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On Responding to Jokes that Feature Animal Abuse

Here's the problem: A friend doesn't respect my veganism. My evidence? She jokes about it. She jokes about eating animals. And then I get this . . .

Here's something to think about.

I recently picked a new primary care doctor.  After two visits and
exhaustive lab tests, he said I was doing 'fairly well' for my age. (I
just turned 57.)

A little concerned about that comment, I couldn't resist asking him,
"Do you think I'll live to be 80?"

He asked, "Do you smoke tobacco, or drink beer or wine?"

"Oh no," I replied. "I'm not doing drugs, either!"

Then he asked, "Do you eat rib-eye steaks and barbecued ribs?"

I said, "Not much…. my former doctor said that all red meat is very

"Do you spend a lot of time in the sun, like playing golf,
sailing, hiking, or bicycling?"

"No, I don't.", I said.

He asked, "Do you gamble, drive fast cars, or have a lot of sex?"

"No.", I said.

He looked at me and said, "Then, why do you even give a shit?"

Yes, we all get it. What good is life if you're not taking advantage of all it has to offer.
But I don't see it that way. My goal is to be the best human I can be and make the world a better place and stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
It's alien to me to view life as about my own pleasure primarily, and I guess that's where this particular friend and I differ.

I'm fairly sure that if I raise this topic it won't go over well, and outside of this issue there are no problems, but it's a big one for me. Though I don't ever equate veganism with religion, let's just say I were a practicing Orthodox Jew (is practicing Orthodox redundant?). Would anyone (particularly a non-Jew) ever think it's acceptable to tell me jokes that featured mockery of my beliefs? Do I just have no sense of humor? Should I be laughing?

Why is veganism . . . let me rephrase . . . Why is the torture and slaughter of sentient nonhumans to satisfy one's taste buds so easily made into a joke by some people?
(She recently joked that Charles' tail would make a tasty soup–which I actually saw as progress because a "pet" was being viewed as food and that's usually taboo.) It might be true that first unconventional ideas are ignored, then mocked and ridiculed, then finally accepted, but the mockery part can be very disappointing at times. Particularly when it comes from a friend . . . who's a veterinarian.

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Angus #

    Mary, the fact that your friend is a veterinarian makes the whole thing easy to understand (I think). There is a huge tension between her profession of caring for animals and her eating them (after she has tortured and killed them by proxy). Someone like you comes along and shoves the contradiction in her face, even if you don't confront her in so many words. Joking is a common defence mechanism. If you were a member of the Flat Earth Society or the Church of the Holy Space Alien, she would no doubt find that bizarre, but the fact of your crazy belief would not generate any uneasiness within her and I doubt very much that she would mock you to your face. Your veganism gets under her skin. Her mockery shows that she is feeling an inner conflict. Take that as a positive sign.

    May 31, 2009
  2. Roger #

    As someone who has taught the sociology of humour, I agree that jokes can act as a defence mechanism: one of the functions of joking relations.

    They are also used to create 'in' and 'out' groups – here's one that uses the low status of nonhumans to 'have a go' at (selected) human groups:-

    In 1990 the Swedes sent their first rocket up into outer space with a crew consisting of a chimpanzee and a Norwegian. On the control panel in front of them was a red light and a green light. When the red light flashed it indicated that instructions were about to come through for the Norwegian and when the green light showed it signalled an imminent instruction for the chimpanzee.

    Ten minutes after blast-off the green light flashed and the chimpanzee was instructed to alter the course of the rocket slightly, to take infra-red photographs of Sweden and to repair the radio transmitter. Half an hour later the green light flashed again and the chimpanzee was told to calculate the rate of fuel consumption, adjust the computer and make observations in connection with the earth’s magnetic field.

    By this time the Norwegian was getting restless at having nothing to do and resentful of the busy chimpanzee. Then one hour later the red light flashed and the Norwegian eagerly awaited his instructions. A minute later came the order: ‘Feed the chimpanzee’.

    May 31, 2009
  3. Mary Martin #

    Thanks for the silver lining to that obnoxious joke, Angus!

    May 31, 2009
  4. Elaine Vigneault #

    I get your point, but personally, I'd just ignore it or I'd send her back a modified version, maybe something like this:

    Then he asked, "Do you eat Gardenburger riblets or Uncle Eddie's cookies?"
    I said, "Not much…. my former doctor said that processed foods are very

    You know, it's a subtle reminder, "hey, friend, I'm vegan, remember?" but it's also useful because it drops brand names that she could look for at the store and realize the vegan options that let her have taste and convenience, too.

    May 31, 2009
  5. Dan #

    On the big, dark part of the cloud, KKK members probably joke a lot in a racist way, but hell will freeze over before they renounce racism. Personally, I either strongly suggest to such people as your 'friend' that they watch Earthlings and discuss it with me afterward, or I avoid them as much as possible (either one, depending on the situation and the person).

    May 31, 2009
  6. kim #

    I'll go along with the defense explanation as well. When I am subjected to the jokes and the mocking, I tell them I can take it, but I feel sorry for the animals (and most likely give them back a little snark in kind). And when they are considerate of my "beliefs" or apologize for their behavior in front of me, I say don't apologize to me, apologize to the animals. I say it's not about me, a lot.

    I truly don't care about people altering their behavior on my behalf, I want them to change their behavior because they get it, not because they are trying to avoid offending me. I don't equate veganism with a belief, like religion – I try to convey to others that's it's something I do, and everyone should do, because it's the right thing TO do.

    My boss commented recently about how her behavior in some area is now different because "now that she knows better, she does better." I said "Yes, that's why I'm now vegan".

    June 1, 2009
  7. Would I mock Jews? Of course! Christians and Muslims too! The logic behind religion is simply idiotic in the era of modern science. Religion, especially devout monotheistic religion has caused an enormous amount of suffering throughout history. Religion is not just dumb, it's dangerous.

    The moderates, by giving the fundamentalists protected space, free from criticism, help enable the extremists. We don't respect people who claim to hear voices, who issue arbitrary edicts, who single out certain lifestyles or other faiths for an eternity of suffering, etc unless they make those claims in the name of religion. Why does faith get a free pass?

    Religion should be treated with contempt and ridicule. Those who believe absurdities are willing to commit atrocities. No more 9/11s! No more terror war crusades! No more homophobic bigotry!

    June 20, 2009
  8. Al #

    Living in beef country I get that a lot. I have literally never met another vegan face-to-face. After a while I just started smiling and would tell my friend I'll fondly remember him and all his insensitive jokes when he's dead from all the crap he eats and I'm still rock climbing.

    He hasn't made a vegan joke in 3 months now. 0wned.

    November 18, 2009

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