I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think that if I have to sit through another family holiday meal during which my opinionated uncle gives me a hard time about not eating meat, I’m going to be really tempted to pull his chair out from under him as I walk by.
But as appealing as the thought of showing an insensitive relative the fast route to the dining-room floor can sometimes be, I know that it will do little to encourage him to become more concerned about animals. So this holiday season, I have prepared some snappy comebacks for when Uncle Talksalot starts up:
“How are you getting enough protein?”
Really? That again? I recently learned this fact: Pound for pound, broccoli has more protein than steak. A lot of foods have more protein per serving than meat, actually, such as asparagus, cauliflower, peanuts, oats, spinach, almonds, mung-beans, pumpkin seeds, and quinoa. So, unless we’re filling up on junk food (ahem, Mr. Two BIG Pieces of Pie), it’s almost impossible for us vegans to eat as many calories as we need without getting enough protein.
“If animals weren’t meant to be eaten, why are they made of meat?”
You might as well argue that if poisonous toadstools weren’t meant to be eaten, why would they be made of mushroom? And my uncle’s body is made of “meat,” too, but we aren’t going there.
The fact that some people choose to eat other living beings, such as turkeys, pigs, and cows, doesn’t make the animals “food” any more than if some people chose to dominate and eat toddlers. If we go beyond our egocentric view of the world, we can see that animals are living, thinking, feeling beings who value their own lives, just as we do. So maybe a better question is, if humans were given brains and consciences, why don’t we use them?
“Animals aren’t as advanced as we are, so why should they have the same rights that we do?”
Well, I’ll argue “advanced” in a second, but I don’t think any animal advocate is asking that chickens be allowed to apply for a driver’s license. Nonetheless, animals should certainly have the right to be free from suffering. If having superior intelligence shouldn’t entitle one human to abuse another human, why should it entitle humans to abuse other animals?
And who gets to decide what qualifies as “advanced” and what doesn’t, anyway? Many animals can do things that humans can’t do. Cows possess an internal compass that allows them to align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field, which is why you often see a herd of cows grazing with their bodies pointed in the same direction. And when cows are sick, they know which herbs to eat to make them feel better. Fish can keep time with their own internal clocks, as can several other animals. And pigs are among the fastest learners on the planet. (Unlike certain people who can’t seem to figure out that everyone is tired of them playing the “pick-on-the-vegan” game.)
“God put animals here for us to use. The Bible gives us dominion over animals.”
What kind of God do you believe in: a mean one? “Dominion” doesn’t mean the right to subjugate, use, and abuse animals for our every whim. The Queen of England has “dominion” over her people, but that doesn’t mean that she can eat them, wear them, or experiment on them. There is nothing in the Bible that justifies humans tormenting and killing billions of animals every year. In fact, it’s the opposite: People who follow the Bible’s teachings are supposed to show compassion and mercy to others.
“It’s a tradition to eat turkey during the holidays.”
Just because something was done in the past doesn’t mean that we have to keep doing it in order to “keep with tradition.” It was also traditional to own slaves, deny women the right to vote, and use animals as crash-test dummies, until we realized that all those things are unjust. It’s also unjust to slaughter 45 million turkeys at Thanksgiving and another 22 million at Christmas. And there are plenty of harmless traditions, such as kissing under mistletoe or watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, that we can use to create lasting memories. (If that doesn’t work, perhaps I could add, “It’s also a tradition for you to pass out after dinner and take up the whole sofa, and we all wish that one would end, too.”)
I hope that these suggestions will help you if you find yourself sharing a table with your own Uncle Talksalot this holiday season.