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Fifty Repetitions

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Most people resist changing their opinions or behavior. But when they decide that change is advantageous, their resistance melts away and they can transform themselves. A crucial part of this process is repetition. A lifelong smoker might not choose to give up cigarettes the first time she reads a study about the dangers of tobacco. She might even look for contrary evidence to reinforce her desire to continue. But if her daughter confronts her and asks her to change, more studies about lung cancer appear in the news, and her doctor raises the subject during a checkup, our smoker might finally choose to quit.

I’m always trying to find more effective ways to tell people about the suffering of animals who are raised for food.  Since the vast majority of people oppose cruelty to animals, you’d think it would be easy to persuade people to stop eating them. But what we choose to eat is a very personal matter, and most of us don’t like to be told what to put on our plates.

I have a theory that people must hear 50 repetitions of a vegetarian or vegan message before they decide to change their eating habits. Of course, that number is different for each person, but I do think that it takes a lot of exposure to the issue before people will alter something as important as their diet. The repetitions can take many different forms, such as interacting with an animalwatching a video, or talking to a vegan acquaintance.

I remember my first exposure to the issue. When I was a girl, my dad used to set crab traps and take me on fishing expeditions. I was horrified when I saw the fish waiting in a bucket to be killed with a sharp knife. I can also remember how the crabs struggled as my mom lowered them into boiling water. But I continued to eat animals. In college and in the workplace, I had vegetarian friends who talked eloquently about their reasons for not eating animals. But my 50th repetition didn’t come until I was 34 and saw a terrified goat get slaughtered by having his throat cut. I went vegetarian overnight—but that “overnight” decision was many years in the making.

When I talk with people about the suffering caused by meat, dairy, and egg production, I can often tell from their responses how many repetitions they’ve heard:

“But we have to eat meat, milk, and eggs to be healthy.” (Number three.)
“I’m going to order an extra steak to make up for you vegan idiots.” (Number 18.)
“I respect your right to be a vegan. Why don’t you respect my personal choices?” (Number 32.)
“I don’t eat much meat at home, and I only order free-range organic meat at restaurants.” (Number 45.)

It can be frustrating to be someone’s number 18 and get a hostile or defensive response. But every once in a while you get to be number 50. Recently, I was dining out with some friends and answered a few questions about the abuses endured by animals on factory farms. I didn’t think I’d had much of an impact, but I heard later that the woman who’d asked the questions had decided to go vegetarian.

When I get discouraged by people’s indifference to the plight of cowschickens, and pigs, I remind myself that a number three is just as important as a number 50. Each repetition makes vegetarian and vegan diets seem a little less strange and a little more mainstream. The early repetitions might actually be the most important ones. If a hard-core meat-eater is hostile to me, I can fire back a nasty remark and reinforce the meat-eater’s belief that vegans are self-righteous jerks. Or I can respond with a polite smile and show that that I’m obviously concerned about helping animals, and maybe this person will be able to skip all the way to number 50 the next time he or she hears the message.

What was your experience in reaching number 50? If you’re not a vegetarian yet, what number would you guess you’re at?

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    Jaya says...

    January 14th, 2011, 6:15 pm

    I really like this post. It is a great way to look at the value of outreach — every effort is contributing, even if it doesn’t seem that way. You just might be the fifth repetition or the 20th, but it all counts toward 50. Really motivating piece, and very clever. I’m sharing it.

    Pat says...

    January 14th, 2011, 6:53 pm

    I always like the reason of “God made animals for us to eat”. Of course, I can never be given a reference for this statement and I ask them, “so, when do you plan on frying up fido”? I give PETA full credit for educating me on factory farms and am very proud that I now also have two veggie daughters and and husband that is half way there.

    Brittany says...

    January 15th, 2011, 12:50 am

    i thoroughly enjoyed this article, since i was little i have always had a compassion for animals, it wasn’t till i was thirteen did i become a member of PETA, and realized exactly how much animal cruelty that was around me. i cut out all red meat from my diet on my 16th birthday , my mother refuses to let be be vegetarian yet,she thinks i need my meat because i am still growing. i know I’ll be vegetarian soon its just a matter of time.

    Michael says...

    January 15th, 2011, 2:47 am

    Thank you so much Lisa!! This is a fabulous way to look at the often-awkward job of trying to spread the word about animal cruelty. My efforts often feel so futile. Sometimes my boyfriend even tells me not to bother and I have tried to explain that every little mention of the subject might pile up somewhere in the back of the person’s head and one day amount to something. You put my thoughts into words for me! It doesn’t matter if you are number 2 or number 50. If you were not there to be number 2, or 3 or 4 then number 50 would take that much longer to come around. Every number is important. Lisa you are great! You inspired me! Thank you!

    Michael says...

    January 15th, 2011, 2:52 am

    One more thing – when someone tells you that you should respect his or her personal choices – I find it useful to remind him or her that that theory is fine in most cases but in the case of eating animals there happens to be an innocent third party who cannot speak for themselves. So their ‘personal choice’ isn’t exactly ‘personal’ since the animals are hardly volunteering to be slaughtered.

    Gaby says...

    January 15th, 2011, 11:47 am

    I admire vegans, i think it takes a lot of decision to stop eating meat. But sometimes i wonder, if we all stop eating animals and let them be free how much time would they survive?. After all, chickens, for example, have been raised as domestic animals for such a long time they sort of lost their instincts to live on their own. I’m not saying animals should be treated as a piece of meat but we could have a balance between animals and humans…

    Lisbeth says...

    January 15th, 2011, 12:13 pm

    number 32.

    nancy says...

    January 15th, 2011, 5:46 pm

    Gaby, people wouldn’t become vegetarians all at once. That’s impossible. As each person stops or eats less meat the producers breed less animals. (Btw-check out Farm Sanctuary if you’re interested in seeing a farm that doesn’t use the animals for food.)

    Alexa says...

    January 15th, 2011, 8:40 pm

    For me it is that all animals, mammals think, feel and react. All have families they care for and sometimes, thinking of the animals, in the slaughterhouses. or holding pens, they are driven mad before death. Vegetarian is a choice. Bravo to people like my granddaughter who have made the choice to not eat mean for ethical and moral reasons.

    Alicia says...

    January 21st, 2011, 3:27 pm

    Thanks to your articles that I am reading since Nov. 2010, I’ve decided to reduce meat and dairy consumption as far as I can. I’ve never been a meat fan cause I love veggies, but now not eating meat has another purpose. Repetion is a must; that’s how you are changing me. I live in Argentina, a meat eating country as USA; being vegan is not very easy around here… My two teenage daughters have also decided to reduce meat and dairy consumption. Insist, insist, insist, just as a drop of water makes a hole in a stone. Thanks for all you do for animals!!!

    stephanie says...

    January 23rd, 2011, 7:05 am

    thank you for this article, like many others, i also feel a bit overwhelmed when i am sitting in our company breakroom at lunch. everyone always looks at my food and says it looks and smells wonderful, but that they could never do what i do. i always try to be open and insightful when i am asked why i dont eat meat, b/c i want people to be curious about the subject, not resistant. now it is easy to see why i have adopted that attitude, it is b/c it took 28 yrs for me to reach my 50. hopefully through my words and actions i can help others reach their 50 sooner than i did. thanks again.

    xhaller says...

    January 30th, 2012, 10:35 pm

    This article came at such a perfect time. Thank you. I was just feeling discouraged because my husband wouldn’t watch Earthlings with me. I just felt so mad at him but then I think he has read other articles, we talk about sports figures who are vegans or vetarians, he heartily eats my meatless meals… Maybe tonight I didn’t catch him with his 50th repetition but at least I’m on the right path. The most any of us can do is try, right? And the self-righteous vegan is as much of a turn off to the carnivore as the obnoxious meat eater is to the plant eater.

    Thank you for reminding us that trying is just as important!

    Stephanie says...

    February 17th, 2012, 4:13 am

    Thank you for this great article! I have been veggie now for a year and am transitioning to vegan right now. My boyfriend just went veggie two months ago and after giving him my 49 repetitions for the past year, it turned out, I did not end up being number 50. Guess who was! Bill Clinton! Yep thats rights, he saw an interview of Bill talking about how going vegan helped reverse his heart disease, and the next few days my boyfriend was not eating meat at any meal. I finally noticed and said something and he would not really admit what made him go veggie, but I knew that was it! Im just glad he made it to 50! Now we can agree on raising our kids veggie, when we actually have some one day. Also, I agree it is not fun being someones 18, but I found that being as kind and informative as possible really inspires people. I used to get angry and yell back at people when they would make comments like ” your just killing yourself by not eating meat,” but that really got me nowhere with their ignorant minds, so I learned to just take a deep breath when someone is rude and show them that they cannot continue to be rude when I am being so kind.

    Stephanie says...

    February 17th, 2012, 4:17 am

    Also, if anyone wants a great book recommendation to help you go veggie in the easiest way, read “The Kind Diet” by Alicia Silverstone. Since I met her at my college a year ago and bought the book, my life was changed. She is my inspiration and I have reread her book many times and refer to sections of it every other day.
    :)

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