I’m not the most silver-tongued conversationalist around, even when it comes to such banal topics as the weather or what I’m doing this summer. So talking about things that matter to me, that elicit even the smallest emotional charge, can tie my tongue in knots. Usually I just opt for silence to save myself any embarrassment and don’t give it much more thought. But when someone asks about some aspect of being vegan and I give only the most cursory response, I feel like I have cheated myself and them. I feel like I have missed an opportunity to enlighten and inform. And so I’ve wanted to explore how to address effectively the questions people put to me about my choices around the table.
It may seem perfectly obvious to most people, but it only just dawned on me about the importance of when I am posited these questions about eating. Of course, it’s when I’m eating, and when others are eating. Usually, it comes up when I’m out to eat with friends or colleagues or at a family dinner. Usually, when my friends or family members are chowing down on pork, chicken or beef, it’s then that they choose to ask, “So why don’t you eat meat?”
Immediately images of tortured animals writhe in my brain and I think, “How can I put this delicately while they are eating that fried chicken leg? How can I describe this in a way that won’t be offensive and create a greater wall between them and me? That won’t put them off the idea of thinking about veganism?” I’ve never come up with a good answer. I usually just mutter something about being genetically predisposed to cancer…the link between cancer and consuming animal protein…which is true and a very important reason, but not the whole picture. And I still feel like I’ve lost a valuable teachable moment.
While commiserating over this issue with a fellow vegan, the simple, obvious answer came to me: Ask them to wait. Be honest and say, “I’d love to talk with you about that but you probably don’t want to hear about some of my reasons for not eating animals while you’re eating that hotdog. Ask me again after dinner.” This solves a couple of issues for me. First, it takes me out of the role of possibly grossing out or offending my fellow diners and inciting further anti-vegan sentiments from them. Second, it gives me time to organize the facts and arguments to which I think this particular person or group of people would be receptive. Are they more health conscious? Are they animal lovers? Are they concerned about the environment? Are they more responsive to facts or to sentiment?
Discussing these important and difficult issues takes more than a modicum of tact and good timing. Finding, or redefining, the right time to discuss the ethics of veganism is essential to delivering a thoughtful message that has a chance of being openly received. I haven’t tried my new strategy yet but we do have a family dinner coming up- opportunity awaits! Wish me luck!