Tomorrow morning, I graduate from Yale University’s School of Nursing. I didn’t cook anything special, mostly because I slaved over cleaning my kitchen yesterday so that when my mother gets here, she won’t think that she raised a slob. No way I was messing that up! Don’t worry, I still have lots of other pictures to post in the coming weeks, and I’ll be back to cooking later in the week. Today’s post is inspired by a speech I saw today. Though I am a graduate student, not a Yale College student, I was able to attend their class day exercises today, where former President Bill Clinton was the speaker. I’d never seen him speak in person before and let me just tell you, seeing him speak on the television is nothing compared to the excitement of seeing it in person. You should still check it out, though, if you have a half hour to kill. It’s not about veganism at all, but it’s inspiring all the same.
What I really resonated with was his comment: “The only bigotry we have here is that we only want to be around people who agree with us.”
Odds are, you’re here reading because you’re a vegan, vegetarian or have an interest in veganism. Talking about veganism to most of my readers is preaching to the proverbial choir. I don’t have to convince you to go vegan, so we just get right down to the delicious food. Yes, sometimes I talk about health topics and sometimes I talk about the kind of things that I see in my work as a child therapist in an inner-city clinic, and how that may relate to food and/or veganism. I don’t know how many of you actually read those things, but I post them all the same. This is sort of one of those posts.
A comment I’ve seen multiple times recently on Twitter is: “Advocating for vegetarianism is like advocating for part-time child abuse.”
I intellectually understand the comparison. The factory farming world is abusive to cows and chickens, perhaps even more so than the animals that are raised specifically for slaughter. This may happen even when the products are marked as “free range” and other such buzz words. On the other hand, I don’t have any objection to small family farms where animals are allowed to live out their lives unencumbered, and the people who care for them use the byproducts that would otherwise go to waste, on a philosophical level; but on a political level, I can’t actively support that, because there’s not enough visibility of the small humane family farm. If someone sees a vegetarian eating eggs or milk or cheese, they’re probably assuming that it came from the supermarket. Since that makes it seem okay, I can’t support it, though in a perfect world in the absence of factory farms, I would.
The choir gasps. “You would support humane vegetarianism were it not for factory farms?”
Here’s where I feel people don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to that part-time child abuse comparison. When a parent tells me that they hit their child, my immediate reaction is not to say, “well, an open hand that doesn’t leave bruises is okay…” but, I am going to work from a harm-reduction model, if that’s what’s appropriate. Even if I make a report to the authorities, odds are that child is going home with that parent. So while I would love it if I could just say “don’t hit your kid” and that would be the end of it, that’s not realistic. Even if they stop hitting their kid, it’s likely that there’s still a lot of other not-so-good stuff going on, so I’m going to work on making things better in whatever ways I can, even if I don’t completely agree with what the parent is capable of at that moment. Drawing a hard line is something that’s just going to drive them away from treatment in some cases, and in my mind, that’s much worse. We have to make compromises sometimes, even when it sucks. I’m going to advocate for non-violent discipline methods and a more positive relationship between parent and child, but sometimes that comes in small steps.
That’s not to say that I’m not going to advocate for veganism. Standing up for what you believe in is something that you should never stop doing. I’m not going to ignore someone as unworthy of my time if they’re willing to simply reduce their meat consumption, or if they’re only interested in being a vegetarian. Small steps can lead to major changes when enough people are taking them.
After all, I was only vegetarian once. I had a hard time making the switch, and it took a painful health issue for me to finally make the transition for good. If there hadn’t been people to help me along the way, I don’t know if I would have stuck with veganism.
I’m glad that I did.