Obligation vs. Opportunity: Options for the Holidays

Let’s be honest: if you really care about animals, the holidays can be hard.

Of course, the holidays have the potential to be filled with warmth, friendship, and love. But for many of us who choose to live compassionately, this time of year is filled with demands to be a part of gatherings with individuals who don’t necessarily share these same values. Sometimes we’re forced into situations because we share a common gene pool. This awkwardness (at best) is so inherent that survival guides for Thanksgiving dinner are more common than recipes. In Letters from Earth, Mark Twain marvels at what humans force upon themselves; the holidays are often a prime example of this.

For those of us who truly care about animals, the holidays present a significant level of stress. We know that many of our friends and family will be consuming the flesh of animals we consider to be individuals – individuals we could easily have been friends with. Hardest to bear, though, is the disconnect between the “joy” and “love” the season supposedly reflects and the actual horror behind the meal.

This is not to say that we should never eat with meat eaters. For many of us, our dietary choices aren’t about us, but about the individual animals we respect and want to spare from suffering and slaughter. Being present and sharing our perspective in a respectful and sensitive way can introduce an alternative way of thinking and spread this message of compassion.  Living in isolation denies animals our voice. Being an example of compassionate living to those currently following the standard American diet is potentially far more impactful than the consequences of our personal dietary choices.

Realizing this, it is vital to take advantage of opportunities like these holiday get-togethers to set an attractive, approachable example of compassionate living. Key to this is providing incredible, delicious food.  The food we like,  and dishes that the others will find irresistible. Familiar, savory, and satisfying recipes that have been prepared using plant-based ingredients and that mimic traditional dishes can satisfy even the most ardent carnivore. Mind-blowing mouthfuls can shatter stereotypes of what eating with compassion can be.

Yet not every social situation is a potential opportunity. We each have relatives or acquaintances who will never consider either our views or our offerings. They will seemingly revel in eating animals in front of us. They will take offense at any suggestion that we might not be comfortable and would prefer not to be around while they consume animals.  Under certain circumstances, the best decision may be to decline the invitation. While the standard wisdom is that everyone is an opportunity, we actually know that isn’t entirely true. Knowing that leads to a radical solution: Don’t go.

image001 This is obviously easier said than done. The ties that bind are often such that it is easier to go along to get along. Only you can make that decision.  If your presence is mandatory, the best advice is to bring your plant-based roast, review the Socratic section of The Animal Activist’s Handbook, and make the best of it. (Be sure to have a designated driver as that might be the best way to get through the meal!)

Distant relatives and acquaintances aside,  as we go forward, we can each pursue the creation of new traditions for ourselves and those closest to us. Traditions that ring true for the meaning of the season and the way we choose to live our lives. Travel to a special place for a hike, go out to a movie (or watch your own favorite), share pictures of what you’re eating on Facebook (#CompassionateMeals). Or turn the tables and instead invite family over to your place for a full feast of Tofurky, seitan, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and the fixings (not tempeh and arugula).

It is easy to say we should always go to everything and bring a smile and a tasty dish. Or that we should just cut off all contact with those who won’t change and believe eating animals is more important than recognizing and accommodating our compassion for one meal. Neither of these is universally applicable. But we can try, whenever possible, to find a balance between being an example of compassionate living and shirking obligation in favor of building truly joyful holiday traditions of our own.

-Matt Ballbonding

Want To Help Animals? No Extremism Required

Q&A with a reporter from National Public Radio

Do vegans who insist that such medicines or medical products should be refused by other vegans undermine what you are trying to accomplish, and if so, in what specific ways?

Every time we focus on the undeniable suffering of animals on factory farms – rather than making the issue about our personal choices/ definitions/ labels/ philosophy – the world is a better place. This is something that took me years to discover; initially, my veganism was all about how “dedicated” and “consistent” I was. Everything centered on how committed I was/how amazing my veganism was; not on the animals nor on helping them as much as possible.

Being an effective advocate for the animals – including being a positive, practical example – is much more difficult than memorizing a list of animal ingredients. But if we really oppose cruelty to animals, we need to do everything we can to end factory farms, even if that is more difficult than personally being ever-more “vegan.”

Is a person a better, more committed vegan when s/he refuses medicines or medical products that include animal products?

A few decades ago, I thought a person’s dedication was measured by how much they “gave up” – how hard their life seemed relative to mine. It took me a while to realize the question isn’t how “vegan” anyone is; rather, the only issue is the animals’ suffering. All that matters is the impact we have for the animals in the real world….

Sportland2016pecific to medicine: I’m alive and functioning today because of “non-vegan” medicines. Modern medicine saved my life many times. And it also saved a friend and colleague recently. This is also true for many of the people who are doing the most good today. The point isn’t to suffer to be “vegan.” The point is to lead a meaningful life that reduces as much suffering as possible, making the world a better place than if we hadn’t existed.

-Matt Ball

 

Beware the Boomerang

The Daily Show recently did a segment – R.I.P. Facts – lamenting the fact [sic] that what is actually true no longer matters.

The problem, however, is actually significantly worse. If someone believes something false that conforms to their preconceived beliefs, fact checking them can actually strengthen their false belief. This is called the “boomerang effect.”

This is important to recognize, because it is very likely that most people believe that eating meat is necessary; chicken is healthy; free-range means cruelty-free; etc. Just telling them otherwise, even with supporting facts, is likely to just reinforce their current belief.

Instead, it is good to start by seeking out common ground. While most people have a negative view of veganism and vegans, most people also have a visceral repulsion to factory farms. So it is often good to ask what they know about factory farms as the beginning of a Socratic-style discussion.

Also, most people are willing to speculate on the motivations of others (rather than defending their own beliefs). It might seem strange, but asking people if they know anyone who is vegetarian and why they think those vegetarians don’t eat meat can be a good hook.

Unfortunately, there is no set script we can follow in every situation. But it is important to recognize that we can’t actually win an argument with a meat eater. The best we can do is to start a conversation. This is the way we can potentially find common ground, and allow the other individual to open their heart and mind to uncomfortable ideas.

portland2016-Matt Ball