Yesterday in the staff-room, someone said to me, "You're vegan, right?" (She knows my sister-in-law, so I believe she knew this from her rather than hearing about it from someone at work.) I replied yes, and she right away said that she would find being vegan hard. In response, I kind of shrugged my shoulders and said I actually found it quite easy. Then the seemingly obligatory question of But how do you fill in the blank because you know how the rest of this goes followed, to which I rattled off a bunch of items like beans, nuts, pasta and grains.
Then she asked the question that no one in my family has even asked me, Why are you vegan? If you don't mind my asking, she quickly added. Sure, I said. Then, not having been asked this directly before (and not being prepared, plus being more articulate in writing than I am in person), I stated that I felt being vegan was healthier and better for the environment. At this, she sort of nodded. Then I added, But the main reason I'm doing this is for the animals. I looked at her as I said this, and noticed that she had gone blank, and completely still. No expression on her face, no facial or bodily movement, and no hint of recognition in her eyes as to what I was saying.
At this point I panicked a little, and because I work in a Christian retirement home, then said that animals were God's creatures too, and that horrible things happen on factory farms for no good reason because we don't need to eat any animals, and look at me, I've been vegan for over five years and I'm one of the healthiest people I know... all in one breath until the door opened and the awkward conversation came to a halt. By this time, my break was over and I left. But what occurred to me walking back to my floor was that it was the word animals that had seemed to throw her for a loop. As if health and environment made enough sense, but that the role of animals was foreign in the equation. As if she was asking, but what do animals have to do with any of this?
And this is one of the many reasons why I wish we were less euphemistic in our language. We need to be saying "I eat pigs", "I eat cows" and "I drink cow's milk" rather than I eat bacon, beef and drink milk. I don't like the term "meat eater", because it helps to disguise whom you're really eating. If you're still rationalizing eating meat, then you should be comfortable with just saying that you're an animal eater.
I wish now that I had skipped health and environment, and had said something more accurate and to the point. Something like, "I'm vegan because I don't want to participate in animal suffering." (Or even, I'm vegan because it's the Christian thing to do, although that could have made her defensive.) I wish I had been less dismissive and acknowledged that the idea of eating vegan can be daunting when you're used to eating animals. I wish I had reminded her though that she's already eating vegan food whenever she chomps on an apple or slices up a banana. I wish I had actually included fruits and vegetables when talking about my plant-based diet. And I wish I had had more time and not gone a bit blank myself. So, time to work on a more pithy pitch for next time!