So, reading through ZEEL I feel like a lot of people are sharing their environmental ethic, their own personal environmental accomplishments, and what they think needs to be done/changed in the world. Which is awesome! But, I’m going to mix it up a bit. Like many of you out there—as an adult, my lifestyle of the past 7 or so years is nothing like the comfy suburban lifestyle my loving parents tried to share with me. I have made many changes in pursuit of a simple, low carbon footprint lifestyle and each change only makes me feel that much richer.
But, the purpose of my post is more of a “Dear Abby” style—“Dear ZEEL” if you will. Making changes, making sacrifices, cutting out comforts, these things are relatively easy for me. What is difficult for me… is being kind about it. Maybe kind isn’t the most appropriate word but I’m not sure what is. I’m a better “model” of good, eco-friendly behavior than a “campaigner,” you know? Basically, I’m a dogmatic vegetarian…and I need help. I feel like I’m at an AA meeting… but really people! I fear I am giving our movement a bad rep and that is the opposite of what we need right now. We need people to feel inspired, encouraged, and welcomed by the vegetarian movement—not pushed away.
For whatever reason, I have always (and probably will always) enjoyed absolutes—the definitive, incontrovertible rights and wrongs of the world. When everything is packaged into tidy little boxes labeled “good” or “bad” all decisions are made that much easier. I suppose when everything is labeled in such a manner you only have one decision ahead of you—to do what is “right” or to rebel and do what is “wrong.”
If I know the “rules” of life it makes it easy for me to do well/thrive. Absolutes such as “always look before you cross the street,” “sleep 8 hours a night,” and “always say please and thank you” are comforting to me because when I follow these rules I feel like I am doing the “right” thing. Unfortunately, such absolutes rarely exist in the world of morality. So, as you can imagine, the metaphorical rulebook I’m trying to write on “how to live the most environmentally friendly life as an American in 2017” isn’t going so hot.
My post is inspired by a quote from Dr. Henning’s “Morality in the Making.” As you can see, this quote is incredibly relevant to my dogmatic tendencies…something I’m not exactly proud of.
In some ways, we all live out the Golden Rule, right? We unconsciously treat others the way that we would like to be treated (see The Five Love Languages if you’re familiar with this concept). Anyways, the point is you will unconsciously treat and speak to people in the ways in which you expect/would like to be treated. Due to my weird dogmatic tendencies, I appreciate directness, brashness, and someone telling me exactly what to do and why. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is…I was a really bad vegetarian. It’s not what you’re thinking—I had no problem not eating meat. But when someone (friend, family, stranger, whoever) would ask me why I wasn’t eating meat my normally extroverted and loud spoken self would start stuttering over words trying to defend myself.
I knew I couldn’t say, “because it’s the right thing to do” since, after me, no one on this planet is receptive to that kind of answer. I also didn’t want to make it about death and pain because I personally believe that the practice of hunting in itself is not unethical, although it certainly can be depending on the execution. I also refused to take the “better for my health” argument because while being vegetarian can offer a multitude of health benefits… that is NOT the reason I am vegetarian. I also believe that directing the argument towards one’s own personal wellbeing, rather than addressing the larger issues at hand, is a missed opportunity.
So, what am I left with? Facts? Numbers? Do I tell my questioning tablemate that agriculture is the #3 contributor to greenhouse gases? That cattle grazing is the primary cause for deforestation in the Amazon? That livestock takes up 30% of the Earth’s land mass? That the very burger they are chewing on required some 600 gallons of water?
For years it was a failed conversation. And it was a failure because I would either resort to the numbers and facts which no one want’s to hear during their meat meal… Or, after becoming exhausted from having to defend myself at each meal, I began to use short phrases like “for sustainability” or “environmental efficiency” which also didn’t do much to move the conversation in a positive direction. I felt I was either overwhelming someone with information/becoming argumentative trying to convince people that global climate change existed… or I was being too curt/rude by practically ending the conversation with two words. So, after accepting defeat as a shoddy vegetarian… I decided to eat meat in front of people.
I am still a vegetarian under the safety of my own roof. I don’t buy meat and it is not a part of my lifestyle. However, when I go to family reunions, I don’t spend my dinners with the breakfast muffins anymore or hide from my Uncle Chuck when he asks me why he doesn’t see his famous grilled chicken on my plate. I don’t ask the waitress for chickenless chicken alfredo when I’m out with my coworkers or even friends. I’ve given up on the idea of inspiring or “campaigning” for the environment in terms of a vegetarian diet. For some reason I will never understand, people take food personally. It doesn’t matter if they made it, bought it, or even if you’re eating under their roof. When you choose to nourish your body in a different manner than the norm, it’s attacked. Not always, of course. But time and time again I am asked about my choice in a less than kind matter and with defensive rebuttals no matter my response.
I know becoming silent is not the answer. I know I can only invoke so much (micro as it is) change to the “system” and if we want true change we need a bigger movement. But, I don’t know what the right response is. I don’t know how to speak to someone and keep them from thinking that my tofu pepperoni sandwich is a personal attack on them and their lifestyle. I don’t know how to politely share my thoughts/ethic in a way that might make someone ponder the impacts of their diet later, instead of argue with me now.
I know I’m not the only vegetarian on this blog that has dealt with these issues. How do you handle them? Do you have a short elevator speech you say each time? Do you avoid words like “climate change” and “greenhouse gases” to prevent having to defend the argument of global climate change to a denier in the span of your twenty minute meal? How do you handle education gaps? For people who don’t know what methane is, the importance of the Amazon rain forest, or even basic water issues? Do you try to explain yourself using science and reasoning or simply smile and make it sound personal and say something like “it’s just a decision I made.” Share your insights with me! Successes, failures, all of it.
Thanks for listening and I appreciate any and all feedback.