she laughed and said, "there's no evidence to support being vegan will make you live longer."
Ah, family. I love her but I wanted to tell her to do some research before making opinions. I said only "I'm going to have to disagree with you on that."
Some people already have their mind made up and won't be bothered with facts. So I don't bother with them.
Change is an inside job
Just as a drug addict can't be helped unless they want to help themselves, a carnist will not change without having opened the possibility in their minds first.
While teaching English to international students here in Los Angeles, a few of my students left my class and meat at the same time.
I never told them to be vegetarian. I acted like the kind of person I really want to be – compassionate, strong, funny and unafraid. Turns out that is also the kind of person they wanted to be.
*St. Thomas Aquinas is a Catholic saint who spoke in length about the inferiority of animals and how God gave humans animals to use as slaves. My boyfriend at the time was attending St. Thomas Aquinas College in California.
*Bloomberg Business Week, "The Rise of the Power Vegans," by Joel Stein