#645 Talking About Food and Animals and Justice

Hi Captain,

For the past year or so, I’ve been doing what I think most people do when they’re young and newly liberated from their ultra-conservative family – learning about the world. Before this, I was very sheltered and of the belief that the world is mostly okay save for a few small things like the price of gas and there being too many polyester shirts.

Since learning about a lot of other stuff that’s going on, I’ve become very political, and, well, very angry. I’m angry about drone strikes. I’m angry about Islamophobia. I’m angry about the mainstream media. I’m angry about the wage gap. I’m angry about rape culture. I’m angry about gentrification. I’m angry about climate change. I’m angry about factory farming.

I’m angry about a lot of stuff.

That last one is the biggest problem for me right now, though. I was raised to believe that there is a happy cow out there somewhere who generally enjoys life up until its last days and then dies quickly and painlessly and makes its way onto my plate. Turns out that isn’t the case, and factory farming is a source of enormous animal suffering, not to mention violations of worker and human rights, as well as the leading cause of global warming. As soon as I found this out, I did what I’ve been trying to do whenever I learn yet another thing about the world that’s out of whack – I tried to make whatever difference I could. I’ve been vegan for a few months now.

I haven’t told anyone about these new eating habits. I want people to know – I think there are a lot of people who, like me, didn’t know this stuff existed. I know there are also a lot of people who know but choose not to think about it, and that upsets me. I went out for one lunch with a friend of mine and ordered a bean burger, and before I said anything other than “Can I have a bean burger?” she was jumping on me about vegetarianism and preachy vegans and I haven’t eaten food in front of anyone else since. I don’t want to be a preachy vegan. I don’t want to police or shame people. I do want to have important conversations about our society’s eating habits and what they mean for our planet. Is there a middle ground there, or is telling someone that you’re eating vegan (not buying leather, not buying Nike or Sodastream or sharing anything by FCKH8, the list is so long I’m starting to realize I can’t avoid being immoral) inherently judgemental of their choices?

Any advice?

Dear Vegan,

It’s your friendly neighborhood goat lady here. I asked Cap if I could take this one because honestly you remind me a lot of me, if I hadn’t had enough land, time, and knowledge to take up small-scale farming. So I thought maybe I could offer you some thoughts, although I don’t think there’s really any easy answers here for you.

Well, ok, I tell a lie. I have one easy answer for you. Your friends’ feelings about your diet are their feelings, and you don’t have to let them stop you from eating in front of people. Order your bean burger, and if whoever you’re with says something, try saying as mildly as you can, “Wow. I just wanted a bean burger. How bout the weather/the local sports team/that book you’re reading?”

The bad news is that there is no way for you to bring up their omnivorous eating habits over a meal without you sounding like a jerk. Because let’s face it, trying to ruin someone else’s enjoyment of their food by talking about the ways industrial agriculture is toxic to everyone and everything it touches is, in fact, a jerk move. Your anger over their omnivorous diet is yours to manage and shouldn’t be inflicted on your friends, just like you don’t want your friends inflicting their defensiveness on you when you were just looking forward to a burger.

What you’re essentially wanting to do here is evangelize. You don’t just want people to know about the abuses of industrial meat production, you want them to share your outrage and also become vegans. You say you don’t want to police or shame people, but at the same time you are eyeing them with suspicion that they “know but choose not to think about it” and getting upset because they aren’t meeting your self-imposed moral standards. Evangelizing, however, is best accomplished via either a deep, loving relationship with someone and the trust that entails, or levels of tact, compassion, and humor that would put Captain Awkward to shame.

Conversations about our food system are absolutely essential to have. The ways in which agriculture are broken are many, deep, vicious, and evil. But there are many things other than moral conviction that shape the way human beings eat, including but not limited to what foods we can afford to buy, what foods we have access to, how much energy we have to cook them and eat them and clean up afterward, what foods we were socialized to eat… The list could go on, and on, and on.

If you want to have a hope of discussing the food system with people and having them actually be receptive, I can offer you a couple tips. For background, I live on 2.5 acres where we produce our own dairy (via goats), poultry, rabbit, a significant chunk of our vegetables, and we’re just branching out into grains[1]. My husband works full-time, and I hold down the farm. Why am I doing this? Because I freakin hate the industrial agriculture system. But, and this is a big but, I do not expect anyone else to change their lifestyle and start doing things my way. Not everyone can eat the way we do. And achieving a vegan or even vegetarian diet isn’t possible for everyone, either.

When I talk about the food system in general, I try to do it without making constant reference to my own food choices. I also don’t do it if I’m not at peace with the way other people eat. If you’re angry at them because they’re eating meat, it will come through. If you constantly make reference to your vegan diet as the example of how people should do things, people will feel policed, shamed, and judged. They will react poorly to both these things.

If you do have to reference your own food choices, make sure you know, believe, and convey that your food choices are not appropriate or achievable for everyone. You need to make peace with the fact that the only food choices (and indeed behavior in general) you can control are your own, and with the fact that people are not eating meat AT you. No one is choosing to be omnivorous because they’re an evil person who delights in suffering and environmental damage, but if that’s how you’re approaching people then the discussion is going to go nowhere.

Moral purity is impossible to achieve, particularly in the realms of food. Even a vegan diet contributes to environmental damage and human suffering, especially in terms of out-of-season produce shipped in from half a world away, exploitative and dangerous conditions for migrant farm workers who pick your produce[2], and the fertilizers and pesticides used to grow crops. Yes, even organic agriculture has issues. There is, literally, no way to eat without contributing to large scale suffering unless you’re able to be completely self-sufficient in food production, and while I’m pretty convinced that farming is a religious calling for me even I don’t want to try it. Because I’d never be able to do anything but grow food and fiber and process and preserve it.

This applies more generally to social justice at large, as well. You cannot achieve moral purity; it is not humanly possible to refrain from compromise. Forgive yourself when you have to do it; forgive others when they do it; be at peace with the fact that the world is an imperfect place and you are doing your best. And if you’re going to evangelize, approach your fellow imperfect human beings with love and grace. There’s a Vonnegut quote I’ve been reciting to myself lately: “There’s only one rule I know of, babies. God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

SOME BASIC COMMENTING GUIDELINES Food choices are a fraught subject. Animal welfare, environmental destruction, and human rights abuses, also fraught subjects. Approach your fellow commenters with generosity; as I noted above no one is eating an omnivorous diet because they are delighting in evil; and not all vegans are out there judging your omnivorous food choices. As always, health or body shaming is verboten. This is a most excellent community, y’all, so let’s bring our best to any discussion we have here.

[1] Cap would never let me guest post again if I started writing the book on how and why I’ve chosen these particular crops and animals in this post. Someone remind me to revive my defunct blog.

[2] The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a great place to start engaging with human rights abuses in farming quite generally, and I highly, highly recommend them. More specific to livestock, The Livestock Conservancy works to preserve heritage breeds that can produce without horrifying industrial conditions.

377 thoughts on “#645 Talking About Food and Animals and Justice

  1. Oh, this was beautifully put. LW, I’ve definitely been where you are. I was vegan for about a year, then vegetarian for 13 years, and recently started eating meat again but am keeping it local and organic as much as I can, if imperfectly. When I first became vegan, I was definitely of the unbearably-morally-superior variety, and it was exactly this realization that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to be perfect that calmed me down. And I know too well how it feels to be ANGRY ABOUT EVERYTHING AND HOW IS EVERYONE ELSE NOT ALWAYS AS ANGRY AS ME??

    Some people will really want to hear about your food choices. When I was vegetarian I was often surprised that people wanted to hear about why, because I didn’t even consider it that interesting anymore after doing it so long. You’ll keep ordering bean burgers, and some people will say nothing because it’s just a bean burger, some people will get randomly defensive, and some people will say ‘oh that’s interesting, why did you choose that?’ and you’ll have the opportunity to tell them why, and if you can do so kindly, many of them will take you very seriously.

    Our world is both beautiful and terrible. The best we can do is, well, our best. I find the angrier I get about the bad things, the more I need to practice gratitude for the wonderful things to balance it out.

    1. Wonderfully stated. Whenever I found out that someone was vegan or vegetarian, out of curiosity I would ask what their reasons were and they were always happy to discuss it with me. Non-judgementally. No, I did not immediately stop eating meat after learning their reasons, but it did give me something to think about. I eat a lot less meat now, and when I do, it’s mostly humanely raised and slaughtered. I’m very lucky – we have friends who raise pigs, chickens, and turkeys, and we also have a lot of farms in our area that raise animals ethically. I don’t know if my veggie-filled friends intended to convert anyone, but in fact they have quietly taught by example.

    2. You know I think, “HOW IS EVERYONE ELSE NOT ALWAYS AS ANGRY AS ME??” describes a lot of young (and maybe not-so-young) people when they discover something F’ed up about the world they were previously unaware of, regardless of what that thing is.

      My older brother was like this when he first learned about climate change when he started college. (Although thankfully, he wasn’t berating us to go carbon-free or anything, he was more pissed at the political system for not fixing it). It was kind of surreal to talk to him about these issues, since I was a nerdy debate team kid who’d been following politics for a few years, so I found myself acting as “the voice of experience” despite being younger and in high school.

      1. Also worth noting that my brother mellowed out considerably after a couple years, probably due to a combination of increasing maturity, more perspective, and simple passage of time.

        The LW says they only started learning about these issues in the past year or so, and they’ve only been vegan a few months. It also sounds like they’re about college-age. It seems entirely possible that in a few years, even if their stance on these issues does not change, the LW could find it much easier to resist the urge to evangelize in unproductive ways.

  2. Key point here is that the only choices you can control are your own. Be at peace with your own conscience and seek to live the best life you can, but you have to let other people reach their own conclusions and live the way they want.

    I used to be a hardcore Christian when I was younger and was extremely uncompromising when I came across people whose lifestyles I disagreed with. All it did was wind people up and lose me a lot of friends – it didn’t change the way a single one of them lived.

    Now, I just let people do what they want, and only tell them what I think if asked.

  3. I love this response. Thank you.

    I am pescatarian (no meat except fish). I don’t ever talk about my choice to be pescatarian unless someone specifically asks me to talk about it. If someone wants to argue with me about being hypocritical (which I’ve heard from both vegan and meat-eating friends), I provide some version of the compromise-is-necessary explanation you gave here. I found the book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat extremely helpful for giving me the language to explain my own choices and compromises.

    Best of luck to you, LW.

    1. I love that book so very, very much. My relationship with animals is complicated, here on the one small property we have pets, livestock, wildlife, and animals who bridge the gaps between these categories. Some We Love was a wonderful read for helping me evaluate how I assign categories and how to behave ethically with the animals in each.

  4. I just want to add one point to the above: not eating meat and not eating factory-farm produced food is something that only some socio-economic groups can do. There is absolutely an element of monetary and in some ways racial privilege that does not get brought up often when people have this conversation and it locks a lot of people of color out of the conversation entirely. Along with being aware of other’s feelings on the matter (allergies, cultural history with foods, etc) we all have to be aware that not everyone can afford to be vegetarian or vegan.

    1. How so with respect to being vegan/vegetarian? organic-only absolutely given just how damn expensive organic meat is, but i always thought vegetarianism was generally cheaper than eating meat.

      1. IIRC, in the US meat is subsidized so it may not actually be cheaper to be vegetarian than omnivorous. There’s also a time factor – grains, one of the primary sources of meat substitutes, are longer cooking and may not fit into a fairly busy and irregular day.

        1. Ah ok; most of the people I talk about grocery shopping with are religious Jews, who often cook somewhat heavily vegetarian because kosher meat is extremely expensive(so the economic incentives are a bit shifted away from heavily subsidizing meat)

        2. My sister was vegetarian in high school, but stopped in college because she was broke over the summer and needed to be able to eat other people’s leftovers. If one has strong social/economic reasons to need to be able to eat food prepared by others, vegetarianism can be very hard.

      2. Not if you’re talking about processed/pre-made food. If you have the time to cook every meal from scratch, being vegetarian is less expensive than eating meat. But one of the biggest complaints about how we talk about being vegetarian/vegan is that it completely rules out someone who replies on processed foods to feed their family. There just isn’t much that doesn’t at least have animal byproducts in it, even if it’s not meat.

        It may be a slightly overblown example but if you’re a single mother living on the south side of Chicago in a food dessert, you aren’t going to be cooking a vegetarian casserole from scratch after you get home from the second of three part time jobs you have to pay rent.

        1. Ah ok, that makes much more sense(and goes back to the issue of just how heavily we subsidize meat-eating and effectively force the poor to rely on processed foods; I think I’ve commented elsewhere about how often white middle-class practices that are only possible if you’re especially well-off get enshrined as moral ideas in the context of parenting).

        2. Ah, ingredient lists. Being Celiac, I have to pay close attention to what ingredients are in the foods that I buy. Try really reading all the ingredients on packaged foods some time. I tend to buy far less packaged foods now out of simple self preservation(my gluten poisoning symptoms are not pretty). Those packaged foods that I do buy(and restaurants that I eat at) tend to have fewer listed ingredients, and the ingredients are more likely to be recognizable food type things rather than modified food starch and caramel coloring.
          Really read some ingredient lists. Cheaper things tend to have ingredient lists that are LONG and COMPLICATED and full of unexpected things.
          Some days it seems like a tremendous amount of work just to find food that I can eat.

          1. This is why I can’t be vegetarian. I can always trust a steak to be gluten free, and without grains I struggle to give my body enough of what it needs. On a vegetarian/vegan diet I’d have to eat and prepare so much produce every day.

          2. (Replying to myself rather than Rory because of the limits of nesting.)

            Trying to be vegan or vegetarian as a celiac would be horribly hard. So Many Of the things made as protein things for vegans have wheat in them. The fake meats usually depend on gluten for texture. This is exactly the ingredient that makes my system go haywire.
            Soy sauce often has wheat. Broths sometimes have barley for flavor or wheat for color(makes things brown. Sometimes used in caramel coloring). Creamy salad dressing often have modified food starch, for texture, and modified food starch is roulette. They us whatever starch is cheapest that month, right? Could be corn starch, or potato, or tapioca….or wheat. No way to know.

            Food can be hard and confusing.

          3. @Jenna – Vegetarian is doable, vegan is … so difficult. My brother and his wife were trying to do both but had to give up vegan when she got pregnant. Currently in my house we have 2 celiacs, one vegan, one person who would live entirely off white starches if she could, and one person who would eat steak and salmon every day (me). I’ve come up with about 5 recipes that everyone can/will eat.

            We’re lucky in where we live now. Seattle is better than even Los Angeles for selections that cater to everyone. When we lived in LA I had to go to at least two and sometimes 3 stores to get sufficient groceries. *I* had time to do it, but most people don’t have that luxury.

      3. It’s one of those things that’s very difficult to do in certain sections of the country for people who work multiple jobs or have kids or some other time-consuming pursuit. I literally cannot think of one restaurant in my poor little town that offers a nutritionally balanced meal that is vegetarian. They don’t exist. Most vegetable dishes that I can think of aren’t even truly vegetarian. The pre-packaged grocery store vegetarian food is considered “specialty,” and therefore more expensive, and is only offered in two of the four grocery stores, both of which are on the same side of town and aren’t all that easily accessible by public transportation.

        As well, in the culture across a lot of the region and specifically in my tiny town, a huge portion of the culture revolves around eating, and in certain houses, in certain situations, it is unspeakably rude not to eat the food. To be perfectly honest, I would not feel completely comfortable going to dinner at the houses of certain of my own otherwise great family members and telling them I can’t eat the food because I’m a vegetarian.

        I’m not saying all of these are *great* reasons not to be vegetarian, but there is a certain amount of social, ethnic, and regional privilege that lends itself to being able to easily transition into being a vegetarian without taking a huge hit in finances, time, and social currency.

        1. On the families and vegetarian food thing:

          The other side of that, in my eyes, is the family being somewhat understanding of the vegetarian thing. My boyfriend is a vegetarian, and had to make himself food after coming home from his extended-family’s Thanksgiving dinner last because they had made zero vegetarian dishes. And they knew he was a vegetarian!

          My aunt has a vegetarian friend who is welcome at a lot of our family gatherings, and we always eat vegetarian when he’s here. I know this is a privilege we have that not everyone does, but it seems like such a little thing for relatively well-off families to do and it bewilders me that plenty of the ones surrounding me don’t bother.

          1. Well, yes and no. It bewilders me to a certain degree, but there’s also a great deal of “We made this delicious food for you and you think you’re *too good* to eat it?!” that infiltrates my family life and the lives of lots of other people I know. I’m not sure if it’s the southern thing, the blue-collar thing, or that guilting people gets passed down like Nana’s dressing recipe (that has chicken broth) in my family, but there’s a great deal of weirdness that gets all wrapped up in food. Someone makes food and offers it to you, you take it. Even if you’re allergic, you take it and hide it in your napkin. Food preferences aren’t really a thing. I have no idea if that’s specific to my family, or its endemic to a certain demographic of a certain region, but I would honestly rather skip a meal with my family than to call and say, “Hey guys, I’m vegetarian now and can bring my own food.” I’m not saying it makes sense or that it’s fair, but I tried to be vegetarian for a semester in college, and my mom basically said, “Okay great, but you have to knock that shit off when we get to your grandparents for Thanksgiving.”

            Trust me when I say that food and love are deeply linked, and no I’m not defending it, but I am saying it just isn’t worth the fight for me.

          2. Yeah, I have this hardcore. I am about 80-90% vegetarian, and one of the major reasons I’m not a full vegetarian is that where I grew up (working poor/blue-collar south & southern midwest), it is extremely, extremely rude to turn down food someone else has prepared for you, and yeah, as thepaintedlady says, food preferences aren’t really a thing. (Or rather your dislike of broccoli matters less than the feelings of the person who made you broccoli, which soooort of makes sense when it’s just a mild preference but gets toxic real fast when it’s an allergy, sensory issue, or religious/moral/lifestyle choice). I agree that this is endemic to a certain demographic of a certain region.

            So extremely rude. Like, throw a glass of water in someone’s face rude. Which I know is problematic in many, many ways and while I work hard not to perpetuate this in my own home, I will never be able to not follow this convention in someone else’s home unless I have a medical reason (and even then it’s so hard for me). I have basically no values that trump this cultural value, including the values leading me to be a vegetarian. And thus, I cook almost exclusively vegetarian for myself, but eat meat when I eat out, at other people’s homes, or on holidays.

          3. You said that way better than me. I know quite a few people who have pretended to eat at dinners like these and gone home to eat their own food when they discovered the beans had bacon, or the fries had been cooked in lard. It’s not a guarantee that your veggie dish will be vegetarian, and it’s almost impossible to find anything that’s even approaching vegan. And not eating the food? It would be kind of like going into someone’s house and complaining about the decorations directly to them. Or receiving a gift from someone and announcing to the room that it wasn’t right. Food is a gift and a show of hospitality. Rejecting it is unthinkable – literally, it’s not something I would even consider in certain circles.

        2. People with dangerous allergies can’t always trust family to not serve them the things they are allergic to. My roommate’s grandmother cooked with nuts even though several people in the family were allergic to them. I have heard stories of emergency services being called to family gatherings at her grandma’s house.
          Do I think they’d respect a vegetarian’s choice? Nope.

        3. Even logically knowing how different food choices can be in different states, I still have been shocked sometimes when I travel. I live in a city that is crazy vegetarian friendly. Although food can still be spendy, it is a city built around having restaurants, and grocery stores within easy walking distance (something I am so grateful for, since I live off very little). There are at least 10 different restaurant I can walk to where I can eat a healthy vegetarian meal for about $5. It makes me incredibly sympathetic to people living in less veggie friendly regions. Every grocery store I can walk to carries vegetarian ingredients at regular grocery prices (they aren’t considered “specialty” unless you also want organic/gluten free/No GMO certified).

      4. Yes and no, I think. I haven’t studied this extensively, just tried to live vegetarian on a very limited budget. It probably depends where you shop and exactly where you draw your monetary lines, but my experience of being vegetarian on a very limited budget is that it cut me off from most easy forms of protein. For me certain legume/grain combinations, milk, eggs, and peanut butter are all I am willing/able to pay for on a regular basis. It is absolutely possible to get enough protein that way, but it takes a lot of work and attention to learn how to pair things up to get the most out of them and then to do it on a regular basis to have it available when we need it. If I had a job (or several) taking my time and mental energy and/or picky children, it would be…well…maybe possible but a huge sacrifice and drain on my life. I could add chicken and tuna fist, at least, into that diet without increasing my price limit and make my job as cook much easier. If I had regular access to quinoa, tofu, nuts, mushrooms, cheeses, yogurt, pre-made humus and other processed vegetarian food the bar in terms of time and effort would be much lower. The price still might be lower than a typical meat-inclisive diet, I don’t know, but it would certainly be higher than the cheapest available meat diet. (All that is without reference to what’s available in food banks, since I haven’t had to rely on that option.)

        1. If you don’t have food allergies or intolerances, it’s not hard to get nutritionally balanced meals that are cheap and don’t include meat. And with good planning, they don’t take that much more time to prepare than your average processed food stuff. I say this as someone who, over the past five years or so, has had to make drastic dietary changes thanks to an ever-expanding list of food allergies. The food combining thing is tricky at first but much easier than used to be taught, and once you get used to it, it’s not that hard. And it’s not that hard to get your nutritional needs met without going broke.

          That being said, what DOES take a lot of time and effort is the meal planning when you first start out. If you grew up eating this way, it’s probably not that hard. But most of us in the U.S. were raised in a time when our meals contained a lot a lot of prepackaged, processed stuff in one form or another, much of it included meat, and what we ate even when we thought we were being balanced and healthy doesn’t look like something our great-grandparents would have thought of as food. So you have to re-educate yourself starting from scratch. That part takes a whole lotta work.

          Over time, it becomes a lot easier. But right at first? Holy cow, it will feel like that’s all you do. And by “at first,” I mean a long time, not a week. And people who are working two jobs or trying to take care of kids on top of their full time job, etc etc, that to me would make it hard for them to make that transition. It’s not that they can’t do it cheaply, it’s not that cooking the food takes much longer once you get a system down for doing it, it’s that learning how to adopt a whole new food system, one that actually is well-balanced, that just takes so so so much time and energy. In that respect, privilege can really affect whether it can be done.

          1. As someone else with a lot of food allergies- my diet has gotten significantly more expensive since the allergies developed, planning, though routine and something I grew up with, is time and energy consuming, but the worst thing about a restricted diet is that if I don’t plan food, I don’t eat. I have been caught multiple times having forgot to pack food and finding nowhere I can eat and having to go hungry far longer than I would prefer. I have to devote a lot more time to thinking about food than most people and while it gets easier, it’s still time being taken away from something else- easier doesn’t mean less time, just that I don’t notice the extra effort anymore.

          2. We’re out of nesting, but in reply to Adventures with Rachel–I think it probably depends on what your food allergies are for if your groceries get more expensive? Mine made food shopping much more expensive at first, but once I replaced all my old ingredients, it wasn’t actually that bad. Then I developed way more food allergies, and it’s back to being expensive and healthy, unless I don’t rotate my food groups, in which case it’s not expensive but likely to lead to more food allergies. But it depends on what you are allergic to and whether the inexpensive but nutritious foods are still available to you.

            I used to think that I spent more time preparing food, but I don’t when I compare it to my daily routine before. Now I can’t run out and grab something if I don’t have time to cook, but cooking now compared to cooking then doesn’t take much more time. But the meal planning does, especially when I’m rotating my food sources. That makes me not want to eat.

            If your only restriction, though, is that you don’t want to eat animal products, it’s can be cheap to do, and once you get down the food combining, it’s not *too* hard or time-consuming. But you definitely can’t just run out to a restaurant and grab something.

            I totally hear you on the food planning and packing. I don’t like to travel now because when I do, I often have to take a suitcase full of food. There’s no grabbing breakfast on my way into work, or running out at lunch. And little things get me that I wouldn’t have thought about before–like how I always have to keep a supply of food specifically for if I get sick because then I won’t be able to go shopping or cook anything. It’s exhausting!

            For several years, my boss would make me go to lunch with her once a week, and she’d usually pick somewhere that had nothing I could eat (which is almost everywhere). We did that before my food allergies were diagnosed and I don’t think she wanted to give up having someone to eat with. I think she thought maybe I was making it up and one day I’d crack and eat something? I don’t know. But sitting there watching her eat while she said “There’s nothing here you can eat?” just about killed any positive feelings I had for her.

          3. TBH, even if you did grow up eating that way it isn’t always that easy. I grew up with a SAH hippie mom who cooked low-meat all-organic food from scratch (often grown from our garden) and I still find it really difficult to feed myself and my family, because I work full-time and have a small child and really can’t spend 45 minutes to an hour every evening preparing food.

          4. @when she was good – I’m allergic to a fair handful of things, two of which are found in most processed foods – except for the high-end froufrou brands you find at, say, Whole Foods (and even then it’s a crapshot.)

            So there’s the whole – what can I eat, where can I buy my brands? There’s the – if I want to get fast food, I can eat at 2 different places, both pricier than McDonald’s, and are they close? There’s the – not cooking isn’t a sustainable option, so even though I’m a pretty simple cook, by sheer necessity I spend more time cooking than I used to. And, as noted above, there’s the reading every ingredient of everything you buy, talking to the servers at restaurants, and (at least for me) always tipping extra because, though nice about it, I’m sure I’m a pain in the ass customer. I just don’t think about it any more – because it’s so much a part of my life to make these calculations that it doesn’t seem like a time investment. But it is.

          5. Crap. WordPress signed me in as Adventures with Rachel, but I normally post here under TR. And rereading, I’m sure you have to do all those things too and you understand them very well. (And it sounds like your reactions are worse than mine, so you’re probably more careful, too!)

            It’s just that I don’t think we always realize how much energy we put into doing things once they become a normal part of our lives.

          6. “If you don’t have food allergies or intolerances, it’s not hard to get nutritionally balanced meals that are cheap and don’t include meat. And with good planning, they don’t take that much more time to prepare than your average processed food stuff.”

            Nope. Not cheap enough for many people, at least. When you’re buying your food on SNAP and/or relying on food banks (which is my wife and I at the moment), it’s not. You don’t get a hell of a lot of choice at that point.

            When you’re working 2, 3, even 4 jobs, or simply a ridiculous number of hours, and you’re the only person able to cook in the house (because you’re a single parent, because you’re a carer for a disabled person, whatever), or if you have any of a wide number of chronic illnesses or disorders, then even ten minutes difference between something processed and something from scratch is huge.

            When you don’t have a reliable refrigerator or stove, what you can make or make enough of for multiple meals is severely limited.

            When you live in a food desert and you can only reach one store on your travel budget, and that store doesn’t have many vegetarian options, a vegetarian diet can get massively expensive.

            When you have dietary restrictions that aren’t intolerances or allergies, your vegetarian choices can be severely limited, too.

            All of these are examples from real life. When you say that vegetarian food is, across the board (with a couple of exceptions), cheaper, you are still failing to take into account the actual lives of millions of people.

            As an example, I really recommend combing through Tumblr for the thread where deaf-aspie challenged vegans to come up with a vegan diet that a) he could afford, b) was within his budget restrictions, c) gave him enough calories, and d) took into account his dietary issues. Not one managed it. Deaf-aspie’s blog appears to be gone here, but you can see a very small slice of the conversation on this post.

      5. Others have addressed some of the issues there, but — for me, the biggest issue has been, for a long time, workers’ rights, even above animal rights. Any food, vegetarian or not, where I can be sure that the workers were treated well is extremely difficult to find.

        1. I’ve also made the choice that worker’s rights matter more – to me – than animal rights. But it’s been important to recognize that this is a line I drew and that other people draw their lines demarcating the ethics of food elsewhere.

      6. I know Jen doesn’t want this to go off into a huge derail, but just because nobody else pointed it out: lots of people can’t eat certain foods. I can’t get most of my protein from peanuts or soy, because health issues. My maternal grandparents together formed a totally soy-and-lactose-intolerant marriage: my grandma ate cornflakes with water every morning. My own health restriction is really very obscure; most people don’t have any idea that it exists at all.

        I agree with everything the goat lady said about the politics of food – and about how important it is not to turn friends into a captive audience during mealtimes. But it is also important to remember that food is a terribly personal, terribly individual thing – and extremely complicated for most people. You probably don’t know why any given person might reject vegetarian or vegan dietary restrictions, just as you probably can’t intuit the basis for their decision to have or not have kids.

        1. Exactly. If you try to police my food choices, what you are really doing is trying to invade my medical privacy, and you need to cut that s*** out.

          1. Although, I’ve sometimes gone the opposite direction. “Oh, you wanna know why I don’t eat ice cream after I told you I don’t eat it? Lemme describe in grotesque detail the end result of me eating lactose. Oh, you didn’t want that much information? Maybe you shouldn’t be nosy.”

        2. Yes.
          I was semi-vegetarian (dairy, eggs, nuts, and grain/legume combos for most of my protein with lots of carbs) for most of my life because that’s what I grew up with. My doctor put me on a modified Paleo diet to help control an auto-immune disease and diabetes.
          We eat meat, nuts, eggs, vegetables, and small amounts of fruit and whole grain. It has helped tremendously, My family eat what they like at restaurants and other homes, but home-cooked meals adhere to my diet.

          Their are a few vegetarian friends who insist that I could still be vegetarian and send articles written by people who are not medical professionals (to put it kindly) that back up their view. Friends who are mothers concern-troll me that my kids aren’t getting proper nutrition. My in-laws assume that the dark chocolate I occasionally indulge in will send me into a diabetic coma, and act as though I’m committing suicide by Lindt.

          Which is why I don’t tell most people about my medical issues. I get enough input from my friends and family without summer interns weighing in on what goes in my body.

      7. Vegetables and fruit are way more expensive in general than meat in the US, especially more expensive than processed stuff.

      8. It’s cheaper to buy a lot of non-meat foods, but it is not cheaper to actually eat healthily as a vegetarian. I was one for ten years and I finally had to stop because I was dangerously anemic, prone to dizzy spells, underweight, etc. You can be healthy, but it takes a fair amount of education, money, and time.

    2. (to be clear: I am talking about becoming vegetarian in the limited “cutting meat from your diet and replacing it with plant proteins such as beans or bean products to ensure a nutritionally balanced diet’, not the broader “convert your diet to kale and other high-end, all organic plants!” thing)

      1. It’s okay if you don’t agree or are not convinced. But the “which is cheaper” discussion is going on all over the internet, and this thread isn’t for that.

    3. Yes, this! My family made the jump a few years ago into not eating factory-farmed food. Before that we were vegetarians. We do many many things to cut corners and save money, but still it required a degree of economic privilege that I never had before and only received because my partner got a high-paying job. We are absolutely privileged to be able to eat this way, and managing our food supply really become a part-time job for me. Not everyone can manage this.

      Being a vegetarian was pretty cheap, but we couldn’t afford organic produce, for example, because we were too poor. Veganism comes at an enormous social cost, one not usually borne by the consumer. It’s a diet really only available to privileged westerners.

    4. I do think it’s important to note that this is true within the US, and within some other industrialized countries where poor people are pretty high up the production food chain. When we move out to talking about poverty on a global level, it’s not true – most of the world eats relatively little meat, and very little red meat. I’m not disputing its local and specific trueness at all (or disputing how culturally disruptive it is to try to convince people to stop eating heritage foods just because there’s meat in them.)

  5. Possibly one very good way of looking at this one is that we never have perfect information. I’ve been vegetarian for thirty years or so, and am leaning more and more towards vegan as I get older, so I’ve got a huge amount of sympathy for the LW here. However, I’m always finding out I don’t know everything about my dietary choices. I don’t just mean from an ethical point of view, either. Recently I decided I wanted to reduce the amount of dairy I ate (for ethical reasons, though I am a little sensitive to butterfat), so I had this wonderful idea of making vegan “cheese” using tofu and coconut oil. And it was delicious – oh my, it was delicious. Unfortunately, I soon found out that coconut oil does some terrible things to my insides. I’m still recovering from that one.

    So… yes. You’ve got information other people don’t have, which is influencing your dietary choices. However, they may well have information that you don’t have, which is influencing theirs. The best advice I can give is to assume, unless and until you discover otherwise, that everyone’s trying to do the best they can in an imperfect world on the basis of the information that they have available, and the information you’ve got isn’t perfect either.

    1. “You’ve got information other people don’t have, which is influencing your dietary choices. However, they may well have information that you don’t have, which is influencing theirs.”

      Substitute “dietary choices” for *so many things* and this is so great to keep in mind in general (and so beautifully put, but really would one expect anything less from a baroque mongoose?). This is one I learn over and over.

    2. Yeah. I have IBS, and all four of the possible trigger categories set me off (one badly, two moderately, one mildly)… so if you presented me with a choice between a lovely balanced vegetarian or vegan meal, and a horribly salty-greasy-empty-calories fast food meal, chances are the fast food one would literally be healthier for me to eat. 😛

      1. Yes, this exactly. Nutrition is really, really complicated. When people say “a nutritionally balanced meal,” that’s not a thing that looks the same for every person. There isn’t one meal that meets the nutritional needs of everyone. Even with totally healthy people with no intolerances or allergies or absorption issues or aversions, their different bodies and the different demands they place on them will still need different proportions of nutrients and different quantities of foods. And a LOT of people are not totally healthy with no intolerances or allergies etc.

      2. Oh gosh, me too on the IBS. Know what sets me off like crazy? Raw vegetables. Salads are right out. I’m overweight, and my mother is always telling me to eat a nice salad. Ok Mom, sure. I’m going to eat that at YOUR house, OK?

        The worst part? I love, love, love salads.

  6. Not sure if my first comment got eaten or not but I wanted to make sure it got said: food choices are something that are discussed only by the food secure. Only some socio-economic groups can become vegan and vegetarian, and that element is often left out of conversations like this. It means that POC in particular are completely locked out of the discussion, and disrespected because people make it all about animal and environmental rights instead of recognizing the myriad of reasons (money, cultural reliance on certain foods, allergies) that someone may not be able to support the same causes as the original LW and the Goat lady that stepped in for the Cap this week.

    1. If you look at the “homesteading” movement, it is absolutely horrifyingly white (and affluent). Which is deeply troubling considering that a lot of the self-sufficiency skills the “homesteaders” are “rediscovering” are basic survival skills for poor people, particularly people of color. There’s such a huge arrogance in claiming those skills were lost and even need rediscovering, when actually what’s happening is that affluent white people just don’t listen to poor people of color as a general rule.

      1. Agreed, but even more food-focused conversations and texts like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Eating Animals” leave out a lot of information that ends up being very racially charged. Racialicious had a great discussion about this: http://www.racialicious.com/2010/05/20/sustainable-food-and-privilege-why-is-green-always-white-and-male-and-upper-class/#comment-140991113

        So many food insecure people can’t even get to the “homesteading” skills because they live in a food desert and all that’s available to them is processed and pre-made food. That conversation is rarely, if ever, had when discussing the choice to become vegan or vegetarian.

        1. Agreed! Also not discussed in terms of what it means for veg*n diets: the fact that people of color are being viciously exploited picking produce in the US in really unsafe conditions.

          1. Thanks for having this conversation with me. It’s something I get very frustrated with and so few people seem willing to listen to one another and have an honest back and forth. It makes me feel so much hope to know I’m not the only one thinking about all these intersectional issues and problems, and working to solve them even just on a personal level. I hope you have a great day!

        2. I knew a guy who lived in a food desert. His problem was that the stores available to him by bus had not much selection of fresh anything. He was trying to find a cheap bicycle so that he could reasonably travel to and from a better grocery store, but, he didn’t have much money for a bike, or the ability to travel far to shop Craigslist for cheaper bikes.

      2. We call that “Colombusing”: when white people “discover” something that POCs knew about/were doing for eons.

        I also hate that the “homesteading” “movement” insists on using the word “homesteading” without any recognition of the horrible racist genocidal connotations of that word.

        1. YES, yes, yes to the “homesteading” thing. One reason I call myself a farmer is that I’m white, and “white homesteader” has such ugly historical connotations. It’s not something I want to celebrate in some cutesy fashion.

        2. Not trying to derail the discussion, but I am unaware of any racist or genocidal connotations to “homesteading”. Could anyone point me toward information on this? I looked it up on Wikipedia and can’t see any references to these issues.

          I grew up in Minnesota, and the word “homesteading” makes me think fondly of the Little House on the Prairie books I read as a kid, and of the farm my immigrant ancestors settled in 1890 that was kept in the family for over 100 years. To me, the word “Homesteading” feels warm and rooted in history and connected to the earth – but I wouldn’t want to unintentionally offend others if it has a connotation I’m unaware of.

          Could someone explain briefly or send a link my way, please? I’d appreciate it.

          1. “Homesteading” in the context you describe could not occur until the original inhabitants of the land were genocided away. Memories still warm?

          2. Replying to Jennifer (not sure why my reply won’t post below your comment? New to posting here, sorry…)

            Thanks for your reply. I do get what you’re saying. It’s not warm and fuzzy that my ancestors who bought the farm were benefiting from native americans being killed/driven off from that land. Point taken.

            I think laying claim to land as “rightfully yours” is inherently problematic anyways– not only because the earth belongs to all of us, but also because one could argue that all land in the world was at one time wrongly taken from the previous inhabitants, some land more recently than other land.

            But maybe what I’m missing here is that I don’t understand why the idea of supporting yourself on the land/“homesteading”/farming would necessarily be so ideologically tied to the act of taking land from other people – such that the concept of farming/homesteading itself is “tainted”? I don’t see homesteading as being about “rightfully owning the land” as a conqueror, but rather, about humbly respecting and appreciating the bounty of the earth. I respect the way various people and cultures have done this throughout the centuries – from the modern person who grows a garden as best they can on a small city lot, to farmers using oxen to plow the ground a hundred and fifty years ago, to native americans who hunted or farmed the land before them. Isn’t it possible to appreciate the ways that various peoples have respected and lived off the land, and maybe try to incorporate what is good and appropriate about that into your own life, even as you recognize that those people were flawed individuals and did not get everything right with respect to how they treated other people?

            I worry it would be overly simplistic to argue that “All land ownership is problematic, therefore the word “homesteading” has a bad connotation”. What are the nuances I’m missing here? I’m really not trying to be difficult, I just want to respectfully understand how others are approaching this from different viewpoints. Thanks.

          3. Lady Elizabeth–

            I’m not completely sure about the origins of the actual term, but the way it’s used in the U.S. is deeply tied in with the Homestead Acts of the late 1800s/early 1900s in which a settler needed only to ‘hold’ (ie, reside on) an unoccupied piece of land for a certain amount of time for it to become legally his. The problem with this, of course, is that the government considered land that was in Native territory ‘unoccupied’ and was willing to engage in genocidal behavior to enforce that.

            So the problem with homesteading isn’t so much that it’s about land ownership as that it’s about claiming ownership of land that doesn’t actually belong to you. Also that it’s sort of an unnecessary hipster phrase for what could just as accurately be called ‘farming and preserving’ without offending anyone.

          4. One more reason Wikipedia is not a good source of information. I read the entry on Homesteading Acts, and waaaaaay down, in the section titled “Criticisms”, they put this wee paragraph (at the end of the section, natch):
            “The Homestead Act also brought settlers into conflict with indigenous Americans, displacing them, and accelerating the decline in their population.”

    2. I agree that these important points are often overlooked in discussions about food choices/ethics. That said, I thought Goat Lady covered these in the following section of her response:

      “…But there are many things other than moral conviction that shape the way human beings eat, including but not limited to what foods we can afford to buy, what foods we have access to, how much energy we have to cook them and eat them and clean up afterward, what foods we were socialized to eat… The list could go on, and on, and on…”

      I’m guessing Goat Lady didn’t elaborate further for the sake of space/brevity, and I can see how someone might not quite connect all of the relevant dots without more details. Thanks for spelling this out further and calling attention to it!

      1. I just feel the need to call out even more than that. What about food deserts? What about people who rely on schools to feed their kids? This isn’t just “what we can afford to buy” it’s a cultural and systemic form of oppression that no one wants to talk about, so we can focus on the moral implications of being vegan instead. It’s like the “mommy wars”: we’re so focused on discussing stay at home moms versus working moms that we don’t even realize that most SAHMs are WOC who have no other choice because of how the US handles childcare.

        This may be cruel or preachy, but I’ve always felt like if evangelical vegans and vegetarians took all the energy they spend trying to “convert” omnivores and spent it on a true overhaul of how we feed the disadvantaged, we wouldn’t have anyone starving to death in America anymore.

        1. Unfortunately there’s only so much room in a Captain Awkward post for me to deeply engage with the ways the food system is broken and what we can do about it. That being said, it’s a subject I’m really, really passionate about, are you on the Friends of Captain Awkward Forums (as GoatLady, natch. I’m easy to find)? Because I feel like we could have a really awesome discussion there on all of this.

          1. I didn’t even know there was FoCAF (and now I’m upset at myself for missing out on them)! I’ve got to dive back into some work-work stuff but I would love to discuss this more and pick your brain a little soon!

            Man, for all that the internet has some crappy parts, it’s ability to expose me to cool people with awesome brains never ceases to amaze me.

          2. Caitlin, we’ve run out of reply-nesting, but come on over to the forums when you get a chance! Because definitely, yes, I’d love to continue this discussion and pick your brain, too.

            Food, it is necessary for life and therefore important, and we also assign it so much moral weight sometimes, and that just leads to so many problems, and and and.

        2. I completely agree that the way we handle food is a form of oppression. However, I think you’re directing your anger at the wrong people. Ethical vegans (can’t speak for the “skinny b*tch” crowd) see veganism as the first step towards correcting this problem. The problem is that we are pouring all our food down the throats of livestock– the grain that we feed to cows and pigs could feed 800 million people. If that’s not an overhaul, I don’t know what is. The systemic oppression of the poor, agricultural workers, and farmed animals are all tied together.
          source, btw: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat

          1. Here’s the thing, and this could just be the people in my social circles so I’ll own that, none of the people who discuss ethical food consumption talk about poverty and food insecurity within the context of ethical food consumption. They might be interested and invested in both topics, but do not see them as related subjects. And these are people who run a CSA and have a community garden.

            Attacking it as a problem of “meat is murder” instead of “people, animals, and our environment suffer because of the way we make our food” is part of the problem, and I meet far more of the former than the latter.

          2. Well I can’t nest any further, but I guess we’ve just interacted with different groups. I’m vegan, and the circles I’m in see veganism as a justice movement for animals, humans and the earth all at once. I know people who have gone vegan primarily for the rights of PoC, for example. Personally I think the “meat is murder” part is important, but focusing on that to the exclusion of all the other benefits sells veganism short. Who knows, maybe my circle is smaller than I thought, but there are very strong arguments to be made in favor of “intersectional veganism.”

          3. Ethical vegans can be just as capable of racism, classism, and ableism as the health crowd, though. Let’s not do the “no true Scotsman” thing here, or the “not ALL like that” thing.

    3. This is an important point overall, but I want to just point out that it’s reductive to say these things are solely discussed by the food secure. I work on a food justice project in a food insecure community, and working there has opened my eyes to how the way we discuss ‘food desserts’ etc assumes a lot about people in these communities. We kind of assume that these people aren’t participating in the conversations, or caring about eating healthily and ethically, because of socioeconomic barriers, when the fact is they ARE having these conversations and the mainstream media is just ignoring them. Many people with low incomes and inadequate food access are still making thoughtful choices about the ethics of what they eat– and growing their own food to both increase food security and produce food ethically.

      That doesn’t mean your overall point about the aggressive whiteness of the food movement is incorrect, but it’s important to add some nuance to make sure we don’t assume people aren’t participating when they are.

    4. +100 to this. This is an important reason why food justice issues shouldn’t be framed as a matter of individual moral choice. Even when we can agree that certain things that go on in our food system are bad and shouldn’t happen, we have to recognize that they’re products of a system, not merely the effects of individual vice in their personal choices.

    5. Hi, here to ask that we not erase the millions of PoC who have been eating veg*n for hundreds or thousands of years. Worldwide, most veg*ns are people of color. In America, veganism is mostly a middle/upper class white thing because it’s seen as recent and trendy, and yes, because of horrifyingly large government subsidies to the meat and dairy industries, it is often cheaper to eat omnivorous. But worldwide, when people don’t have any money, they eat plants– grains, vegetables, fruit. Hindus and Buddhists are traditionally vegetarian, Jains are vegan, in China eating meat is still seen as a sign of prosperity. So let’s not dismiss veganism as something only clueless, rich white people are into.

        1. Just a minor point, not all western cultures massively subsidise the meat industries – I live in England, and one of the reasons many of my generation moved into reducing or cutting out meant was cost, I can get four cauliflower cheese bakes for the price of 1 meat steak.

      1. “But worldwide, when people don’t have any money, they eat plants– grains, vegetables, fruit.”

        Worldwide, when people don’t have any money, they eat *whatever they can*. Insects, for example, are a prime protein source all over the planet except in the industrialized west. Veg*n propaganda would have use believe that Hindus and Buddhists are “traditionally” vegetarians, but this is actually a western stereotype of Buddhism and Hinduism, based on particular sects, rather than the reality of most Buddhists and Hindus in the world. There’s a lot more variety to food tradition among Hindus and Buddhists than most westerners believe.

        1. Yup, true, thanks for the correction. I only meant to say that in dire straits, plant foods are *usually* more accessible, and meat is more often a luxury.

      2. A bit off topic, and I do apologize in advance–but I’d like to point out that not all Hindus are “traditionally” vegetarian. There are a lot of different ways to be Hindu, and this stereotype of the religion in the context of talking about Western diets is that I find to be particularly frustrating and rather clueless.
        Additionally, to clarify, the majority of Jains are not “vegan” in the sense that most Westerners use the term. Though Jains do have very, very strict dietary rules (my aunty and uncle lugged an extra suitcase full of their own pots, pans, and dry goods from Delhi to our house in New Jersey when they visited, because we’re a meat-eating household and they didn’t want to risk contamination), most Jains do eat dairy/milk products, because a life is not sacrificed to produce these foods. (Meat and eggs are not acceptable, though, and some Jains will not eat root vegetables, since the whole plant is pulled up during harvest.) While I do believe some Jain scholars/very dedicated Jains would prefer to cut out dairy eating as well, it’s definitely been my experience that the vast majority of Jains do eat dairy. I get frustrated when a complicated and ancient religion is reduced to a talking point on a vegan scorecard.

        1. Ah, I’m so sorry for oversimplifying. I got my info from an “intro to hinduism” course I took in college, but it really was just that, an introduction. It was not my intention to use these religions as talking points, and I’ll be more careful in the future.

    6. Also the fact that there are very meat-heavy non-Western diets, and even entire ecosystems (e.g. the Arctic) where people can’t survive without shipping in a ton of expensive food from far away (at great cost to both customers and the environment) or hunting local wildlife. The latter is more sustainable. Arctic food insecurity is a real problem and the fact that even most non-vegetarian settlers see seals as cute puppies of the sea rather than the basis of much of the Arctic economy exacerbates it a great deal.

        1. I have a friend who is passionately opposed to the commercial seal hunt and it caused a huge rift in our relationship. She sees the seal hunt as a bunch of greedy people who don’t really NEED to kill animals doing it to create luxury goods; I see the opposition to it as a bunch of clueless white people who are looking at an entire culture, from whom they have already taken so much, and telling them that their traditions, self-sufficiency and dignity are less important than cute fluffy animals which are not endangered. Yeah. Things got tense.

    7. I don’t think this is entirely true. Just from my experience, I was often homeless and usually hungry in my teens and early 20s. I did not have food security. So, I sometimes had to compromise my vegetarianism in order to eat at all.

      I am also not white, but mixed, and I was far from the only nonwhite vegetarian in my social circle. POC are not “completely locked out” of the discussion.

      Poor people do talk about food choices. Sometimes we lament that we can’t make the choices we would prefer to make. Sometimes we laugh at the choices other people make.

      Now, I think that in the media and the internet, the most visible voices talking about food choices and the ethics involved are white, middle class people. So that might give you the impression that other people are shut out of the discussion entirely. But isn’t that the case with everything? Society always privileges white voices.

      What I don’t like (and never have) is that when economics or health or etc force a compromise, it’s those privileged voices who attack and ridicule those making other choices.

    8. I absolutely agree. I’ve always said that too look at a gigantic steer, all grain fed and plumped up with hormones, and turn away that meat with disdain is a symptom that you’ve always had enough to eat. If you were starving, the extra meat on that bad boy would be a gift.

  7. I also want to add that in my experience, people have a tendency to equate You Make a Different Decision Than Me with You Are Judging Me, no matter what the context and no matter how much you try to be nonjudgmental and just live your life. People who find out I don’t drink alcohol typically feel the need to jump in with some sort of defense of why they drink or judgment/interrogation of me for not drinking. They automatically go to the assumption that I must be doing it for moral reasons and thus judge everyone who doesn’t have the same morals as me. Ditto on the fact that I saved sex for marriage. In both of these realms I honestly don’t care what other people do, but it’s near impossible to convince anyone else of that.

    All this to say, many people are going to feel judged and defensive by your decision to be vegan no matter what you do, and the fact that you do have strong feelings about other people’s decisions can only exacerbate this feeling. You can’t MAKE other people stop feeling defensive, but you can be a safe person for others to work out their own feelings with, if and when they ever reach that point, by acting as non-judgmental as possible.

    1. A guy in my high school physics class once asked me why I’m vegetarian “and don’t give me that ‘those cute animals’ crap.” I answered, “meat tastes icky,” and he replied “I…don’t…have anything to say that.”

      1. When people come at me with “I could never give up meat/but bacon is GOOD/don’t you wish you were eating this delicious steak?” I ask them “What’s your least favorite food in the world, something you just can’t stand?” They’ll say something like “Olives” and I say “Okay, imagine someone told you that you could never eat olives again. Would you be sad? Would it be hard for you to give them up? No? Well, that’s how I feel about meat.” It seems to go a really long way toward getting them to understand that being vegetarian isn’t some sort of daily exercise in self-denial that I’m performing so I can be better than everyone else, it’s freedom from having to eat something I don’t enjoy (it’s for ethical reasons too, but it started because I’d hated the taste and texture of meat my entire life, and grew from there).

        1. My brothers are ALWAYS going on at my partner about this. They’ve mostly stopped doing it to her face (we’ve been together ten years; it’s at least eight years since they first met her), but literally this last weekend my brother said something about self-denial. She’s mostly vegetarian for ethical reasons, but it’s definitely made easier by the fact she just doesn’t like meat.

        2. Yeah, for me not really liking meat and having some ethical issues with eating meat are closely related. As the Goat Lady discusses, all of like is compromise and choice, so if I am trying to live a life that minimises harm (to others, to the environment, etc.), why would I do something I don’t particularly like? I eat meat on occasion–like holidays (and honestly, I really do love bacon), but most meat I don’t like or want.

          But I do really love watermelon and berries and sometimes buy them out of season as a treat. This is bad for the environment, but sometimes I do it anyway. But I reduce my consumption in areas where I care less.

    2. This is so true. I see this all the time with my coworker who is vegan by choice rather than dietary restrictions. She never voluntarily brings it up, but when people figure it out, they often jump all over her like she had just pointed at their food and called them murderers. Obviously there are vegans out there who are happy to tell you about how evil you are for eating meat, but there is a stereotype about veg*ns as preachy that I don’t see that much in practice. Not nearly as much as I see veg*n people taking flak for being preachy and judgmental when they’ve never said anything about it.

      I have a feeling which side makes more unsolicited judgment comments depends a lot on where you live.

      1. As a (very) side point: I’m vegetarian and I’m on the OKCupid dating site, which has questions each person can answer. You also choose how you want a prospective partner to answer. There are several questions about whether you are vegetarian. I always answer “Yes.” and, for my prospective partner, I don’t care how he answers. There are many times that my “Yes” answer is NOT what the other person wants to see. They seem to have this whole image in their heads about vegetarians/vegans which is negative. I generally get really frustrated and then, internally, thank them for their answer, since they saved me some time by having their judgment so obvious.

        1. Oh, yes, OKCupid, the wonderful psychology experiment/looking glass/dating site. Just like you, I’m always frustrated by this type of mindset in a person but also really grateful that they self-selected themselves onto the list of people I don’t want any kind of relationship with. I mean, that’s the kind of information you really want to know about a person at the start.

    3. Oh man. I was a vegetarian who didn’t like alcohol when I worked at a sports bar. Some of the people who worked there acted like I was some kind of Puritan who was there just to judge them! Mostly I just wanted to do my job and sometimes eat fried zucchini. 😦 Obviously they were projecting their insecurities, it was just annoying.

  8. There’s a stereotype that nobody is as anti-smoking as a new ex-smoker, and while that isn’t entirely true (hi!), the trope serves to capture the zealotry of the newly converted. That LW’s eyes are recently opened does IN NO WAY mean others’ eyes are closed. If that possibility is considered before you begin, you’re more likely to engage productively.

    Let your discomfort over the disapproval of your perfectly innocent bean burger inform how you express disapproval over others’ choices. I.e., what goat lady said.

    1. Ah, I make a similar joke about the one commonality between a brand new Christian, new member of AA, and anyone who has just taken up running.

      1. OMG, new runners. God bless them, I am so happy for them, but they cannot make me like running no matter how much they want me to. Doesn’t stop them from trying, though.

        1. That makes me think of this joke:

          Q: How do you know if someone’s into crossfit?

          A: Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.

          Swap out crossfit with whatever you like basically. It’s probably just part of getting into anything: you think it’s so awesome that you want to share it with everyone.

    2. In fact, some of us are squinting into the sun to keep from going blind, to continue with the eyes metaphor.

  9. A few thoughts, from my own many-years-and-counting of being a vegan:

    1. There are people out there who will treat making a different choice from them as implying a judgment against them. This is true of dietary choices, parenting choices, religious choices, and more. There’s no way to win an argument that begins from that place. The only thing you can do is deflect and change the subject.

    2. Don’t discuss the morality of the food system while people are eating. No matter how valid your points about the evils of factory farming are, a person with a burger on their plate is the worst possible position, psychologically speaking, to hear you out with an open mind. And the reverse is equally true — when you’ve just gone to the trouble of ordering a bean burger, you’re going to be invested in the correctness of your position and unreceptive to any legitimate counter-points they may make. If you must have these discussions, have them at another time.

    3. I think food choices are a good opportunity to apply the apocryphal quote sometimes attributed to St Francis: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” You’ll do a lot more to get people to genuinely think about their eating habits by just being a normal person who happens to order vegan food when you go out and who cooks tasty vegan things when you host (and who will kindly answer well-meaning questions) than you ever will by actively getting on people’s case about food justice issues.

    1. Great suggestions. I was raised vegetarian, have been vegan for 5 years, and have very intense feelings and beliefs about animal rights and food production issues. I used to think it was my “duty” to convince everyone else in the world to agree with me about not killing animals.

      But, being preached at uninvited has never convinced me to change my mind about ANYTHING EVER, on any topic. I don’t know anyone else who’s ever been swayed by that approach either. So preaching at someone who has not explicitly asked to hear my views on food is at best unproductive, and at worst a great way of solidifying their disdain towards a vegan diet. (I learned this the hard way by being a very preachy kid and alienating tons of perfectly nice, reasonable people.)

      It’s important to talk about this stuff, but it’s also important to know your audience and know your timing. I make no secret of the fact that I’m vegan, but I also never discuss my reasons unless I’m explicitly asked about them. (Again, anytime someone else has done this to me about anything ever, it has been painfully boring and I instantly tune out. Not effective.) But often when someone finds out in an organic way that I’m vegan, ex. by eating out together and hearing me order the vegan option, they’ll ask me why I follow a vegan diet and I’m happy to take that opportunity to share my personal experiences / beliefs. When that happens I focus exclusively on explaining my own choices. Everything is I, I, I. Never “you”. I make sure to be extra patient, polite, non-defensive, and non-confrontational. And most people end up nodding thoughtfully and sometimes asking really great questions and sometimes confiding that they’ve thought about going vegetarian but aren’t sure where to start and do I have any tips. I’ve never had someone get defensive or argumentative with me when I take this approach, and occasionally it seems to really open someone’s mind to a way of living they’ve honestly never considered before.

      I once met a woman at a barbecue who asked why I wasn’t eating anything, and as it was a very meat-heavy event and I didn’t know this person at all, I stuck to “Oh, I don’t eat meat, so I ate before I came.” (smile). She responded, “Oh. Well, at least you’re not one of those CRAZY VEGANS.” When I laughed and told her that “Actually, I am vegan!” an awkward / stunned silence followed, but once she pulled her jaw back up from the ground she made an immediate 180, asked me a few questions about nutrition that I was happy to answer, and then decided that veganism was totally fine by her. She even started telling everyone else at the barbecue how cool it was that there was a vegan there that wasn’t forcing their beliefs on everyone else or making everyone else accommodate their dietary choices. It started a whole group conversation about eating habits and food choices that happened naturally, non-confrontationally, and generated a lot of thoughtful back-and-forth, and literally changed people’s perceptions of “vegans” as a group.

      Rarely, someone does suddenly attack my dietary choices when they overhear me ordering something vegan, like what your friend did to you. That kind of person is just not open to hearing your views and there’s nothing to be gained by trying to turn an unreasonable attack into a reasonable discussion. In that kind of situation, I usually just tell the person that I’m not trying to change their eating habits but that I’m perfectly happy with my own choices, and that pretty much shuts them up.

      Good luck LW! It’s tough to navigate feelings and conversations about the things we’re most passionate about, but with some time and practice I’m sure you’ll figure out what feels comfortable and works for you.

      1. Love both of these posts. Great suggestions! I have never responded well to being proselytized at and so make it my habit not to it to other people. I am unapologetic about being a vegetarian (it’s been 13 years now) but don’t explain my reasoning unless people ask. If that starts a greater discussion about animal rights or health or whatever, so be it. But unless the other person is actively involved in the discussion, I always assume that my viewpoint is going to fall on deaf ears. At which point, I’m really just wasting my breath.

        It’s easier for me since I didn’t stop eating meat out of moral indignation–that came later–but because of 10th grade biology. We had to dissect a pig fetus as part of a class assignment. Pigs are my favorite animal, and the sight of the poor, dead thing literally had me sobbing in class. I stopped eating pig products right then and there, which progressed into all meat, leather, etc, after that. I just can’t look at meat without seeing the dead animal it came from in my mind. The point is that until someone has that moment of realization that they might want to change things, they are not generally going to be receptive to what they might perceive as criticism of their current lifestyle. You have to want to make that change, as well as be able.

        I also want to second what others have said about compromise. You can never be perfect and you’ll only drive yourself crazy trying. I periodically dabble in veganism, but have never been able to stick with it. Although I usually feel guilty when I stop trying, I’m grateful that it is my choice to make. I have a friend that is a gluten-free vegan, not for moral reasons but because of health/allergies. I wouldn’t trade places with her for the world, because it’s a lot easier to feel good about something when it is your choice, rather than it was forced upon you. I always view my trying to proselytize to people as an attempt to force my views upon them, and that doesn’t sit right with me.

    2. I really like #3 because that’s what I’ve tried to do in so many things in my life where I’m the ‘different’ one. When I became a vegetarian about 20 years ago I either got teased for it (my dad’s “is this some kind of phase?” still irks me all these years later) or people expected me to become preachy and judgmental and would try to counter-argue me with no prompting. All I wanted was to have a good time and enjoy their company. I wasn’t going to talk them out of a bacon cheeseburger, so I didn’t want them giving me trouble over a black bean burger. I’m an ambassador for the things I believe in, and I’m not out to convert anybody.

  10. Sorry I can’t really offer any tips, but I’m all the way there with you LW with being angry about omnivore people. The only way I’m managing the situation for now is *not* talking about food habits/tastes/diets *at all* with omnivores, because it always ends up someone’s feelings being hurt (usually mine included). I’m also avoiding situations where people eat meat & other dead animals because this upsets me a lot.

    Something I found to help when I get *really* tired of living in an omnivore society is to look out (even online) vegan communities. It feels all warm and fuzzy to be surrounded with likeminded people, where veganism is the norm and prioritising animal rights is an unquestioned principle for everyone present. This feeling of being understood, welcomed and the feeling of sharing struggles with fellow vegans give me strength to live in the wider society.

    1. I’m sorry that being disabled and needing to eat meat to keep myself alive offends you. This is not a charitable comment but I’m really, really tired of people like you being angry at me for just trying *not to die*. I suggest that you and the LW direct some of the empathy you have for animals towards your fellow human beings, not all of whom are able to make the same choices as you. I am not morally inferior because I decided not to kill myself slowly.

      1. Uggh, seriously. I don’t necessarily need meat to stay alive, but I do need it to be healthy. And the self-righteousness of people who think that animals’ right not to be eaten is more important than human health and lives just drives me up a wall.

      2. Aaaand now I can see why kazerniel prefers not to talk about these habits. Kazerniel was not, from what I could see, being offended/upset/angry *at you*. They held up a general garment, you don’t need to claim it’s cut to your fit.

        1. Well, tbh, if someone says ‘omnivores make me angry because they eat dead animals’, it kind of does include anyone who is an omnivore. If I said that vegans make me angry and I can’t stand being preached at, any vegan present would be perfectly reasonable in assuming that I’m talking about them because, well, I would be.

    2. I want to second the recommendation to get involved with groups (organizational and social) that share your values. It’s GOOD to be angry about stuff, I think – I’m definitely of the mindset that there are lots of things to be angry about. It’s helpful, though, to have people who can validate that and who can help you channel it into action on a larger scale.

      You may also find that you’re not as interested in being around people who you can’t have certain kinds of conversations with, and that’s ok and normal. I did a lot of friend-group-hopping as my politics changed around things like racism-awareness. While it was sad, it also made me feel empowered to be around people who supported my political commitments and didn’t make me feel like the problem.

      1. I think getting involved with like-minded groups is a good idea. But as a word of caution, some vegan groups can get caught in a sort of purity spiral, in which people try to out-vegan each other (or at least present themselves as out-veganing each other). For example, I’ve witnessed discussions in which it’s taken for granted that you can’t attend a Thanksgiving dinner at which a turkey will be served, and nobody could suggest differently for fear of being labeled a fake vegan and omnivore-appeaser. If you’re working on the “accept we all live with compromises and limited energy” stuff that other commenters have been talking about, a group like this would be unhelpful.

        1. It’s worth keeping an eye out for that. With that said, as an omnivore I’ve seen way more hostility and purity tests come from the omnivore side. There’s the whole “you’re not having steak, you’re not a real man” nonsense, there’s the ridiculous hostility towards anyone eating vegan food, there’s the whole “rabbit food” term and habits of inserting insults towards food without meat in it in the oddest places, etc.

  11. LW, one thing that might help you deal with what feels like the apathy of others is to internalise the knowledge that everyone has a limited amount of energy to spend on stuff – emotional, mental and physical – and that individual people may have more or less overall energy for this stuff than others. That doesn’t mean they don’t care – it means they’re conserving their energy and choosing the areas that are the highest priority for them.

    Right now this is all new stuff to you, and you’re burning with seemingly endless energy to care about it because of that. But burnout happens if you push too hard or too fast. Most people find a balance where they have to choose which of the issues they care about they are willing and able to act on, which battles they are able to fight and which lifestyle changes they can actually manage. It’s the only way to keep these things up sustainably without being frozen by the force of your caring.

    So your meat-eating friend might not want to talk about animal welfare because she’s focusing her give-a-shit energy on food poverty, or reproductive rights, or racism, or on global warming or something else. She might not want to talk about any of this stuff because she’s in the middle of a burn-out period. Or she might just not have much energy for that stuff in general, for all kinds of reasons.

    1. This is a great comment. While LW is justified in having moral indignation with the very broken food industry, that doesn’t mean that people without the same level of indignation are lax or ignorant. There are many, too many things to care about, and no-one has the definite objective answer on what’s right and important.

    2. I think this is really relevant to a lot of social justice/politically aware people. I know that for me, nothing burns me out faster than feeling like what I’m doing is never good enough. Vegetarian? Not good enough, should be vegan! Make a comment about portrayal of women in the media? You didn’t also talk about X Y and Z marginalized groups as well! I understand the idea that we don’t want to say “well, I did something good so now I don’t want to try anymore” but sometimes that can really feel like ‘why bother trying if it still won’t be enough?’

      I completely understand the “but…how can other people see this and not make the same choice or care as much as me” but there are lots of reasons why that might be.

    3. Yes, I came here to say exactly this.

      Eventually it just becomes nearly impossible to process the things in the world that absolutely suck. There are just so many of them, and if you care passionately about every injustice you’re going to tear yourself to pieces. So people prioritize.

      For instance I prioritize fat acceptance, feminism, social justice, LBGT rights, freedom of sexual expression, and being involved in politics. The way you feel about people who eat meet is how I feel about people who don’t vote, or read the sports pages instead of the political news.

      That doesn’t mean I don’t CARE about other things, because I absolutely do. It just means I have to be able to be a functioning human being. Some things I just can’t make a priority.

      And yeah some people are going to feel like you are judging them, but keep in mind, they feel that way because you ARE JUDGING THEM. And they will be able to hear it in your voice/see it in your face when you say “I have chosen not to participate in the industrialized agriculture complex.” or whatever. (I have a family member that has gone through about a zillion different phases of not eating food, and only in the last few years has she managed to decline or talk about it without sounding morally superior.)

      My advice, stay away from talking about food choices unless it is menu related. I’ve hosted several events with vegan attendees and I always tried to make sure there were a few things they could eat, in addition to what they usually brought themselves. (Vegan chocolate chip cookies OMNOMNOM.) And then it is relevant to say “Hey FYI I don’t eat meat/fish or meat byproducts can I bring a dish to share?” Or something along those lines.

      If you WANT to prostheletyze, start a blog/tumblr/twitter/youtube etc. Put your opinions out there for people who are interested in reading them, and keep them away from your friends and family.

      Also I think the usual captain awkward boundary setting applies here. If people push you about your diet you can say “This is boring can we talk about something else?” and move on. I do this with people who want to talk about their diets at me, or how I should be dieting, or how fat I am.

        1. I think this frequency depends a LOT on your social circle and how common being vegetarian/vegan/etc is in your area. I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years, and I have literally never had anyone do that to me.

          Do the “man, I’m sorry for you, because this steak is SO DELICIOUS” thing, yes. Do the “Oh! You’re vegetarian? Like — no meat at ALL? No fish? I… well isn’t that nice!” awkward mental calibration thing, yes. Do the “you’re vegetarian, but you eat fish, right? Because I brought a seafood dish to the potluck” thing, yes. Suggest places where my food options are “I could probably get a salad if I asked them to leave off the chicken and the bacon,” yes. Apologize for eating meat in front of me (and then relax and say “oh thank god, I’ve met some really judgy vegetarians” when I say I don’t care, because my choices are for me and I have no interest in pressuring anyone else about their own), yes, on occasion. But I’ve never had anyone take offense at what I’m eating or at the fact that it’s because I’m vegetarian. And every time someone has asked why I’m a vegetarian, it’s because they’re interested in actually listening to my answer.

          (For the record, my answer: “I’m not philosophically opposed to eating meat as such, but I am philosophically opposed to factory farming, both because of the environmental impact and the treatment of the animals. So I’m not willing to eat most of the meat I can get affordably in [Big City].” It usually goes over pretty well; even the omnivores generally agree that yeah, factory farming is a problem. These are, of course, the omnivores who politely ask me what my reasons are, and sometimes ask follow-ups about whether I consume this or that. And I’ve always firmly believed that it’s not my job to judge other people’s decisions about thorny philosophical-and-practical balancing acts like food consumption, so that probably comes across too.)

          I’m not at all denying that other people have to deal with people being jerks and feeling like someone is being vegetarian AT them. Of course it happens! I’m just saying that that’s not a universally frequent experience — it depends a lot on what’s common where you are and how defensive the people around you feel about their meat-eating and menu planning.

        2. I was a vegetarian for several years. I am aware of the situation. “Nothing with a head except lettuce.” Was my answer. And yeah, people asked, but their attitude seemed to mirror mine. The less it seemed like a BIG ISSUE the less we had to discuss it. Of course there are always jerks, but they will find something to jerk about no matter what. If it’s not what you’re eating it’s what you’re wearing, your life choices.

    4. Another good thing to keep in mind is that you don’t always know what else people are spending their energy on right now. It might not be something as all encompassing as Free the Whales or Spay the Pets or Women’s Reproductive Rights. It might just be, “dear gods, please let me get through another week of working two jobs, and please let my husband’s new med combination work, because we both want him to be working but he’s not there yet, and also please let my Dad’s surgery go well, and let my Mom not have lung cancer when she gets the biopsy results back this week, amen.” Uhm, not that I know what that’s like….(side glance). And I love that when I go out to lunch with one of my friends, it’s about spending time with my friend, not discussing what’s on our plates. As much as I try to do what I can to Be Good in this world, there are some weeks I have to do the Lean Cuisine microwave dance, and I recognize the compromise for what it is (I miss you, time for cooking and experimenting) and move on, because otherwise my weasel brain starts making my world a helluva lot worse than it already is.

    5. Yes!
      That burger-eating person may volunteer at an elementary school, or help homeless vets get access to services, or maintain a blog about attending college with a learning disability.
      Put your time and energy into what moves you and what you can best help, while trusting that others will do the same.

  12. “This applies more generally to social justice at large, as well. You cannot achieve moral purity; it is not humanly possible to refrain from compromise. Forgive yourself when you have to do it; forgive others when they do it; be at peace with the fact that the world is an imperfect place and you are doing your best.”

    I went to a very small, super liberal, social justice oriented college, where 90% of the cafeteria plans non-meat and gangs of smoking vegans and non-smoking omnivores got into epic dance-fights a la West Side Story. Lord, we were all so unforgiving of each other in so many ways. If I could go back in time I would shove this inside all of my classmate’s brains. That or require an entry-level economics course. This is essentially the concept of “trade offs” within economics – since resources, including time, aren’t infinite, every thing we choose to do necessarily involves sacrificing some other thing we could have done instead.

    OP, there are lots of reasons to be gentle and forgiving, but one I think gets short shrift is for you. An ideologue ends up faced with either constant self-flagellation for their failure to be a perfect representation of Movement [X], or wrapping their own mind in rhetorical knots to avoid that. Neither is a particularly healthy way to live, IMO.

    1. Couldn’t agree more – people often have huge burdens to carry that we’re not aware of, and it’s not fair to expect everyone to have the same capacity to care about stuff as us.

      1. And people may care, quite a lot, and still not be able or willing to do all of the same things as you or me. There is, after all, a lot of injustice in the world.

        1. This is me. I can’t bike to work because of the geological and infrastructural barriers between my home and my workplace, and I rent, so I can’t install solar panels and get a charging station for an electric car, so I drive a hybrid. I recycle, I am incredibly stingy about water use, I pay attention to where my food comes from to the best of my ability, and I try not to make things worse. The regular grocery stores are expensive as hell in Southern California, and even worse for the fancy organic ones. Farmer’s Markets are during the work day (WTH). I can’t fix everything, but I can do all I can to call attention to things like rape culture, like the Pacific Gyre, like recyling. I can’t care intensely about and deny myself all access to everything, because if I got as worked up about poultry farms AND the kidnapped Mexican children AND GamerGate AND a woman’s right to choose AND healthcare AND Operation Rescue AND the oceans warming up AND child abuse AND educational reform AND unspayed animals filling the kill shelters… you see my point. I couldn’t get out of bed. There is a lot bad in the world. But in order to get up and address the things I care the most about, or that I feel I have the most influence over, I have to kind of care less about other things. It’s not “not caring,” it’s just managing my reserves of ire. Otherwise I would be angry and negative and depressed. And then I could do nothing. And I think there are people who are like, “ah, the environment’s fucked anyway, I might as well drive a big comfortable car that sucks gas and belches smog and crushes endangered snails because YOLO” and I want to punch those people in the face but they are the ones we can talk to about how they could reduce their impact on the shitty stuff and maybe they will come around to the good stuff.
          LW: You are learning the complexities of our society and how you can personally make a difference. I’m sorry you came from the sort of folks who keep their head in the sand, but your awakening may be the key to gradually all of your family making a difference in their individual contributions too. And if everyone did a little, it would add up to a lot. Some littering campaign I dimly recall in childhood was in essence: “Every little bit helps.” If each individual just picked up just one piece of litter or reduced their water usage by just one gallon, that would be MASSIVE. You are doing more than that. Keep your fire!

          1. With respect, you ‘don’t need to be punching people in the face who drive a big comfortable car. I have a big comfortable car. I also work from home so I have no commute and I also do x of y virtuous things previously mentioned & my family has nonzero medical issues the car helps. Keep your punches to yourself. You don’t know why people make the choices you do and threatening violence is not cute.

    2. I really, really want to make an impressively thoughtful reply to this comment. But I’ve been hopelessly distracted by the image of dance battles and can’t stop giggling. Here, have an internet.

    3. “gangs of smoking vegans and non-smoking omnivores got into epic dance-fights a la West Side Story.”

      I will literally pay real money for someone to script, choreograph, & film this.

  13. It may be relevant that there is a lot of cultural support for the idea that “You Are Eating the Wrong Things,” regardless of what you are eating, and especially if you’re female. Every “here’s a new diet” article comes with the implications “your body is wrong, and you need to change it by changing how you eat.”

    That makes it easy to get judgmental about people’s food choices–including our own. So remember to go easy on yourself. You’re eating a bean burger or a plate of falafel and salad, and that’s cool. But if you have tzatziki instead of hummus on the falafel sometime, it’s just a spoonful or two of dairy, it’s not the end of the world.

    The same atmosphere that makes us judgmental also encourages people to get very defensive about our food choices, even before they’re attacked. Which goes back to what Goat Lady said: you can say “it’s just a bean burger” or “I ordered a bean burger because that’s what I wanted. Can you believe this cold snap we’re having?”

    1. It may be relevant that there is a lot of cultural support for the idea that “You Are Eating the Wrong Things,” regardless of what you are eating, and especially if you’re female.
      The virgin-whore dichotomy really has infinite permutations, doesn’t it? “Women should be thin so they’re attractive, but monitoring your diet makes you prissy and a drag. Women should eat ‘fun’ foods like burgers and steak to show that they’re not uptight, unless they’re fat, in which case they’re disgusting lazy gluttons. Women who develop any neuroses about food at all are damaged goods.”

  14. One thing I would also suggest is doing your best to not equate, “making a different dietary choice than me,” with, “doesn’t know as much about food systems as me.” This is very much related to the idea that people will have a ton of reasons why they can/cant/do/don’t/will/won’t eat in any given way or with any given set of guidelines. It’s helpful to keep in mind as an internal means of silencing that inner voice that insists that you must to tell them All The Things.

    1. OMG yes this so much.

      There is a very strong cultural narrative that says that people who don’t do what you do just don’t “know any better”. People assume that fat folk like myself just somehow went their entire lives without learning about nutrition, or that people who take out pay-day loans just never heard or thought that it might be a dangerous situation to be in, or that people who have lots of casual sex just don’t know what STDs are, or that people who aren’t Very Christian just never heard the “good news” before.

      It leads to things like condescending celebrities taking over the lunch menu of a school and replacing all the dishes with salad, ignoring the fact that for many of those children their school lunch is the only meal the get that day. Or scaring kids off of eating chicken nuggets by showing them “pink slime chicken” without stopping to think that, by legitimising the idea that foods which are “gross” or “weird” are “bad foods”, that might make it harder for their struggling parents to convince said children to eat highly nutritious but unappetising-looking foods like say… offal. Or an entire country banning a certain kind of religious head-wear out of some mistaken assumption that all the women wearing said head-wear are either being forced to do so or just never learned there was another option. Or wealthy older relations telling their struggling young relatives that, if they’re hard up for money, they should just start putting away some of their wages every month into savings.

    2. Yep. I’m an omnivore who grew up on a small livestock farm. There were factory farms to the left of me, small farms like Goat Lady’s on the right, organic farms three miles over where the crop dusters couldn’t get to them. My cousins run a feedlot of 5,000 cattle and my brother studied bioethics in school. By the time I reached my teens it felt like I knew everything about these debates, in grisly first-hand slaughterhouse floor detail. (I didn’t know everything, of course, but it was a lot.) I do get really upset by how agriculture works these days, but it tends to be in ways that don’t let me have easy conversations with other people, like, “I am upset that the chicken I eat comes from birds that grow so inordinately huge that if they aren’t slaughtered at a particular age, they break their legs or die of heart attacks because their body cannot physically hold up. I think breeding a bird like that to maximize your yield is unethical and immoral. I would rather eat meat from birds that are capable of reaching healthy adulthood.” Which I meanwhile KNOW is kind of a weird and arbitrary (not to mention sentimental and privileged!) way to look at it.

      So I have decided that my own personal food choices are going to be primarily ruled by my appetite and not my ethics, because my “plate” of concerns is already full with mental health, disability, sex and gender, child abuse, and colonialism. By the time I get to the grocery store, I’m just too tired, and not nearly rich enough.

      1. I don’t think “wanting the animal to not have suffered before ending up on your dinner plate” is weird or arbitrary. People draw the line at different points – not wanting any animal to die for you, not wanting the animal to suffer at all, not wanting the animal to suffer TOO much, etc.

        But I’m slightly biased since my stance is basically the same as yours. I see nothing immoral in eating animals per se, but the way we currently treat those animals is disgusting. I am so looking forward to having an organic-friendly budget and a real kitchen (if anyone is keeping track of the “potential reasons not to go vegetarian, yeah, dorm kitchens are worth adding).

  15. LW, you hit the nail on the head with the last part of your letter–you can’t avoid supporting something immoral, somewhere. I don’t think people know about these issues but just don’t want to think about them; I think this is one area where many people have chosen to compromise. Knowing where all of your food comes from is impossible unless you grow/cultivate/raise it yourself, and as GL pointed out, that’s something most people can’t do.

  16. Something to keep in mind as well is that with growing knowledge and therefore diagnosis of Chronic Illnesses and GI issues like Crohn’s, IBS, Celiac, etc, it can get a lot harder for people to choose veganism/vegetarianism for their health. For instance, I have pretty reactive IBS and hypoglyceamia. I need A LOT of protein to keep my blood sugar level (which not only makes my day to day easier, but helps long term to prevent diabetes) but I also can’t eat legumes or soy. I don’t have many non-omnivore based options to keep me going and I need to stay as level as possible. But! My vegan/vegetarian friends are very sympathetic, which is great.

    The general anger at the world is very, very common when you are trying to live a mindful life. I absolutely second the suggestion above to find time to spend with people who are like minded in their fervor, but to also be sure to take breaks, so it doesn’t make you so angry it is negatively effecting your ability to enjoy your self. Maybe try volunteering at food banks, helping to get healthier food to disadvantaged communities? Working on community gardens? Something that gives you tangible affect of positivity.

    1. Thank you for bringing this up. I have IBD and a fatal food allergy that would make it nearly impossible for me to get my nutritional needs met through a vegan diet. After my diagnosis, I had to completely reassess the way I cook and eat in order to stay healthy.

    2. I want to second this. I keep a restricted diet for religious reasons, I’m lactose intolerant, and I have chronic GI pain. While there are food choices I would love to make, I would honestly starve. I’m also not able to eat very much in one sitting, so I get both “you should eat more!” and “good for you, not eating, you female person.”

      It’s not that other people don’t know, it’s that other people make choices the way the LW has made choices. I can’t eat that bean burger; I can’t have beans at all. Because of my chronic pain, I have asked people to stop talking about “good foods” and “bad foods” around me, because “good foods” are things that don’t make me sick, and “bad foods” make me sick. So oranges are on my bad foods list, and cookies are on my good foods list. I already have anxiety around eating, so I go out of my way to ask people not to add to it. And most people are pretty good about it. But you have to ask, and some people don’t listen or care, because the world has made a framework around food and morality that they don’t want to bend.

      This world is toxic about food. There is food judgmental stuff all around us, it’s a toxic environment. People have to make trade-offs with their food, but I can’t go live in a world where I am 100% sure that my veggies were not picked by slave labor. I can’t even garden, I don’t have the spoons.

      If you can, I suggest channeling energy towards trying to fix systems and heal the world, rather than focus on your friends who make different choices.

      1. “If you can, I suggest channeling energy towards trying to fix systems and heal the world, rather than focus on your friends who make different choices.”

        This is something I kind of want to talk about a bit, actually.

        There’s a LOT of stuff where any individual choices are a teeny freakin’ drop in a massive ocean, and where if literally every human did the correct thing — like turning off lights in rooms they’re not in, or eating less factory-farmed meat, or whatever — it might make a couple bucketfuls in the ocean.

        And we (read: the people in charge) have managed to successfully make all these things about individual moral choices to deflect attention from the fact that what really needs to happen is, like, large-scale solar farming or Dear God Anything But Fracking or Yeah Maybe Stop Putting Giant Pools of Pig Poop Into The Water Table. They say well, consumer pressure will eventually fix those things right?

        HAHAHAHA no.

        Look at the systems. Look at the power structures. Not just with food, with everything. The system isn’t broken; it’s working as designed. It’s just designed to prioritize a very small number of people to the detriment of everyone and everything else, and it’s designed to distract you into thinking that choosing to eat bean burgers instead of beef burgers (or turning your lights off, or reclaiming your grey water) is going to help make things better.

        1. Slavoj Zizek called this “cultural capitalism.” There’s a video of it on youtube but I don’t know how to link in WordPress comments. Basically the message to “buy this not that and you’ll be a better person and save the world” is part of what he calls “global capitalism with a human face” (aka just as bad as the regular kind of global capitalism, plus it distracts people from the source of the problem).

        2. THIS COMMENT.

          My roommate is very into stuff like not using paper towels to dry your hands in a public restroom because it’s wasteful, and ALSO not using an air-hand-dryer because it wastes energy. And I’m just like, how much of a difference can that possibly make? We need to be making changes at a higher level than personal choice, because all the personal choice in the world is still just a tiny fraction of the change that needs to be made.

          1. Wiping your hands on your pants is still one of the greatest human achievements in hand-drying though. But one person, or even a thousand people, even a million people, not using paper towels is not going to cancel out the immense profits made by the logging industry.

            It’s sickening that the sources of the problem have gotten us to all believe that we’re the real problem. “You eat the wrong things, you use too many disposable goods & too much energy. Now look the other way when we waste tons of water a day for industrial facilities.”

          2. Yeeeeessssss. Melissa McEwan at shakesville.com often makes reference to the idea of “tasking individuals with the solutions to systemic problems”, and I’ve found that framing really helpful in wrapping my mind around a lot of issues. Like, obviously it is great and necessary for each of us to continue to reduce our waste and so forth, AND ALSO we need to keep our eyes on what the systems themselves actually are and what impact they have and how we can change things on a waaaaay bigger scale.

        3. I personally disagree, not with what you said, which is perfectly cromulent, but with the idea of the endgame.

          It is perfectly true that Tiny Drop Efforts have very little chance of changing the world. Mathematically speaking, not a damn thing we do matters at all, and isn’t that a nice thought? But the power of Tiny Drop Efforts isn’t in what they do on a global and practical level, it’s in what they do on a personal level.

          I’m finding this hard to explain, so bear with me for a second while I tell you about my friend who wanted to run a local marathon. And she was the kind of person who got winded running up the stairs. So when she told us she was going to run a marathon we were… skeptical but supportive. A lot of people just laughed at her and told her to forget it. She almost gave up before she started. But she tried. She started with a walk every day, just around the block. Then jogging around the block. And you know how it goes, perseverance, practice, and by god she ran that marathon. And nothing at all was outwardly changed for it. But SHE changed. She learned the basics of running, she made friends who were runners, she learned how people react when you tell them you’re going to do something they don’t believe you can do, she learned about her limits and her gifts…

          What I’m saying is that many things that are worth doing require practice. And that goes for the mental and emotional as well as the practical and physical. So let’s say that the endgame in doing the right thing is not Changing The World Today, but that the endgame is Being Good.

          Everyone I know wants to be a good person. Everyone does it on their own terms and struggles with what that means, but I’ve met very few people who didn’t have a deep desire to go to bed at night believing that they had done good. And doing good takes practice. When you want to run a marathon, you start with a walk around the block. When you want to be a Good Person, you start by not using quite so many paper towels. It’s not going to change the world. But it might change you. It creates new patterns of thinking, new perspectives on the world, it opens up new avenues of being happy, of being at peace with yourself, it gives you the thrill of feeling that the world is shit and everything is wrong, but by god, YOU WILL CONTROL HOW MANY PAPER TOWELS YOU USE. Control is key. When you realize how utterly fucked things really are, that feeling of helplessness can absolutely crush you, and any remedy against that is welcome. Even if it is just paper towels. And it grows. If you truly want to do the right thing, you won’t stop at limited paper towel use. You’ll want to do bigger and better, because you LIKE the feeling of being and doing good. Nobody ever said that working for change has to be selfless and difficult and include much rending of garments. You’re allowed to do it because it makes you happy. That’s the best reason to do it. You can’t fight every battle, but by god you can fight the ones you choose. There is tremendous personal power in that. People feel so powerless and helpless and angry at the state of the world and there’s so little they can realistically do, so everything they CAN do is a balm on that burn. It can be the thing that props you up when the tide of shit that is this world knocks you down and drowns you. Those 200 paper towels you didn’t use in your lifetime don’t mean shit. But the growth and knowledge and wisdom and drive and optimism and balance and control you gained from applying yourself to doing the right thing, all that goes out into the world with you. That is what people see about you, that is what they like and respect about you, that is what they will want to be.

          The world isn’t static. The chances of changing the current power structure peacefully are minimal. But time will pass. The people in power will pass on and leave room for different people, raised in a different time. And I want those people to be raised by people who at one point in their lives stopped and said “do I REALLY need to use this much water?”

          Personal lifestyle changes shouldn’t be about the direct and measurable result. It’s the attitude, the change, the generational push of people who want to be good. The endgame isn’t Change The World Today. It’s to give the world people who want that change. That’s where it all starts. In the minds of people who said “hang on, this is all wrong, what can I do about this?” Almost nothing, hypothetical person. But there is great power and relief in doing what you can. When you practice doing the right thing through personal choice, you prep yourself for the challenges of affecting change on a grander scale.

          So while I agree with the facts of what you said, I do not agree with the implications. To me, you sound a lot like those people who laughed at my friend for thinking a walk around the block was going to help her run a marathon. It takes practice to be good, do good, and feel good. And anyone who makes even the tiniest of effort has the potential to open up a whole new path for themselves. Don’t roll your eyes at people who are practicing. A lot of the time they’re doing it because they want to become better, do bigger things, move bigger mountains. Tiny Drop Efforts don’t preclude bigger social efforts. More often than not, they’re the precursor. And every effort deserves respect.

          1. I was discussing the idea of critiquing people’s individual choices as a replacement for critiquing the system, or in the belief that doing so IS critiquing the system. As near as I can tell, that’s kind of the opposite of rolling eyes at people for their personal decisions.

          2. THIS. I know that individual consumer decisions, or choices like not using paper towels, won’t lead to systemic change by themselves–but in moderation, they can be a great complement to political work aimed at changing those structures. Especially since they’re small and concrete actions, whereas organizing to change social and economic structures is often slow, gradual, complicated, and full of steps backwards.

            I actually read somewhere that there was a study (or possibly multiple studies?) of people who shop ethically, and it found that rather than being distracted by their shopping choices, they actually were *more* politically/socially active than other people.

            So I tend to think that individuals trying to make ethical choices in their daily habits is a good thing, as long as they don’t act like it makes them better than other people who don’t have the time/energy/money/brain-space to make those choices.

        4. Gah! I just got into an argument over Halloween with a friend who was all Personal Responsibility! Consequences for poor choices! Denial of healthcare, societal burdens, or something. And I was just like, no, you do not get to talk about personal responsibility without acknowledging systemic problems. Wrong scale of analysis! And how many of those personal choices are free, really, instead of heavily constrained least bad choices? Or bad choices that are simply symptoms of a much larger problem? Stop talking about punitive systems as if they’re a good and necessary thing. Why not concentrate on supporting people where they’re at so they can make better choices for themselves (and not whatever you think the best choice is). Stop trying to optimize others’ lives for them!

        5. Yes to this!
          If we’re fighting each other the small stuff we can control, we’re not fighting them over the big things that screw us all.

      2. Ah, yes… good foods and bad foods. They are so incredibly variable from person to person. Due to my weird and complex medical issues, I am currently eating pretzels (for the salt) for my health and oatmeal cinnamon chip cookies for my health. The latter in particular seems to be giving me a significant health improvement. Among the dietary changes people have recommended to me, more pretzels and cookies were generally not on the list. I’m already anticipating the awkwardness of having to explain to people that I am carrying cookies with me if I’m out, because I need them for my health. Among my bad foods, however, is… almost all food actually. The cookies are homemade. I’m allergic to corn. Turns out, it’s in almost everything. I don’t expect what’s good for me to be good for others or what is bad for me to be bad for others. I strongly support people eating the food that works with their health, however weird that makes their diet look compared to a conventional diet.

    3. Oh dear – we recently offered houseroom to a lovely displaced vegan who kindly offered to repay us in cooking for us. Regrettably, Dr Glass has celiac disease and additionally must consume a vast amount of protein, making him one of the most expensive things we own…

      Bless the two of them – it was like Gift of the Magi, enacted with secrecy on a 60-foot boat. She was trying to entice him with the most filling meal she could make… He was hiding in the engine room, eating saucisson with a penknife. Then she’d be hurt: “but I put loads of protein in!”

      And I’d have to go “I’m sorry, he’s just – HONEY DIDN’T YOUR MOM EVER TELL YOU HOW TO EAT PORK SUBTLY.”

      Bless them.

    4. It has been almost 20 years since the first time a doctor told me that I absolutely was not allowed to ever become vegetarian.
      “Just eat the damn steak.”

      A year and a half ago a nurse really cracked me up when she had to call me with a doctor’s instructions based on lab results. “I’ve never seen instructions like these before.” The instructions were to eat steak, potatoes, and dairy.

      1. People on blood-thinning medication are often forbidden from eating green leafy vegetables, which leads to the bizarre situation of strict nurses telling you off in terms like “Did you eat a SALAD before these tests?!”

  17. Hey LW – Is there a farming co-op or farmers’ market or place nearby where you could volunteer? Because it sounds like you have a lot of passion, and finding a volunteering opportunity where you can donate time and energy toward making a personal difference against factory farming might help you feel like you’re making even more of a contribution than you can with eating choices alone. It might also get you more face-to-face time with like-minded people who want to learn more about a vegan lifestyle, and who will welcome talking about food choices and food activism.

    I know it’s hard to find the time to volunteer, and it definitely isn’t a great solution for everyone. I’ve found that it helps me a lot with mitigating my anger at The Way Things Are, if I can donate time (or a portion of my holiday shopping budget, or whatever) toward a cause that furthers my values.

    1. I’ve also found that folks at volunteer workdays are less likely to get into angry “the food system is so terrible!” discussions than they are to get into fun / productive “I love getting out and digging in the dirt” or “how do you cook this veggie? let’s come up with a recipe” discussions. There’s nothing invalid or wrong about anger, but like LW says, it’s not the greatest thing to let color your everyday life & interactions. When you’re doing something small-scale and pragmatic (and cooking/gardening for yourself accomplishes this as much as doing it for an organization), it’s hard to keep the big-scale, abstract stuff on your mind.

      I’ve also had my eyes opened by going to a volunteer thing assuming most folks were there for the same reason as me, and learning that they’re coming from a totally different place – just another variation on the “everyone is different” conversation going on in this comment section.

  18. I have literally never encountered the mythical Preachy Vegan in the flesh, while trying to eat. And I’m both an omnivore and an anarchist; it’s not like there just aren’t any political vegans/vegetarians in my life. I *have*, of course, encountered tons of people who loudly and without provocation complain about how preachy non-meat-eating folk are, and give people shit for eating a vegetarian meal.

    1. I know two people who might fall in that group. I’m the vegetarian daughter of someone who owns 5 (small) meat packing companies, so while my family eats a lot of tofu (no, really), I did get used to “I’ll just pick the beans out of the chili, it’s fine.”

      I do feel like when one friend went preachy at my mom, it was justified, though, because in the same few sentences as “oh we eat a lot of tofu, it’s so much better for you” my mom was also talking about how she feels so bad for those “little baby veals” when she sees their cages at the dairy farms, but they’re soooooooo delicious, so she keeps eating them. I’m pretty sure my mom started the obnoxious there, but she is the type of person who will inform you about ethical issues with various foods. I just happen to be receptive to being told about the problems in palm oil production.

      The other… we’re part of a medieval reenactment group. There’s plenty of historical vegetarian food (because Lent!), but realistically, every meal cooked at one of our events will have some meat. Fine with me, just gimme seconds on the asparagus. Especially within our local small group (versus the “half the East coast of the US” chapter), everyone who runs a kitchen at an event knows we have several vegetarians and that they need to make sure we have substantial enough non-meat dishes that we’ll leave satisfied, so long as we take bigger helpings than those who are also eating meat. This doesn’t stop her from loudly and repeatedly pointing out that there are vegetarians here and we are being so excluded by the main dish being a pork roast, as if there wouldn’t be other dishes involved in a 3 course meal. I don’t like when she tries to pull me in on this.

      1. I actually tend to encounter more of the opposite problem in the organization, where plenty of feast stewards are downright hostile at the thought of creating a menu that can accommodate common food issues, and the vegetarian entree is very grudging. I gotta say, gluten-free is winning out over dairy-free. The last weekend event with a meal plan I attended had dairy in everything, including the gluten-free options, which meant I popped a lot of lactaid and spent a certain amount of time in the bathroom. On the other hand, they went out of their way to offer tea service (though technical difficulties meant I actually got to enjoy remarkably little tea for the effort expended–dashed hopes and all that). I mentored a vegetarian who was doing a lunch who felt like she absolutely had to provide a meat option. I finally managed to convince her that as she was in charge of this one meal, which wasn’t the feast, she could make it vegetarian, and everything would be okay. It was on a Middle Eastern theme, a cuisine that also lends itself really well to vegetarian or vegan adaptation.

    2. ^this

      Though I have had exactly one vegan friend who proselytised (he is a young enthusiastic activist and proselytises about everything and has thus become a small doses friend because I don’t have the emotional energy to be depressed and angry 100% of the time). But that was one guy out of the dozens of vegetarians and vegans I know who don’t even mention that they are vegan/vegetarian unless directly asked or discussing if a steak house is a place they want to go.

      Honestly I’m starting to suspect that the people who say “You’re not one of those CRAAAZY VEGANS are you?!?” Haven’t actually met any proselytising vegans and are just projecting their own issues because they feel implicitly judged by the presence of someone making a different choice to them. Or, you know, they’ve noticed that it’s socially acceptable to harass vegans/vegetarians and are bullies.

      1. Judgemental proselytizing vegans may not be as common as the stereotype but they do exist… I have been bombarded with quite judgemental and purist and repeated and not even vaguely invited vegan ranting before by a couple of fellow volunteers in a pet rabbit rescue group (to the point that it was one of the reasons, though not the only reason, that I pretty much stopped being involved with that group. I simply don’t agree at all that not eating meat is inherently ‘better’ or that eating meat is inherently unethical separately from how it’s done, or that the ideal world would be a vegan world. I have my own considered and thought out views that I try to act on. And it just made me angry and frustrated to be trying to discuss something ELSE that we both believed was important and to have to wade through posts of disparagement of my ethical choices and beliefs just to get to the ones about foster care and medicating sick rabbits and body language). I also have from time to time gotten a lot of it from one or two people on facebook.

        But yes, there are obviously many many many many many other vegans who don’t act like that at all. And especially if you meet people in person vs on the internet. And even if 99/100 _were_ acting that way (they aren’t by any stretch of the imagination, but even if), it still wouldn’t be OK to take it out on that last 1/100.

    3. I have. She mostly got over it, and is a good friend, but oof, when I was 14 and she was 15 she used to chase me around the school with books on pigfarming because she was CONVINCED I would change my ways if she could just FORCE me to read the same things she had. Twenty years later she’s still pretty… free with her expertise on these things, shall we say, though it’s much less intense than it was.

      Also my brother used to get — not exactly preachy, but still kind of holier-than-thou when he was going through one of his several vegetarian phases which just so happened to coincide with his dating vegetarian girls (and end when the relatioships did.)

      I suspect a lot of people’s Preachy Vegans were quite possibly ones they met when they were teenagers.

      1. I certainly, personally, had a Preachy Vegetarian phase as a teenager. I am not 100% certain how all the adults in my life kept from rolling their eyes out of their heads. 20 years later, some of my friends from back then still twit me about it.

    4. I’ve met that person in the flesh. Most recent example:

      Bee: – Are you vegan?
      Al: No…
      Bee: You should be.
      Al: I tried but –
      Bee: You should try harder.

      Unfortunately they exist. And this was only a few months ago in a group with people who were all well into adulthood,

      I’ve been the vegetarian who only talked about why when people asked and been given shit for my choices, and I’ve been the omnivore who gets given shit by sanctimonious vegans.

      In general life tends to be better when one isn’t friends or friends of friends with assholes, no matter what their eating habits are.

    5. I was a vegetarian for about 24 years. I’ve been an omnivore for two. In that combined time I encountered MANY preachy vegans, and MANY people who gave me shit for being a vegetarian. Preachy vegans are not myths.

      When I began to consider becoming an omnivore, I faced horrible personal attacks from vegans. It’s much worse for ex-vegans, they get seriously harassed.

    6. I’m friends with some lovely vegans with whom I was always careful to be tactful, and I tried not to eat meat or dairy in their company, which turned out to be a mistake because they thought I a wannabe vegan who was just not quite there yet. So I had to be clear that this was not my goal. And now, sadly, they seem to be trying to actively convert me, with videos and things.
      I tried to use my Captain Awkward skills and explained directly and kindly that I did not want to be converted, but I seem not to have got my point across, and the conversation instead seems to have exposed a massive gulf between us that could have been bypassed and/or politely ignored if we could just have all agreed to avoid talking about veganism together.

    7. Encountered? I used to be one. The only reason my social group didn’t get the brunt of my vegetarian proselytizing was due to not having much of a social group, outside my family. (The fam got sanctimonious lectures about all the reasons Meat Is Just Terrible and I’m pretty sure spent a lot of time not liking me very much during that phase.)

    8. I have. A lot. But I’m female, and there is definitely a gendered aspect to food policing, whether on “moral” terms or aesthetic ones.

      I also *mind* Preachy Veg*ns a LOT, because I have an eating disorder and grew up in a food-shaming household AND I have some health conditions that mean that I need to eat meat probably more often than I actually do. It’s not that the Preachy Vegan is mythical–but it may be that the Preachy Vegan isn’t targeting you, and so you don’t notice it because it’s not a thing for you.

  19. Another think to note is that for people who are or have suffered from eating disorders, discussing food in a moral vs. immoral context can be VERY triggering. Feeling judged for eating, feeling bad for eating, feeling guilty or selfish for eating–these are all things that people with EDs already have to deal with. I would implore anyone who has decided to go Vegan to be very careful about what they say and how they say it. You don’t always know what someone’s relationship with food is. (I imagine that someone who has experienced any kind of starvation due to poverty might also have some pretty complicated relationships to food.)

    1. Ohhhh yes, this is such an important thing. Feeling ‘not worthy’ or ‘undeserving’ of food were feelings I had very very often, and trying to balance being ‘allowed’ to eat with foods I felt were ‘moral’ to eat vs what actually made me feel full and not sick to my stomach — quite the balancing act.

    2. 100% yes to this, I have several friends who have issues eating *anything* due to various eating disorders, and having someone tell them the food they were eating was Wrong would be very damaging to their recovery efforts. And you can’t tell by looking at someone if they have an eating disorder. Please please be careful how you talk to people about food, LW and others who have the urge.

    3. This is so important to me to be reminded of reading this discussion (because sometimes I forget that my own experience with disordered eating is influencing my participation and reactions to talk about food especially when it’s in framework of morality). Thank you!

  20. Goat Lady, Just want to say I love this: “There is, literally, no way to eat without contributing to large scale suffering unless you’re able to be completely self-sufficient in food production”

    That is such great non-judgmental language that we can all use to shut down someone who is starting to get preachy about the food choices of their dining companions.

    1. Oh, oh, and complete self-sufficiency in food production probably means having to produce all your own fertilizer.

        1. Yeah, that’s what I always think. Small-scale self-sufficient food production is less efficient than factory farming, and requires both more labour and more land. I don’t know where the balance point is between industrial-scale farming and artisan farming that would actually feed everyone adequately without degrading the environment or treating animals in humanely, but it seems unlikely that mass self-sufficiency is going to be the answer.

  21. LW, as someone who’s been vegan for 17 years and vegetarian for five years before that what you need is to find other vegans who can support you through this. We’ve been there and can help you through our experiences.

    I don’t tell anyone about the whys and hows of veganism if they don’t ask, but I’m the first one around with vegan cupcakes to the party (and everyone loves them). Just by living your life differently some people are just going to be rude about it. Let them be. They are on their own journey and are not in a place to hear your message. Speak in depth with those who say they want to know. Don’t be afraid to say you’re vegan.

    We live in a world that has capitalized on animal suffering in all places. Do your best and, once that is easy, do more. Up the bar only when it starts getting easy and don’t worry that your bike tires have animal products in them until there is some alternative that is also affordable. Don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake or become aware of something you didn’t know. Learn, grow, and move forward in your journey. You will open up other’s eyes by just existing in this way.

    1. This is such a great comment. I’ve been vegan a couple years and I’m sort of in between the LW and you, I think. I still have a TON of anger and it really just ends up hurting me. I was really lucky to have a whole group of awesome vegan mentors at the animal sanctuary where I volunteer– these people just radiate love even in the face of the most horrible things. I don’t know how they do it, but they do, and I want to be like them.

      LW, find your people. Vent to them, learn from them. Be clear in your mind about your reasons for being vegan and educate yourself as much as you can. Remember that there’s a venn diagram of omnivores and assholes– some omnivores are assholes, some vegans are assholes, some omnivores aren’t assholes. You can be nice with the nice omnivores and still be honest with them. And when you meet an omnivore who is just a straight up jackass, I give you full permission to go Earthlings on their ass.

  22. I’d like to take a minute and throw a little shade at the friend who jumped all over LW just for ordering a bean burger. I hear a lot more complaining from omnivores about ‘preachy vegans’ than I hear vegans actually being preachy.

    1. LW, I have one concrete suggestion for you, and that is to throw a dinner party.

      Make the foods you love. Invite over people you like to eat them with you. Reclaim food as a social space. Don’t talk about food politics over the meal– just enjoy the food.

      And any friends that jump all over you or call you preachy for daring to offer them a home-cooked meal? Cut those people out of your life, because they are terrible.

    2. I think I’ve encountered about equal numbers of preachy vegans and omnivores leaping on non-preachy vegans for no reason. All the preaching needs to stop on both sides. But yeah, major shade for the bean burger comment. I just have equal amounts of shade for my friend who said at a restaurant, as I poured milk in my coffee, “Someday all restaurant menus will be vegan. . .like slavery, or women’s right to vote”.

    3. My experience is the same, as a vegetarian for over 10 years. I’ve gotten the same sort of reaction to ordering something vegetarian, thankfully not from real friends. Veg*ns are haunted by the specter of the preachy vegan, and I’m sure some exist, but again, never met one.

  23. Random suggestion, instead of trying to tell people you’re vegan and why they should be too, what if you fed them? Invite them over or bring baked goods (might I suggest things that are defacto vegan, rather than filled with substitutes, which can scare a lot of omnivores off).

    Food is such a social thing, it’s one of the first ways we experience love and it’s crucial to family and friend bonds. If you want to share this part of yourself honestly and forthrightly, the best way to do it is by sharing what you eat.

    This isn’t to say that you can invite people over just to harangue them like you’re giving a seminar to sell timeshares. But vegetarian and especially vegan food can be strange and overwhelming, and for a lot of meat and potatoes people, they’re wondering what exactly you’re eating. But if you serve them up a bowl of spicy chili (1 can of black beans, rinsed, 1 can of kidney beans, rinsed, 2 cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes with juice, 1 onion, diced, 1 honkin’ tablespoon of chili powder, 1 can of chipotles in adobo sauce. chopped with sauce- soften the onion in a bit of vegetable oil and then add everything else and cook until hot)- they’ll understand.

    1. I love this suggestion. What a great way to demonstrate your eating style without being preachy. I have a few veggie friends who occasionally have dinner parties, and although I am a meat eater, I LOVE to see what interesting vegetarian dishes they make that I can steal! (Also I just love dinner parties)

    2. Yes! Also, lots of vegan cake. People tend to assume that vegan baking is impossible and it’s actually super easy and delicious (there are things you can’t make easily, but there is plenty of yummy stuff that doesn’t require you to source any special ingredients). People get some weird ideas in their heads about vegans being really hard to cater for and vegan diets being all about some crazy level of self denial, and just showing that it can be pretty normal helps a lot.

      1. I had two vegans at my wedding, so I ordered a vegan cake from the local hippie co-op. Hands-down the best food decision I made for that event — it was delicious.

    3. “might I suggest things that are defacto vegan, rather than filled with substitutes, which can scare a lot of omnivores off”

      As a former-vegetarian omnivore who lived with a vegan and has many vegan friends, and who is severely restricted on dairy for medical reasons, let me +500 this, and also make a cookbook rec: “The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen”, by Donna Klein. She went for foods that are vegan or nearly-vegan to start with for this cookbook, and it’s so so so tasty.

      1. I’m omnivorous, but I eat vegetarian dinners at least 2x a week (usually three) for balance purposes, and I was startled when I thought about how many of my recipes are actually vegan, not just vegetarian.

        1. because I’m so restricted on dairy, a lot of my vegetarian recipes become vegan when I make them (since often the only non-vegan ingredient is butter or milk, usually easily substituted). some recipes become notably improved thereby (for my money, extra-virgin olive oil + veggies is ALWAYS better than butter + veggies, for example).

      2. That title makes perfect sense to me – I once had an unintentionally 99% vegan dinner party. It was Mediterranean themed (aka excuse to try making falafel) and other than the side dishes of tzatziki and feta everything was animal product free.

      3. Yes, this. I also like “Veganomicon,” which is similarly low on substitutes. I’m not veg*n but I eat that way 90% of the time. I have a theory that there are flavors vegans get so accustomed to that they stop noticing. Miso is a big one, nutritional yeast is another. (No one is ever going to convince me that a recipe with more than a tablespoon of nooch is a good idea.) But if you avoid recipes with those things, most omnivores will hardly notice there’s no meat.

    4. Seconding this! I’m the only vegetarian in my very large extended family that thrives on food-based gatherings. I also went vegetarian because eating meat started to physically repulse me, not because of ethical reasons, so even arguments like “your cousin bow-hunted and prepared this venison himself!” could not make me eat meat.

      The way I worked it out? I started cooking a lot more dishes to bring to family gatherings. Then at Christmas, I made part of my gifts to family be little recipe booklets I’d put together filled with all the vegetarian recipes I’d been cooking and sharing with them. It took a while, but my relatives eventually shifted from awkwardly setting a container of cottage cheese next to my plate because there was no protein I could eat on the table to actively and excitedly asking me to taste new vegetarian recipes they’d discovered on their own. Food and recipe sharing demystified my eating habits in a way that was really useful for me and them.

  24. We are all different, aren’t we?

    I remember when I got involved in animal rights and changed my eating. I was under the supervision of the local ladies at the health food store, who were passionate and knowledgeable.

    What worked so well for them was a disaster for me. I became protein-deficient, tore up my digestive system, and skirted diabetes. Turns out, my body won’t make the enzymes to get enough protein from plant sources, and in an attempt to do so, I ate too many starchy grain products for my body to handle.

    So I’m now a gluten-free omnivore, and I rescue cats, who are obligate carnivores, and we all eat as best we can, including supporting local farms who are humane and conscious of the eco-system.

    An idealist also has to be a realist.

  25. I have a close friend who is vegan, who I’ve successfully shared meals with on many occasions, and who was very good at convincing me of her reasoning, while not shaming me for my own choices. As a result, I was happy to compromise by not eating meat around her, or to order no-cheese pizzas if we were sharing (which is a feat, BELIEVE ME).

    Her strategies:

    1. Eat vegan food while eating out with friends – choose tasty options and enjoy them honestly – no shame or and no martyrdom required – bean burgers are tasty.

    2. Wait for your friends to ask veganism. They may not. But when they do, be brief and positive. My friend would say things like “What I learned upset me so much that I couldn’t think about eating animal products anymore, and I like how I feel now that I’m not eating meat.” Lot’s of “I” statements, because she was explaining her personal stance, and her personal choice.

    3. Try not to put the onus on other people to support your new food requirements – if you are attending a party or holiday gathering, for instance, you might offer to bring something vegan if you suspect the only thing that’s getting served is lasagna with meat sauce. Be proactive about making sure you’ll have something to eat, by either asking the host to provide, or providing for yourself – but don’t assume they’ll remember and then go sadly hungry if they’ve forgotten. Personal experience tells me your family is going to be far more likely to “forget” to have vegan food around than your friends, so pack a lunch box for holidays.

    4. Have some people over, and cook them a tasty vegan meal. Let me tell you, my friend’s vegan tempeh-hummus wraps were a pretty good selling point.

    1. I agree with point 3, but I’ll take it a step farther. Demanding a host make something specifically for your preferences leads very quickly to the host getting overwhelmed by all kinds of requests. Soon, instead of “come enjoy some food, bring whatever you want,” the host ends up with “well now I need a meat dish, a vegan dish, something bland for that one person who can’t tolerate heavily flavored food, something sugar-free, also one of these needs to have no nuts of any kind, and…”

      Being a host is hard and rather thankless sometimes. You’re expected to cook a whole lot, have a nice clean place ready for guests, do entertaining, make sure the food gets distributed and everyone is comfortable,, then when everyone leaves, you’re the one doing cleanup. I think that if a guest has dietary requirements that are noticeably inconvenient (asking a carnivore to make vegan food does count here to me), they should bring a dish of their own. The host will be grateful for additional food and supplies, the guest will get to eat what they want as well as show others their food style, and everyone is fine. But expecting the host to pander to everyone, especially in this day and age when no two people seem to be able to eat the exact same thing, is putting a huge burden on that one person. If you’re afraid of offending the host by bringing your own thing or something, just ask. “Hey, Taylor, can I bring over my awesome (recipe X)? It might help take a load off your schedule, and people seem to really like it,” is something friends will probably love to hear.

      1. This comment made me think that maybe my Party Food Strategy might be useful for other folks here!

        So I will lay it out! A few times a year, we throw large parties (50+ guests); the food is always served laid out so people can browse etc. rather than a formal set of courses.

        I have a large selection of recipes I know very well, and I can pick from among them. These recipes include meat, vegetarian, and vegan recipes, and also things that can be served cold, things that do well in crockpots or kept in a warm oven, etc — looking for maximum ease of serving/set-it-and-forget-it. I also have a few things I always make, because people feel comfortable knowing that there will always be mac & cheese and (vegan) chili and… at one of our parties, and it makes them feel secure that they will be able to eat something there no matter what.

        The recipes also all adhere to the following dietary rules (these are easy, I promise):
        1. No nuts
        2. If it doesn’t LOOK like there’s meat in it, there’s no meat in it (so no chicken broth in something that otherwise looks vegetarian)
        3. If it doesn’t LOOK like there’s dairy in it, there’s no dairy in it (so no melted butter on vegetables, that kind of thing)

        This make it super easy on me (for values of “easy” when you’re cooking everything for a huge party); I have things I can pick from and make easily, and I know that anyone who *can’t* eat at my party from the planned menu has food restrictions that are beyond my ability to compensate for in such a format — so if asked, I don’t feel badly about refusing special requests.

        My invites always say that the party will provide vegan & vegetarian options and that the planned menu has no nuts. What this does is makes it clear to everyone invited that although I want people with basic major food-group preferences (and scary allergies) to be able to eat at my house, there IS a planned menu; this cuts down (I think, anyway) on special requests, because people feel like Decisions Have Been Made.

        Anyway! In case anyone finds it useful, there’s my handy guide to How To Make Party Food Easier When Your Friends Are All Over The Culinary Preference Map.

        1. This is a most awesome summing up, and should inspire folks to start collecting recipes. There’s TONS of good stuff on the different eating-styles sites.

          While my friends do care about recognizing my restrictions, I forge ahead and we choose any restaurants we want. I’ve eaten gluten-free in Italian restaurants (I fortunately am not so sensitive I react to cross-contamination on cutting boards, that kind of thing) and I can go to the great sandwich place, I just skip the bread.

          I also wanted to applaud your approach of “clear demarcation” with the different food avoidance groups. I’ve been tripped up in the most unlikely of places, like pot roast (with a wheat based “tenderizer” injected) and other foods that shouldn’t have wheat in them in any normal world.

          1. It’s certainly way easier to cope with food restrictions one-on-one — last night I was feeding my sister, who has a bunch of medical food restrictions and also some personal/moral ones — but Big Stuff can mostly be handled by providing options & having a library of go-tos. I *think* almost all my go-tos are also in the “if there isn’t obviously wheat, there’s no wheat” category, but you’ve just reminded me that it’s worth checking that, too.

    2. ” to order no-cheese pizzas if we were sharing”

      Can someone please send this memo to some vegan friends-of-friends that us omnivores over here are TOTALLY COOL with cheese-free pizza? I never again want to hear “well, we can order from X Pizza place, they have vegan cheese!”

      1. I know some people really like vegan cheese, but when I had to stop eating dairy people kept saying “oh, well, there’s good vegan cheese” and no. no, it all tastes terrible to me, and also nothing at all like cheese. I would rather have the 2-3 day migraine and severe stomach pain from real cheese than eat it, that’s how terrible it tastes. not all people taste things the same way!

        1. So I use daiya sometimes because I don’t find it disgusting, but people ask me if it tastes like cheese and I laugh. No. No, it does not taste at all like cheese. And everything else is much worse. So, so much worse.

          It took me a while to get up the nerve to try cheese-less pizza (because I can’t eat most pepperoni and I don’t like most cooked veggies, which leaves…not many toppings, really) but I’ve had a few that are really fantastic.

  26. On a more-immediate practical note:

    If you have friends that you don’t want to go straight-up evangelist over, but want to convince to reduce their meat intake, try cooking them some tasty meals.

    I thought for ages (like, until done with grad school) that I was at best “meh” on vegetarian food, and thus in order to get a proper meal, I needed to either have meat or way too many carbs in the meal. What changed was joining a tabletop game run by a vegetarian friend, who would cook dinner for everyone. Turns out, my parents were just terrible at making tasty vegetable dishes, and making bean or tofu based food honestly never occured to me as an option. My friend, on the other hand, was a really good cook, and opened my eyes to the possibility of tasty and filling vegetarian meals.

    So now, while I still eat meat, I own a couple of vegetarian cookbooks, and I’ve probably cut the number of meals I eat with meat in them by about half. My friend didn’t push for any of this, it just opened some options that I wasn’t even aware existed.

    Also, your friend jumping on you about the bean burger? Total jerk move.

    1. Implicit in this is that while, in your eyes (LW), eating no meat is by far the best way, eating LESS meat has to be better than nothing.

      I’m unlikely to go vegetarian and I’m pretty sure my health would suffer if I even *tried* to go vegan (I’ve seen vegans lose a lot of weight unintentionally and I very much need to not do that, also I have reasons to be concerned about bone density) — but eat LESS meat? Worry about where it came from? Maybe even go *nearly* vegetarian? Sure, I’ll do that. I don’t think it’s going to save the world but nor is any individual’s full on veganism.

      So, LW if you have friends who do show an interest but are like, “Oof, I just don’t think I can do what you’re doing” you can point out that it doesn’t have be all or nothing.

  27. As a carnivore (only slight exaggeration, as I basically eat ketogenic in the form of meat), I agree so much with Goat Lady here. Preachy vegans/vegetarians rankle me to no end. Do people really think I don’t understand that I’m eating animal flesh? I know I eat animals. I know about factory farming. It’s impossible *not* to know about these things unless, like the LW’s rare case, one is very very sheltered. As an adult, basically everyone knows these days. The saying is not at all true, “if slaughterhouses were all made of glass, we would all be vegetarians.” I know how it goes.

    In the end, we really do all decide which moral issues to support and which just can’t make it to our list of “things to which I devote my spoons.” For me, global agriculture really does fall into this problem. Yes, omnivores know what you want us to know, LW. Some of us don’t care; some do care but just can’t or won’t make the drastic life changes required to be vegetarian, vegan, or agriculturally independent. I have not the spoons to put toward your cause.

    You can’t take up every mantle, LW, and neither can anyone else. Some of us just didn’t pick your mantle. Don’t yap about your veganism, and politely tell your friends not to yap about their opinions of your veganism. (Yes, preachy carnivores are lame, even though I know I do it too, because I get so miffed at the preachy health conspiracy nuts, vegans, and more). Food is bound up in so many things — culture, medical issues, nostalgia, family, etc etc — that honestly, no one has much right to comment no anyone else’s food choices.

    As for the scads of folks here saying they’ve encountered tons of preachy meat-eaters and almost no preachy vegans, I’ll be a voice of difference there. Almost 100% of the folks I’ve run into that preach about food trends are either people following fad diets or vegans/vegetarians crying about animal issues. The omnivores I know are basically telling everyone they just want to be left alone and not bothered, and if that’s preachy, well, I’m okay with that kind. “Leave me the hell alone” is a valid complaint. “Change yourself to fit my vision of you” is not.

    All this being said, fuck factory farming; it’s terrible; we do need to fix it. I’d just rather fix it by buying my meat from humane sources, local farm shares, that kind of thing, than throwing out the entire concept of eating meat.

    1. No, I too have encountered preachy vegetarians and vegans, especially at my university. They insisted that once I saw this documentary or that documentary I would immediately want to stop eating all meat or all animal products. I informed them that, no, I rather doubted it because I grew up hunting, fishing, and helping to butcher meat so I was very aware of animals being killed looked like and how those processes worked at a smaller scale. (Those documentaries confirmed by suspicions that factory farms are The Worst, though. Of course, this is not limited to factory farms that only do animal products, as all farms that mass-produce food are a series of ethical violations.)

      I’ve also encountered plenty of judgey meat eaters. This is particularly common among middle-aged men through people my parents’ age. My dads’ friends that I grew up hunting with automatically assume that the reason I try to avoid meat are because killing animals is Literally The Worst and try to pick fights with me over that and it gets really old. And having people flat-out refuse to accommodate my eating habits* is also super annoying.

      It’s probably been a 70-30 split with me on preachy meat-eaters to preachy vegetarians (albeit meat eaters are probably waaaaaayyyyyy overrepresented in the sample size of people in my life, so that’s not a great statistic that can be generalized), but it gets really old to be preached at from both sides of the issue.

      *Mostly relatives. Because I get when you’re playing host to people you don’t want to make a ton of extra dishes. But when you’re making something like lasagna, how hard is it to simply not include meat in the lasagna, especially considering you’re serving another meat dish?

    2. Uh, so when I talk about copping wierd, rude or harassing behaviour as a vegetarian I don’t mean that omnivores tell me to leave them alone. I mean that they completely unbidden start grilling me about my dietary choices, mocking me for them, trying to convince me to change them or otherwise make meals excruciating. And unfortunately there is a tendency for many of the other people present to laugh along when this happens. I am totally cool with leaving people alone about what they eat. I think people should leave people who eat meat alone about it, and they should leave vegetarians alone about it. They should most certainly also leave people with allergies and intolerances and health issues alone about it.

      Just… Yeah. This literally happened to me *again* at a work lunch today.

      So, I believe you when you say you’ve copped crap from vegans and vegetarians and various other people about your food choices. But constant unending social weirdness directed at vegans and vegetarians is a very real thing and is not just a case of omnivores wanting to be left alone.

    3. I, too, have an almost 100% preachy-vegan experience, but that’s the breaks of being in the animal rights movement and NOT being a vegan. Honestly, folks, I can care AND eat meat that’s not from factory farms. I hate them too, but the answer is not in converting everyone to veganism. If that’s the goal the job will never get done.

      And, you know, I have cats. They can’t convert at all. 🙂

    4. I’m not vegetarian, but I eat a lot of vegetarian food (because I think it tastes nice) – and I do get some people going all “why are you ordering *that* you weirdo” at me sometimes. It’s less “you are morally required to eat meat” and more “it is not food if it does not have meat in it” (maybe that’s true for you, but it’s not true for me; I will eat my beanburger and you can eat your steak and we will both be happier if we don’t engage in arguments about whose food is “better”).

      1. A lot of people seem to think that vegetables are at best a duty, not something people will eat by choice. I’m not vegetarian, but there are a lot of vegetables I like. Sometimes I just want falafel, and some days the three-kinds-of-mushrooms stir-fry looks more appealing than the roast duck or the chicken and broccoli.

        Why is it so much harder for people to understand “I am eating tofu in black bean sauce because it’s what I want” than “I am eating roast pork because it’s what I want”? The only time the tofu was for remotely medical reasons was when I had just had dental work, and I wanted a real meal, with protein, that didn’t require significant chewing.

        Rhetorical question, really: few people’s parents have ever told them that they have to finish their hamburger, let alone their cookies, in order to be able to have more cucumber.

    5. If you haven’t seen much omnivore-evangelism, I respectfully suggest that it might be because you’re not tuned into it. I eat meat occasionally and my partner’s vegetarian, and I even get secondhand “how on earth do you cope with living with a vegetarian? That must be SOOO HARD. Why is she vegetarian anyway? Doesn’t she miss meat? But bacon, right? She does know that rearing animals alongside crop cultivation is part of a functional farmed ecosystem, doesn’t she?” Etc etc. And this in a country where more than one in twenty is vegetarian.

  28. Oh Goat Lady let me LOVE YOU.

    LW, another good distillation of how to eat based on your values: follow your stomach.

    As our favorite anarchist friends remind us: there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Buying Different Things doesn’t destroy a system of imbalance and profit ; you can’t shop the patriarchy out existence; things that need to be dismantled can only be taken down with tools, not with buying them in slightly different colors or with slightly different seasonings of suffering. Of course one should do these things if they are pleasing, but not with the expectation that shifting suffering around will diffuse cosmic blame.

    Yes, yes, “but then what is one to DO” – well, do what you are doing, LW! Follow your stomach. Your stomach knows what nourishes you, what makes you feel best, what it can stand, what makes it sick, what cruelty it can swallow, what suffering it will refuse.

    Does hearing about factory meat production turn your stomach? Go forth, and consume only the meat grown and killed by hands.

    Do you find fish deeply gross on a molecular level? That’s a clue from your stomach that this food is not for you.

    Does reading about how demand for quinoa has starved Bolivian farmers turn your stomach? Don’t eat things that turn your stomach.

    My stomach is particularly tough because it nourishes some complex belief systems. But it would be wrong for me to assume that other people are comfortable with, say, straight-up eating a whole prawn ( it was a MISTAKE I thought that’s how I was SUPPOSED to handle being presented with a large dead prawn I didn’t know it had to GET NAKED FIRST) because that would be utterly ridiculous. My stomach sized up the idea of the prawn, looked it in the eye, and said “yes, by God, I can and I will digest this whole thing, head and feelers and paddly bits and shell and all, for it is what raccoons do in my native country and i am rather like a raccoon” and so we did.

    Demanding that other people react in the same way when presented with a large dead prawn is UTTERLY RIDICULOUS in the same way that requiring your friends to eat in the same way you do is utterly ridiculous.

    Stomachs are personal, strange things, and what one can handle will be repellent or un-nourishing to another. Things that nourish you can make others sick. Things that are your poison are the bread of another. And stomachs, when listened to, will generally guide you well.

    The best ethical choice is to follow your own stomach and ignore the noises coming from other people’s – unless they are grumbling. In that case feed them.

    1. “As our favorite anarchist friends remind us: there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Buying Different Things doesn’t destroy a system of imbalance and profit ; you can’t shop the patriarchy out existence; things that need to be dismantled can only be taken down with tools, not with buying them in slightly different colors or with slightly different seasonings of suffering. Of course one should do these things if they are pleasing, but not with the expectation that shifting suffering around will diffuse cosmic blame.”


  29. This isn’t a ‘well, everything’s bad so why bother being vegan’ comment. It’s not, I promise. But, um, everything *is* bad. That’s why you’re so angry. LW. And you have found this thing that you can do that makes you not feel angry at yourself for how complicit in a system that runs on blood you are. Good. You do that. But be aware of the privilege inherent in the choices you are making before you start getting mad that other people aren’t making those same choices.

    Whatever you do to try and dodge the human (and animal) suffering caused by capitalism, (Veganism! Locavorism! Organic-only! Fairtrade! Homesteading!) you’re enacting privilege and contributing to a system that allows on a wealthy elite who want to buy morality. You are doing your best to be comfortable with your sense of justice and your physical needs. Other people are doing the same.

    I won’t list all the things you do every day, LW, that are unethical or violent or damaging to the environment. You probably know them (Cell phones! Sriracha sauce! Wine! Chocolate! Clothes! Vegetables!), and you’re probably doing your best to ethically engage with with those things in a way that doesn’t make you unhappy.

    Now, LW, you need to learn to trust that other people are also doing their best to ethically engage with these things in a system where there is no right answer.

    And, um, the problem I find with a lot of the ‘but people have [reasons!!] to not be vegetarian!!’ comments is that [reasons!!] can be argued with. People’s diets are not up for debate. People are not obligated to conform to what the LW thinks is the most ethical thing unless they have a note from their mother. People get to make their own decisions. You are the boss of what goes on your plate and into your mouth. Other people are the boss of what goes into their own mouths.

    1. Apart from or additionally to what you already mentioned, the problem I have with a lot of “but people have [reasons!!] to not be vegetarian!!” comments (not in this thread but in general) is that they often come off as very apologetic-sounding. Like “Of course I’d be a vegetarian/vegan if it weren’t for [reasons].” which is fine in general because it might very well be true for some peoplte, but often an “everyone would be” is implied when, no. I love meat. I enjoy eating all kinds of meat. I would not want to be a vegetarian or vegan, ever, unless I’d absolutely have to (my sister’s BFF is a vegan though and I’m having a blast finding and cooking vegan food lately, for when BFF stays over but also just in general). I don’t have any restricting reasons!! that simply prevent me from living the true vegetarian lifestyle. My reason!! is that I don’t want to, and that’s okay.

      1. Yep. My own [reasons!!] are that I like meat and I like dairy and and I like eggs and honey and I like my red velvet cake with a lovely carmine-red hue and processed cream-cheese icing. I was a vegetarian for a while, I liked it alright, but I like the foods I missed more, so I stopped, because I didn’t want to be a vegetarian any more.

        And that right there is the clincher: “I don’t want to be a vegan” is reason enough to not be vegan. It’s not something you get to argue with or try to educate anyone out of.

        Same as, “I want to be vegan” is reason enough to be vegan, and is not something anyone gets to try to argue or guilt or trick the LW out of.

        The “wanna” factor is hella important.

        1. I’m struggling with this, I’m not vegan but I’m vaguely frightened that this (and many other choices I have because I’m lucky to be privileged to have some choices) is this one of those areas where I’m super blind and in the future people will look back and say how disgusting it was that we were all whatever we are and how hard it was for those early pioneers trying to change things. Like with other social justice/environmental/rights issues?

          1. Well, why not? We talk about being on “the wrong side of history”, after all. I don’t think trying to imagine how one’s decisions might look in a wider context than the present moment is the worst or most irrational thing in the world. Yes, of course it’s never going to be the most accurate exercise in the world, that doesn’t mean it’s always useless.

            I am not at all a vegetarian, entirely because I just don’t want to be, but I get madebyryn’s uncertainty that “I just don’t want to” is good enough in all circumstances.

            I am rooting really hard for high quality synthetic meat and dairy.

          2. (replying to Phospher because we’ve run out of nesting) I understand what madebyryn is saying too. In fact, I’ve wondered the same thing myself, although I eventually came to the conclusion that meat-eating is both ethical and necessary for sustainable food systems, and that an entirely vegetarian world would be neither feasible, sustainable, nor non-harmful.

            Considering how many racist, sexist, and just plain abhorrent practices were considered normal in the past, I think it makes a lot of sense to ask, “what would people think about this 100 years from now? 200?”

        2. THANK YOU for this.

          “I don’t want to” is reason enough for SO. MANY. things, whether it’s ending a relationship or not ending a relationship, or eating a certain way or not eating a certain way, or spending your time doing a particular thing or not doing a particular thing.

  30. Hey LW, as someone whose been vegetarian for about 20 years, people will throw shade your way just because they see you not eating meat. They will see you order a bean burger and then grill you about your dietary habits and then rant at you about preachy vegans even though you literally said nothing but “yes I’m vegan” when they asked you. They will ask you why you’re vegan, they’ll try to explain to you that it’s pointless or that you are trying to drive cows to extinction. Or they’ll make endless weird jokes about canibalism or how vegetables have feelings too.

    These people are boorish arseholes and they’ve been pursuing me with their preachy straw man vegan and their weird jokes and stupid arguments that I didn’t ask to join for the whole 20 years I’ve not eaten meat. Basically, they’re the cost of admission.

    These days I give them flat stares and say stuff like “wow, I’ve never heard that one before” in a tone dripping with sarcasm. And I loathe the “but why don’t you eat meat” discussion because it’s a trap where you explain why and they then accuse you of proselytising.

    I say this as someone who has never even raised the topic, let alone tried to convince others to join me in my dietary habits. There is a bingo card for how people react to vegetarians and vegans. Play it in your head and ignore them. “Wow” is great if they’re particularly obnoxious.

    Agreed that you shouldn’t judge other people’s food choices and ruin their dinners and stuff but people will be dicks about this even if all you did was tick the vegan box on a dietary restrictions card for an event. Basically, they’re the ones being rude and you should treat them as such.

    1. As a person quietly inching her way toward vegetarianism, this is the most annoying thing. Frankly though, I just never mention the stuff that can be seen as “proselytizing” because I have other reasons up my sleeve. My current responses to “why aren’t you eating meat”-type questions are pretty simple and people can’t get as nasty about them.

      “I just don’t like it much.” (The longer I go between eating meat dishes, the more I discover this to be true. With the exception of certain well-cooked steak dishes. But those are expensive and therefore, not a regularity.)

      “Because I want to.” (Repeated as necessary, this tends to shut things down.)

      “Actually my boyfriend is a vegetarian. I’m rather unfamiliar with all the variety of vegetarian food right now and want to be more educated for when we’re sharing a lot more meals and I have to sometimes cook.” (This, weirdly, gets the best reactions.)

    2. “Why do you care so much about my choosing to X?” is a wonderful addition to the vocabulary when you don’t want to be harassed any more. People are crappy about explaining their poorly thought out choices because it forces them to think rather than just spout rhetoric. Sometimes that’s kind of a mean thing to deploy against someone; if they haven’t examined their own habits then pressing them into justifying something they have never examined puts them on the defensive without giving them time to do that self examination. When someone is choosing to berate you because you are daring to quietly live your own personal choices in a way they wouldn’t, on the other hand, it’s an entirely reasonable to force them to cowboy up and justify why they’re up in your space.

      I always think of the Louis CK thing talking about asking people “why do you want to say n—– so bad?” That’s a question that cuts right to why someone is so invested in something that’s not about them. “But so what? What does that have to do with you? Why do you feel like you need to tell me what I should eat? When did I tell you what you should eat? So you’re telling me because someone once told you? I don’t understand.”

      1. I do occasionally employ that method when I have the energy for a debate. But mostly I just try to shut it down. It always happens in situations where making a huge stink would look bad for me anyway, because these people are usually entirely accepted members of a social circle or more than once my boss… :-/ You know and everyone wants to just have a nice social time at the restaurant or barbecue or whatever. And yes, they’re bringing the awkward and ruining that for me, but alas I’ve found it’s better not to escalate it.

    3. Former vegetarian and vegan here, and this. So many mealtime confrontations that I didn’t start, OMG. I started to just say “because I hate vegetables. I WANT them to suffer and die at my hands!” and then viciously chew my french fries.

    4. Don’t play it in your head! Make up a bingo card that you can carry around with you, and play right in front of them!

  31. I’ve come here to make a comment related to I don’t buy/eat X because of my political/social justice beliefs more so than specifically related to vegan/vegetarianism.

    I have worked for years in the human rights field, and it definitely does put me in the “I don’t buy X because I’ve deemed the production wrong”. I also know that lots of people don’t want that conversation. So a tactic I’ve played with over the years are various ways to drop hints for people to ask for more information if they’re interested, but let the whole thing drop if there’s no interest. If I’m asked about a product that I don’t buy for *reasons* – I’ll find a way to say something to the effect of “I don’t buy/eat X” (or I try to avoid X). If there’s a follow-up, then I’ll mention that I disagree or have problems with the company, and again not add anything. I basically try to be as honest and unconfrontational as possible until the friend really asks me to go into detail.

    It’s definitely been something I’ve had to practice getting the right tone on, but I have found it to be a good balance where friends of mine who are open to hearing what I have to say will ask. And those who aren’t interested appreciate getting the heads up to bail on the conversation. I have also learned on the years, that issues that are movement oriented – human rights, animal rights, social justice, etc – the more fun it appears, the more people become open to talking about something. No one wants to hear about why I think buying A,B,C products are wrong. However, when I talk about going to a protest, and how I find it fun and like taking pictures of protestors/signs – I get far more people involved in any discussion.

    I get that these topics are emotional and it can be very upsetting to feel like the only person in the room who’s seeing injustice. I’ve dealt by accepting that I do not believe that my beliefs are “not up for debate” and that in this case “there are not two sides of the story”. It’s my approach, and I know it’s not for everyone – but it’s definitely helped me channel those more exasperated and angry feelings.

  32. I’m an omnivore. I’m at my healthiest and most energetic when my diet is heavy on meat, with raw leafy vegetables, occasional fruits, and next to no grains or legumes. For me, it feels morally correct to consume meat – because animals will die to produce whatever food I choose, and it feels right to me to have the animals that died to make my food be what I eat. I have considered trying to raise my own food – plants and animals – and that would be the someday-dream, but time and space simply don’t permit right now. I couldn’t give meat animals any better conditions given the hours I work and the room I have available than they would get in an industrial farming operation.

    I used to work with two folk – one was a vegetarian, one a vegan. The vegan was easy to talk to, happy to tell you about what was in the lunch box that day, and was happy to share interesting recipes. Diet was important – but the vegan understood that my food choices were my own.

    The vegetarian was not so much so, to the point of being difficult to work with because of the aggressive “how could you eat that knowing where it came from and what had to die to produce it, anyone who understands where it came from would be vegetarian like me” every lunchtime. Right until I snapped and said that of course I know what died to produce it, of course I know where it came from and under what conditions, and yes, I absolutely understand I’m condoning the factory farming that produced it – and I’ll be eating it again tomorrow, thanks.

    The key difference was that the vegan co-worker was sharing – and the vegetarian co-worker was evangelising. I didn’t care for being preached to, but I did try some of the vegan co-worker’s recipes myself, because the whole interaction about the food choices didn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth.

  33. Other people have already offered the suggestion I was going to – i.e., host a party, make delicious vegan food – so the other side of that? Don’t be that vegan friend who gets passive-aggressive about your not-vegan friends not keeping a special meat-free pan, cutting board, knife, etc. for when they’re hosting a thing you’re invited to. (Personal experience. She’s no longer in our lives and good riddance.)

    1. I have mixed feelings about that, as I have friends who, for religious reasons, cannot/will not eat food that was prepared with the same utensils as meat, and I’d like to respect that, but it is not realistic for me to maintain two sets of cookware, yo. Generally I resort to prepping the veg food first & cooking separately, and while that’s *technically* not wholly proper, it is tolerated.

      1. It was really the passive-aggressiveness that killed it, as well as what felt to me like an assumption of a much closer friendship. I feel like if you’re really good friends with someone, that’s something y’all can talk about. If she had been a super close friend with whom we regularly dined, then yeah, it probably would have been within the realm of possibility. But instead the passive-aggressiveness. NOPE.

        But yeah, the vegan friends I have now (because I do have at least one, and several flexitarians) are mostly cool with the veg-first, meat-later approach to food prep.

    2. I’m sorry, but people’s dietary restrictions are theirs to manage. It’s nice when my friends make the effort, but frankly, it’s a pain in the patootie to accommodate dietary restrictions, they won’t do it right all of the time (not for lack of trying but nobody’s as careful/knowledgeable as the person it affects) and, frankly, though I love the social aspect of the meals, at the end of the day, I’m there for the company, not the food.

  34. As Alican said above, you can’t win people over to your thing by preaching at them. If you could, I’d have read those Outlander books years ago. Commenters have some good advice on here about that, so I hope you will find something that resonates with you. All I can add is what other people have pointed out–that by being generally an open, kind person who happens to be vegan, one who doesn’t preach at people or glare at their plates, you will prompt some people to ask questions. When you answer in a matter-of-fact, non-judgy weigh, people may disagree with you at the time, but it will stay with them. And over time that may do more to change their minds than any preaching you did.

    That said, your friend kinda sucks, at least in this area. Hopefully it was just a food thing and not indicative of her personality in general. In my experience, many, many, may people have Surprisingly Very Weird About Food disorder, even when they are otherwise lovely people. As with any Weird About Something disorder, you have to weigh that against how good of a friend they are the rest of the time and, if they are generally in the good friend category, let it go. Up until the weirdness outweighs the goodness, that is.

  35. Well this is weird. My boyfriend is majoring in political science with a specialization in agricultural business, so I’ve been hearing A TON about agribusiness lately — in particular, cows. (Also corn and chickens; prompting me to ask if there is any topic in that class that doesn’t begin with a C.) You’re right; it’s truly dreadful what we do to those animals, and actually pretty much all animals. And while my [vegetarian, incidentally] boyfriend could take the “high ground” of being angry/ashamed at people who eat factory-farmed cows, he’s taking the completely different and arguably healthier approach of being angry/ashamed at the factory farms and the circumstances that lead to, support, and necessitate them.

    How do I know this? I still eat cows on occasion, and he doesn’t care. Now, does he wish it were an option for me to eat one of those happy cows you mentioned? Absolutely, and so do I. But it isn’t my fault that I can’t afford that, and if I’m going to choose to eat a cow then the only available option for me is factory cow. My food choices are my food choices, and sometimes I’m a lot more hemmed-in on them than I’d like to be, sure. But we go with what we’ve got. The fact that you have the option to go vegan is great! But not everyone does, and you have to understand that. And for those who do? Not all of them care as deeply as you do, or care at all. And that’s really, truly, honestly okay. Not everyone has the same priorities as you. That’s the beauty of life.

      1. Seconded! It’s the factory farm approach that’s the problem, and not just for carnivore food items. As pointed out above, there’s human exploitation with plant foods, planetary mayhem caused by herbicides and pesticides, and spiritual destruction by fostering an attitude that cruelty is okay if someone is making a buck.

        The good side of buying mindfully is how we sometimes can influence a shift in capitalism. Not as fast or a big as we would like. But some.

  36. So, I wanted to comment to the part of the LW’s letter where they say “the list is so long I’m starting to realize I can’t avoid being immoral”. For itself and because it connects to the other things.

    I strongly recommend a post called “The Point is To Build” be realsocialskills, ,
    which addresses the stress that happens when you try to take a ‘disengage from all the immoral things’ approach.

    Because like you said, there are too many such things, and specifically too many such things where your impact is diffuse. If I am directly harming someone, I can stop that harm by not doing it anymore. But with something like factory farming, that doesn’t work. And meanwhile, you have a life to live, too. So most of us have to balance how much we can disengage from all this diffuse harm (which pretty much none of us can do entirely), and how much we can’t. And treating that kind of diffuse harm as the same kind of immoral as direct harm (because if someone were making a ‘direct harm to someone vs. my personal wellbeing/gain’ justification like that, that would be horrible) is a path to a lot of stress with not much goodthings.

    (As an example – I know factory farming is horrible. I also know that not eating meat adversely impacts me. The negligible impact my divestment would have factory farming is not worth my misery. Instead, it is better for me to take good care of myself and then have more to devote to the kinds of actions I am more able to do. On the other hand, some people are more adversely affected by the idea of contributing to factory farming than they are by not eating meat. So they do divest, there. Etc).

    The reason this is important here is first, because you sound like you might be at risk from starting shaming yourself for being immoral, and that’s a really sucky place, if one gets into it. And second because realizing that other people are also making all of these decisions might be a way to be able to deal with all these issues (for instance, you can share information so that people have more information to make their decisions with) without going into ‘I must fix these people’s immorality’ feelingspace, which is the kind of thing that makes for judgement/policing/shaming.

    1. This is a good point. Someone once made the point that since I have advanced degrees in and am working in a profession that both has a strong save the world component and has a dire insufficiency of women, pretty much the best thing I can personally do is continue my professional work as much as possible rather than to split my focus over a whole big number of issues.

      There is the associated point that to advance the standing of women in my profession, it would be better to advance myself as far as possible than allow a lot of people to demand I spend huge amounts of time and energy doing grade school outreach.

  37. I don’t really have experience with the food issue, but I’m definitely struggling with the “I’m angry and I resent you for being not as angry” part a lot in regard to other issues. One thing that’s been helpful for me, although it might be a more radical approach to the problem than anyone wants to try, is to remember that the dichotomy of “good person/bad person” and even “good action/bad action” is a way of thinking about things associated with fundamentalism and passing eternal judgement on people, and it’s something I want to get away from. What I’m saying is that it’s helpful for me to remind myself that I have a bias toward asking questions like “Did they know they were hurting someone else?”, “Did they take ~sufficient~ steps to learn about the consequences of their actions?” and “Can they be blamed for the effects of their actions?”, when it would be more helpful for me to ask “What did I learn from the fact that they behaved this way?”, “Will I be okay if I continue to be around someone who behaves this way?”, etc.

    I feel that one effect of us living in a culture where “friendly” coercion is normalized is that we see ourselves as deserving a certain amount of control over, and consequently bearing a certain amount of responsibility for, our friends’ actions. It can be helpful to remember that this is a lie.

    1. I really like this set of questions! It seems like a good way of mentally using “I” statements when considering our values and the way they relate to the other people in our lives.

  38. It is great that you are doing what you are doing–learning about what is going on in the world, and doing your best to act as best as you can. If someone gives you a lecture for eating a certain way, they are indeed being rude. Lecturing someone about what they are eating is always rude.

    Sometimes, though, people, especially young people just learning about all of the crappy things that go on in this world, have a hard time getting out of the mindset “If only you knew the things I know, you would feel and behave like me.” It’s important to remember that this is not true. You see this in small scale ways (telling all your friends why they shouldn’t eat meat and expecting them to stop) and large scale ways (for example, some very misguided attempts at “aid” on an international scale).

    There are lots of positive and productive ways to help make things better in the world. You can study something that would lead you into a career doing so. You can go into policy making. You can start a really delicious vegan restaurant. You can become an environmental engineer. Doing something like this not only is more effective than telling everyone you know how terrible CAFOs are, but will be a lot more satisfying and maybe you can walk around with a little less anger on your chest.

  39. Dear LW,

    You know how there’s these lists on the internet that go You Know You’re An Adult When… (you buy an appliance instead of a video game, your posters are framed now, etc) They’re silly lists with silly things on them. But your letter reminded me of those lists. I for my part knew I was an adult when I realized for the first time that I could never live up to the moral standards I had set myself. Without knowing it, while growing up, I had compiled a personal list of virtues in my mind, things a good person does and thinks, and one day I realized that I would never, by my own standards, be a good person. I already knew the world was never going to be the world I wanted it to be, not in my lifetime, but experiencing the fresh new hell of realizing I would never be the person I wanted to be was a blow to my soul.

    Coincidentally, considering the content of your letter, it happened after I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I’m guessing you have read too. (If you haven’t, I highly recommend it, although it is absolutely brutal.) I read that book, checked my Things Good People Do list, noticed that Not Eating Factory Farmed Anything was on there and I heard my mind scream “No! Fuck that! Too much trouble!” It was a terrible moment for me, to know that my list was so much bullshit and that I didn’t have the commitment to be a Good Person. It absolutely BROKE me.

    And this is where I talk about the happy ending and how I made it all fit together, how I learned compromise and set a new standard for being good. And to some extent that happened, a little bit more every day, but at the end of the day it is still a struggle. There is compromise in everything we do. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s grueling, but it happens every day. And for a while, I just couldn’t live with that. I could not allow myself a happy life as long as I refused (refused!) to meet my own standards. It was incredibly hard to talk to people about this, because their solution was always “don’t worry about it, do what makes you happy.” That is bad advice for someone who does worry, and won’t allow themselves to be happy. Not only did it make me feel worse about myself, it also made me like them less.

    I’m saying all this because I’m worried you might be heading to that breaking point. It’s a terrible place to be. Maybe it’s a part of growing up and everyone does it, one of those parts of growing up that nobody ever talks about. Or maybe it only happens to some people and that breaking point is perfectly avoidable. I hope it is. If you have a list like that, a How To Be Good list in the back of your mind, I think it would be good to bring it to the front of your mind and really sit down with it. Write it down, look at it, read it out loud, research every item on there. If you’re alive in the world today, chances are you’ve made compromises. There are only so many hours in the day, so many causes you can fully get behind, so much energy you can spend on being angry before it eats you up. Look at your How To Be Good list, recognize that maybe you’ve made a few compromises as well, and extend that courtesy to others. They have a list too. They chose not to put their eating habits at the top of the list. But maybe they put Be A Great Parent in that top slot, or Attend Rallies, or Shut Down All My Appliances At Night.

    Remember that you’re not alone. All around the world millions of people are fighting the same good fight you are on different fronts. The only way to live with the compromises you have to make is to TRUST them. TRUST that while you are fighting the good fight for animal welfare and food awareness, someone else has taken up the torch for the cause you wish dearly you could get to but don’t have time and energy for. It takes all kinds to create a better world. Pick your battle, pick the hill you die on, and then TRUST with all your heart that your fellow People Who Want To Be Good are on those other hills you never got to. Because I promise you, they are.

    Cultural cynics will tell you, what’s the point? You can’t change the world, look at how fucked up it is. You’re a hypocrite for saying A about animal welfare but doing B when it comes to women’s rights. Don’t listen to them, because they’ve overlooked one very important thing: WE ARE MANY. People Who Want To Do Good are everywhere, and they are doing good on their own terms.

    I haven’t figured this out, not by a long shot. But trusting that I’m not the only person in the world who wants to be good has helped me tremendously. Meet those people, talk to those people. And when you do, Talk Good. Those good people don’t need to hear about all the good fights they COULD be fighting but aren’t. They know. They know because they are good people who want to do good. They made different choices. Because like all of us, they were FORCED to choose. Some people make that choice with a lot of grief and worry and heartbreak, some barely realize they do it, but we all choose.

    You chose to fight the battle I don’t have time to get to, and I thank you. In return, I’ll fight the battle you never got to. And if we meet, I won’t judge you for the compromises you made, and you’ll do the same for me, and we’ll be well on our way to make that lovely world we both want to live in.

    Be well, be Good, keep fighting that good fight.

    We’ve got your back.

    Trust me.

    1. LOVE this. My own breaking point came in a conversation with my then-new boyfriend (now husband, a decade later) about my retirement savings of all things. He asked whether I felt we had any ethical responsibility for the things companies did with the money we invested. This idea had never occurred to me, and I was so angry with him for raising it; I had a lot of eggs in the basket of trying to be a Good Person, and wasn’t ready to settle for being a Good Enough Person. At the time I viewed morality in this punishingly all-or-nothing way, and it took time for me to come around to his view, which if I might paraphrase is about being kind and making a difference where you can.

      LW, I have never been vegetarian, but I still feel you in your anguish about the world. I wish you luck in finding your level of Good Enough.

    2. This is such a brilliant comment. I started loving it with ” I for my part knew I was an adult when I realized for the first time that I could never live up to the moral standards I had set myself.”

      But then I got to the end and YES. Like, I have minimal ability to care about food justice and agriculture and… anything like that. But I don’t need to, necessarily; I know there are people like the childhood friend whose farm I recently visited, who’s getting her hands dirty in the fields and producing sustainable, organic crops. And she for her part knows there are people like me, who are trying to treat and prevent mental illnesses. We each do the work we have in front of us, and trust each other to be capable. We support and encourage each other.

      Real life is not a fantasy novel. You are not The Chosen One Destined to Save The World. You have a lot of allies.

      1. “You are not The Chosen One Destined to Save The World”

        This is so so so very true. So much of our fiction is about the One True Hero in a sea of mindless sheeple, the one man (or woman, but haha, no, man) who knows what is right for everyone and then goes ahead and does it without consulting any of the people he’s ostensibly helping. Every single genre show about a big secret magic thing on TV does this.

        “Why can’t people know about the Stargate/vampires/secret government unicorn breeding program?”
        “Because they’re not ready to know the truth. Only we airmen/vampire slayers/unicorn insemination techincians can handle the truth!”

        Wouldn’t it be nice to have a genre show where the people could TOTALLY HANDLE THE TRUTH? And become better for it? I mean come on, we’re talking stargates and vampires and inbred unicorns. We’re already neck deep into the realm of fiction here. We’ll suspend our disbelief for an alien-Egyptian space coalition that builds portals that hurl you across the known universe, but we can’t believe in a world where people aren’t frightened, stupid, reactionary sheeple? Out here in the real world they may or may not be true, I seriously don’t know, but wouldn’t it be nice to escape into that fantasy world for a bit? The world where EVERYONE has a chance to be competent instead of the just the Chosen One? I think it would do the real world a lot of good, if our fiction trusted us a little bit more to be decent and kind and smart. Superhero flicks are the worst with this. The only consistent message I get from those (even the ones I genuinely love and enjoy, which is most of them) is that regular people are worthless, can’t handle anything, we need superhumans and demigods and magic aliens to get anything done around here. Which is weird to me, because those regular people that genre shows and superhero movies have such disdain for are their audience. It’s me. And you. A lot of our movies and TV shows and books think we’re stupid and lazy and reactionary and we’re sort of okay with that now.

        I don’t get that. I don’t get a lot of things. But there is one thing I know for sure, one thing you can’t talk me out of, and that is that Chris Hemsworth’s chest is a national treasure. God bless.

          1. If we declare it a national treasure, that means Nicolas Cage has to protect it. And that’s a movie anyone can enjoy.

    3. I am literally teary-eyed right now. Thank you so much; I really needed to read that comment at this point.

  40. I struggle with moral purity too, LW. I give away free food for a living (ask me how that’s working out) (don’t actually, I think you already know) and I have run myself into the ground more than once with trying to accommodate every request and avoid every Problematic Thing. But ultimately, I accepted that I cannot be morally pure, and that I would rather use my limited time and energy doing the best I can. I accept that I might change my mind about which Problematic Things I can handle and which I can’t in the future, and I try not to lock myself into codes or rules other than “Do the best you can.”

    I have a relevant blog post, but I don’t want to share unless Cap says that’s ok.

  41. Go easy on the humans around you, Vegan. They aren’t horrible immoral people, just like you weren’t a horrible immoral person one year ago.

  42. One thing to remember, LW, is that people have to choose their battles. As you’re learning, there are so many things to be incensed and worried about in this world. If you tried to avoid ALL harm and ALL moral quandries you’d just sit at home all day doing nothing, and that raises its own problems…

    The person you’re judging for eating meat might be judging you for buying your clothes from sweatshops, or your water use, or whatever their battle is that yours isn’t. Or they may have decided that the difference they can make as an individual eating vegan doesn’t compare to the difference they can make voting for environmentally friendly legislators, and they’ve chosen to allocate their energy accordingly. Cut them, and yourself, some slack.

    1. This is a great point. Just because someone isn’t doing good in the exact way you are, that doesn’t mean they’re not doing good. It takes all kinds.

  43. I have been struggling with the angry for a long time. Choosing vegetarianism and a car free lifestyle helped me feel that I was less a part of the problem than others; at least I was using my privilege in a positive way. But it didn’t stop me feeling angry, and recognition of the compromises that Goatlady pointed out meant I couldn’t escape guilt for very long either.

    It helped me to recognise that we are being lied to. We are presented with the choice not to buy or consume things as a way to pursue justice, when actually we have very limited power as consumers. When people try to exercise other types of power (voting for candidates that represent their interests, protest, direct action), they meet a lot more resistance from government, media and law enforcement; especially if they’re from excluded groups. So now I feel a lot more angry; but not so much with myself and my friends for eating and buying stuff, more with those that set the rest of us up.

  44. I can’t say that I know what it feels like to be a vegan and have people assume that I’m preachy, but I am in a social group in which I am very much the odd one out in terms of religion and other ideas, for which I have enjoyed bucking certain stereotypes. Yes, I think that everyone should share my beliefs and ideas (that’s why I have them – duh) but it is the height of arrogance to attempt to impose on someone else’s free will or general enjoyment of their life with preaching.

    Here’s what I’ve noticed –

    1) When you live by example, people notice. You saw this already when your friend noticed you ordered a bean burger. If their knee-jerk reaction is negative, you can either:

    a) Say just what was suggested: “I just wanted bean burger. So how about (insert sports team here)?”

    b) Confirm that “Yes, I am vegan.” Full stop. Say no more. Then redirect by “So how about (insert sports team here?”

    Here’s what this accomplishes – by not being the preachy vegan, you are challenging their perception of all vegans as preachy. If they don’t have enough intellectual depth or concern for the Truth(tm) to appreciate this, you would not have won them to your cause anyway. Also, you are hopefully planting the seed to open their minds to considering being vegan eventually.

    2) You can speak about your choices while not being preachy. Other people have different values and have access to different facts and so perhaps have reached different conclusions. So avoid language that implies that your choice is the only sensible one. Don’t say “I’m vegan because I believe it’s wrong to participate in animal suffering.” That statement is loaded with judgment and assumes that the only civilized conclusion is yours. Well, other people think they’re pretty civilized, too.

    Instead say something like, “I read from (insert source) about (insert despicable practices), and it really bothered me. So I decided to go vegan.” This way, you own it as something you chose because of something you found; you imply that you don’t necessarily expect anyone working with different facts to come to the same conclusion, but you are piquing the curiosity of a truth-seeking person, hopefully setting them on a search path similar to the one you followed.

    Similar to #1, if a person doesn’t respond to this, you would not have won them over anyway.

    3) If a person does say that they are thinking about veganism, do NOT jump on them and say “Yes! You see the light! Finally! Here’s my diet plan, and here’s all the things you have to throw out of your kitchen IMMEDIATELY.” Ask them questions. Ask what they read, who they talked to, what they are thinking. Explore their thoughts. At this point you can share more of your own thoughts on how you made your choices, and you don’t have to be QUITE as careful about language as in #2, because at this point you are talking with someone who is more on the same page philosophically. Your thoughts will not be as threatening to them.

    If what you believe is indeed the Truth(tm), it will stand on its own, and truth-seekers will find it. In the meantime, be a good example and be patient.

    1. “If what you believe is indeed the Truth(tm), it will stand on its own, and truth-seekers will find it. In the meantime, be a good example and be patient.”

      This is applicable in so many situations, both as a way to feel confident that what Truth(tm) will prevail and as a reminder that very few things in the world are actually Truth(tm), even if they seem like it to us..

  45. This is profoundly relevant to my interests, and I look forward to joining the discussion in more detail later, but after skimming I just wanted to thank Goat Lady for taking this question and handling so well – kudos! And please, please revive your defunct blog 😀

  46. I’ve been vegetarian for decades now, but I want to talk about my father. My father is very much not vegetarian. He’s totally fine with eating most meats and fish and such. However, over time, he’s moved to a diet that includes far fewer meats in it. And the primary reason he has done so is that he’s been introduced to a lot more vegetarian dishes that he really likes. Sometimes when he’s out at a restaurant with me and thinking about what to order, he’ll notice that what I’m having or considering sounds good, and he’ll get something similar. There are many people who don’t want to become fully vegetarian or fully vegan (myself included in the latter category), but who will reduce their consumption of animals if it’s actually an enjoyable thing to do. So, one thing you can do fairly easily and politely is simply find really tasty (preferably easy) vegan dishes and share them with people. Find tasty options on the menu and enjoy them. I’ve gone to a vegan restaurant with a group that contained no vegans, because we heard it had good food (and it did). And remember, as was stated, it truly is impossible to be perfect, especially about food. So, count movement toward your goal as success. If a few people eat one meal fewer with meat now and then, that’s a success. And if they do so because they are eating new dishes that they really like, then that’s a really great success.

    1. This is so true! I’m a former near-carnivore turned 99% vegetarian (I will eat meat if it’s the only thing around and I’m in a rush, but my belly always makes me regret it) and my husband does virtually all the cooking in the house. He wanted to become vegetarian, which meant I had to also, unless I wanted to cook separate meals for myself. (Yes, I do hate cooking enough to radically change my diet instead of cooking a separate meal.) He knows that I love protein, I love the texture of meat, and I love umami flavor. So he built our early meals around a lot of soy and gluten meat substitutes and went to lengths to make many of our dinners taste “meaty.” Gradually, we’ve weaned off eating so much meat substitute and only eat it 1-2 times a week now. And I’ve actually learned to enjoy vegetables; I still don’t like leafy greens too much, but I’ve found myself craving things I never did before a year ago, like roasted cauliflower or beets. We also live in one of the best places in the US for v*gans, which helps. My old city didn’t have any meat substitutes except tofu, and I do think that if I hadn’t had a substitute-heavy diet at the beginning, that I wouldn’t have switched over.

  47. I love GoatLady’s advice and a lot of the commenters have already made excellent points. Mine is a little different. I’m an omnivore who functionally eats like a vegan for about half the year, because of religious reasons. And I won’t lie: it gets really frustrating sometimes, both just functionally and because people can be weird and rude. Holidays are frequently difficult. (I second bringing your own food! Even if it’s just backup trail mix.)

    But I also have a widely varied friends group with all kinds of different dietary needs and restrictions, and quite often we end up talking about food. I don’t mean discussing implications or choices. I mean, “Oh, hey, I made some awesome brussel sprouts the other night and here’s how.” I’ve taken this and applied it with coworkers and other people who are not on the same page food-wise. I try to not go into, “I can’t have your ham or your mashed potatoes, everything is terrible!” Instead, if they say, “That smells really good!” I say, “Yeah, I made some roasted chickpeas and they turned out really well. Might have to make them again.” Food is a really important thing. Try to figure out ways to let it help you build connections instead of isolation.

    Also: you clearly have a lot of passion and compassion. These things are tricky to figure out, but it’s okay to make some mistakes and learn from them. Good luck!

  48. Popping in to say: I totally backup the suggestion to look into CIW. I’ve had friend that did actions with them in Florida, and I’ve also met leaders in the organization who are also workers. My general impression was, “What nice, practical people working on doing useful things.”

    Also, Goat Lady…when you say you’re not interested in trying farming do you mean professionally? Cause based on the “if you do x you are someone who does x” tautology I’d say you’re a farmer. :fist pound: Also, please revive your blog. I would read it religiously 🙂

    LW, Jedi Hugs. I totally know that angry feeling. Here are the two biggest things that have helped me come to a small measure of peace with the world as it is. (Most of my anger is about climate change and transphobia and ID as trans.)
    -Therapy. Not because the feelings of anger I get about this stuff make me broken, but because those feelings could break me if I let them. I have underlying mental health problems, and I find I also use therapy to process/manage/soothe/express my feelings about injustice in the world.
    -Realizing its not on me to fix the world. Grieving that I alone don’t actually have the power to. Living my own life in a way I’m comfortable and at peace with quietly. Overall seeing the way I live life and my answers to my questions as a process.

    1. What I meant was I’m not interested in trying to be totally self-sufficient as a farmer! I’d agree I’m already farming, but trying to grow a rounded diet that would meet 100% of our nutritional needs would be too much work. So instead I do as much farming as I can do joyfully, and call it good.

  49. Not focusing on the food part, but on the anger part. If you can, let go of some of the anger unless it’s productive.
    Look for ways you can help, really help. Even if it’s going “I’m going to take extra hours and put all the money towards the local soup kitchen” Let your anger be a motivator. It’s easy in this age to get caught up in slavtivism where you spend hours being angry and doing angry things and reading how the world is broken and commenting how it’s broken and watching uplifting videos and sharing them with the friends who agree with you.
    You’re mad about rape culture? Help out at a clinic, act as an escort, a friend recently donated a stack of magazines and videos to her local clinic when she found out they only had one waiting room movie for people to watch.

    Being angry is a good Step One, but don’t fall into the Underpants Gnome Economics.
    Step One – Learn the world is broken
    Step Two – ???
    Step Three – ????
    Step Four – Things get better?

    You’ve already discovered that you can’t live 100% ethically, so instead of focusing on not hurting, it might be more fulfilling to turn some of that energy to helping. Donate healthy vegan non-perishables to a food drive! (I promise you, there’s an excellent chance it’ll be hugely appreciated) I’m sure others would have tons of suggestions of ways to help out and how to look up ways to help in your community.

    1. Actually, I will say one thing on the subject of veganism.

      Please, if you have a pet, research what their dietary needs are. I think rabbits and guinea pigs are 100% vegan, but a surprising amount of pet animals need at least some animal protein or animal products to thrive.

      I have snakes, I love my snakes dearly, if I force fed them tofu I would be committing horrible animal cruelty myself.
      (I’m not trying to make assumptions, but I have run into the “All animals are naturally vegan and we’re forcing them to eat meat!” type thinking on vegetarian/vegan sites/groups.)

      1. THIS. I went to a “cruelty-free” fair last year, and the first thing I heard when I arrived was “I have a vegan dog. Who else has vegan pets here?!” Which threw me, because to me this is the opposite of cruelty-free.

        Dogs maaaaaybe can eat vegan, unhappily (they’re omnivores, but preferential carnivores), but cats? No. Cats are obligatory carnivores. Not eating meat at all makes them sick. The ingredients in “vegan” pet food? Corn, wheat, and soy–exactly the fillers in cheap pet food vets recommend against feeding your pet too much of.

    2. And also, LW, if you DO volunteer at a clinic or soup kitchen or whatever: HONOUR YOUR LIMITS. It is imperative to accept that sometimes you’re going to have to say no and/or run out of resources. You cannot save All the Things and may sometimes be the person you get angry with. If you don’t accept your limits, they don’t go away; you just end up running yourself in the ground or turning into a self-deluding hypocrite. Compassion is essential to a sustainable fight for justice.

  50. I sympathize with you LW, and I think you have a lot of great positive energy that you could use to turn around and help your community. Taking all that anger and get your hands dirty is just, a wonderful experience and I have found that when you feel productive it can help you make peace with the world as it is.

    There are better ways to educate people about things you care about then getting into sensitive mealtime debates with your social group.

    For example, I have heard a lot of great things about Food Corps, an Americorps group that helps schools grow and maintain their own gardens to teach kids about healthy eating and how to care for plants. They have a lot of neat projects going on. When you are in a position where you are expected to educate and help people with these issues it often goes over much better than mealtime evangelizing. It helps you feel good to help people reach their own goals.

    Volunteer to help out in community gardens, advocate for an organization in your area. My state has MOFGA, an organization of organic farmers that puts on one of the largest harvest fairs in the state that is all about organic, healthy living and all the ways people are coming up with to address the problem. Maine’s Common Ground fair is a big event in these parts.

    Maybe after school or on a summer break you could look into Woofing, or working in exchange for organic farm living. I know several people who have done it as an inexpensive way to travel. Working on farms and meeting people who share your values could be a great experience.

    There is a whole big ol world out there full of people who are exploring and tackling these very problems!

  51. A friend of mine has very heavy periods and endometriosis which frequently leave her severely anemic. She is also severely gluten intolerant and too ill (with endometriosis, migraines, Anxiety, and Depression) to do any paid work.

    She loves animals, and she suffers so much every time someone tells her that she should be vegan/vegetarian because of animal cruelty. But she doesn’t have the money, or the physical energy to prepare food, to be vegan/vegetarian, and every time she’s tried to be vegan/vegetarian she has ended up very anemic and very ill.

    When she tries to tell people who are evangelizing to her that because of her tiny, fixed income and her physical fatigue she just can’t do it, people invariably treat her with guilt and shaming rather than compassion.

    I’m vegetarian, I have been since I was 13. I also avoid dairy for health reasons. But I get so angry at how people treat my friend.

  52. My Mum was the friendly neighbourhood goat-lady round our neck of the woods, too! She ended up selling them, and afterwards regretting it, because we later had reason to think the buyers were not inclined to treat the goats very well. 😦
    _ _ _

    Guess what, LW? I’m angry about everything, too! I think we would get on very well venting our frustrations about drone strikes, Islamophobia, mainstream media, the wage gap, rape culture, gentrification and climate change together.
    Despite that, I can’t stand any conversation that is about Veganism. Dietary requirements and Theism are two things I just want to avoid having any amount of conversation about – Evangelists of either type always think they are the first person to have told you that Jesus died for you/ that meat is murder. They’re not, and I always feel it’s disrespectful that they think I haven’t already thought it through and that they will change my mind if they just convince me hard enough. Please don’t be that person.

    My point is that everyone has their own pre-formed opinions about stuff they’ve heard of, and varying degrees of tolerance for those BIG , contentious conversations. You will find what pro-/anti- opinions you hold in common, which subjects you can change someone’s mind about, whether someone is in the mood for that particular discussion, and which things you will just never agree on.
    Don’t set out with the intention of trying to open everyone’s eyes to injustice – just educate yourself, and if it ever comes up in conversation, you can calmly explain where you’re coming from on that particular issue.
    If someone is sneering, defensive, badgering or hostile to you because of your values, sometimes it’s best if you don’t argue – just boil your position down to a simple principle like “I just value the welfare of all sentient creatures”, and then change the subject. If they keep hectoring you, you can tell them they’re being rude, and that you insist they respect your right to an opinion other than theirs, then insist that you drop the conversation for something else. This applies whichever side of the Veganism debate you’re on.

    But don’t despair. You will find plenty of people who are passionate about the same issues and looking to come together and tackle issues of prejudice and destruction and injustice. Remember that old saying about serenity to accept what you can’t change, but do channel your anger into meaningful activism wherever you can see a way to make a difference. Just remember you can’t change the world all by yourself, and be sure to look after your own wellbeing.

    TL;DR = Respect people’s right to their opinion. Insist that they also respect your right to your opinion. Educate others only if they express an interest in having stuff explained to them.

  53. I think it’s worth investigating the source of your anger. So yes, you’re angry about Islamophobia and the wage gap, and, and, and… And that’s all justifiable of course.

    But are you also angry that you grew up sheltered and all this stuff was hidden from you? Are you angry because you’re a good person and now that you know about all this stuff, you have to care about All The Things in order to keep being good? Angry because you lack vegan comrades? Maybe your anger is just what it is, totally valid justifiable anger and undeniably shitty things, and I’m talking out of my ass and internet psycologising (that’s totes a word) and that’s possible/likely too.

    But being angry/upset about what other people know but choose not to think about? That is toxic – for you. I know or suspect a lot of things about that world that I choose not to think about or act on. So does every one. Don’t assume that if everyone only knew what you now know that they would make the exact same choices you now make (and that if they don’t, they’re wrong and bad).

    That’s a one way ticket to being that person who’s all, “Enjoy your dead animal burger, bloodmouth!” That’s fun for no one.

  54. OK, I’m going to try to be as nice as possible and just talk about my own experiences.

    When I was a teenage Cheshirekitten, I found the Internet, and then I found the Church of Euthanasia and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which seemed an all too logical extension of my newly-minted vegetarian socialist consciousness.

    I had some then-undiagnosed mental health issues, and I was also struggling with the realization that I was some sort of queer and I wasn’t sure if that was really REALLY all right to be. “Save the planet, kill yourself!” sounded awwwwwwwfully good to me. And when I actually lost a friend to suicide and realized that putting my friends through that was a non-option for me, I still was trying to put myself into the smaller and smaller spirals of eco-correctness. And even though I finally have done a “NOPE NOT ACCEPTABLE” on that, I STILL have over the top amounts of decision paralysis when I have to purchase literally anything (except food at a few places where I have developed a “usual” – but that requires making the decision to go there and do that in the first place).

    I don’t know how many folks come with a backstory like mine, but some of us who are “hostile” to vegans or environmental justice campaigners or activists in general might just be wandering around with similar mental scars.

    1. Coming from a childhood full of food instability, and having an unfortunate family tendency to disordered eating which I inherited, and an upbringing where there was a lot of food shaming, and a lot of food allergies–I’m pretty hostile to people criticizing my food choices. I have worked to become less automatically defensive when food comes up, because sometimes people are just talking, but if the people who raised you were passive-aggressive and judgemental, it takes a while to realize that sometimes people are just talking, since your childhood has conditioned you to know that when someone is Just Talking about a subject they are actually telling you what a shitty human you are. Everybody has their own stuff.

      In my own situation vis-a-vis food, with my allergies, people who don’t have food allergies don’t understand that I have to deal with food choices on a completely different level than them. Is it easy now? Yes, it’s pretty easy now, but I’m used to my dietary restrictions, and I still have problems sometimes finding something to eat, or ending up being Stealth Allergened because a dish or product has changed. It’s very possible that someone who knows me only casually wouldn’t have encountered the thing where I’m at a new restaurant struggling to find a dish I can actually eat, because the “house veggie mix” that goes in everything has cabbage in it (actual situation I encountered at a noodle place a few weeks ago), or because I’m in the mood for a salad but every salad on the menu comes with chicken they’ll charge you for even if you ask them to leave it off, and they won’t substitute it with anything but shrimp or a cut-up veggieburger (this is a real struggle, btw, and it infuriates me).

  55. ef9f497c94

    I think some other people already touched on the ED/emotional aspect of eating and food choices, and LW, please do keep that in mind.

    If you were to preach veganism at me, dear LW, I would not listen — not because I don’t care deeply about ethically sourced food (I spent 80% of my last three-month vacation working on organic farms), not because I have a particular attachment to eating meat (two of my friends could not eat the meat I could afford to buy during my last semester of courses, so I learned to make a wide variety of vegetarian recipes), not because I lack the time or the skills to make good vegan food — but because feeling judged in that way makes me completely shut down emotionally, in a way that is doubtless unhealthy but which is also a fact. LW, I am tired. Many days my throat and my heart and my lungs and my arteries are so clogged with the stickiness of How I Have Failed and How I Am A Disappointment To Everybody And Probably God Also that I can barely get enough oxygen. Pointing my gasping self to one more hill I need to haul my fat ass up before I can reach the magical far-away land of Holy is too much. I live in the borough of Good Enough, right here and right now.

    Sometimes my dietary choices are dictated solely by: I need to eat. Sometimes it’s: I need to feel satisfied and full. Sometimes it’s: I don’t have access to any other self-care, and this needs to make me happy. Sometimes what I eat needs to answer my need for control over my own body, my need for autonomy, my need for community and connection. I have to answer to the realities of caring for this body and this mind in a sustainable way before I can answer for the ethics of caring for anyone else. Caring for myself is always going to take precedence over making you, or anyone else, comfortable with my decisions. It has to.

  56. I’ve been a vegetarian for over twenty years now, and I’ve worked with meat for many of those years without a problem, because it isn’t my business what other people eat. Now, there are places where I do control the consumption, like in my house, and my daughter has been raised vegetarian, (she is old enough now to determine whether or not she wants to become an omnivore, and she is free to do so if she wants) but out in the world, everyone gets to live by their own ethical standards, provided they are within the law, no matter how troubling we might find them. It sucks sometimes, but I figure that there are people who find MY ethical choices, such as my firm support for abortion rights coupled with my hatred for the death penalty to be ethically suspect. And I’m not going to let them get all judgey at me about my stance, you know?

    And really, if you want to convince someone to become a vegan, those that are actually on the fence about it will ask what it’s like, to see if it is something that they can make work for them. They will discuss with interest and curiosity, not take an adversarial position. A person isn’t going to defeat someone in a debate, then voila! A change of diet! All that is happening is a philosophical argument, and you just can’t win against people that are spoiling for an argument. As other posters have said, your friend, LW, was pulling some shade, and was probably looking to push some buttons.

  57. Hey y’all,

    If you’re on the forums and want to get shoulder deep in analysis of the food system and how to fix it, or want to ask questions, I’ve stuck a thread for it in General Chat (mods may move it, just look for Goat Lady!)

    The forums are over at friendsofcaptainawkard.com if you’re not already there and want to join an awesome community!

  58. What a delightful and courteous set of comments about a topic that people feel so strongly about! Only at CaptainAwkward.com…
    It’s funny to read this post when I’d recently composed (but not sent) a letter to Captain Awkward about what I should do about my vegan friends trying to convert me! I pretty much feel that I can follow exactly the lesson suggested to the Letter Writer: show by example how to be courteous and boundary-aware with friends that have strongly opposed views. I suppose they’ll eventually learn to stop proselytizing, even if our friendship doesn’t last.

      1. I will admit to being kind of nervous when I hit post on this, because these discussions can often nosedive in a spectacular manner.

        But I also knew that if any community could have this discussion without it turning ugly, it would be this one. And lo, my faith was justified!

        I love this place.

    1. What I eat isn’t up for debate by anyone who isn’t me. This is my stance on the matter. If someone pushes me, I find that the most effective possible response is to just go clean the fuck off about the rudeness and boundary violation of questioning someone else’s food choices.

  59. First: Here is a link to a tutorial/recipe for making vegan butter that acts like dairy butter in baked goods: http://www.veganbaking.net/recipes/fats/vegan-butters/vegan-butter

    Second: Teach your friends that you’re not a preachy vegan by not preaching veganism at them, and with some people that means not talking about veganism except where it’s immediately on topic, like picking a restaurant where everyone attending can get something to eat. Food is intensely personal, and the reasons of any given person for not being vegan are as valid as yours for being vegan.

  60. This is all wonderful, beautiful advice, and I wish my sister and I had been able to read it when our parents first started getting into the whole vegan thing. (Disclaimer: we’re not completely vegan, we just try to treat meat as we would a special treat, more for health reasons than moral ones. Although moral stuff plays into it too sometimes.)

    The only thing I have to contribute is something I’ve noticed my comparing myself and my family members and how we all approach the matter of morally-dubious-meat-in-the-diet. I’ve found that when I think of eating as something nice I’m doing for myself, a form of self-care rather than an obligation that can be done a Right Way or a Wrong Way, everything just works out a lot better. Sometimes I don’t have the money or energy for the perfectly morally correct option (which, let’s be honest, doesn’t really exist in our post-industrial society or whatever you want to call it), and that’s okay. Sometimes I’m taking care of myself by going for the cheaper option, or the healthier option, or cooking my own no-salt no-meat all-organic dish because I just love to cook and challenge myself in the kitchen, and those are all okay. And sometimes I’m feeling really shitty and tired and it’s self-care to take myself out to a diner for comfort food, and that’s okay too.

    Sometimes you just gotta eat what feels best for you, personally, right now, and trust that everyone else is doing the same. Whether that means avoiding certain things because you know certain truths now, or if it means ignoring what you know because you just can’t afford to sacrifice dinner for the sake of your convictions, it’s all okay.

    Either way, Flippity up there is right– food is intensely personal. And the only person you can ultimately take care of is you.

    (I hope all this makes sense!)

  61. If anybody asks why you picked the bean burger, I would say, “Oh, meat isn’t my thing,” or something else mild like that. If somebody then proceeds to climb all over you about “preachy vegans,” or just does it because you ordered something without meat in it (wow!!!!), I would reassess my relationship with that person. It’s possible to avoid hot-button topics with many people in many situations, but if you are getting flak for what you eat–well, if they won’t back off when asked to do so, that may be a sign that the relationship should taper off. For crying out loud, you should be able to enjoy a falafel burger in peace!

    I agree with other folks who’ve responded, that spreading the word about the fundamental messed-upness of how most of us get our food needs to be something done in the context of a close, trusting relationship.

  62. It’s also true that there are an almost infinite number of extremely important issues in the world, many of which you could pretty literally spend your entire life trying to learn about and fix. Someone out there there’s someone frustrated that you’re not deeply involved in trying to help prevent a genocide in the Central African Republic, or spending years of your life trying end the child sex trade in Thailand, or the war(s) in the Middle East, or your local education system, or low voter turnouts, or cotton planations in Uzbekistan, or endangered native bee species, or the lack of support for families with disabled members.

    There are enough important issues in the world to make many many many many full time jobs. At some point each of us have to find a way to focus on what we CAN do, instead of being overwhelmed by all the other things we aren’t doing.

    While at the same time also trying to just live our daily lives and be happy, healthy human beings and members of our immediate communities and families, and to get what we can out of our time on earth.

    1. Ooh yes, this. Just by living, each of us takes up resources. Every single thing that we buy or use that isn’t made from twigs we found on the ground takes up resources. The fuel that powers the machines that mine the ore to be melted into utensils, for example. Pretty much every single thing we use had to have the raw ingredients mined/collected/created, transported, and worked into the final product. Unless we all go and live in caves, then we’re always going to be doing this. Thermodynamics dictate that even living off the land as hermits in caves, we actually can’t break even. Even the most efficient, ideal lifestyle will still have some cost in terms of energy or resources.

      So, yeah. You have to choose your battles. Realise that you are costing the world, in one way or another, just to be alive, And then try to make the most of that cost by maybe not starting petrol fires, not driving species to extinction, not littering, and living a life that doesn’t have as big an impact as it has to have. The degree we can minimise our impact varies depending on each of our situations (what we have the time, money, energy, etc. to do). For some people, this means living on your own farm and growing all your own food. To others, it means studying physics to create better solar panels. Whatever works.

      Just, I don’t know, try to be a good person, and respect that even if everyone else tried as hard as you do, it wouldn’t be in the same way as you anyway.

      1. Those twigs on the ground are resources, too! Just ask the birds.

        I read a line ages ago (maybe Barbara Kingsolver?) that has always stuck with me: all living takes life.

        1. I wholeheartedly second reading Barbara Kingsolver if you want to explore these issues with a whole lot of empathy & respect for gray areas.

  63. Your experience reminds me of the experience I’ve very occasionally had when I declined a drink. There are some people who see my ‘no thanks’ as not just their business, but as a massive personal attack that they must vigorously and repeatedly defend. These people are thankfully not that common, but unfortunately when you meet them there’s very little you can do to get them to just leave you the F## alone. Sometimes if you ignore them enough times they eventually move on, sometimes you just have to avoid being in that situation with that person.

    1. I knew a man who developed ever-worsening gout in his 20s. For those who don’t already know, this means no drinking alcohol, no high-fructose drinks, no organ meats, no game, no oily fish or scallops, no dried legumes, no gravy (?!), and no very dark green vegetables such as spinach and asparagus. His was even worse than usual; it got to the point where any meat more robust than halibut or white meat of turkey set him off, leaving him, basically, living on nursery fare. The food police, he said bitterly, seemed to have permanently camped out in his life. People drew all kinds of conclusions about his politics, religion, and attitude toward other people and felt free to tell him alllllll about them.

      1. Gout doesn’t always mean all that. Not doubting for a moment that it did for your friend, but just in case anyone is facing gout as a possible diagnosis and is a little freaked out by this!

    2. Thankfully, the people who make someone else’s eating/lifestyle choice all about them aren’t too common. Some of them are just awful people, but others, I think, are kind of ignorant, maybe. Not in the way you’d think, but rather, maybe they’ve only ever met one or two people who have identified as vegan (or whatever group) and those people have been really in their face about things, so they develop an aggressive defence mechanism. Of course, if you calmly say, “No, thanks, I prefer the bean burger,” and maintain a very calm, matter-of-fact manner about it, then they quickly realise that they don’t need to go red alert on you.

      But some people are just going to be horrible no matter what you do. They’ll identify themselves quickly enough, so you can just do what you can to avoid them.

    3. Oh my god, I know that experience! As a vegetarian who doesn’t drink, I think I get situations like twice as often. Personally, I don’t ever say anything about either choice until someone asks, and then I have brief one sentence explanations (“I’m lucky enough to be able to feed myself without killing animals, so I feel like I should” and “I’ve just never been interested in drinking, but maybe someday I will change my mind”) which is sufficient for most, but every once in a while you get those people who just WILL NOT LET IT GO. I do my best to shut the conversation down, because I’m not interested in evangelizing whatsoever, but some people are just jerks about it. Luckily, they really are a minority, most people are fine with it.

      1. I tell people that I am a lightweight (true) and that when I’m tipsy I tend to recite poetry at people (also true), which gets a laugh and gets me off the hook about drinking. The conversation about alcoholism in the family I save for people I trust.

  64. There is wonderfully good advice here. I’ve found that, as said above, if I’m feeling angry or judgemental or frustrated (“Why can’t they do the right thing? It’s easy! They are choosing to ignore suffering!” etc.) then it will come through, often non-verbally, to the other person. I’m just not enough of a robot to be 100% impartial about something I’m feeling emotional about. And I think that’s actually quite normal for most humans, so I don’t feel guilty about not always being able to perfectly handle every conversation about something I care so much about.

    I usually go with a super disinterested, “I just felt like eating a bean burger.” Which is true, after all. “I just don’t feel like drinking tonight.” “I just felt like walking today.” etc. and any “But whyyy??” is responded with, “I just felt like it.” No-one can argue with that. But again, it has to be done in a very calm, slightly bored manner, which is pretty impossible if deep down you’re really riled up about something.

    Vegans, like many groups of people, are heavily subject to the toupée fallacy. People often only notice the ones that stand out (with toupées, it’s easy to think they all look fake, because you only notice the ones that look fake, even if it’s only 1% of them). I’ve known people for years before finding out they were vegan, because they are polite and don’t evangelise and mind their own business. Well, also, because I don’t stick my nose into what other people eat all the time. But it’s not easy to notice in the majority of situations. I’ve met a much smaller number who are the preachy kind, and it makes me feel sorry for the nice, polite ones who are made to look bad by association.

    1. ” toupée fallacy. People often only notice the ones that stand out (with toupées, it’s easy to think they all look fake, because you only notice the ones that look fake, even if it’s only 1% of them)”

      Oh, perfect name for that!

  65. I really liked reading this comment section! Nobody was mean at one another! I was nervous clicking on this letter but I shouldn’t have been because the Awkward community is good people. My best advice to the LW is to remember that most of us are trying really hard to do the best we can with the energy points we have. You are spending your energy points on learning about the world and discovering what you can do to improve it (veganism! go you!) and hopefully learning to engage with people on social justice issues without leaving them with the freezer-burned defensiveness some of us have now because we *know* that we use plastic forks and paper plates to eat our dead animal sandwiches and we have been told about it one too many times. Your anger is so, so understandable but it is not your friends’ problem. Your friends are using their energy points on different things.
    I spend a lot of energy points on keeping myself fed. I have So Many Issues in this area. My brain is clogged up and I can’t stand for very long or lift anything as heavy as a gallon of milk and my hands shake and spasm, so cooking is something I am learning very slowly with a lot of limits. I have Other Brain Problems that make it really hard to eat anything because that requires like (a recognizing that I live in a body (b recognizing that food is a thing and crucially (c putting the two together. So my life works best when I can eat simple, one-step prep, calorie-dense foods a few times a day. Factor out the long list of things I can’t eat for sensory reasons and my options are limited and decidedly omnivorous.
    I used to get milkshakes at my college, big thick ones with a scoop of peanut butter in them, because I got out of my last class after the dining hall closed (clusterfuck) but the milkshake bar was open, so that was what I did. I am not sure why you would work at a milkshake bar if you were a preachy vegan, but we had one nonetheless, Vegan Dude, who wanted me to know that I could really be vegan if I wanted to. I’m disabled, I said. I need simple food prep and caloric density, and he kept explaining that if I just ate like 8 times a day I wouldn’t need the caloric density (but I can usually only eat 2.5 times a day!) and he kept explaining what for him were two or three-step recipes, but they involved getting to the grocery store! and owning pans! and being able to carry pans! and standing at a stove! and opening jars! and it was just like, sir, this is not a logic problem you can solve. I have already solved it to the best of my ability by stocking up on zero-prep eatables, maxing out on dairy and training myself to remember that if I ate “healthy” the way society describes healthy food, I would probably starve.

  66. When I offer up the information that I am vegetarian and someone harasses me about it in the way the LW mentions, my usual response is something along the lines of “I’m not really interested in discussing my/your dietary choices” (the “your” comes in when people try to gross me out by elaborately eating meat in front of me…which doesn’t gross me out at all, but does look extremely silly) and then I try to change the topic. Although this does happen occasionally, it’s much more common that people are curious about why I’m a vegetarian and ask me in a friendly manner. I tell them that it’s out of habit (it’s been many years now) and for environmental reasons. USUALLY this resolves the issue, and I’ve found that often people are empathetic to this goal and will say something like “oh yeah, I know factory farming is terrible for the environment, I really should cut back on meat.” I don’t think anyone enjoys being proselytized to, and a small nonjudgmental comment gets the point across fine.

  67. While I’m not as involved in this particular activism (lack of knowledge, time, and energy, mostly), I do approve and try to support better food practices when possible.

    One thing that occurred to me is to avoid bringing up better food practices AS SOMEONE IS DIGGING INTO THEIR BURGER. Unless THEY bring up the topic. I think that would immediately feel like policing. It would be very hard for it to not feel like you’re chewing on a meat burger and someone is saying, “AN ANIMAL SUFFERED FOR YOU TO EAT THAT, YOU ARE EATING SUFFERIIIIIING” or something.

    I guess what I mean is that there’s a time and a place for this. And doing it while someone is eating or ordering might feel like an attack, much like it did when LW’s friend made that comment.

    Again, if the friend brings it up, totally talk about it. That’s actually how I personally learned that people who are vegetarian (or on more restrictive diets) actually CANNOT eat meat after a while because they can have awful reactions to the meat. It actually has to be slowly introduced back into the diet. I was shocked that this was not common knowledge. We were at a work party thing and another woman brought up something about that and I was like, “Wait, WHAT?!” So then it was explained to me. (I mean, I always thought trying to provide a vegetarian option was a good thing to do, but I didn’t realize quite how needed it was.) That was a perfectly acceptable context to bring it up because it was a side-note attached to an interesting story that I asked about.

    Another thing I personally do, as a very talkative person, is bring up during a lull in a conversation, “Oh, by the way, guess what I read recently…” People are surprisingly receptive to this opener.

    1. Just going to echo this one. Discussions about food practices are important to have.

      However, they are not good conversations to have while eating. For starters, discussing factory farm methods could turn the most ironclad of stomachs and, also, there’s really no way for such a conversation not to become judgmental.

      I went to high school with a militant vegetarian. I was happy to accommodate her food needs if I was preparing a meal for her, but she would ask me over lunch how I liked my “dead animal carcus,” and start lecturing and handing out pamphlets and articles over lunch.

      I do not recommend this method of education.

      1. That’s such a dick move. Man. I mean my vegetarian, vegan, and pescetarian friends will joke with me about “dead animal carcasses”, but not while anyone is actually eating meat! And it’s a mutually-understood okay joke, not a judgement.

        Geez, some people have no sense of timing. How did she think that was going to convert people?

      2. Someone once asked me, mid bacon sandwich, ‘but can’t you hear the pigs’ screaming when you eat that?’

        Normally I am very happy to talk about food if someone else starts the conversation and I can be interested in why someone made a dietary choice even if I’ve made a different one, so long as we can all be respectful and not trample on each others toes. The screaming comment has never made me less willing to have a conversation! It actually does the direct opposite of what the person wants because it shuts down all hope of mutual understanding or common ground. There’s nowhere for the conversation to go once you’ve backed one person against the conversational wall.

  68. Hey LW, I’ve been vegan for a few years now. My main advice to you is be patient and just continue doing what you are doing (regarding eating habits). A few years into my veganism, my parents have actually both gotten into vegan cooking. My friends are mostly really understanding and accommodating. People just need to see that it’s not a passing phase and that you’ll continue eating that way, which can take a while.
    Personally, I don’t feel angry at omnivores at all. What does make me angry is hearing people bring up bad arguments against veganism and implying we’re unhealthy, or that veganism is not actually that ecological, or whatever. I feel like I have a right to respond when I hear arguments that I know are unfounded. I don’t have to be endlessly polite when I get treated like a weirdo, or like I’m stupid, by people who have no idea about the basic facts of factory farming. However, as long as people are leaving me alone and don’t try to convince that I’m wrong, I just don’t discuss veganism with them at all. Basically I leave it up to others to bring up the issue. And, like someone else said upthread, I never talk about food ethics while eating. I often get asked about being vegan when I order something at a restaurant, and if I feel like the discussion is going to be about the morality of eating animals, I just state that I’d prefer talking about it another time. All in all, I can say that while I haven’t convinced anyone to go vegan (and that’s not my goal anyway), there are probably dozens of people who have tried vegan bakery for the first time when I brought cupcakes to a party, or who have an open mind with regard to veganism because although they are not convinced of the idea, they know me and think I’m fairly reasonable in general, and so they don’t believe that being vegan is super weird anymore. Simply choosing to eat vegan food (consistently or from time to time) already has an effect on people and will contribute to slowly changing their attitudes.

  69. I know this.. If you don’t drink, eat meat etc people bristle – they see your act as a judgement on their choice – Even if you didn’t say anything. I suspect it’s that they have a guilt somewhere within and that’s what they project onto you.
    You can’t change anyone else, but you can stand by your own convictions – and I do think there is a shift towards more conscious & conscientious lifestyle choices.
    As ghandi said,
    Be the change you want to see.

  70. There have been a lot of lovely responses about cooking for your friends, and I think that’s a great idea because cooking is love 🙂 However, I want to caution that, as with any other occasion when you cook for people, tell them what’s in it, don’t hedge or lie, and don’t conceal foods in other foods. Be open and up front about ingredients, because for some of us, it’s life and death.

    A vegan dinner party isn’t really a possibility for some of us, so just be sure to disclose that the party food is all going to be vegan or whatever so that people can judge for themselves whether attending and eating is a good idea. 🙂

    1. Mostly when I’m throwing a dinner party/going to someone else’s, someone will say “Is there anything you don’t eat?” or similar — is that a reasonable opportunity for anyone who has particular food needs to speak up, even if the answer “there’s nothing I DON’T eat but there are things I HAVE to eat,”?

      1. Yes, I think “Is there anything you don’t eat?” as a pre-question covers it. I’m more concerned about the tendency for people pushing a food agenda to conceal foods inside other foods without telling the people eating them until it’s too late. “Ah HA! You said you don’t eat cauliflower but those ‘mashed potatoes’ were MOSTLY CAULIFLOWER! It’s so much better for you than potatoes, and you couldn’t even tell!” Ditto with soy or legume meat replacers, which people love to sneak into things to prove to you that you could be vegetarian if you wanted. Or even the “stop eating red meat” version of this, which is to “surprise you” by substituting turkey bacon or ground poultry for pork or beef.

        1. Yeah, that seems fair. I can see not wanting to necessarily to go in with VEGAN VEGAN VEGAN banners waving particularly if you’re trying NOT to come across as proseltyising and to break down the idea that vegan food is necessarily different and joyless. But listening to guests’ needs is entirely reasonable — obviously sneaking things people have said they don’t eat into their food is just beyond dickish.

          1. Vegan food, like any other class of food, can be joyless and horrible, or it can be delicious and tasty. However, if I go to someone’s house knowing that they are having a Vegan Dinner Party, I will take a Snickers in my handbag and be ready to stop for something on the way home, because the chances of there being more than two dishes there that I can actually partake of are going to be slim. And VERY slim if I, not knowing about this Vegan Dinner Party, ate legumes less than three days previous and thus cannot eat anything with beans in it.

            I know I keep relating this to myself, in my comments on this post, but I feel like explicating the edge cases that are out there, and how difficult things are already for us, is probably instructive to those who’ve literally never had to worry about “can I eat this?” except in an aesthetic or a “moral” sense. Also: food is SO INTENSELY PERSONAL. I said “cooking is love”, and I really feel that way. When I cook for friends I’m expressing my affection for them, and watching them eat what I’ve prepared makes me feel that my affection and effort are appreciated. It’s a pleasure on so many levels. And *being* cooked for is awesome (the problem, such as it is, with being known as a really good cook is that you are always cooking for other people). It makes me feel loved and cared for. Food is rarely just food–there’s so much more wrapped up in it.

    2. i would also caution against using your vegan dinner party as a stealth conversion party. Cooking for people is lovely, and of course you should cook food you like and want to eat yourself, and hey, maybe you will turn people who believed they could never enjoy vegan food into people who now know they like at least one vegan dish.

      But -I cook almost entirely vegetarian at home (because my partner is veggie), and I’ve cooked vegetarian food for non-veggies, and I’ve had vegan food cooked for me by friends who are vegan or semi-vegan. And I’ve always found it super annoying when they’ve peppered the meal with, “you see! This soya-based yoghurt substitute is just as nice as dairy yoghurt! I don’t know why everyone isn’t vegan!”, what tends to happen is that I end up mentally cataloguing (and remembering!) all the ways that I think the meal would have been improved by dairy rather than just enjoying it for what it is. So whilst I hope that my dad or whoever will eat my veggie lasagne and think how delicious it is, I do not draw attention to its veggieness!

  71. LW, not sure if you see this but as someone from a mostly vegetarian culture (India) who loves food ( incl.meat) with vegan friends, I hope what I’m going to say is useful for you.

    I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I will tell you what works for us:

    I do like specific meat and fish preparations as much as I like specific veggies and fruits. When I hang out with my vegan friends, the most we talk about food is to ask them if it is delicious and whether they would recommend it. I also really try to make sure that wherever we are meeting is a place where my friends have a choice of yummy food than a generic ratty salad 3 days old. I also ask them if I can order some of the more weirder types of food like goat brains, octopi etc. I don’t order them if they are not comfortable with it.

    HOWEVER. My friends have never, ever, ever preached to me about going vegan, the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle or looked down on me for being a meat eater. And sometimes we do discuss the industrialization of food in small doses. However, by choosing yummy food (spinach burger yumyum) and offering me a taste of their yummy food on and off, they have contributed to me eating way less meat than before – I didn’t even realize it before I started writing this down.

    People may have strong opinions about shunning a particular food type. However as long as you all respect each other, it should not come in the way of your friendships.

  72. I nearly emailed this to someone as the advice is so very useful but then I realised I wouldn’t have been doing this in kindness but with anger at their judgement s I needed this advice. Is the only and best way to change the world to change yourself though? The person is very dear to me and would like me to make more purchases that aspire to morality that honestly I hold but don’t adhere to. I feel shamed and struggle to find the time and energy to research and change my purchases choices but it is true that the judgement is a thorn in my side making me consider doing it so although it feels hurtful is it not ultimately for my own good?

    1. Yes. The only way to change anything is to change yourself, because your own choices are the only ones you control.

      If you are feeling humiliated and pressured to do things you don’t have the time and energy to do, (or that you don’t care about but your friend thinks you should), your friend isn’t changing the world, your friend is just making your life harder. Why would a friend deliberately make your life harder? That’s just foolish of them, and a great way to lose a friend.

      Is it for your own good to stress you out about this? Is it making your life better, your mind quieter, and your choices easier to pressure and humiliate you in an attempt to make you adhere to your friend’s “morality”?

  73. When I get tempted to be all judgy at people about their Planet Destroying Choices I generally try to remember how much I hate it when people get all judgy at me about my choices that they think are terrible.

    Sharing information that can help people make properly *informed* choices is great; I am big on sharing information. But being judgy about annoys people and generally does not lead them to agree with you (indeed it is more likely to make them more likely to reject your ideas as terrible because they associate them with you annoying them).

    Also it is important to remember that not all information-sharing is intended to be judgy, so if you come across a book extolling the virtues of a meat-only diet just… pass it by. Don’t think “this person hates vegetarians” or “this person hates animals” think instead “this person has found something that works for them and is trying to share it”.

    And never argue about food-ethics while eating, it’s just rude.

  74. Dear LW

    I love your righteous anger! I also love that you want to be courteous.

    As most other people have said, mealtime is not the best time for food conversions, and you also never really know why people have made the food choices you know about.

    So here’s my take.

    Hospitality is important in my book. If I’m at someone’s house, and the food they offer me won’t make me ill, I eat it. But I’m lucky! I have no allergies or food related illnesses, or digestive problems.

    This means that I can afford to eat things I loathe or disapprove of (I am an omnivore, but when possible I don’t eat factory farmed products. Another luxury.)

    So here’s a thing, LW, if you can offer hospitality to people, you can convert them to the recipes. (But you should probably avoid describing how locavore and organic and moral your morels are)

    You’re an inspiring person

  75. I was and still am sometimes quite angry about a lot of things. Through the years I’ve found that my best way to deal with it is to focus on what I can do and talk about it with people that also care a lot. Discussing heated topics with other people just made me more angry.

    As for food; I have been a vegetarian for 18 years and often I feel the urge to just ‘shake some sense into people’. However everyone that I’ve met in my life that has made a change in their diet (either going vegan/vegetarian or eating less meat etc) were the ones that were open to the conversation. They would ask me questions and I would ask them questions without trying to be judgemental. I’ve found it most useful to give these people a hand, to give them information and to support every thought/change I considered positive(without getting angry if they didnt do anything). Sometimes people come to me and tell me they are eating less meat and they are happy about it.

    Usually before I start discussing something touchy I ask myself some questions:
    -Does this person want to discuss the topic?
    -Are we both open for suggestions/questions/feedback? Or do we just want to get frustrated with each other about our different opinions?

    I know quite some people who just love trying to get under my skin for fun, mentioning crying grass for example and I know it’s pointless to have that discussion with them and I won’t be any happier about it. Meanwhile I’ve accepted that it’s everyone’s own choice what they are eating and what not and that I have no right getting upset over other peoples diet. I try to be satisfied with the awareness I can spread if this awareness is wanted.

    Previous month I stayed in a Buddhist monastery and with the other visitors we had a discussion about food and our role in the industry. These were all women who voluntarily ate vegan with the Buddhist nuns for a week but many still struggled becoming vegan/vegetarian themselves although they did care a lot. This really showed me to not be judgemental, for me it’s been super easy living this way but people can all sorts of reasons for struggling even if they really want to change their diet.

  76. A few years ago I made perogies for my mother, and after we’d finished, her response was “That was lovely dear, but not very filling.” My immediate thought was “Wtf? You just had about three potatoes worth of food, how can you still be hungry?” When I gave her free reign of the fridge she ate about half a slice of ham and claimed to be satisfied.

    And hey, it’s not my body, maybe she was hungry. But I suspect there was some upbringing/class-related stuff in there too. Where and when she grew up, vegetarianism was not a thing, so the only people who didn’t eat meat were people who couldn’t afford it. Therefore, every meal must contain meat to prove that we can have meat (there’s literally a grace said that declares thankfulness for “having meat”), and any meal that doesn’t contain meat is not a meal.

    So, yeah, I figure the Friendly Neighbourhood Goat Lady is right: what, when, how etc. humans eat is complicated as heck.

    1. I think a *lot* of people have that same mental/emotional reaction to the absence of meat. I’ve been to many holiday dinners where I had a loaded plate, literally overflowing with pounds of vegetables, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, pie, etc., and was asked by worried aunts if I was sure it would be enough without the turkey.

    2. I actually have found that I can live off less total food the more meat I include in my diet. (I still eat lots of vegetarian meals, I just keep in mind that I may reach satiety later when I eat them.) I don’t know exactly why, but I’m sure a nutritionist or someone could tell me if I pursued it. Protein or caloric density? Needing more B12 than the average bear…er, turtle? Anyway, yeah: eating is really complicated, both from a social and a personal health standpoint.

      1. Me too! I was a vegetarian for 14 years and since I’ve started eating meat, I eat way less but I basically need hardcore protein at every meal or I just wont’ be satisfied, either meat or fish or eggs or avocado. Half a slice of ham would actually have made a meal of pierogies more filling for me, and I was raised mostly vegetarian so it’s not a cultural thing! I have been working with a nutritionist and I believe she said it is the protein. .I didn’t realize before I worked with her that beans/hummus/that kind of protein is wayyy starchier than I thought it was.

    3. Seconded with amusement. I come from a rice-eating region and when I used to do marching, the other folks were always a bit worried I wouldn’t achieve satiety on sandwiches. I figure any bread = snack and rice = meal associations must’ve been pretty strong for them.

  77. I was a vegetarian for four years until I ran out of time and energy to cook all my meals and felt like I didn’t have enough diversity in my diet. Since switching back to eating meat, I’ve discovered more information about agriculture that makes me believe eating grains, vegetables, and fruit exclusively is NOT a consequence-free diet. I eat local meat whenever possible, and hope to one day entirely cut factory farming out of my diet.

    Don’t assume all omnivores are ignorant vessels just waiting for your information. Many of us have considered the options and decided that, given the number of livestock already alive, the consequences of land-clearing to grow grains, and the ability of free-range cattle to live off native local land without harming it, that the choice we’re making is an ethical one. I’d much rather local free roaming cattle were ethically slaughtered than eat a grain that is mass farmed in a South American country by native people turned to fighting over land to grow it.

    My choices come down to the belief that people are animals too, deserving of humane treatment. So I choose to primarily support farming options that treat humans humanely. Knowing that WHO grew or farmed my food was treated well is more important to me than knowing WHAT I eat was treated well – and I don’t believe slaughter is an inherently inhumane choice.

    There are many ways to make choices based on the information available to you, and not everyone will make an identical choice to yours. Just like they should support your choice about what to buy and put in your body, you should be willing to support theirs.

  78. From an environmental standpoint, many organic systems actually rely heavily on animal components to increase nutrient cycling (manure as fertilizer). Getting the proper nutrients to grow food is a HUGE problem for organic farming systems, because it has to come from somewhere. So is water supply to grow everything, and looking where your food comes from (omnivore or vegetarian) plays a big role. But is a priviledge. I agree with the notion that it is very privileged to be able to choose your food systems. Animal integration can provide a lot of income in other countries, can provide a great avenue for nutrient recycling, and can also make use of land that cannot support cropping systems. But it has a host of environmental impacts. But all of agriculture does. I have a scientific agricultural background, and there is no over-arching right answer. Right now most of our food systems are unsustainable, period. Whether it’s including animal proteins, vegetarian, or vegan.

  79. LW, another thing to keep in mind: that many omnivores are not only aware of the problems of factory farming, but have their own visions of food justice and sustainability that don’t involve widespread veg*nism. As an example, see this piece on why it’s ethical to eat meat, which argues that animals are necessary for sustainable food systems.

    Personally, I see a lot of potential in closed-loop farming (i.e., farms that need no external input in order to produce food), and that can only work when animals such as fish or chickens are involved. I also can’t be vegetarian for health reasons (was vegetarian for years, then semi-vegan for more years, started having all sorts of health issues that cleared up when I started eating meat/poultry/fish again), so meat-eating is both a personal necessity *and* something that I see as necessary for a just, sustainable food system. That doesn’t mean I’m ignorant about factory farms, condone their abuses against animals, workers, and the environment, or think that Americans should continue consuming meat at the unsustainable level we currently do; it just means I see different solutions to those problems.

    1. I think that like almost anything else, It’s (Usually) More Complicated Than That (to borrow a slogan from another site). The environmental costs of veganism in my hometown would be enormous. In other areas, veganism would be the least injurious form of food production (with humans providing the poop in the loop, so to speak). And there are financial and other costs to consider. I did the math regarding becoming a mostly-locavore in my area. My family could do it–if we had about $1,000 more per year to spend on equipment and local products, plus a minimum of 15 hours per week that we could devote exclusively to producing and gathering food. But we don’t.

  80. OP, I do understand. Im a veggie and I would be vegan if it was possible for me (I wont go into my personal circumstances, but while I eat vegan when I can, full time just isnt possible for me).

    I turned veggie aged 11 when I realised what went on, and could no longer bring myself to knowingly chew up and swallow animal. It was hard – there were only two of us veggies in primary school, and the other ate packed lunches. But heres the thing; the other girl was raised veggie from birth. While I was still finding my path, she would often piously say ‘that has trace of $animal_ingredient in it! You cant have that!’ Id want to think ok, I just wont get it again, and make a note. I was still learning, in a carnivorous environment at school and home. But she made sure I knew exactly what was in it, and ruined things for me when it wasnt her duty to do so.

    It’s not a religion. I like to know people are making an informed choice so if they ask why I dont drink Bloody Marys, Ill say ‘oh, the worcester sauce has anchovies, and unfortunately its pre-mixed here’. A factual answer, but nothing gross. Some people are surprised, some decide not to drink it themselves, some dont care. Thats ok… But if people’s decisions are as informed as they want them to be, I wont try to “save” them!

    I have learnt that it would be just as wrong for my husband, who is fully informed but loves his meat, to turn veggie, as it would be for me to eat meat. It is a personal choice, along with whether you eat nestle or cocacola products, which charities you donate to, or whether you only go for non sweatshop clothes.

    I agree it is an admirable fight. But people will be more willing to listen when they are ready to come to you with curiosity and questions, if they do at all. Keep it for that time. Youll ve amazed how many people ask me over dinner why I wont touch the thing that theyre eating, and I tend to say ‘lets discuss it later, youre already eating and I dont want to put you off’. Youre being considerate about animals – be considerate of your fellow humans too. Forcing your views down their throats just results in fewer invitations. Nobody likes a militant dictating to them. And I say that even though Ive been a strict veggie for quarter of a century and share your passion.

  81. LW, I wanted to add that all this great advice about how to avoid preaching at and antagonizing others applies just as much to how you treat yourself! Folks here have identified a multitude of medical, ethical and practical reasons they’re not veg*n, and any one of those might apply to your future self at some point. Which is not to say “are you sure this isn’t just a phase??” – more like, don’t beat yourself up for not adhering perfectly to your own standards, or for stepping back from your anger when you need to.

    1. I second this. I was vegetarian for about 12 years, and semi-vegan for about 7 of them, and then I had to start eating meat and eggs again because it took a toll on my health. My vegetarianism wasn’t for ethical reasons, but for “meat grosses me out” reasons, and dealing with that was hard enough.

      LW, if you do need to start eating meat/eggs/dairy again for health reasons (as many, although certainly not all, veg*ns do), don’t beat yourself up about it. If you can afford ethically produced meat, awesome; if not, just keep in mind that under capitalism, it’s impossible to avoid consuming some things that contribute to others’ suffering unless you move 100% off the grid, make all your clothes, and grow all your own food. That’s an indictment of the system, not of you or any other individual person who’s just trying to do the best they can.

  82. I keep thinking about this post and wanted to come back to say to the LW that you should totally give yourself permission to feel joy as well as anger. When we open our eyes to all the fucked-up stuff about this world it’s easy to find yourself living in that constant state of anger, and even to feel like if you’re NOT angry it’s a sign that you’re not caring enough. But it’s also an amazing thing that you are seeing the world in new ways and doing new things to contribute in a different way and (I hope at least eventually) meeting new people who share those values. So feel joy about that great new vegan recipe you found or that great protest you went on or just your new sense of the world. That’s good for you, and as a bonus I think it is also a good way of making other people feel positively about your life choices and interested in trying out similar things.

  83. One thing I just want to say, LW – your friend was a jerk about your bean burger! That is not a normal reaction to someone innocently ordering something non-meat! I have no idea what brought it on, if she has her own issues to work through, but try not to take that reaction forward with you as the default thing that will happen if you eat vegan food in front of people. I can’t imagine even noticing what someone else was ordering to be honest, except maybe to say “ooh, that sounds tasty”.

  84. Not cool to ask a slaughter hobbyist to answer a question from a vegan who was obviously trying to be a sensitive friend, having done nothing but ordered a bean burger. LW was not “evangelizing” to the friend when friend started in on LW, despite the fact that LW admits to wanting to share information with others. (Since when is just wanting — not yet doing — to share about a life-changing revelation so horrible, slaughter hobbyist?) Captain, don’t you owe better responses than this off-base rant from your “farmer” friend to people who are really looking for relationship/friendship advice?

    1. Things the Goat Lady did: Answer all the parts of the LW’s question while sticking to the facts that the LW presented, without calling anyone names or belittling their point of view with false equivalencies. The LW wasn’t evangelizing when they ordered the bean burger, and their friends were the ones who were out of line, which, noted! Shaming people about their food choices or overly reading into someone else’s food choices is not cool!

      But the LW wants to talk more about their diet choices with friends, and is angry at people for and about their diet choices, so the Goat Lady laid out some constructive ways to talk about this without being preachy or alienating the very people they wish to engage, with the rule (long upheld on this site) that you do not judge or comment on what is on anyone else’s plate while you are breaking bread with them, ever.

      These are also things that every single commenter did in what has been a marvelously constructive and respectful discussion.

      Until you posted. Congratulations, Threadkiller! BTW, you’re banned.

  85. Hey, LW, lots of commenters above have had great advice and experience. I’d like to add a little bit of my own perspective about food: food is a lot like sex. A ton of cultures, especially family cultures, really shame people about food, teach people that some foods are bad or dirty or sinful, intertwine morality and food, etc. It’s very easy for people to feel judged and shamed by food, especially when it’s someone like you, who is a convert to a school of food purity, and even for people who are relatively non-neurotic about food in specific ways food is deeply intimate and cultural. (The sandwich means I love you/the smell of bacon brings you back to when you were little and making Mother’s Day breakfast for your sleeping mom/the smell of steak and peppercorn means ‘you are safe’, drinking strawberry wine reminds me of watching Bob’s Burger’s with my sister and feeling the froth spurt out my nose when I laughed really suddenly and then we both couldn’t stop laughing). It’s More Complicated than people who aren’t as vegan as you being ignorant. (Trust me, we all know about factory farming and how terrible it is. Do you know about how quinoa is unethical?)

    My own reasons for not being vegan or vegetarian include:

    -I don’t want to
    -My family meals involve lots of meat
    -I fucking love eating meat
    -I’m pretty sure it would be unhealthy and unfilling for me
    -I have literal protein cravings
    -It would exacerbate my few neuroses about food left
    -It would be much more expensive and difficult and anxiety-producing and stressful
    -I don’t want to

    I myself am fat and lactose intolerant and really like meat and salty, fatty, sugary, cheap/easy foods. I am doing my best to eat what’s good for me while silencing my neurotic shrieking about food and fatness and health/purity and so forth. I really, really cannot tolerate any negative comment on the food I eat whatsoever, and the only reason I’m less defensive about it than I used to be is because of gradual social reassurance that people who judge your food, especially RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU (“are you sure you should be eating that/don’t you mean a diet coke/isn’t that a lot of food/shouldn’t you be eating a salad”) are being rude and inappropriate. (Your friend was being rude and inappropriate, BTW.)

    It’s an internal problem, my food anti-neuroses process, and just as the last thing I would want to hear is ‘the way you desire sex and romance is Evil and in utopia wouldn’t exist’, the last thing anyone wants to hear (especially while eating) is ‘the way you desire nourishment is Bad and Evil and Murderous’. And if you genuinely, even on a totally non-cerebral emotional level think anything like that, please don’t try to talk about food to your meat/animal product-eating friends.

    As for anger, I would strongly encourage you to try and take care of yourself and make sure you feel and experience things other than rage at the injustices of the world. Feeling nothing but anger and despair is not good for you, and it’s less than you deserve.

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