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Tips for Coping With Nonvegan Family Members

Posted by at 6:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)


Most of us “in the prime” of our senior years were hippies. As such, we have a longstanding tradition of free-love that includes birds, flowers, and trees. So how is it that we flower children gave birth to a generation that idolizes not free love and organic food but McDonalds and Hummers? Did we, a generation that knew a thing or two about being rebellious, get beaten at our own game?

 

I struggle with offspring who have sprung off just a little too far. The apple, it turns out, does fall far from the tree.

Since neither of my sons are vegetarian, their kids are not meat-free either, although I did get one of them to switch from cow’s milk to soymilk. So I, like many of my animal rights (AR) brothers and sisters, am living among carnivores-a difficult situation, to be sure. How do we survive the predicament in which we find ourselves?

I recommend humor-and lots of it.

For example, there is no more difficult situation than the following: Your son announces that his girlfriend is pregnant. The moment is tense, the air is palpably ice-hard, and everyone is looking at you to see what you will do. The frightened girl looks like she has been crying for hours. What do you do? You look at the girl, as I did in this situation, and ask her if she is absolutely sure the baby is hers.

My Irish humor saves me every time. One night, my eldest grandson, Austin, asked me why I wasn’t eating the chicken dinner like everyone else. “Animals are my friends,” I told him sweetly. “And I don’t eat my friends.” Austin looked confused for a minute and said, “But G-ma, it’s not animals, it’s chicken!” Everyone laughed, which confused Austin even more. I didn’t laugh; I smiled indulgently.

“Oh, and what is a chicken then?” I asked. “Is it a flower? A bug?” My son shot me a warning look; he was not comfortable with where this conversation was going (Really? What a shame!). I left the child to ponder the question. At 5 years old, he couldn’t be expected to make that connection. Yet. This was a teachable moment. (A great resource about animals, by the way, for young children is PETA Kids!)

Issues like lifestyle choices can be deal-breakers. They have been known to shatter families. One of my AR friends has not seen her grandchildren in years because her daughter-in-law refuses to let her kids be around “that nutcase” who “spouts that vegetarian stuff.” Tread carefully, fellow grandparents, or you may lose your visitation privileges, too, and that would be a terrible thing. You may need to be patient now so that you will have the opportunity to influence them later. Don’t preach. Teach. Look for teachable moments, because they are gifts. I didn’t bring it up-Austin did. I simply seized the moment and gave him something to consider.

It’s no fun being the one at the table who has to stuff your feelings down inside for fear of making everyone uncomfortable. But you are not alone, and gently making those around you uncomfortable is not the worst thing you can do. One of the four agreements in Miguel Ruiz’s book (called Four Agreements) is never to take anything personally. This is a good principle to remember on your vegan journey. Those around you who are uncomfortable are feeling that way because of their own guilt at doing something that they know, intuitively, is wrong. After all, in suffering, all animals are equal, and those around you, on some level, know this. So no matter what they say to you or how they treat you, know this: It’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s always been about them.

Got a good story to share about using humor to make it through a meal with carnivores? Please share.

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14 Comments

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    Daniela says...

    March 16th, 2012, 8:49 pm

    Thank you! I am a new vegan in a meat-eater house… And you gave me some tool to maintain my position!

    Diane Beelman says...

    March 16th, 2012, 8:56 pm

    Great article! My kids are vegan and vegetarian as am I. But the in-laws are the ones who I have to deal with. It’s a losing battle! You can’t argue with ignorance.

    Branáin says...

    March 16th, 2012, 8:58 pm

    I think the worst thing to do is turn children into a battle ground for eating habits. It’s important for children to learn to think for themselves, but this depends a lot upon their own developmental stage. I like the idea of “teachable moments.” I see many of those in my own house.

    In my partner’s family, I have become the target of the meat-eater’s wrath, not because I am trying to indoctrinate the children into becoming vegetarians, but because they are questioning meat-eating all on their own. They seem to forget that before I was around, they were already eating vegetarian most of the time.

    One family member suggested that I sit in the garage and eat vegetables while everyone else enjoyed a juicy steak in the house. Of course, little does she know, the children actually enjoy tofu, bean burgers, and heaping piles of vegetables, so they’d probably be in the garage with me.

    I’m thinking of setting up the summer table in the garage and inviting all of the meat eaters over for a vegan buffet.

    Sarah says...

    March 16th, 2012, 9:06 pm

    I am vegetarian. My parents and sister don’t eat as much meat as many people, but don’t avoid it either. Sometimes, we don’t make enough meat for dinner or someone wants seconds. Whenever this happens, I pretend that I am making a huge personal sacrifice by foregoing my piece, and it’s usually funny enough that I don’t have to eat it. Plus, it makes sure my family can’t eat meat without considering the moral implications, yet we don’t have to get in a heated debate over every meat meal.

    Annie says...

    March 16th, 2012, 10:00 pm

    This was awesome advice and insight – thank you!

    Pamela C. says...

    March 16th, 2012, 10:10 pm

    In a way, I am lucky. I never did have children, so no disputes there, but the rest of my family are not only meat eaters, they are conservative republican and, in some cases, gun nuts. Family get-togethers can become a little strained, to say the least, so I usually say the least. I think you are very right, humor is the best course of action.

    Issis says...

    March 16th, 2012, 10:12 pm

    I’ve never had much of a sense of humor … and none concerning harm to children or animals. It is truly gut-wrenching to try and pretend that my friends and family’s continued eating of slaughtered creatures … especially veal, foie gras and similar fair … in light of their knowledge of what is entailed in providing them those “delicacies” … is not only repugnant but infuriating at a deep level. How can they derive even momentary pleasure from eating something they know was obtained only at the terrible, life-long torture of a sentient creature? Worse, most devour the pieces of those sacrificed creatures in sauces or gulp them down while engrossed in conversation … making the whole experience even more horrific. I have become less, not more tolerant of such indifference. I grew up without knowledge of the suffering inherent in provding meat and poultry to our daily meals. Once I knew, there was no question but that I would no longer eat animals. I cannot understand why others … especially my famiy and friends … now equally informed … continue to ignore the horror inherent in their food choices. It is a continual source of sadness and anger.

    Michael says...

    March 16th, 2012, 11:48 pm

    This is fabulous. Especially that last paragraph. You just confirmed for me what I was already feeling. It’s their guilt that allows them to totally lose their manners and then outright insult one of us. I have been shocked at the rudeness from extended family members at holidays. Eyes rolling blatantly etc – even though I didn’t say a word other than ‘no thanks I don’t eat animals’. All I am thinking is how I was polite enough to refrain from rolling my eyes over so and so’s ugly dress etc!! But manners are tossed out the window for all those guilty people! Thank you! This will help me deal with it better.

    Tina Max says...

    March 17th, 2012, 7:41 am

    It is a difficult situation being for a vegan to be surrounded by carnivores (there is something negatively implicit in using the word “carnivore”.) But anyway, I do lunch periodically with a non-vegan friend and we have come to terms with vegan/nonvegan, we just don’t discuss the situation any longer because the situation becomes tense, like tension in the air, I haven’t changed my position and she hasn’t changed hers. But in general, I think vegans are more evolved and someday the human race will look back and comment, we did what/that to the animals???

    Kim says...

    March 17th, 2012, 9:28 am

    I am so thankful that my four grandchildren are all vegetarian. My youngest son and daughter in law are vegetarian, and my other son is mostly vegetarian though he eats fish occasionally which I detest! My heart goes out to anyone whose closest loved ones violate the dearest held ethical beliefs of the person who gave birth to them. I simply allow no animal flesh or animal derived food products in my home. And I do not eat at the tables of those who engage in animal consumption. This becomes more of an issue with my extended family, but thankfully not with my own kids and grandkids.

    Breanna says...

    March 18th, 2012, 10:04 pm

    So far, the hardest thing about being a vegan is watching my family members drink milk, eat meat and scarf down eggs and cheese every single day. It is soo hard not having any vegan friends, sometimes I just feel so alone and frustrated at all the ignorance around me. Animals are absolute sweethearts….how can anyone eat them knowing that they suffered at the hand of man for a ‘tasty’ dinner? That scares the crap outa me. I might just go insane!

    Pigeonlover says...

    May 3rd, 2012, 7:07 pm

    It’s so terrible, I live in a house full of ingnorants. I tell them meat is cruel and show them videos of the horrors in factory farms, they dismiss me. I tell them about animal testing and show photos of victims, they make jokes like “but now the mice must be so clean and nice lolololol”. And I try to teach them about the fur industry.
    My friend thinks, no matter how many videos and photos I give her, the meat everyone eats is raised on a real farm, and killed quickly, and dairy cows are dehorned with anesthetic. IDIOTS!
    God! When I have kids, they will be vegan!!
    At least I’ve been successful turning my mom vegetarian.
    :(

    Lois says...

    May 29th, 2012, 2:01 pm

    I am a brand new vegetarian in training, so to speak. i am over 70 and I feel sad not to have become enlightened sooner. Coming from a family of HUGE meat eaters at least I have a bit more time to make amends by eating well and leaving my sentient fellow earthling dwellers be…..no more torture on my account!!!

    This article is so helpful, as I am in the process of gently “coming out” to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren regarding my life decision. I promise to keep my sense of humor where possible and to show kindness to all my family as I learn and grow. Never to late…right?

    Cheyenne says...

    January 3rd, 2013, 5:41 pm

    This article is very helpful. I live in a family of carnivores, so I can use some advice now and then.

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