Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sometimes Veganism and Family Just Don't Mix

I had been following my niece and nephew, both under the age of five, on my brother and sister-in-law's shared Facebook page for years. Every so often I would "like" a picture of the kids or make an admiring comment without any acknowledgment or fanfare, until one day when I came across pictures of the kids decorating eggs for Easter. I was saddened since I knew their joy was unwittingly at the expense of other young innocents. Like most children, they are unaware of their participation in animal cruelty and exploitation because they are conditioned by a non-vegan society that starts with their parents.

Since I knew these pictures were posted by my brother and his wife for their own benefit and that of their friends, I sent the following comment and picture to remind everyone that even painting eggs for Easter is not harmless:

The Vegan Vine; I am not TRASH
Sadly, this is how male chicks are treated soon after they're born because the egg industry has no use for them.

Shortly thereafter I received a brief text message from my brother saying, in part, "Have you lost your fucking mind? . . . You are no longer welcome in my home or around my family."

Nothing in our past prepared me for this seemingly knee jerk reaction, so I was dumbstruck. For one, this was his and his wife's Facebook account, not the kids'. Secondly, when did facts and information become so threatening? I've been an outspoken vegan for many years, so why should my response to animal injustice come as a surprise now? Perhaps my brother felt as though I were telling him how to raise his kids but, even if that were the case, is that a compelling reason to kick me out of his family's life . . . forever?

All this drama has me pondering other vegans' experiences with family members and loved ones, especially around the holidays.

Food is as polemical a topic as both politics and religion. "Diet seems to be such a rightly private matter. Our bodies, ourselves," said Pattrice Jones in her book, Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, A Guide for Activists and their Allies, "But eating an animal is something you do to somebody else's body without her consent." Simply put, personal choices don't have victims and yet, many people believe it is no one else's business who they hurt to eat.

More often than not, vegans attend non-vegan family gatherings primarily to be with the ones they love, in spite of the "food" offerings. I wonder how many non-vegans can claim the same and how many would happily attend a vegan Thanksgiving with their family—giving (thanks) rather than taking (lives).

Non-vegans often complain about what an inconvenience vegans are, however, vegans are generally a minority of one at most functions; they're the ones trying to smile through comments, jokes, and insincere questions made at the expense of other animals; they're typically required to bring their own food, beverages, and desserts, and they're usually the only ones repulsed and appalled when confronted with tables filled with body parts and secretions from beings who lived miserable lives and met harrowing ends.

Some vegans are plain fed up and are boycotting holiday affairs or any other gatherings where people are eating animals. Those taking the #LiberationPledge are refusing to sit at tables where victims' bodies are being eaten in order to counter the silent notion that animal suffering and violence is acceptable.

Through my many exchanges, I've learned that simply educating others about how their actions negatively impact other animals can be as threatening to some as a loaded gun. Many people uphold a "don't see, don't speak, don't hear" mentality when it comes to animal exploitation and abuse because they don't want to be reminded of their own complicity in it for such trifling motives as pleasure, convenience, and entertainment. Adopting a radical and ethical vegan lifestyle would require change and living their values, but our dominant culture has trained them to see doing so as a negative, as taking away their false sense of choice and ending the life that has become so familiar regardless of how destructive it is to both themselves and others.

Experience tells me that there are plenty of other vegans and animal rights activists with analogous experiences. "Activists are often isolated from their families or communities due to their controversial opinions and activities," continued Jones. "Their closest relationships may be with the members of their activist 'family.'"

Unfortunately, some have expressed reservations to me about adopting a vegan diet solely because of familial concerns and social negativity. I encourage them to be brave and reach out to others in the vegan community and online for support.

I was informed that my brother will not renege on his position unless I apologize, but I won't apologize for inconvenient truths. The bodies, babies, and eggs of chickens no more belong to me or my brother than my own body, babies, and eggs belong to someone else. Furthermore, the consumption of eggs, which have been capitalized on during Easter to symbolize new life and Christ's Resurrection, tragically and hypocritically entail the deaths of billions of lives. Every day thousands of newly born male chicks slide down chutes and conveyor belts on their way to macerators or dumpsters because they are useless byproducts of the egg industry. 

Holidays and traditions conveniently disguise the normalized and unsightly cruelties of animal desecration, and there never seems to be a right time or place for exposing them. As vegans, our presence alone and our rejection of common practices can ruin all the "fun" for those who prefer to remain in denial. But, unlike me, facts are a lot harder to make disappear.

I wonder what my brother and sister-in-law will tell the kids as they get older and ask questions. What might they say? Aunt Bethany cares about other animals and that's why you're not allowed to see her anymore? Aunt Bethany loves animals and thinks they should be treated as we want to be treated so she can't come over? What could they possibly say to justify such banishment?

While it's taken me some time, I have chosen to forgive my brother. One day I hope he will come to see my post for what it truly was—a chance to raise awareness and encourage practices that are merciful, kind, and just to other animals. 

I miss my niece and nephew very much, and I know they would welcome me with loving, open arms if they could right now. Maybe they will one day soon, and maybe my brother will be able to show me some mercy, too.

Vegan Starter Kit


Olivia Sterling said...

Very articulate and poignant. I can totally relate, especially to the vitriolic and emotional knee-jerk reaction that people can have. The reality for activists right now is that merely sharing information about animal ag and speaking out on behalf of animals is often considered both socially unacceptable and offensive, and can therefore be a cause for acrimony and discord in relationships. I myself have had similar confrontations with family members and the issue is upsetting, to to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Let me try to help you understand where your brother is coming from. You said that you are an outspoken activist. Therefore, I would have to assume that your brother understands your point-of-view already. I.e., he knows your beliefs, and still chooses not to adopt the same lifestyle. I would consider this an "agree to disagree" situation in which both parties should respect each other's differences.

Some people prefer to use Facebook not as a political tool, but as a way to post and share family fun events. They are not looking for a lecture on something they probably have already heard about. I find it interesting that you are having such a hard time understanding this.

Treat other people the way you'd like to be treated - the Golden Rule in the Bible. Let's turn the tables around. Let's say you posted a picture of a pig slaughterhouse and commented on how sad it was the way the animals were being treated there. Then your brother posts a picture of some fried bacon and talked about how it's worth it because it's so yummy. He's a hard core meat eater after all, just posting his views. Would that be OK, or would that irk you just a little?

The Vegan Vine said...

I don’t appreciate your condescending tone, but I will tell you “anonymous” that I understand what you are saying, and I have been on the other side of the table. A few years ago, I had posted information regarding animals on my Facebook timeline and one of my brother’s in-laws continued to post thoughtless comments and jokes in response. My reaction was merely to unfriend him, NOT banish him from my life. I continued to see this in-law at family functions and grew to like him despite his previous online remarks. I think my decision to unfriend him on Facebook was much more reasonable than my brother’s decision to exile me from his family’s life. ~Bethany