I previously read Carol J. Adams’ classic The Sexual Politics of Meat but didn’t review it (something I should correct!) and I consider it one of the best books ever. Carol J. Adams was justly inducted in the Animal Rights Hall of Fame at the Animal Rights Conference in 2011. I was there and that made me extremely happy. So I went ahead and digged out a less known treasure she wrote a few years ago. The edition I have borrowed from my public library is from 2001.
One of the struggles of anyone going vegetarian/vegan for the first time (the author addresses both but with emphasis on vegans) has to do with dealing with peers. Parents, family, friends, co-workers, etc… have all known us for being… well.. « us » for so long that they suddenly have to face this new « us » which comes with new « conditions ». Thanksgiving is not the same anymore because we don’t want to eat the dead bird anymore, lunch with co-workers is done with them looking weirdly at the kale on our plate, etc… As the new « you » comes into play, also comes other peoples’ bad sides as they have to be faced with you not wanting to fit anymore. So how do you handle this new paradigm? For a lot of Vegans, making the shift makes us realize the suffering we never saw before. It makes us angry. Suddenly, we want to go out there and fight the good fight. We get angry at people who don’t « get it » and we forget that we were once in their shoes. That anger, for most of us, calms down and becomes transmuted into positive activism. For some, it is very hard to get past. What remains is the difficulty to deal with people who are judgmental, aggressive, and pretty much think we are freaks and to whom we have to deal with on a daily basis. So how do we do that? Well, that is when this terrific book from Carol J. Adams can be useful.
I must admit to having read it with great pleasure. It gave me new ideas, tools I had not though about in terms of relating intelligently with people who are not Vegans. As a (soon to be) Health Coach, it is also a valuable tool as it will help me take people on a journey towards their health by progressively going Vegans and open raise their consciousness to become more compassionate as well. My favorite point in the book is what she calls Being at peace and repairing the hole in our conscience. It is reminiscent of what Will Tuttle describes in his book The World Peace Diet regarding the conditioning we all have received since birth. Carol Adams explains that every non Vegan lives with a hole in his conscience because he misses that part of him/herself that relates to animals and compassion. Repairing the hole in the conscience means making the connection and wake up to the Vegan and animal lover within (i am paraphrasing). For us Vegans, it is vital to be at peace with our diet and not apologize for it. Who needs to apologize? meat eaters, not you. You are following your conscience. It doesn’t mean that you have to hurt them by being nasty and say things like « you’re a selfish meat head » even if we sometimes secretly desire to say so. One excellent reasoning (extract from the book) is this one:
« If you are at peace, maybe they, too, could be at peace living without meat.
If you are not at peace, why should they try?
Are you at peace?
If you are, how do you communicate that sense of peace?
If you aren’t, what is needed to discover a sense of peace? »
These arguments are all valid, I experienced them. I used to feel that I was on a mission to convert my co-workers (and the planet!) to Veganism in an agressive way, therefore taking the angry Vegan approach of pointing out how they ate dead carcasses at each meal. And even though the argument is true, it does not work. People get turned off. Being the example, being the motivator is what makes people ask questions. When I changed my attitude and became comfortable with being this real « me », people also changed a bit around me. People reflect what is in you. What is within, is outside too. For instance, an ex-collegue of mine suddenly got interested in my diet and started asking questions. So I loaned her the documentary « A Delicate Balance » (which I recommend by the way) and « Got the Facts on Milk » (another good one). She later told me that she actually went ahead and bought Kris Carr’s book « Crazy Sexy Diet » (Crazy Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite Your Spark, and Live Like You Mean It! ) which kicks ass in terms of diet and what Kris thinks of animals. Another one sees me drink a big juice (freshly done with my juicer at home) at work each day. Once again, don’t push, let them come and they will ask. She said I was inspiring her to get healthy. So who knows? that may be a good sign (and her diet is McDonald’s). I get asked about what I eat almost each day and even though they may not change to Veganims soon, I am planting seeds which is a lot more efficient than being in their face with agressive words. As Carol Adams says, they are all « blocked Vegetarians » (Will Tuttle uses the term Pre-Vegan which is another variant on the meaning).
The biggest challenge of most Vegans is social, not being an activist. We are activists the moment we stop eating animals and their secretions. But it doesn’t stop there obviously. The way we relate to other people is what determine our effectiveness at spreading the message that Veganism is the way to free animals and ourselves. Carol quotes Mary Midgley at the beginning of her book. This quote sums up a lot of what we face on a daily basis:
« The symbolism of meat-eating is never neutral. To himself, the meat-eater seems to be eating life. To the Vegetarian, he seems to be eating death. There is a kind of gestalt-shift between the two positions which makes it hard to change, and hard to raise questions on the matter at all without becoming embattled. »
So it is a big point. Once again mirroring the fact that people are conditioned, they are also seeing the world in what seems upside down to us. We see them eat death and we try to open their eyes to that fact just to fall on deaf ears. What is the matter with them? Why don’t they get it? One way to cope with this is once again to see meat eaters as blocked vegetarians. « This person has a problem with my vegetarianism. It is their problem, not mine ». Think that way, and you will be more at peace. Vegans make meat eaters uneasy, that is inevitable as we appeal to their inner compassionate selves, the part of themselves that wants to remain comfortable and not disturbed. As the author points out, the mere fact of being in the room with non-vegans is already disturbing (if they are aware that you are vegetarians/vegans). She says it well: « People have many explanations for eating meat; vegetarians have heard all of them. If their explanations sound hollow, it may be because they are. For some people, their predicament is not so much that they choose to eat meat as that they have chosen not to change. As a result, interactions are often really about the nature of change – or, more precisely, not changing. » That is very true.
While Vegans can manifest their just anger for the suffering of animals, it is probably harder for them to deal with the anger they generate by being « different ». Look at this quoted Bumper Sticker in Texas: « Eat low on the food chaing. Barbecue a vegetarian. » or this one: « Vegetarians welcome… to watch us eat steak » (from a Minnesota Steak House). These are pure examples of blocked vegetarians, nihilists and people denying themselves. They have a Hole in their conciousness. There is not much we can do for these type but I have seen examples of what seems impossible. An episode of « 30 days » was about a hunter being asked to spend 30 days of his life among PETA Vegan activists and adopt their lifestyles. He accepts the challenge determined to not change and go home a happy meat eating hunter. During the process, he goes to PETA protests, helps rescue a calf (and nurtures him) and works in a Farm Animal sanctuary and get exposed to the animals. What is remarkable is how he transforms unwillingly during the 30 days of his new temporary life. By the time this is over, he still wants to go back hunting (sounded more like macho bravado than real desire to do so) but WE know he is not the same anymore. We SEE how he is transformed. That is the power of the truth. Another great example is the excellent documentary « Vegucated » which I highly recommend to show to non-Vegans. I agree with Carol that the people who are the most aggressive with you are probably the ones most susceptible to change. Their feelings are, as she points out, the most on the surface than people who casually dismiss Vegans as just freaks but don’t really bother them (or so they think). The more defensive the person, the more he or she feels guilty deep down and the more that person may change in the future. I see the defensiveness as a challenge, but a welcome one. That is hopeful.
The rest of Carol J. Adams’ book is filled with tips and good things to say in every situations from work to your sharing of the home kitchen. She goes into every aspects of the daily life, from raising kids, dealing with co-workers to living/loving a non-Vegan. You will not regret getting this book. It is a wonderful practical tool.