Why Holding Your Tongue Isn’t Doing Meat Eaters Any Favors

Rachel Krantz|
December 13, 2017

The mind boggles at the fact that I made it through 27 years without anyone asking me why I ate animals. I was raised in the Bay Area, went to school in New York City, and have known countless vegetarians all my life. Surely I’d asked them at points why they were vegetarian, but they seemed to go out of their way not to make me explain myself.

On our first date, my partner asked me why I defined myself as “mostly vegetarian.” It was the first time I remember someone asking me.

“I don’t know… actually, I’ve always felt really weird about eating meat. That’s why I try not to too much… I guess I never thought of myself as an animal person, so I didn’t feel like it was my issue… or I didn’t want to seem picky… I don’t know.”

“Do you believe we have a right to eat animals?”

“I don’t, no. I don’t know. I have no excuse.”

I wasn’t offended. In fact, I felt grateful that someone was finally calling me out on my hypocrisy. All I’d needed was that one direct question. I never ate animal flesh again. Six months later, I watched Earthlings and went vegan. I think I’m like many of us who make the switch: My only regret is that I didn’t expose myself to the truth sooner and that no one thought it was their place to help me confront it.

Of course, now that I’m vegan, I understand their hesitation. People are constantly asking us to justify our beliefs, and the last thing we want to do is the same to someone else. If you’re not in the mood, that’s totally fine, but I take issue with the view that we are doing people a favor or being more effective activists if we avoid making people uncomfortable.

The idea that it’s confrontational or aggressive to ask people why they aren’t vegan is wrong, in my opinion. If done from a place of patience and compassion, giving someone the opportunity to question their behavior and make a positive change is incredibly kind. Respectfully flipping the question Why are you vegan? to Why aren’t you? shows people that you believe they are able to self-reflect.

Since I went vegan, many friends and family members have followed my example. Some of our early conversations were uncomfortable, but everyone appreciated the opportunity to evolve.

If you’re averse to confrontation (guilty as charged, sometimes), an especially effective approach to keep in mind is “the feedback sandwich.” The idea is simple: Start with positive reinforcement, put the critique in the middle, and end with more positive reinforcement.

I employed this method with a yoga teacher on Thanksgiving.

Here’s what I said:

I loved your class and how you talked about your daughter and being grateful. I just want to give you one piece of constructive feedback because I can tell you’re a caring person. When you shared that you were looking forward to eating turkey, it made me sad and took me out of my practice. As a vegan, when I hear about turkeys being eaten on Thanksgiving, I don’t think of “turkey” but a turkey—an individual whose life was taken—and the millions of mother and baby birds. I wanted to share that with you because I could tell you would be appreciative. Thanks again for a beautiful class.

The teacher had actual tears in his eyes, and he thanked me for telling him. Not only am I sure he’ll never make a light remark about eating animals again, but I’ll bet he didn’t look at the dead turkey on his plate the same way that day. Saying how his words made me feel was the kindest action I could have taken. I trusted that he could hear what I had to say, and in so doing, gave him the chance to grow. There’s nothing rude or pushy about that. It’s actually very generous.

So remember (especially over the holidays with family): Speaking up with respect and compassion will do anyone you talk to much more of a favor than holding your tongue. And the animals need us to do it, even if it’s uncomfortable. Who knows—maybe by next year someone will be thanking you for helping them confront the truth.

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