What to do About our Non-Vegetarian (vegan) Loved Ones

my freezer, 7:26PM (It's not my fault!)

my freezer, 7:26PM (It's not my fault!)

I always struggle with how to deal with my non-vegetarian (vegan) loved ones. On the one hand, I love them to death and don’t want to alienate them by continuously explaining to them the immorality of some of their food choices. On the other hand, I feel that I have a moral obligation to let them know how I feel and to at least try to get them to make food choices that are morally acceptable.

As you would expect, this becomes a big problem during holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Trying to convince someone to stop eating meat when s/he  has had turkey for both holidays for the last thirty years is a daunting task.

In my case, the problem is compounded by my Puerto Rican roots. As anyone who has visited the island knows, meat (usually factory farmed) is an essential part of the Puerto Rican diet. Trying to convince a Puerto Rican to give up eating “lechón” (roasted pig) during the holidays is close to impossible.

Ultimately, I’ve decided to deal with this problem by doing two things. First, I explain to my loved ones why I decided to become a vegetarian and why I strongly believe that our food choices have significant moral implications. Second, I try to do what I can to influence their food choices. The latter is particularly difficult to do, as I’ve noticed that the only thing that seems to (sometimes) change my loved ones eating habits is asking them to at least buy meat that is humanely raised. In essence, I ended up adopting an incrementalist approach to the problem.

Has it worked? Partially. I think that my loved ones are more aware about the moral implications of their food choices than before. They also try to buy meat and egg products from free ranging chickens. On the other hand, I just checked my freezer (see picture above), and there’s still meat there, and I suspect some of it is not humanely raised (I didn’t buy it, in case you’re wondering….).

I’m curious to know how the readers of the Animal Blawg deal with this issue. Any suggestions/anecdotes/comments/pictures of your freezer are welcome.

Luis Chiesa

4 Responses

  1. I can’t really give advice for how to deal with this on your side, but I can explain what it feels like on the other side. Many of us that still eat meat, yet complain about the brutality of factory farms, recognize our hypocrisy. Yet some of us, or perhaps I’m speaking for myself, don’t have many other options if we were to remove meat entirely from our diet. Now, before the backlash begins, let me clarify that I do know about meatless products, such as hamburgers and chicken nuggets etc. And while these sometimes are good replacements, they are often very expensive, (I was looking at a small box of meatless chicken nuggets at the store the other day, and it cost $6 for about 6-7 chicken nuggets, vs $5 for about 20 regular nuggets, and for a law student like myself with no income, this makes it hard to stretch my meager budget) And, at least for me, meatless options such as nuggets and burgers don’t provide the same texture. Now, I know what some of you are thinking, texture– that means you enjoy the texture of flesh etc etc. But for myself, having lost my sense of taste and smell, texture is the only thing I have left when it comes to consuming food. Texture is the only thing I can focus on because I have nothing else, so it means a lot more to me than perhaps it does to others that can enjoy taste and flavour. As far as substituting other vegetarian options, there are about 3 other non meat meals that I can eat without cringing. For me, the thought of eating vegetables or other meatless meals (noodly stuff, maybe other squishy things) is a bit similar to people on those fear factor shows that have to eat cow testicles and bugs. Obviously that isn’t vegetarian either, but my point is, that many many other non meatless options make me cringe as much as those people who consume those awful things on these ridiculous tv shows. Its frustrating for me, on the other side, to hear people say that going vegetarian is easy, because yes, it is for some people that enjoy vegetables and noodles and all of the other meatless meals that are available, but for those of us that hate those options, it is much much harder for us to cross over into the world of non hypocrisy. Imagine someone told you that to be moral you had to eat variations of seaweed for the rest of your life (although I’m sure there are many reading this that probably enjoy seaweed, but that’s the only reference I can think of that vegetarians might not enjoy). My point is, that it is hard for those of us that are extremely EXTREMELY picky eaters to cut out meat entirely from our diets. For example, in the days before I lost my sense of taste, I only liked 1 salad dressing, which is rather rare and rarely, if ever, carried in restaurants. So while eating out with friends at a restaurant that doesn’t offer veggie burgers as a substitute (and again, we have texture issues here) I was left with not many options on the menu, aside from perhaps french fries or another potato variation. So I have accepted my hypocrisy because I know that if I cut out meat entirely I probably wouldn’t eat much (I only eat about once a day as it is, so going completely meatless would bring me down to about 3 meals a week) However, I do attempt to consume as little meat as possible, and sometimes will have spaghetti for almost every meal for entire weeks at a time before I get annoyed. Finally, for me, another important picture to take in the home is not just in the fridge or freezer, but in the bathroom and shower. Many people, although perhaps not this on this blog, who advocate vegetarianism because of its moral implications, still use shampoo and other cosmetic products that are tested on animals, which I consider just as barbaric as far as the suffering and pain inflicted on the animals (although they aren’t slaughtered in the same manner, so again, hold off on the backlash). I understand that I am a hypocrite when it comes to meat, but I also need to eat, and I know that if I cut out meat entirely I wouldn’t eat very much. But cosmetics has nothing to do with survival, so I don’t personally understand how those who decry meat eating can justify using these types of products tested on animals (unless they are vegan or use vegan product, but again I venture to say that many do not). So, perhaps this might give you better insight into the other side, or perhaps it might come across as a lame justification. Either way, I wanted to point out that switching to a vegetarian diet is a lot easier for some than others, and this is why your side continues, and will continue, to struggle with this hurdle.

  2. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, and a vegan for almost 2. I do NOT think it is my moral obligation to alienate friends and family by preaching the morality of humane food. I can lead by example, however, and that has far more impact. I’m healthier, thinner, and I don’t have the kinds of digestive problems many meat-eaters do. If someone wants to know how I feel, I’ll tell them. Otherwise, it’s their personal choice. Just as it is mine.

    If you try to explain to a person more than once why you think they shouldn’t eat animal products, then you can hardly blame them for leaving you off the next invitation list. This is a bad as trying to convert someone to a (or another) religion. Cut it out. You’re not helping the movement.

  3. I appreciate my colleague’s concerns and sensitivity. So here is my response as a person who is not and never will be a vegetarian.

    I am and have been an active civil libertarian for forty years. I happen to oppose the death penalty, support gay and lesbian equality and believe a woman’s right to choose must remain a fundamental right. Now I have dear friends who have opposing views on some of these issues. They certainly know where I stand because my positions are a matter of frequent public record. I don’t feel a duty to convert them anymore than I appreciate being proselytized to in a social setting.

    Of course when someone is in my home a normal expectation is that my values are reflected there and those choosing to visit abide by them, e.g., no smoking. And if I go to a vegan’s home I do not make churlish jokes about the cuisine or the host’s moral commitment. On the other hand I don’t want a lesson in factory farming directed at me. I can explore those issues if and when I so desire.

    Common courtesy is the key. If those close to us ask questions or a genuine intellectual discourse starts, then passionate advocacy can be part of a family or social gathering. But the risk is always that alienation rather than elucidation will occur.

  4. I’ve moved back to my family home full-time for the first time in seven years. I was an omnivore when I left, and am a vegan upon return. I was interested to see how the meals would play out, especially since my mother loves to cook for everyone, and most of her dishes typically had meat in them, or centered around meat.

    Thankfully, with my father adopting a vegetarian diet, eliminating the meat has been easier than I could have hoped. For the vegan requirements, I have been successful educating my family about substitutes for a lot of animal products, showing what else we can use in baking, and requesting soy milk and butter. I appreciate Steph’s point about cost, and that is certainly a consideration for my family, despite my argument that they are really paying more for animal products via tax dollars.

    The most successful approach I have found overall is offering to cook. I cannot do this every night, but I am trying to cook an all vegan meal, with multiple courses, at least once a week. I invite my close friends over, and I tell them about the food. I’ve noticed that the first and hardest obstacle to overcome is the average person’s ignorance about vegetarian and vegan food; it’s not just salad. When I do talk to my friends and family about food, I bring it up in small dosages. I tell them that I would love to be eating as an omnivore again, but the system needs fixing first. The annoying thing is, all of my loved ones recoil in horror at video evidence of farmed animal abuse, but they block that out to enjoy their steaks. So it goes.

    I agree, Prof. Chiesa, that holidays are still daunting. I still am working on getting the turkey out of Thanksgiving. My advice is to get some really good cookbooks, offer to cook, buy the ingredients, and take over dinner as often as your schedule allows. It’s a gradual thing, and no one is going to change overnight, but sometimes great things happen. My mom is now mostly vegetarian by default, just because I helped her find new ways to cook.

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