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On Food/Lifestyle Disputes At Home

In "Therapists Report Increase in Green Disputes" in the Environment section of today's New York Times, Leslie Kaufman reports that American households have become a battleground for beliefs about the environment.

While no study has documented how frequent these clashes have become, therapists agree that the green issue can quickly become poisonous because it is so morally charged. Friends or family members who are not devoted to the environmental cause can become irritated by life choices they view as ostentatiously self-denying or politically correct.

Problems arise when the individuals in the family (or couple) are at different points in their awareness of actions and purchases that affect the environment.

Changing the family diet because of environmental concerns can be particularly loaded, Ms. Buzzell [a therapist] added. She warns wives and mothers not to move a family toward vegetarianism before everyone is ready.

When I read that last sentence, I cringed. Not because of the "wives and mothers" bit, as we learn that women tend to pay more attention to these issues, so change/desire to change the family does more often begin with them. And it wasn't "vegetarianism" rather than "veganism," as though my husband went from omnivore to vegan overnight, I do understand that most people stop eating flesh first.

What made me cringe was that everyone had to be "ready" before making a change that the planet needs so desperately. Does Planet Earth have the time for everyone to decide they're "ready" to give it a break?

But then I remembered that, as a vegan, I purchased and prepared the flesh of cows and chickens for my husband for nearly six years because I knew that if the change didn't come from him he would likely end up resenting me, plus he might even go back to eating and using animals. I didn't have the same urgency in my environmentalism back then, or more accurately it wasn't related to animals. It was all about other things we could do to tread more lightly on the earth.

I do think the adult-adult relationship is different from the adult-child relationship, particularly with young children who are formulating their values based on what is said and done in the home. My adult-adult experience was that it was actually painful at times to live with
someone who ate animals and I wondered how long I could deal with it.
What I had going for me was that early on my husband said, "I feel the
same way you do, but I'm just not ready yet." If he had said, "I'm
never giving up my steak" I don't know if I would have lasted that
long. We didn't go to therapy for this issue, because I knew that
talking about it wouldn't help, not to mention the likelihood of a
therapist in South Florida understanding my position was nearly nil.

Let's face it, the longer you've done something, the more attached you are to it and to the rationalization you employ to keep the behavior going. But here's my question: For those of you with significant others who are not vegan, do you have a time line with benchmarks in your head? Is it purely a matter of months or years for you? Do you discuss veganism or environmentalism frequently? Are you in one of the American households where disputes are common?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. John N. #

    After 6 years of marriage I think I'm fortunate that when I decided to become a vegan over 2 years ago my wife, though with a little resistance, was accepting of my choices and was willing to prepare only vegan food for our meals. Not that she does all the cooking, okay 95%, with me doing vegan tacos and pizza but she is definitely the chef in our household and a damn good one!

    She still doesn't quite see the ethical side of it and looks more at veganism as a healthier lifestyle in terms of diet. If we're at the grocery store and something has honey in it or maybe even some milk derivative in a cereal that she likes then she'll still eat it. I have a little problem with purchasing those items as it makes me feel like a consumer (though I'm not ingesting it into my body) but then again our incomes are not separated so who's to say which money goes to what is purchased?

    Personally and maybe you didn't Mary but I would have a hard time handling animal flesh, cutting it up and cooking it for someone as this point in my life or even right after I made the switch to veganism. We've had plenty of discussions/arguments over the vegan topic but we've managed to work them out. I hope that someday she'll be on the same page as I am with regard to ethical beliefs but until then it's been working out okay.

    January 18, 2010
  2. When I moved in with my now-husband, I was already vegan and he was omni. He stayed that way for about a year and a half (he did PCRM's 21-day vegan challenge, then went vegetarian on Thanksgiving 2009). During that time, if he wanted meat, he bought and cooked it himself, then washed and put away the dishes. Because I did (well, do) most of the cooking, he ate vegan most of the time anyway. I knew I couldn't demand that he change (I have hope that he'll go vegan in time), so I tried to be as patient as I could and kept my mouth shut when he ordered meat at a restaurant. As he did his own research about the ethical, environmental, and health-related reasons for choosing a vegetarian/vegan diet, he came to his own conclusions, which are far more meaningful to him than simply parroting mine would be. I'm proud of him, and we plan to raise our future kids vegan.

    January 19, 2010
  3. When I met my now husband he was pescatarian (but called himself vegetarian). I was vegetarian. I don't think I would have married him if he continued to eat sea animals. He stopped eating them about 6 months after we met. A year after our wedding, we went vegan together.

    I had previous relationships with omnis and I think that was one of the reasons they didn't work out. I feel so much more attached to my husband because we share core animal rights values. We both think that if we hadn't found each other, we'd both still be single.

    January 19, 2010
  4. When I started dating my boyfriend he was an omnivore. We got in a few fights about it. After a while he decided he wanted to go vegetarian but it took him six months of "transitioning" to do that and I sort of didn't buy that all of the time. So we got into a few more fights about that. But about a year ago he went vegetarian and nowadays he eats mostly vegan (and wants to go vegan eventually). I always told him that I was going to keep a vegetarian house as soon as I could and that I would raise my kids vegetarian (at the time I wasn't vegan, but now I would certainly raise them vegan).

    I don't think we would have stayed together if he didn't go vegetarian because I really started caring a lot more about animal rights issues a little while after we started dating. If we ever broke up I would only date vegans (or vegetarians if I couldn't meet any compatible vegans).

    January 20, 2010
  5. On the environment – All the recycling and "green stuff" is my issue. I gather/crush cans… separate plastic trash… try to reuse brown water, etc. Hubby sort of thinks it's silly – But is starting to see how it all adds up after a week or two. A lot of garbage for sure! He now reuses "disposable" cups, and knows what not to throw away in the regular trash… So I guess that's a start! 🙂

    On food – he's a twice a year pescatarian – when he goes out to *catche* "his" own. 🙁 He's begun to experiment with my plant milk beverages – And has all but done away with "cheese"… In the beginning 2 years ago, I never thought he'd ever come this far. I know there's more. He knows there's more. But since I can see progress – I tend not to push any issue. We've done the heated disputes, and they really didn't accomplish much at all… But every now and then I was able to direct him to a bit more solid information about negative health aspects or environmental problems with animal agriculture. Apparently he's absorbed enough to make the changes he has…

    On the very up side of it – I even think he's starting to understand "rights" for animals too! It was the hens. He adores them. And knowing where they came from, and how their sisters are being treated, matters to him. This makes me believe our journey together may have a happy ending after all! 🙂

    January 20, 2010

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