I don’t eat meat or dairy most of the time. This year I’m committing to stop all together, mostly because I finally watched this 13 minute video by Paul McCartney. Previously, the times I would eat meat or cheese would be when I would make someone uncomfortable. I wanted to avoid the people I’m dining with getting flustered, eye-rolling or questioning me, which is what happens 90% of the time.
Suggesting I don’t want to eat meat seems to be equivalent to inviting someone to share all their opinions about meat eating and vegetarianism. Last year, I stopped into a cafe to grab a snack in between office yoga clients. I asked the man behind the counter if he had anything without meat or cheese, first he offered me tuna, which I politely declined. Then as I weighed up having a package of nuts, or a cookie, he started talking at me as though we were mid-conversation “You know, eating plants isn’t good for the planet too because you have to cut down all those trees to eat crops.”
“Thanks for letting me know.” I ordered my nuts and left.
Another time last year, upon practicing introducing myself with my Spanish with my teacher, I recited some phrases in Spanish: “My name is Jennifer. I live in Montreal. I am a yoga teacher. I eat vegan. I enjoy running outside.” To which she responded “You know, all animals eat other animals.”
“Si! So what us the verb “to run” again?” My avoidant and non-confrontational response simply involved changing the topic.
As a highly sensitive person, I dislike having to explain or defend my choices with strangers and acquaintances. With family members, it’s little easier to use my voice to explain my choices, because I love them and don’t mind taking the time and energy to share my values. So, over one communal meal prep, when a family member started with “You know, all these vegetarians who think they are helping the planet are dumb because farming palm oil and soy is just as bad.”
“I know. I’m vegan more so because of the animal cruelty piece.”
“Yeah. I’m a walking contradiction, because I’m a conservationist by profession and I eat meat.”
She nailed why I think most people feel the need to argue me out of being vegan. Most people, deep down don’t want to hurt animals, however, they also don’t want to make the inconvenient lifestyle changes that come along with being a vegetarian or vegan. So they live as a walking contradiction, and that is highly uncomfortable. So when they see a person practicing habits they want to be practicing, it can be unbearable. Turning to an intellectual argument can be a way to avoid feeling those uncomfortable feelings.
I’m not advocating to be a vegan or vegetarian. It might work great for some people, and less great for others. I’m encouraging myself and others to notice how our eating habits make us feel and get curious about it. To also notice how the eating habits of others make us feel, and rather than judging, interrogating or offering advice, simply notice.
Geneen Roth’s work on food addiction is a huge influence of mine. She talks about how everything we need to understand about our spirituality appears on our plate. If I secretly shove food in our moth while no one is watching, that may indicate a belief that I am not worthy of enjoyment, pleasure and fun. Her context is usually with regard to dieting and bingeing. The point I’m making is that I’m not feeling like my values and my food habits are reasonably aligned, and another’s actions highlights that misalignment, I may be tempted to criticize and judge their habits to avoid having to change my own.
As someone who works with people who’s eating habits have rendered their life torturous at best and dangerous at worst, I advise people to use their relationship to food as a portal to discover their relationship to themselves, to life and to a higher power. Each time you get curious, you touch something that is longing for your attention. Each time you get curious, you also discover you are not what you think you are. That is a profound joy.