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On Converting by Example

Three women in my life recently asked me to take them grocery shopping and show them what to buy to replace all the meat and cheese that used to be in their lives. As we all know, you can easily be a vegan by eating crappy food and snacks all day. But for most people who have subsisted on the Standard American Diet, improving health through veganism (as opposed to simply eating) takes a bit of work.

Two women, when asked why they wanted to change the way they were doing things, said they couldn’t stop thinking about something I said about eating their dogs and why they don’t (oops). The other wants to lose weight and sees me eating all the time, yet not gaining weight (hey, whatever works). I’ve known them for years and they’ve watched and asked questions, piecemeal, over those years.

I’ve cooked for them, I’ve brought my own food to their homes, and we’ve eaten out together. They’ve eaten lobster, eggs, chicken, filet mignon and something or other with foie gras in front of me (all I remember is the foie gras). I don’t recall ever starting a conversation about veganism or animals (as food) with them. But they did, and I was always happy to answer any questions. I never judged their choices and they never judged mine.

Little by little, they began to assess their behavior: their choices. One became a vegan overnight and has been for several weeks and loses weight every day and her husband has joined the bandwagon. We brought Chinese food to their house last night and they asked that we order eggplant and green beans for them. The other two women are negotiating the maze of meat alternatives, cheese alternatives (good luck with that one!), and all the yummy desserts that don’t contain animal products. Lucky for them, I’ve already wasted a lot of money trying much of the transition foods (alternatives to animal products) and I have an opinion about what I think is tastiest. And then there’s the reality that a lot of those foods, like any processed foods, aren’t that healthy. But one thing at a time . . . I’ll steer them to the tastiest products, thereby preventing them from endlessly buying things to have a bite and then tossing them in the garbage, which is wasteful and depressing. And they’ll work their way, I hope, toward whole grains and fresh, organic veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds.

It’s fascinating to learn what the turning point was for people who go vegan and it’s gratifying to know that I played a small part. The one thing I continually hear from people who change the way they live based somehow on my influence is that I never pushed anything on them. I never made them feel guilty. I never told them they were doing anything wrong.

Some might disagree with my approach (and in fact 15 years ago I would have disagreed with it), but it’s working. One individual at a time, it’s working.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. emily #

    Since my recent reconversion to vegetarianism I have found I was actually surrounded on all sides by stealth veges and vegans (three, so far). Imagine my surprise.

    September 23, 2007
  2. All my friends who have gone vegan (including two this year that I can think of) did so in generally the same manner as you describe above. One of them did it on New Years Day as a 30-day trial, and is to this day a gung-ho vegan. The other is still fairly recent, but very excited she chose to give it a try, thanking me for being such a good example… It does work.

    September 23, 2007
  3. Ellie #

    I agree, Mary, being personally judgmental doesn't work. Criticizing or taking a "holier than thou" attitude only makes people feel defensive. Besides, I ate meat most of my life.

    So if I'm asked, I try to depersonalize my response. I talk about actions, for example meat eating, almost as if it's floating in the air. At the same time, I also can't say animal rights are a matter of opinion, any more than human rights would be.

    September 24, 2007

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