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Cheeseburgers, Jenga and space lasers: notes from our January 2021 MeetUp

On the last Sunday of every month, I’m fortunate enough to host a virtual meeting with the most lovely people who wish to learn more about the CWAFV approach. Here are notes from our January 2021 meeting. If any of this sounds interesting to you, look up “Conversations with a Friendly Vegan” on MeetUp.

Hi Everyone!

Thank you so much for attending the Conversations With a Friendly Vegan© Zoom on Sunday. I’m very grateful that you shared your time AND that you put up with the interruptions due to Zoom time restrictions. I promise you, this will be resolved by the next meeting.

I always want you to leave these meetings with some things to think about plus some concrete, usable information. Here are a few notes to review and expand upon some of the topics we discussed. If I didn’t include a topic you raised, please email me. It’s not because it wasn’t important, it’s because I forgot to write it down while we were chatting and 4 days later I need a reminder. Does anyone else have this problem??

C brought up what I believe is a common feeling that ethical vegans experience and that is the distress or sadness when a non-vegan friend consumes animals when they are with us. While there are times I can compartmentalize and ignore it, if the meal is particularly pungent or bloody, I struggle. In fact, there are certain invitations I would certainly refuse, such as a pig roast. While there’s no one, correct response to this situation, here are some ways to bring it up in a way that invites connection in that you are offering the other person a chance to help you meet your needs.

If at all possible, it’s best to bring these things up before sitting down to eat, perhaps when the plans are being made. You might suggest a vegan restaurant if that’s available. If the person refuses that option, you can, in your own words, say something like: “I’m looking forward to spending some time with you. I want to give you a heads up that sometimes I feel very sad when I see people eating animals. Would you be willing to order something vegan when you’re with me? It would help me enjoy our time together instead of feeling distracted or upset.” Let’s say the person refuses. One of the things about the CWAFV approach is to let go of the outcome, acknowledging that it is outside of your control. It’s wonderfully empowering to clearly ask for what you need. What the other person does with that information is up to them. If they refuse, you have a choice. You can lovingly decline the invitation or accept the invitation but let them know you may not be able to stay for the entirety of the meal, that you may need to leave as a way to practice self-care. Then, do just that. Pay attention. Stay present, patient, kind and loving with yourself.

Is it okay to stay quiet in these situations? Yes and no. It is okay in the sense that we’re all living and learning and trying to manage situations as best we can. If you have already found yourself staying quiet in order to “keep the peace”, reflect on this: How peaceful did you feel? For me, I’ve often felt inner turmoil, even if my face did not betray that feeling. So, use it as a learning experience for next time. No judgment, just life and all the lessons that go along with it. Ask yourself: What do I need right now? How can I meet this need and honor my own boundaries? Can I ask for the other person to help me meet this need? This is a challenging but rewarding practice.

D raised this question: How do you bring something up without making people feel like they have to protect you (i.e., avoid certain topics in your presence)? I find a bit of levity often works well. One way to do this is to say, “I’m going to be the super vegan for this next question …”. This can put people at ease. It helps if you are genuinely curious about the response. It’s a lovely thing to truly listen to someone to understand. It’s unlikely they’ll avoid conversations with you if they sense you are truly listening to understand. It’s hard to pass that up.

If you’d like to offer a different (maybe even vegan) perspective, a way to communicate this while maintaining a connection is to say, “I appreciate your response and have a better understanding now. I’m wondering if you’ve considered …”

I also think naming the potential problem can help to address it. For example, you might say something like, “I’d like to ask a question but I’m concerned it will cause you all to clam up around me and I don’t want that to happen because I value your ideas even if I disagree sometimes.” This is simply offering a clear statement so people know they don’t have to protect you from non-vegan sentiments – that you WANT to hear everything.

S asked something like: How do you reach people in a world where even elected officials believe there are fire-starting, Jewish space lasers? Okay, I may have added my own words but I think this is the gist of your question. Full-disclosure, it’s not often I share company with people with extreme, right-wing views so I haven’t had many conversations with them, although I have imagined many. When I do my tables, I am inviting a passerby into a conversation. It’s a fair assumption that anyone willing or curious enough to accept my invitation is at least a little receptive to my view. I assume that Marjorie Taylor-Greene would only come to my table to flip it over. Having said that, I have some ideas. Consider my Jenga model. If you’ve never played or heard of Jenga, it’s a game comprised of about 50 small, rectangular blocks that are stacked into a tower. At first, the tower is very stable but over the course of the game, as players take turns pulling out blocks, it transforms and is less and less stable until it collapses. In this analogy, I see the full tower as the set of mostly unconscious beliefs that support a non-vegan lifestyle. I invite people to take one of those blocks out and examine it thus bringing it out of their intuitive brain system (the part that accepts wholeheartedly without question) into their conscious, thoughtful, methodical brain system. I rarely imagine that one conversation will result in someone going vegan (unless their tower is already mostly deconstructed) but I see our conversation as a way to at least begin the process of challenging long-held, unconscious beliefs. This process can begin even with the most structurally sound tower. Once it begins, there is a greater likelihood that the process will continue. It’s that first block that is the most challenging. Okay, now I want to play Jenga. Once this pandemic allows, we should all get together for a game night.

Thank you all again. I appreciate your curiosity and your willingness to explore these ideas with me. I love the idea of all of us supporting each other so we can feel confident as we live our most authentically compassionate lives. The more competent and confident we feel about having these conversations, the less novel and the more familiar veganism becomes. People are much more likely to pursue something that feels familiar to them and it’s really up to us to make our compassionate selves visible.

Book Recommendations:
Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger? by Sherry F. Colb

Website Recommendations:

Other resources:
Fresh Cab rodent repellent: