in spirit but not in practice

i have a lot of extremely "animal-friendly" people in my life. some are vegetarians, most are omnivores. when i read this paragraph in an article just now, it struck a chord in me for some reason. every once in awhile, that happens (you may remember my loooong-ago post about a passage from dominion) and then i feel the need to post about it and reflect on it and save it for posterity or something. so, without further ado, here is the passage:

We relegate thoughts about the creatures we eat to about the same space
we give to any crisis halfway around the world that we feel we can’t
understand or have a direct impact on. We don’t like to think about it
because there’s so little we feel we can do about it. We make
assumptions that negate the pain and suffering (at least in the case of
the animals) and absolve ourselves of responsibility in preventing or
relieving it. Just because we turn our back on the situation doesn’t
mean it isn’t there anymore. But what is our responsibility? Or, at the
very least, what is mine? Much as I try to ignore the question and dig
in, it haunts me whenever I eat meat. Worse, it has left me with the
somewhat horrifying conclusion that I am a vegetarian morally but not
in practice, the exact reverse of where I started.

this is from an article that originally appeared in SELF magazine and was later published on msnbc.com, and the full text can be found here if you’d like to read it.

anyhow, when i read this passage i instantly thought of all of the people around me who adore animals and yet continue to eat them. i am optimistic (and perhaps naive) by nature, but i think this is how i prefer to see all of those people. i feel like they are all struggling with this issue; i think i want–perhaps need–to believe that. it keeps me sane and it keeps me loving my friends and family instead of wondering if they Just Don’t Care. i would prefer to believe that they DO care, and care deeply, but just haven’t gotten to the point where they’ve done much about it yet.

my husband has informed me on more than one occasion that just because i feel strongly about something doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with me, and furthermore, that people don’t HAVE to agree with me. this is true. but when people show me glimmers of my own experience reflected in their conversations with me, it’s hard not to think that there’s a future vegan lurking in there somewhere. it gives me hope–perhaps false hope–that people are "reachable." that they’ll get there one day. i think that my husband (and maybe my sister, and most definitely many of my friends and family) thinks that i have an agenda i am pushing; that i’m trying to "make" everyone vegan. this leads to difficult conversations sometimes, but i have to say that it’s not true. not really. of course i would LOVE it if everyone turned vegan, but i’m not trying to "make" them do so. it’s more accurate to say that i honestly believe that most people (especially those i am close to) agree with me in spirit, but just not in practice. which is heartwarming in a tiny way, but makes me very sad (and at times uncomfortable, lonely, or even angry) at times.

this is something that i struggle with constantly–not only what i think about it, but how to address it (or not) in my millions of interactions with everyone i know–and suppress often. i am actually quite surprised to find myself writing as much as i am about it right now, and it’s likely i’ll regret this candor sometime soon. but that passage really spoke to me; it really summed up the way that i prefer to think of the people i love. it is much less painful than thinking that they Just Don’t Care.

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8 comments

  1. I’ve often struggled with this as well. I don’t feel like I can just let the issue of the animals go and be true to my own beliefs and ethics. Does that mean I have an “agenda”? I am probably over cautious about it, actually, and don’t talk about it enough. Why do I talk so strongly to my friends about racism and the IMF, or any human rights issue, but not animal rights issues? Couldn’t it be said I have an agenda about any of these? Or is it only an agenda because it is about animals? Or because I’m vegan?
    I’m trying to find my own balance.
    I don’t think there is anything wrong in talking to people about things. That doesn’t mean we should ignore cues that we would pay attention to in any other situation. But…we don’t have to ignore our own feelings either.
    Hopefully you won’t regret your candor. Hopefully anyone you know offline will appreciate what you are saying, and your honesty in saying it.

  2. First, I think that the naive-looking for the good-attitude makes us vegan. You can not have compassion for animals and not have hope and compassion for people. I struggle alot with eating out with friends and dates. I find my world more and more populated by vegans and less omnivores. I feel I should work to change that. When we eat, dress, and behave in public we may not be ranting on our agenda but we are speaking just as clearly. And what a great statement to make. Look at me happy, healthy, with delicious food, fashionably dressed – not missing out on anything by being vegan.
    Secondly, in response to the first post an agenda seems to infer that there is something in it personally for you-this is truly not the case. In any attempt to make the world better it is a responsibility,a calling, a mission. PS ❤ the blog you are my best online friend!

  3. I think for sanity’s sake we all have to assume a bit of the mantle of naivete.
    This was a wonderful, sensitive post. I enjoyed reading it, and I am having trouble responding to it with the thoughtfulness it deserves.
    Namaste. (in my own personal world, this greeting means – ‘the highest in me (whatever that may be) salutes the highest in you’)

  4. I think you’ve hit upon the struggle that every one of us who are vegan that are surrounded by non-vegans. Very well put. I struggled with this some last night when a friend who is vegetarian and a big humane society supporter declared that she thought Michael Vick should be put to death for the whole dogfighting thing- how do I communicate to her that I feel her outrage, but it’s not in my makeup to wish death on any living being, human or otherwise? I wimped out, but of course found myself wishing I had spoken up. I think we all wonder how far we should push…

  5. i totally know how you feel… i struggle as well with this issue. Thank you for an honest, literate, thoughtful, compassionate, well-composed post… great food (literally) for thought.

  6. Call me naive but I think most people do care, or they wouldn’t turn away when they see pictures of slaughterhouse horrors. Or put their hands up and stay “Stop, I don’t want to hear it” – because to hear it and to see it would be to ignite their consciences and cause internal turmoil, and they’d rather be in denial than face the fact that something they do every day, almost automatically, makes them an accomplice to torture.
    IMHO: It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that there are powerful opposing forces: inertia, fear of change, fear of being the “odd man out,” fear of having an impoverished and unsatisfying diet, fear of self-incrimination – it is a damning charge. Add to that: a frightening capacity to compartmentalize, to avoid cognitive dissonance, to defend one’s lifestyle – sometimes with the most flimsy, seat-of-the-pants excuses.
    People may not always realize it but they have a deep emotional attachment to meat (and dairy and eggs). We are asking people to condemn one of their most cherished and pleasurable lifelong behaviors, passed down from generation to generation. That’s not something that people will accept overnight; in fact, they’ll usually vigorously resist it.
    And meat-eating is promoted more than any product has ever been promoted. Explicit and subliminal pro-meat and dairy messages are almost constant.
    But we will do it. Once people disengage a little, once they incorporate a veggie sausage here, a pint of Purely Decadent ice cream there, they have a little less conflict of interest, a little less allegience to eating animal products; vegetarianism is now one step closer, a little less remote and foreign. A little more socially acceptable. One can already sense this shift. A momentum builds. We’ll reach thresholds and milestones that will lessen resistance to veg*anism. We’ll reach the point where people won’t have to “convert” because veg products and supporting infrastructure will already have seeped into the mainstream. And of course as the veg market grows, so does advertising and diversity and quality of products.
    We’ll get there. At this stage we should expect all kinds of kicking and screaming, all kinds of rationalizations to hang onto deeply ingrained habits, so ingrained they feel natural.
    But I see no reason why we won’t win this battle. Unevenly but surely, freedoms and considerations have been extended to one group after another in the last couple of centuries. Granted, there are still many problems, but the progress is undeniable. Concurrently, vegan food and recipes are becoming better and more available; those who don’t switch out of moral concern may switch just because their friends are doing it, or because the difference between not-vegan and vegan from a consumer standpoint diminishes. And the grandchildren of those who make the switch by default, and who are freed from the conflict of interest of having to defend meat-eating, will see the practice as barbaric and ancient; shameful, unenlightened. More and more so as it recedes into history. It is so easy to be appalled at wrongful acts that were once widely popular and accepted but are now long in the past.

  7. i just wanted to thank ALL of you for your insightful and sweet comments. i love being reminded of how wonderful you all are! and it definitely helps to know i’m not the only one who struggles with stuff like this. thank you thank you. xo

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