S asked a fantastic question about how to handle this situation: a neighbor asked her to participate in putting together bagged [and non-vegan] lunches for homeless people. This led to a fruitful discussion about how to express a desire to help while maintaining our ethical integrity and a wonderful brainstorming session about organizations that provide vegan meals for those in need. While there’s no one, correct response in the CWAFV approach, one possible thing to say is,
“Thank you for asking me to participate in this important work. Because I’m vegan for ethical reasons, I would not feel good about packaging non-vegan meals, however, I would be happy to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or any other plant-based meals. Would that work for you (or the church, or whoever is organizing the meals)?”
The worry that someone might feel some offense is a reasonable one. But, really read that statement. There is no judgment directed at anyone in particular. There is only a statement about your own ethical standards plus a solution-oriented suggestion. If there is offense taken, it is not because of what you said, but more likely because the person is experiencing cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance (which occurs when the narrative we’ve been telling ourselves is challenged creating a tug-of-war between long held beliefs and new ideas) can feel highly uncomfortable. You can count on being the target of that discomfort. While I used to avoid such interactions, fearing my own discomfort, I now welcome them. I WANT people to feel cognitive dissonance because I know it’s an early step toward change. I happily put myself in these somewhat uncomfortable (read: vulnerable) situations because I believe raising awareness to vegan issues is vital and important work. When we are willing to do this work (i.e. be vulnerable by being authentic and compassionate), we create the space for ourselves to live with greater integrity, create true connection, and help many animals by raising awareness (and, yep, catalyzing discomfort).
These are the organizations mentioned:
Food Not Bombs: foodnotbombs.net
Mobilization For Animals PA: mobilizationforanimals.org
Peace Advocacy Network: peaceadvocacynetwork.org