By Jennifer Baldock, Guest Contributor
As most of us vegans know and understand that our lives are often the subject of the conversation almost everywhere we go. “Can you eat this?”, “Are you mad I am making this?”, “I’m sorry, I forgot to cook something for you.” People really are so curious about what we, who I call special people, put in our mouths (and it’s awesome how it makes them more conscious about what they’re putting in theirs!). But, those we care most about what they think are our families. Often, due to their misinformation or total lack of attempting to understand simply “Why?” we do … what we do, makes them worry more about us than support us. Which is something we as vegans know is unnecessary. But choosing a vegan lifestyle doesn’t need to be stressful for the people who love us but aren’t familiar with it.
Slowly, I started to bring food to friends parties. Some would poke fun, until they would try some of the scrumptious dishes I made. One of my friends is anti-ANYTHING different… to the point that even artificial sweeteners make him gag at the thought of eating them, tried one of my vegan dishes expecting to totally throw up. He had tried my Thanksgiving Tofurky. He took one bite and he looked like he was about to spit it out. Wouldn’t you know he chewed it and swallowed it! He looked at me and said, “Well…. they’re trying…” with a chuckle. I laughed at him and let him poke his fun with his lame attempt at a joke. You know why? Because he opened his mind enough to taste and try what I was eating. It was the first time in a year of me going from vegetarian to vegan that anyone (besides my awesome husband) tried something vegan. The first time ever. Next thing you know, other people wanted to taste it. I was ecstatic. Sure, not everyone liked it. But just being in the same room with these people made them curious about what the heck was on my plate.
My friends always ask me questions about why cheese and dairy isn’t vegan. “It’s not meat.” “It doesn’t hurt the cow to get milked.” Are things I hear on a daily basis. Without going into crazy detail, I try o explain the inadvertent link that the dairy industry has to veal farms. Or how a poor cow has to be impregnated once a year to keep her as a milker. It’s never easy to explain, everyone tries to give me excuses for other people’s behavior without knowing what they’re talking about. And when they talk to you, it’s like they’re defending themselves against your lifestyle when you aren’t accusing them of anything! Ironically, they start lecturing you! It is nuts. But let’s get one thing straight, I am not a preacher. I made this choice and I am not about to lecture other people for how they choose to live their lives. But getting asked these questions really makes you realize how misinformed people are about how everything really works, where it comes from, how it gets there, and what it is.
Now that you kind of get my friends, now we come to my family. Let’s start with my sweet Upstate N.Y. and very rural parents. My father has given me a hard time since day one. Grunts and groans under his breath with everything that has to do with my “wild” life. He told me one time, ”I personally feel that pigs were meant to be food.” Ugh, how my heart sunk hearing him say that to me. Especially when he has no idea that in 5 minutes when I excuse myself to go to the bathroom, I am really going in there to cry. But I am not crying because he hurt my feelings. I’m crying because of the pigs, knowing that my dad is not the only person who feels this way. We had a pet pig growing up, and he STILL felt like this? I told my sister, Tiffany, how it upset me and she says, “I can see why you’d be upset, but it’s not like you can change anything. So stop punishing yourself for it.” She’s another one. Nobody gets it. The smallest steps leave the biggest tracks. That all changed one day, when my cousin Debbie asked me questions and surprisingly kept on asking questions.
Now about Debbie. She will only eat chicken. She can’t eat red meat, can’t even stand the sight of it, it has made her sick since she was like 7 years old (and she’s now 46). Seafood? Forget it. But chicken, eggs, and dairy are no problem. When we get together she’ll eat what I make, always surprised at how good everything tastes (of course it doesn’t surprise me, being a vegan introduces a world of delicious foods!). But, she goes back to her normal routine because, as she puts it,”I don’t know what to do.” Until a few days ago, she writes me an email that said this:
“Hey cuz where is the closest whole foods store to me?? Me and the parents are gonna go vegan! I convinced my mom. It’s a healthier alternative for her, so happy :)”
I can’t tell you how unbelievably happy I am. The fact that they’re considering this and want my help is so inspiring. My Aunt Nancy is severely diabetic and a tad overweight. This is going to be such an amazing experience for her. I can’t wait for her to feel stronger and healthier!
So, here I am… my family wants to do this. I didn’t pressure them, no one, not even I, didn’t even ask them to do it. The very idea of this stuck in Debbie’s head. I totally believe that once people hear an idea they never heard before, it can stick in their minds. Then curiosity takes over and curiosity is such a powerful thing! Question after question, answer after answer. Eventually a light turns on. And with her own free will, Debbie’s choosing to help life and in hindsight, the world. Just eating vegan is the first step… I can’t wait to shop with her!
Man, this is the most amazing feeling ever. Wow, I DID help change something AND someone! I know I can change more!
Take THAT Tiffany!
Photo: Jennifer Baldock