Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Vegan's Dilemma

I’m in an ethical dilemma I bet many of you are in too:  Should I speak up or stay quiet when others order meat at restaurants?  The obvious answer most vegans give – and what I have always done – is to stay quiet, set a good example, and wait until someone asks about my diet.  If they ask, then I gently try to open their eyes to what is going on with our food system.  

However, if you think about it, this topic is not just a difference in opinion -- it's not like I'm saying "I love God's little animals and you should too!" -- we are talking about true atrocities and horrors that are happening in our factory farms and slaughterhouses, that most people would never put up with if it was happening to humans, dogs or cats, but are overlooking because they are pigs, chickens and cows.  So, in many ways, simply sitting back, “setting an example” and not speaking out proactively can be construed as allowing the horrors to go on.  As MLK said, "All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to stay quiet."  

Having said that, how does a sane, loving person bring this up proactively without upsetting people, losing friends, or losing your job? For example, I have had clients at work dinners thoughtfully ask, “Will it bother you if I order a steak?” and because I so desperately want to be “normal,” polite and keep my job, I say “Thank you for asking – please order what you’d like.”  But in fact, it’s really not okay that animals were tortured and slaughtered – often alive – for their steak.

I tell myself that it’s okay, because I’m doing my part by setting a good example for them to follow, lecturing, writing a blog and writing books to help people adopt a vegan diet.  These things certainly help offset the damage that is being done, but does that make it okay not to speak up?

Is it ethical to sit back and just watch harmless animals get devoured carelessly with a glass of wine, and not say anything?  Is it okay, when millions of sentient beings are suffering and dying daily, for me to politely sip my iced tea and allow them to order their steak without even commenting on it?

What do you do?  This is a real dilemma faced by all vegans – speak out and be seen as a radical and potentially lose friends, jobs, etc, or stay quiet and watch helpless animals suffer and die?  I would love to hear your comments!


  1. Typically I am quiet and hope to lead by example, and am often asked about my veganism, so do get to expound a bit. I am a believer in approaching it from a non-judgmental stance in hopes that the message can be better heard. I am not willing to hide my veganism or my reasons for it; neither am I willing to lose friends by insisting that I cannot share a meal pleasantly with them if they eat meat. It's surprising and sad how many lovely people do know about the horrific conditions of animals' lives and the fact that they are murdered to provide that meal they are eating, yet manage to compartmentalize that knowledge so they can still eat them. I was very intrigued with the idea of being completely honest about my feelings, if asked, about whether or not I mind their eating meat. I think my response at this point would have to be - "Yes, since you ask, it does bother me, of course. Your choices are yours, however, and I don't dictate those". A little scary to think of this as we are so used to not making others uncomfortable in social situations, but since they ask....... Thank you for raising some provocative questions; I'm still thinking about them.

  2. I am a vegan and am turned off by preachy, judgmental vegans. We cannot control other people's choices. I think I am the extreme though-I go so far out of my way not to make people feel uncomfortable about their choices that I don't even express my views. So, clearly I am not the person to ask.

  3. Yes, thanks for this Sarah! As a quiet person by nature, I have never thought it was my place to interject my feelings about what others are eating. But it's so strange that "others" feel the right to speak about about my "weird" and "unhealthy" food choices - claiming that meat is a necessary part of a humans' diet. So it was always "easier" to just tell them it was only for health reasons (a doctors prescription) that I eat like I do. And that usually ended the conversation. It does become tiring to always explain why you eat a certain way - yet no one ever questions all of the "socially acceptable" junk food, fried food and meat eaters. But this is not among my small circle of friends, who have asked and now understand my reasons. It is the relatives that I only see a couple times a year, or the acquaintances who like to get together every so often, or the friends of the friends I see at parties who ask. And I find it very contradicting that some of these people claim to be such animal lovers! They post things about how wonderful dogs are, how they have a deep connection with all animals, etc... yet they continue to post recipes heavily laden with meat and/or dairy products. To me it's just sad that they have disconnected themselves so fully from living animals actually being slaughtered and the animals they purchase as meat in stores or restaurants. So for now, I do remain quiet - in large group situations. But when I have a small gathering of people around, I do voice my reasons and am usually met with respect... and curiosity... and we all enjoy our meals.

  4. I have the same dilemma! I am a pretty quite, lead-by-example person. I don't preach about what's healthy. But I do get upset watching people celebrate eating meat and dairy and I do want to say something and I think I will start. It's not like you have to say a lot. If someone asks if it bothers me, I think I will say yes, it always bothers me.

  5. Read my article about this in VegNews magazine in the Jan/Feb issue - I interviewed several leaders in the vegan world, including John Robbins, to get their take on this topic! Very interesting responses that I found really helpful!