Thank you again for participating in the Conversations with a Friendly Vegan Zoom MeetUp on Sunday, April 25th. I am always inspired by this community. I was thrilled to see both returning and new faces and voices. As promised, here’s a summary of some of the topics we covered as well as a few additional thoughts I had along the way. Please feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com if you have any specific questions. Our next meeting is scheduled for May 30th but this will likely change due to the holiday weekend so please keep an eye on that if you plan to attend. I will update the MeetUp page as soon as possible.
I’ll begin with an overview of the approach just to add a bit more clarity to what I described during our meeting and then I’ll address specific questions.
CONVERSATIONS WITH A FRIENDLY VEGAN (CWAFV) – WHAT IT IS AND IS NOT
CWAFV is not a method with a goal to convert others to veganism. This is just not a practical goal for various reasons. First, we have no control over whether someone goes vegan or not. Two, going vegan is a years-long process so, at best, we’ll be a positive influence along someone else’s path. To set conversion as our goal is, in my view, an exercise in utter frustration, hubris and a recipe for burnout. When others sense pressure, they will most often read it as a form of manipulation or coercion and their defense mechanism will kick into high gear. That is NO fun!
CWAFV is a way to be authentically vegan in a world where we are constantly surrounded by non-vegan people and messages that impose pressure to remain small and quiet or risk rejection. It turns out that it is also a great way to practice what I call “Everyday Advocacy” – the kind you do just by being you in public, not the kind reserved for rallies, festivals and tables. By using the skills to competently and confidently share your views and your experiences and to listen attentively to someone else’s views and experiences, you can create the necessary space someone needs to move out of their knee-jerk response and into critical thinking. That space must be free from shame and full of compassion.
It’s not always easy to be authentically vegan because people tend to automatically reject ideas that challenge their existing world view. This is a natural, predictable response. Once we recognize and accept this, we’re well positioned to work with that resistance without an agenda and without judgment. If I say something about veganism, even if I did so in a respectful way, it’s still quite possible the person will respond as though I have been disrespectful by being defensive. They know they feel uncomfortable but they don’t quite know why so I’m the easiest target for that discomfort. This used to drive me nuts until I understood that it is TOTALLY NORMAL. When this happens, I first check myself. Did I say something accusatory, disrespectful or shaming? If so, I say I’m sorry and rephrase. If not, I take a deep breath, acknowledge our humanity, engage some mindfulness to keep me present and patient. I offer compassion – seeing a person upset, I feel with them, instead of denying them their feelings and telling them in one form or another that they have no right to feel that way since I acted well. I might say something like, “I hated learning that too and I wish it weren’t true.” I might just stay quiet and listen. How I respond depends entirely on the situation. Suffice it to say that I mainly put my energy into remaining present and compassionate. Oh, and humble. I make a point of remembering when I was “asleep” and I acknowledge that I still have my blindspots.
WHY I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT
Being different can be challenging and yet it’s so often what sets us apart that is most important to share. Whatever brought you to veganism in the first place, if you are vegan now in part because you feel compassion toward animals, people and the earth; because you value love, kindness and empathy; because you believe in taking personal responsibility and acting in accordance with your stated values – this is what I believe is critical to unleash on the world around us. I want us to have a way to be our most compassionate, most kind, loving and empathic selves and I believe this is a powerful way to help others connect with their own compassionate selves. I don’t want you to keep any of this to yourself. I don’t want you to keep yourself silent or small to make others feel comfortable. I guarantee you they will not feel comfortable when they begin to question their own behavior. It’s okay. That discomfort (cognitive dissonance) is an excellent sign of movement toward veganism. Which, by the way, brings me to another thought I had as a result of our conversations.
VEGANISM ON A CONTINUUM
What if we don’t have to think of veganism in such a binary way? You either are or you aren’t vegan and, if you aren’t, that’s not good. Whenever I answer questions or open up about some vegan related topic and that results in someone seeing something in a slightly more vegan way, can I see that as progress? I know – it seems so slow. But, it’s faster than if those conversations never happened.
When I was a new vegan (and, actually, now that I think about it, most of my life before that), I felt like my brain was working so hard to adjust and accommodate so as to make everyone around me comfortable. When I felt pressure to act less vegan, I walked away feeling inauthentic, like a traitor to animals and to myself. I did it because I wanted to feel a sense of belonging amongst my friends and family members and yet I never felt more alone. Turns out you can’t achieve “belonging” when you’re not being honest about your most deeply held beliefs. Go figure.
I clumsily tested being honest about vegan beliefs and I have to say I overshot it A LOT. So I set out to figure it out – how to be authentically vegan and achieve a sense of true connection even when there is deep disagreement. That’s CWAFV.
THE PESCETARIAN WITH AN IDENTITY CRISIS
S – Your pescetarian friend keeps calling himself vegetarian and you feel annoyed and a bit confused, even as you feel happy about the progress he has made. S, I hear you! Before you move into an understanding, accepting view, just notice your frustration and annoyance without judgements, without telling yourself what you should or shouldn’t feel (as if feelings adhered to our logical rules). Then, see what you feel. Has anything shifted? Do you feel curious? What the heck is he thinking? Does he know lobsters are NOT PLANTS? Ask him. Is he using “vegetarian” as an aspirational term? Is he trying it on for size, seeing how it feels to adopt this identity before he makes a full commitment? Maybe. Ask him. Does he think lobsters and other aquatic animals are not sentient enough to warrant moral regard? It’s possible. Ask him. But, I suggest you ask him not when you’re feeling the full heat of your frustration but after you’ve moved through that to a more curious, inquisitive place. If you seek to understand what he’s thinking, and communicate in a way that leaves your dignity and his dignity in tact, it’s bound to be an enriching conversation.
Here are a few resources you may like to pass on to your friend. The first was emailed to me by B after our meeting – Thank you!
S – TO KILL OR NOT TO KILL The Spotted Lanternfly
Tough one S. It comes down to a question of whether or not killing is ever a justifiable thing to do. When people ask me why I’m vegan, I say because I don’t want to ever unnecessarily hurt anyone. It’s that word, “unnecessarily” that trips me up sometimes. If a human attacked me or someone near me, I’m pretty sure I’d resort to hurting them to ensure my own or someone else’s safety. In this case, though, we’re talking about innocent insects that are just doing what they do to survive and are only a problem because humans relocated them. It’s a real bummer. D said nature will probably take care of this problem within a few years. A non-human predator will show up. But, how much destruction will occur between now and then? And, will this other predator represent less suffering for the lanternfly or does it just let me off the hook? I’m honestly not sure what is right or wrong here but here’s what I think – You personally do not have to kill the spotted lanternfly. I think also it might help to know that you’re not alone. I found this Reddit thread of people questioning the same thing: https://amp.reddit.com/r/vegan/comments/co22m4/conflicted_about_killing_a_lanternfly/
This conversation led us to also consider other insects such as bedbugs and termites. Br raised an incredibly important issue that warrants much more time than we devoted to it (perhaps B, you’d like to lead a discussion in the future?) and that is privilege in the vegan movement. This is why the sub-heading of “Conversations with a Friendly Vegan” is, “no judgment, no agenda – just a heartfelt conversation”. It’s also why I believe it’s important to learn before teaching. It would be pure hubris for me to presume that I am in a place to dictate what someone should do, how they should do it and when they should do it. I don’t want to do that, even if I thought it would work (which I don’t). That’s not to say I don’t wish I could snap my fingers and have everyone in the world go vegan – I would love that! But, given, you know – reality – I don’t judge and pressure because that’s not a way to contribute to the kind, compassionate, loving world I want. I want to be myself, warts and all. I want to learn about others, share my beliefs and, yes – if someone is influenced in some way to move toward veganism, I want to be a reliable resource. I know that I have resources at my disposal that have paved the way toward becoming vegan. I won’t force someone down a path that may very well be much rockier than the one I had to traverse, but if I can be a part of what makes the road they choose easier for them to travel, I’ll do that.
This podcast episode seems relevant: https://thechickpeeps.libsyn.com/s3-ep15-redistributing-privilege-in-veganism-with-mikaela-loach
Additional resources to address critter issues:
FreshCab is a rodent repellent. So, apparently, are dryer sheets.
Lemon peel is an ant repellent.
D – I believe you offered something related to live-trapping mice. Let us know!
A – SELECTIVE ANIMAL LOVERS – UGH!
A, you’re working with a couple of people who would, as you said, kill a human if he were hurting a dog or cat but they seem put off by you being vegan. Wow. It’s so hard sometimes to exist in that disconnected space. So, as I described above with S’s situation, allow and observe your feelings of frustration or whatever feelings come up for you. This is a way to show compassion to yourself as you navigate your interactions with them, which I think can be a bit stressful and sad. After you have met with them, maybe find a vegan friend to vent and process what you experienced. It’s totally up to you whether or not you want to say anything to them, not to convince them of anything at all, but to feel free to share your perspective. In my mind, I put myself in your place and wonder what it would be like to say something like, “You seem surprised that I’m vegan but I can see you care so much for these animals. I would like to support the well-being of cows, pigs, chickens, and all sentient beings just as you want to support dogs and cats,” or, “Being vegan can seem strange to many people at first but I have to say it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” That last statement is true for me so, of course, you’d say what is true for you. The point is for you to say what you want and, maybe they’d follow-up and ask what’s so great about it? I’m guessing they have preconceived notions that are so often reinforced by media, government, business, tradition, culture, religion – basically every institution reinforces that being vegan is for extremist weirdos. They are so deep into it and have maybe not had someone in their lives (until now) that made them question it. They are part of the collective delusion. When you step out of that collective delusion, you just want to shake people so they can see what is SO FREAKING OBVIOUS! Sigh. But shaking people gets really exhausting so I only do it every once in a while. Other times, I remain as open, honest and compassionate as I can. I’ve made a commitment to never again collude with the delusion. I won’t pretend to believe something I don’t, not with my words and not with my silence. I will communicate with great compassion to support our mutual dignity. When we engage in “friendly conversations,” we can interrupt the impulsive thoughts, crack the veneer of the delusion and create space for conscious decision making.
Suzanne made a great book recommendation related to this conversation:
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism
by: Melanie Joy, PhD
I’ll add another Melanie Joy book called, Beyond Beliefs.
CAVEAT TO MELANIE JOY RECOMMENDATION, ADDED LATER: I recently heard Melanie Joy in an interview on the Humane Hancock YouTube channel and I have to say that I’m not 100% on board with what she said. While I agree it’s best to approach non-vegans in a way that increases the likelihood of them wanting to continue the conversation, I don’t mince words when it comes to consuming animals. It’s not okay. Understanding that going vegan is a process does not mean that I imply in any way that falling short of veganism is an acceptable place to stop. It isn’t. In the interview, she admitted to accepting funding from those she referred to as “vegan allies”. I think it’s at least worth questioning if this impairs her ability to come out strongly against animal consumption. Here’s the interview if you’re interested. I’d love to discuss further: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrHcOPOVBqM
I want to thank K for offering the use of her beloved puppets. Here’s a video that shows Marshal B. Rosenberg, the author of Nonviolent Communication – A Language for Life, using puppets to demonstrate his theories. The video may seem a bit dated but listen to the message. It’s powerful. I’ve studied Nonviolent Communication (NVC) for many years and used it to develop the CWAFV approach. This is a MUST-WATCH VIDEO!
While I don’t have immediate plans to introduce puppets into what I practice, I really appreciate the offer. Thank you!
VEGAN SPIRITUALITY GROUP OF PHILADELPHIA BOOK, FILM & (now) PODCAST DISCUSSION
These 1-hour zoom meetings typically take place on the 2nd Sunday of every month from 4 to 5pm. However, our May meeting was changed to May 16th due to Mother’s Day. While we organize these meetings via a facebook page, I understand not everyone is on FaceBook. If you email me a reminder before the 2nd Sunday you’d like to attend, I’m more than happy to send you the details!
May details: We will discuss cultured meat and what it means for veganism, animals and the environment. Listen to Making Sense Podcast, episode #244: Food, Climate and Pandemic Risk: https://samharris.org/pod…/244-food-climate-pandemic-risk/
Time: May 16, 2021 04:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting:
Meeting ID: 849 8944 0297
PASSING AROUND THE HAT
As I mentioned during our meeting, we’ve added a donation link to many events. We’d never want money to pose an obstacle to attendance but, hey, the fact is there are operating costs to running events and it’d be nice to spread that cost around a little. If you enjoy the events and are in a position to throw in a few bucks, please do! If not, no biggie – maybe next time. Here’s the PayPal link: https://www.paypal.com/donate?hosted_button_id=B5T6C2DNSZ9AE
Thanks so much for offering your time, attention and your willingness to try something new. I’m deeply grateful!