Sigh. I am SO trying to be such a friendly, non-judgmental vegetarian. And apparently not coming across that way.

I’m sorry to continue with posting about the UU World article on ethical eating. Skip if you are getting bored with it. It is just that my eating practices and care for animals are such an important part of how I understand my ministry – to all sentient beings, humans included! As I mentioned in this post, my response to the UU World article on ethical eating was mentioned at Philocrites here. A commenter on Philocrites post writes

It’s a great article… but a shame that the puritanical streak of vegetarianism ran off with it. People need to act and eat and live more responsibly. But being chided and naughtied and disapproved and shamed for where they’re at isn’t helpful.

Darn it, double darn it. I tried so hard to come across as appreciative of the article, yet disappointed with the conclusions. Does that make me puritanical?

My question: Is there ANY way for a vegetarian/vegan to suggest that vegetarianism/veganism is the best option for eating without it coming across as obnoxious proselytizing? I mean, it is one thing to make comments when people are eating or to do a dying chicken impression or something during dinner, but is it still obnoxious when it is a thoughtful response to an article? Or to gently share about your food decisions when people ask?

Here is how I responded to several comments that seemed to think that my response to the UU World article was  puritanical, self-righteous, obnoxious, or proselytizing…

I understand people’s concern with militant, judgmental vegetarianism. I think it is important to remember that everyone does what they can – some of us fly less, some of us drive less, some of us rescue dogs, help our neighbors, grow gardens, and some of us eat vegetarian. We can’t all do it all, and I hope by pointing out in my response to the article that I need to do a lot of things different in my life – drive less, fly less, etc. – that I made this point. We are all doing what we can. That said, what I was doing was simply expressing that I think that encouraging people to push themselves – when it comes to a range of our living practices associated with compassion, sustainability, and the environment – would be best, and would be what I would like to see from our denominational magazine. No chewing out. No finger wagging. Just encouragement about what is possible and doable, as vegetarianism seems to be for a lot of people. Of course it isn’t for everyone. We can’t all do it all. There are lots of friendly, non-judgmental vegetarians out there, and I certainly intend to be one of them and regret if it doesn’t come across like that. All the best, Elizabeth from Elizabeth’s Little Blog

Don’t worry.  This is not becoming a vegetarian blog. It is just a place where I try to work out difficult theological and social issues that I struggle with.  And this is one of them.



14 Responses to Sigh. I am SO trying to be such a friendly, non-judgmental vegetarian. And apparently not coming across that way.

  1. Lydia says:

    Suggesting that “vegetarianism/veganism is the best option for eating” for anyone but yourself will never come across as anything but “obnoxious proselytizing.” It’s the same as suggesting that the best ice cream to eat is chocolate, rather than vanilla. It’s a personal choice. When someone asks, then I think there’s no reason not to share your love for it.

  2. h sofia says:

    Elizabeth, you don’t strike me in any way as puritanical or obnoxious on this issue. I’ve never even met you, yet have this image in my mind of you being soft spoken, and lady-like. Maybe it’s something about the name, Elizabeth, or maybe it’s the fact that you’ve never been obnoxious on your blog so far as I’ve noticed.

    It sounds like you’re feeling a little under attack, and I just want to say that you don’t have to. You don’t have to apologize for writing about what is important to you on your own blog. Even if people disagree with you, that’s just part of the exchange. Why feel badly about it?

    I am a little bit surprised at the way non vegetarians can get defensive. I’m not a vegetarian but when I read your posts about meat eating here and at Will Shetterly’s blog, it’s just more food for thought. Ultimately, I may continue eating meat, but I don’t feel “judged” or proselytized to because you’re being very clear about what you believe!

    You are NOT extreme for having a firm opinion that diverges from the mainstream! Extreme is … verbally or physically assaulting meat eaters, telling them they should die in the same fashion as the animals they eat, refusing to talk to a person who consumes “dead flesh” and so on. Sure, there are intolerant vegetarians and vegans, but to be honest – out of the hundreds of vegetarians I’ve known over the years, I can only think of two or three who were pains in the ass about it. Those are pretty good numbers!

    Anyway, I just wanted to say something because I was starting to get upset that you were apologizing so much!

  3. You know people—we get most defensive when something hits a nerve.

    I do think that very often it’s impossible to even talk about my vegetarian eating habits without people feeling guilty and judged.

    However, in my twenty-two years of abstaining from meat, I’ve seen many of my friends become vegetarians. I’m not sure if I had anything to do with it, because I don’t ever mention it outloud.

    But I’m really glad you did. People need to do this more.

  4. Cecily says:

    I don’t think you are at all obnoxious here. Most often I am polite about my choices but not all the time. I have found that non vegetarians can be defensive when they find out about my choices. There is this fear that somehow I will start “shoving it down their throats” which is based on nothing. When I get in a bad space I am often frustrated at the pull to be polite and not push my values yet feel like I should educate or further give people a hard time. Yes, shame them. Everyday and everywhere we are having meat eating shoved down our throats by the media and society in general. Animals are dying while people are dying too from heart disease due to their diets. I am a nurse and I work with most of these people an dit is costing th ehealthcare system billions of dollars. Point being there are many reasons NOT to eat meat. Do I politely move forward and say nothing so I am not seen as a jerk? Is it really counterproductive to stay quiet and nice? Or do we need to confront those in denial? the animals die and I have to take care of the dying people regardless.

  5. elizabeth199 says:

    Thanks everyone for writing. It made me feel better and a renewed after feeling a little deflated and unsure of myself.

    With much peace, Elizabeth

  6. Pamela says:

    I would imagine that it was frustrating to not be heard and instead be labeled an extremist. (Hmmm, that never happens with other issues.) I can understand your sense that issues related to animals are not taken as seriously as other social/eco-justice issues. I share that frustration. That said, I have been a UFETA lurker for some time and some discussions/comments have left me feeling not up-to-standard because I’m not 100% vegetarian. I find this both disappointing for me personally and in terms of affecting change. I eat 90-95% vegetarian (if not vegan) and try to consume only “sustainably/humanely” (for lack of better terms) produced meat/diary/eggs. I think that if everyone consumed meat as infrequently as I do, the plight of the earth and of animals would be radically changed. It would be easier to get more people on board with a less rigid approach. I don’t think you came across as rigid, but I have experienced such rigidity and do find that I feel a bit defensive as a result. As someone who does feel it is important to live our UU values, I take my choices seriously and appreciate the opportunity to be in conversation about them.

  7. elizabeth199 says:

    Thank for the kind note, Pamela. Somehow for me feeling a little better understood eases my heart so much.

    Someone once pointed out to me that if 50% of people significantly reduced animal product intake, it would result in a very huge reduction of animal raising/consumption/environmental impact – much more so than if there was a 15% or so complete conversion to vegetarianism. Maybe I should work on encouraging/advocating reduction more than 100% conversion… 90-95% vegetarian is awesome! I’m pushing myself to work my way up to a higher % vegan, but find that so much harder than the vegetarian transition. Ah, such is our journey to do our best. Thanks for your comment. Smiles, Elizabeth

  8. Pamela says:

    I really do want to express support for both you and for the issue. I hate for your sincere comments to be dismissed!

    Funny thing about eating vegetarian, it generally is not an effort for me. For instance, I ate totally vegetarian today and all I did was eat some of my favorite foods! Of course, living in SoCal gives me an advantage. Neil and I walked down to our favorite Mexican restaurant where I had their awesome tofu tacos with black beans and rice on the side. Last time, they were out of tofu so I had the chicken tacos which weren’t anywhere near as yummy!! It’s cheap too!

  9. […] Elizabeth asks, “Is there ANY way for a vegetarian/vegan to suggest that vegetarianism/veganism is the best option for eating without it coming across as obnoxious proselytizing?” […]

  10. Philocrites says:

    Righteousness movements — conscientious attempts to live entirely in accordance with a strict ethical code — are always going to have a close but awkward relationship with liberal religious movements for a very simple reason: Being open-minded emphasizes tolerance and personal choice, but being ethically rigorous (righteous) emphasizes right action and personal conformity to what is right. People are drawn to Unitarian Universalism because they sense one or both of these as central ingredients. And these ingredients are always going to exist in some tension.

    UUs include conscientious advocates of a number of righteousness movements: “anti-racism/anti-oppression”; some forms of feminism; environmentalism; vegetarianism; pacificism; economic justice (variously conceived); etc. Once someone sees the light, it becomes hard not to try to get other UUs to see it, too. And other UUs, who emphasize the tolerance wing of the religion, can get uneasy around the advocates. The right-action UUs, meanwhile, can get frustrated by the milquetoastiness of the tolerance UUs.

    At any rate, that’s how I understand the way UUs surprise each other by getting unusually testy on an issue like how we choose to eat.

  11. Elizabeth, I enjoyed your response to the UU World article. I don’t think you are trying to be ‘puritanical’ or are asking to be scolded. You are asking us to challenge one another more–to ask more of one another. Since consuming meat is bad for the environment, we should be challenged to reduce our meat consumption as much as possible. Challenging one another is a healthy part of religious community, and does not have to lead to people judging one in harsh terms.

  12. Pat McLaughlin says:

    As the poster at Philocrites who seems to have upset Elizabeth, I want to try to clarify. It won’t make it all better, but….

    I did start off observing that the article was great. The caveat was that I felt that the puritanical tendencies in the greater vegan/vegetarian movement crept into it–and that drives people who are moderate, as well as unrepentant meat-eaters, away. The larger issue and conversation shuts down for all but the choir.

    There is no way to stand and affirm that you believe that everyone should be a vegan and not have a crowd of eye-rollers, any more than someone can affirm that they believe that alcohol is a social evil and should be banned… and not have people rolling their eyes. It’s the outbreak of I-Know-Better that puts people’s backs up.

    I’ve family who are gluten intolerant; much of the grain-based vegetarian diet implodes there. I’m corn sensitive; eating it in small amounts means I will suffer for days. The allergist insists it’s not an allergy, but I’ve allergies that are less unpleasant….

    Instead of making it my cause to bring to people’s attention how (biologically-speaking) recent grain-heavy diets are, and how ill -adapted we are to them… and how some of the more troublesome modern health problems are associated with them… (although my own research and experience supports that), I’ve tried to simply correct my own diet. It needs to work for me, and within my ethics and understandings. For me, eating much of anything grain based means I feel sluggish, at least. It’s not a good food for me. (And that’s with the experience of having been a vegetarian, for a number of years)

    I’ve opted to eat within my ethics, and in response to my own body (both experientially and based on annual testing that confirms that I’m doing ok).

    My own understanding of the Seventh Principle and associated considerations holds life sacred; I have the gravest suspicions about holding animal life sacred above plant life–which is where much of vegetarianism seems to come from. I’m not about to debate people who have different, thought-out ethics; I’ve done this with my vegan minister already. My observation is that people have started to use the word “sentient” to demarcate a line between what’s ethical to eat and what’s sinful to eat. I simply dispute that–on two grounds. The first is that the definition and measurement of sentient is highly subjective; my own experience with plant life leaves me suspicious that there’s more there than we know–it’s simply alien enough that we can easily claim that it’s not, well… enough like us to be sentient. The other is based in an earth-centered spirituality; we’re all part of the web. Everything eats, and everything eats something else–I recommend reading Gary Snyder’s poem “Song of the Taste” to get a sense of what I’m pointing to. There’s a mystery to life that recognizes that it rests on the life and death of other life forms. What holding life sacred ends up meaning then, for me, is that I must not take any life without need, cause, reason, respect and appreciation–and that I must not kill (whether directly or through others…) what I do not need. It’s a Buddhist-rooted ethic; accepting that all life is suffering (ALL life) and seeking to minimize the suffering one causes.

    None is not possible.

    My sense is that there’s something wrong with altering eating habits in ways that one finds unhealthful. I can (and do) acknowledge that IF we are to support too many billions of people, we can’t feed them as we have been. But all too often, the implicit answer is that we obliterate most of domestic livestock (one great final solution…?) and put the rest into zoos, and farm everything else. I certainly don’t see a rational answer to handling the huge numbers of animals existing as vegans might suggest–we’d still be feeding them…. And there is plenty of land that really can’t be farmed, and more that shouldn’t be farmed. It’s wrong for farming, but sustains or sustained huge numbers of grazing animals in a sound ecology. A sustainable food supply can logically include meat from such sources. Best of all, it won’t compete for the grains and other things we farm, nor with the corn that some want to use to fuel their cars.

    My answer is that there are too many of US. We need to figure out how to sanely reduce our own population to something that the earth can bear and sustain, and we need to adopt agriculture that allows us to feed ourselves in sane, healthful, sustainable ways. That’s going to mean more unprocessed food, more organic food, more locally grown food. It’s going to mean more vegetables than Americans eat now. It’s going to mean meat that’s raised in sane and humane and healthy ways.

    The argument that meat production is bad for the environment is silly. It’s as silly as arguing that raising corn, or potatoes, or other things is bad. What’s bad is HOW it’s raised, treated, handled, etc. How MUCH we raise, how much we eat… those are problems too.

    I have no problem with people who are vegetarian or vegan. It’s a problem when it begins to feel like a new Temperance movement.

  13. […] issues, but are very, very guilty of the same thing when it comes to things like AR/AO work, or “ethical” eating for that matter (Jamie has a response on vegetarianism that perfectly illustrates […]

  14. […] as an alternative to chicken soup as a remedy. (I prefer miso soup.) The article in UU World and subsequent online reactions had recently stirred up my thoughts. I continue to be subscribed to and occasionally lurk on the […]

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