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family matters

October 1, 2010

Today is “show your V day” on Facebook for World Vegetarian Day. I am lucky to have a friend who shared her very talented design work with me and made me an awesome logo for my profile that combines the V theme with the purple Animal Cruelty Awareness theme. The logo she designed says “Vegan & Proud.” I love the logo, but it has me questioning how much pride I am displaying.

As I celebrate my vegan pride in cyberspace, I am visiting my parents and am not exactly brandishing my ethical choices. I am in a house of necrovores and for the most part I am muted and soft spoken about my veganism (though they might disagree). It was not always this way, and my initial attempts to convince my family of my perspective has probably caused irreparable discomfort among us. The fact that this is my family complicates matters for two reasons. First, because these are the people I most want to see become vegan. Second, because these are the only necrovores with whom I am adamant about maintaining a relationship.

The ability to remain silent (or as silent as I can be) has taken years to master, and I am sure they would prefer more of it.  My greatest struggle on this visit has been the refrigerator. There was no attempt to carve out carnage free space for me and there was no shame on their part regarding the animals they were eating. They have what I guess is a typical U.S. refrigerator (or at least it is typical to me since it is what I grew up with). Just on a glance I saw something like 6 blocks/bags of various cheeses, a half gallon of milk, two cartons of eggs, a drawer full of meat (which my veggie sausage was later placed in), tubs of prepackaged microwaveable meat dishes, and one lamb’s shank bone, drying out and being preserved for a far-away Passover ceremony. And this doesn’t even touch the freezer. I will let you see the picture below and try to count all of the Omaha Steak boxes.

Amidst this environment, I don’t know if my behavior reflects someone who is “vegan & proud.” Is my silence reflective of pride? However, are my occasional comments or attempts at discussion (which have the potential to be arguments) helpful for the cause? Or does the pain in my voice give my family the idea I am “too emotional” and so my cause isn’t rational?

I started out a few years ago by being forceful for the above-mentioned reason that, as my family, these are the people I most want to see become vegan. I want this for several reasons. First, I want them to be more ethical for the animals whose lives they sacrifice for their own little pleasures. Second, I want them to be more ethical for the fact that I simply do not want the scar of their crimes. People concerned with social equality among humans don’t want their family members to be bigots or sexists just as vegans don’t want their families to be meat-mouths or speciesists. I feel this is an especially frantic way in regard to my father, who funded all of the advantages I was given in life with a career built on the broken and tortured bodies of mice and rats, many of whom had the misfortune of being the subjects of his experiments. His atonement through veganism would assuage the complex and confusing feelings I have at having so much love for someone who has willingly engaged in so much torture and murder.

I also want them to be vegan for their own health. A recent health crisis in the family seemed a perfect time to me for them to transition to veganism, a sure route to improved health in this situation. However, they all persist in the consumption of dead animals and let rotten flesh eat away at their health in a strange karmic dance in which, through deteriorating health, they slowly pay the price for their moral indiscretions regarding animals.

This issue of love is the second reason I think that people try so hard to convince their families to be veg’n; I know it is for me. Having the people who you love most make the choices and engage in behavior you find morally reprehensible is difficult to manage. No matter your choice of allegiance there will be pain, there will be confusion, and there will be frustration.

I think that vegans try harder and care more when I comes to their families than with anyone else because we love them and many of us feel we need them in our lives. Even though the battle may be futile, may strain or end relationships, and may be an ineffective use of time (time that might be better spent teaching more receptive individuals about animal cruelty and the need for veganism) I pushed more fervently, as do many vegans, when it came to my family.

But for the first time in a long time, on the very day I am supposed to be “vegan & proud” I remain as silent as I know how to be. I do this for the same reason I used to push so hard. I love my family and I can’t bear the thought of loosing them. As my engagement in family holidays have become a thing of the past and visits home become more and more assaulting to me, I become more acutely aware that my ethical choice simply pisses people off, makes them feel uncomfortable and may make them not want to be around me or me them.

Let me be clear, my choices are accepted and acknowledged in a non-hostile manner. My family accepts the reasons behind my choice not to engage in holiday celebrations, they find restaurants I can eat at, and my mom still takes her adult daughter shopping and goes the extra length of finding cruelty free clothes. They do this at the same time that I am guilty of the same type of impoliteness as are they. My brother, who is sober, always offers to be my designated driver and accepts my choice to drink when we go out in a way I don’t accept his choice to eat meat. As a vegan, I believe these are very different scenarios, but as a necrovore he doesn’t, so I know my behavior must to him seem inconsistent and odd.

Unlike my brother who accepts my choice to drink, I do not and will not ever accept their choices to eat and wear animals. However, I am trying to learn to remain silent. I do this because I want to maintain relationships with the people I love. But I don’t know if my silence is silencing the animals I want so desperately to help.

Today I will be vegan and proud online but silent and conflicted in the “real” world. I don’t know if this is a good decision or a moral decision or simply one of those decisions you make when there is no good option to choose from.

Your thoughts?…

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Sherylcatmom permalink
    October 1, 2010 3:42 pm

    I think I come from the same Jewish family. My inner struggles regarding my family are much as you describe. Last year my father had triple-bypass surgery; both my parents take statins; both are overweight and consume animal body parts and secretions with every meal. I want them to feel good, be healthy, and live long. Yet there is nothing I can say or do that motivates them to change. I imagine they feel much the same about me.

  2. October 1, 2010 4:31 pm

    Yay! A new blog post! I know I’ve told you this before but it merits saying again that your “silence” played a very pivotal role in my decision to become veg’n…and you are the last person on which I would ever use the “s” word to describe your attitude towards the animals. Their plight forms the crux of your academia, vocation and spare time, and your compassion is not lost on anybody who knows you.

    I can totally relate to wanting my family to become vegan out of love and while I have definitely made some impact on my family members (e.g. my dad called the other day to say he almost ate a big steak, then thought about me and had carrots, an apple and cookies instead and my mom is looking forward to trying some of the veg’n places I tell her about next time she comes to visit), I have accepted the slim likelihood of any of them becoming veg’n.

    You are an inspiration!!

  3. October 1, 2010 6:49 pm

    Good for you for writing about what is painful for many. Curiously, another blogger just wrote a post re much the same issue(s) (

    It may not be useful for you to know you are not alone with the sort of struggles you describe….but you are not.

    Your brother being unable to grasp the difference between doing something to ones self versus doing something to another living being seems bizarre. However, there are many that try to pretend that eating dead animals is a personal choice just as is being vegan…. that is sort of like saying rape and masturbation are personal choices… far as that goes, the argument could be made that everything we do is a personal choice…..the difference arises when the personal choice involves other lives. The syllogistic structure to equate choices only involving ones self versus choices involving others escapes me…..

    I ramble, excuse me, thanks for writing and I regret your pain and I thank you on behalf of the animals.

  4. October 2, 2010 2:51 am

    I share many of your frustrations and heartaches when it comes to veganism, activism, and family. I understand you are in a tough position, and it’s really hard. It’s hard both seeing an innocent animal being consumed by your family, and it is hard seeing your family eat something that you know will hurt their health. I have not had much luck either of convincing my family to go vegan. At first they thought my decision to go vegan was crazy and they didn’t take anything I said seriously and didn’t want to listen, so I just kept to myself for a while. Then one night at dinner my brother and my dad taunted me with a rib bone and I couldn’t hold it in any longer so we got into a huge argument. My dad told me to stop telling him where his food came from because he said he just not “give a sh** about animals”. So now when talking to my family about veganism I focus more on the health benefits of eating vegan, because I know they care about their health, and I care about their health as well. So I have recently been making as many vegan dishes as I can to share with my family and I let them know the health benefits of what they are eating. And my family members are now eating more vegan food because they have come to accept that it is healthy. And I’ve seen a slight shift in the contents of the refrigerator and freezer. So even if you are able to help them switch from cows milk ice cream to soy ice cream because they would like a low fat ice cream, you will still be making a difference for animals, and helping your family eat healthier. But I guess that depends on how accepting your family is of trying vegan foods. Once you have tried one avenue and have tried as hard as you can to convince them of the cruelties in what they eat and they still don’t change, then in my opinion you have done what you can. Then if you also tell your family about how animal products will hurt their health and that you are concerned about them, and still no change, then you cannot blame yourself, because you tried. I don’t mean to tell you that I think you should stop trying, but I wouldn’t blame yourself.

    In terms of balancing standing up for animals and keeping family ties… I feel like there is a balance. In my case, the more involved I get in the AR movement and the more time I spend at protests, the more my dad is convinced I must care less about my family and tells me “you must not love your family anymore.” And since I do love my family, and even though I know what he says is not really how I feel, somehow I still feel guilty about the tension I have caused in the family by my activism. So I have tried to find that balance of trying to educate my family on as many animal abuse issues as I can and being able to retain a decent relationship with my family. I know that if my family and I get into an argument that we have already had, it is probable that no progress will be made for animals; it will only create more tension within my family. And if there is tension in my family it makes it less likely I will be able to help them make changes, even if they are small positive changes.

    Sorry this is such a long response, and I understand every person and every family is different, but I hope that somehow what I have shared about my experiences provides some help. It is such a hard situation, and I am so sorry you have to go through it. I know that you do so many wonderful things for animals, and you have helped many people to live more compassionate lives. So if you have tried all you can to convince your family to live a vegan lifestyle and they still won’t then you have done what you can for your family and for animals. But that does not mean you have to give up hope for your family changing. Maybe one day they will change. But if they don’t, you know that you tried as much as you could. And even if you don’t say anything about veganism to your family, just by being you, and by being vegan, in a way you are not silent. You represent a positive influence that radiates when you are around them. They probably think about veganism when you are around. And maybe one day it will influence them to make a positive change as well. Always remember you are an amazing activist and you do so much for animals. Your family and the animals are lucky to have you.

    • October 3, 2010 5:57 am

      Great comment LA, thanks for writing it.

    • October 4, 2010 12:10 pm

      Don’t ever apologize for long comments–I like reading them and it makes me feel better about writing them!

      Your family situation is pretty interesting. I think the comments I have for Vegina will apply to you as well, LA.

      Here is how I think I somewhat resolved my problem with my family. It should help with others because I think this issue is universal, so thanks for bringing it up on this blog!

      1. Make them stop thinking of you as “weird”.

      People make adjustments for others whose views they don’t agree with every day. The only time they don’t adjust in general is when they think this person is a radical, or is “weird”, or to put it in an academic context, “queer”.

      I simply confronted the family members I care about and said, “Look. I know I hold a minority view in society, but so do many other people on many other issues. Look at history. Christians were a minority, and now you’re a Christian. Abolitionists were a minority, and you don’t own slaves! Please don’t dismiss me as weird.”

      I think at this point it flipped a switch in their heads that said, “Okay, this is my son and he really believes what he is saying. I should take him seriously.”

      To some degree, it isn’t even their fault. Media, even liberal, teaches this dismissive attitude towards minority view. The Bugle, a political comedy podcast I really enjoy (featuring the Daily Show’s John Oliver [the English one]), has on a number of occasions said that Vegetarianism is something people should grow out of after University.

      2. Let them know that there is a consequence of them not adjusting, and that is alienating you from the family. Tell them that they have an equal responsibility to maintain the relationship, even though you’re the one who changed.

      I think that people say, “I’m not different; they’re the one rocking the boat, so why should I do anything?” Deep down, we might believe this too and so feel guilty about the stress on the relationship. However, this is an unreasonable result of our social education, placing an incredibly weight on family, even more than ethics in some cases. Pretty Confucian actually.

      When I noticed that my time at home and especially at the dinner table was becoming untenable, I said, “Look Mom and Dad, I really love you and I don’t ever want to lose you, but I am starting to feel increasingly more unwelcome here. I love this family as much as you do and I know you think I am the cause of the discord here, but I need you to make an effort too. If I were doing something you thought was wrong and self-destructive, you would be on me all the time to change it. Because you love me. It’s the same with me. I love you and this is important to me so I can’t shut up, but I will do everything I can not to lose you, so you need to do some things for me too.” Like have a meat-free section of the fridge.

      The fact that your families already go places you can eat is great. My mother always insists that I choose the restaurant since “we(my parents) can eat anywhere”. 9 times out of 10 she east vegetarian and my Dad apologizes for eating meat, which his doctor has said he must because of a B12 deficiency resulting from disease.

      I have to say, the most effective thing I did was appeal to them on a personal level. I told my mother that she inspired me to become a vegan because she always taught me to treat all animals well and that they, as living beings, deserve the same respect as humans. I also told her I respect her for this, though it is hard when she eats meat, which is hypocritical. I’ll get her to go VEG one day!

      Thanks everyone here for reading this and thanks for your posts.

      Thanks Vegina!

      • October 5, 2010 11:42 pm

        Thank you LB for sharing your experiences and for the tips. It is always helpful to read other people’s similar experiences, in helping deal with your own experiences in your life. I feel this really is a tough issue for a lot of vegans and it does help to hear from other vegans who experience similar frustrations with their family and how they dealt with them. Thanks again!

  5. Jaya Bhumitra permalink
    October 2, 2010 8:46 am

    Thanks for sharing this Carol. I didn’t know your father was a scientist, and find that very interesting, in light of who you have become. Was it his research that prompted you to question our role in animal suffering or did you come to veganism another way? What kind of research did/does he do?

    I have spoken to many vegans who say that their families are the hardest to change, and that they have more influence outside the home with strangers than they do with the people they love most, which, as you mentioned, is difficult. I have an aunt who does a lot of fundraising for cancer research which hurts me because 1) she supports organizations that engage in animal testing, and 2) a cure (or at the very least a preventative measure, though we have all also heard the reversal stories) for cancer already exists. It amazes me that people would rather spend millions of dollars and years looking for a pill to cure them just so they can continue to keep to their lazy diets. Not even the threat of their own death is enough to move people to try veganism. If they are so unwilling to give up meat that they accept death as a consequence, how can we sway them toward a healthier (and more humane) life? It’s an uphill battle.

    I’m lucky in that both my parents have been very supportive, particularly my mom who eats vegan about 90% of the time, and vegetarian the last 10%. She was a pesco-vegetarian until recently, when I started to send her all these articles on fish intelligence and sensitivity to pain. I’m working on my dad. He philosophically doesn’t want to hurt animals, but he is very absent-minded professor and doesn’t pay attention to ingredient labels. He tends to eat whatever is put in front of him, and when he goes to business lunches or dinners, he usually eats fish (but not chicken or beef which we never really ate, even as children). He also excitedly tells me when he gets frozen yogurt, and forgets every time that it is going to upset me. However, he is making some progress. Just a day ago he came home and asked me to read the ingredient labels on 2 protein drinks he brought home. This is after I repeatedly sent him back to the store to return the Naked Juices and Odawallas he had bought that had whey in them. I was actually really proud, because both of the drinks he chose were in fact vegan. I also posted some really disgusting images of dairy farming on my fridge to gross him out and discourage him from drinking milk. My mom and I make sure to keep the fridge well-stocked with almond and soy milks, and the freezer stocked with plenty of Coconut Bliss so that my dad never opens the fridge or freezer and says “Oh i better go get some milk or ice cream.” Like I said, he doesn’t mean to hurt animals, but he isn’t very conscious and will eat what’s in front of him. So, if I put vegan foods in front of him, he eats those. It’s more effort for me, but worth it for the animals.

  6. Jonathan permalink
    October 4, 2010 9:34 am

    Vegina, this is just a reminder of what you already know: the life spared by a stranger is just as priceless as one spared by your loved ones. You’re under no obligation to make your family life painful while devoting yourself to animal liberation. If you can create a niche in your parents’ home (and refrigerator) that doesn’t tear you up inside, accept that peace of mind and your family’s love.

    • October 4, 2010 12:17 pm

      Well put. But it is important to stress that you have a moral obligation to push them as far into the green as you think you can without breaking the relationship, don’t you think?

      For me, I try to get the family children while they are young. I know that the kids in the family look up to me a lot so I spend as much time with them as I can and try to be a good role-model. My cousin’s father calls him a “faggot” whenever I give him a hug when I see him, but I counsel him against that and have gotten the word out of his vocabulary. I feel that, looking back, a relationship with a neighbor who, I realized only a year ago was vegan, was a big part of my current life. I only saw her 12 times in my life maybe, and all before I was 5, but I know that her love of animals and ethical consistency hooked me even back then. That’s how I try to change my family.

      Sorry if I meandered off your topic there Jonathan!

  7. October 6, 2010 10:36 am

    I’m not unsympathetic to these issues at all. I face all of the same ones to different degrees – Some include actually having a “fish hunter” in my life. Everyone who matters to me, knows where I stand. I’ve been very vocal the last few years – I figure maybe they need a few years to ponder it all. (?)

    In the meantime I bite my lip a lot… And remember this advice from a wise advocate who said: “Don’t change your family – Change the world”.

  8. Clair permalink
    October 23, 2010 5:06 am

    Beautiful point…it is my family that I most want to be vegan, as it’s not just for the animals (I want that equally for everyone) or even for their health, but because I really find it difficult to relate to people whose values are so far away from my own. My father is a lost cause, the concept of animal suffering is so completely beyond him, but we don’t have much of a relationship. My mom, though, will happily take me to vegan restaurants and even order veg food at a “regular” restaurant when she’s with me (not at my request), and it’s so easy for her, it would be so easy for her to even just be vegetarian, but she just doesn’t really care. I became a vegetarian when I was eleven, much to my parents’ puzzlement, and it’s not like they were intolerant of my choices, but they just didn’t get it at all.

    To me, it is like they think slavery is okay. My mom is at least willing to take a break when I’m around, but not to change anything when I’m not. How can I respect somebody like that? How can I be close to somebody like that?

    Still trying to change the world in the meantime though:)

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