Conflict avoiding, the good and the bad
Once again I was told that I (vegans?) resist meat eaters. My usual reaction is “what?!”, I don’t say a thing, I frown and I move on. But this time it was different. Perhaps because it was written and sent to me in mail. Or because it was not merely “just saying”. In stead it was formulated as a fact, as if there is no doubt that it is in my nature that I “resist people”. It felt as a denial of who I really am. It stung. It was an insult not only to me as a person, but also to me as an inclusion coach. According to my psychiatrist I have difficulties in life because I avoid conflict at all cost. For me as a person that personality style is very damaging. It is the number one reason why I am the ideal scapegoat in all kinds of situations. However, I strongly believe that in my job conflict avoiding is a good thing. It is this part of myself that I use to build bridges with. Even when it seems impossible. In other words, because of my conflict sensitivity I am the ideal person to be a good inclusion coach. At least, that is my humble opinion. When a new colleage who doesn’t know me at all makes that kind of statement about me on our first encounter, it does not hurt. Instead, I take it as a rude insult. It is a denial of my reality and a false accusation which discredits my integrity and my professionalism.
Being described as such also feels as an insult to my fellow vegans, Heidi, Laura, Ils, Tony and all the lovely people in our facebookgroup watvegans(w)eten. As we all know, being vegan means being peaceful and understanding, empathic and helpful. That is who we are, how we are born. It is no surprise, that Ils seeks support every time one of the residents living at the retirement home where she works dies. And that Laura sings behind the window to comfort her psychiatric patients during lockdown. That Heidi is happy every time she rescues a patient from toothache. And Tony, I am sure he nurses his patients with love and care. We all help people to overcome their fears, anger, insecurities and selfdoubt in order to be able to become their strongest self. That is who we are! That inherent kindness has made us become vegan in the first place.
Inclusion in the kitchen
I totally agree with Jonathan Safran Foer’s statement “One of the greatest opportunities to live our values –or betray them- lies in the food we put on our plates”. I therefore started an online cookingproject in Willemsfonds vzw, the socio-cultural organisation where I work as an inclusion coach. We have more or less 5000 members and more or less 500 volunteers in our organisation. The ultimate goal of the digital cooking gatherings is of course inclusion. That is to say, I want to take away any treshold that one can come across in the kitchen or at the table. Let me give some examples. Singles may dread being the only single in a group of couples or having to buy and prepare large quantities of food; being introverted in a cooking class -or any class for that matter- can be too overwhelming; being poor can trigger shame; living far away from the course location can have you stay at home; having a bad stomach probably makes you avoid eating rich meals; speaking another language than the group can make a person insecure; having another cultural or social background makes some people feel out of place. A course without a sign language translator is not welcoming to deaf people. No braille excludes blind people, … . The list is endless.
Contrary to other cooking classes, in Willemsfonds vzw we will bring all people together. We challenge ourselves, our classes and our cooks by welcoming every person, that is, regardless of disabilities, personality styles, quirks or deficits. In doing so we are addressing blind spots, questioning cultural norms and breaking taboos. We are not paying lip service and so we actively and deliberately turn firm habits upside down. By consciously bending all latent rules, we show that things can be done differently. In my opinion without challenging the common norms, change is not going to happen. Not ever. Inclusion is not possible without giving up parts of what has always been. That is why our recipes will not be for 4 or 6 persons but for one (families can of course recalculate). That is why we choose easy recipes, no expensive utensils will be needed (cooking experst can add complex sidedishes if they want). That's why we ask cooks from all over the world (classic cooks can add their potatoes and fries); that's why translations in sign language and braille make the cooking classes accessible for blind and deaf people (the hearing and the seeing people have the same recipes in written language); that's why we choose regional, fair trade and vegan products (meat eaters can add meat to their pesonal preparations), … . In other words, by including blind, deaf, poor, single, introvert, ... people, we do not exclude seeing, hearing, wealthy, married, extraverted, ... people. It is our intention to include people without excluding other ones. The same goes for vegan people. By offering plant based recipes, we do not exclude non vegans. Nor do we judge, shame or blame our non vegan participants. We do not exclude nor limit people, we only choose wisely. That is to say, we choose the recipes every person in the world can eat and enjoy this one time during the work shop. Moreover, we only choose basic recipes that can be freely transformed or replenished according to individual preferences. Our wish is that every person, without any exceptions, can join the table.
Vegan in a non vegan world
To welcome people is the best way to protect them from exclusion, which is a horrible feeling, whatever the source of exclusion. It should be obvious by now that living up to vegan values is part of living up to values of inclusion. Strangely enough, when it comes to inclusion or exclusion, nobody thinks about vegans or climat empaths. Nevertheless, living as a vegan in a non-vegan world makes you the alien, the party pooper, the spoilt one, the unadapted one, the difficult one, the strange one, the nagging one, the guilt carrier or the mirror of other people’s unconscious emotions. In all cases nobody else sees the elephant in the room. Being a vegan in a vegan world means you do not fit in. You are left feeling as though you do not belong, the stranger, the one who has to adapt, the one who has to pretend that everything is fine. You are the one who won't be allowed to say you are hurting inside because you are smelling death and suffering while others are enjoying their meal. As an ethical vegan, I experienced exclusion since I was 8 years old . More than 42 years now. Obviously, regarding exclusion, I consider myself an experience expert. Can you disagree?
When you are a vegan in a non vegan world you are expected to be grateful for whatever “special treatment” you get. Misplaced gratitude makes you even pay for non vegan dishes pimped down to vegan dishes. Special treatments may be well meant. However, even then special treatments come with too high prices. They make one feel even more excluded. While you want to belong, the differences are made the more painful when they are made that obvious. It is as if ones suffering is being denied. Or worse, our suffering is so called imagined, exaggerated and does not matter at all. People tolerate us as long as we turn a blind eye to injustice, pain and horror. It makes their eating meat in our presence the more cruel to us. How on earth can people expect us to feel welcome and at ease when they ask us to witness the unbearable, the unthinkable? We are literally being excused for not taking part in the horror as long as we “respectfully” tollerate the horror.
One cannot help but wonder: "what if the victims were not the animals but fellow human beings?" Imagine a rapist tolerating non rapists as long as they don't go against the act of raping? Out of respect for the rapist’s needs. And what about a child molestor’s cravings? And the murderer’s passions? Awfully enough, it is not that long ago that people were actually forced to deny reality in which fellow human beings were involved. For Hitler tolerated other germans as long as they participated in the Holocaust. Or at best, as long as they turned a blind eye to what was happening. And sadly, history repeats itself day in day out in all parts of the world.
No, “special” treatments do not make the reciever feel “special”. It makes the reciever feel akward. By being treated as special or “exclusive” you feel as though you agree with the conditions. And in doing so you become an accomplice of the horror you want to stop, whatever that horror might be. Whomever the victim may be.
Accomplice to perpretator
Being vegan also stands for being a mirror. We do not have to do or say anything. Merely being ourselves, just being the way we are, being kind to all living creatures, eating what we eat, is enough to mirror other persons’ conscience. When those people say nasty things about us, we are hurting. For, like them, we are not aware that what they blame us for, is a reflection of who they themselves are. When a person calls me out declaring that I resist meat eaters, it is not about me at all. It is about the person being in denial about herself. She reflects her negative feelings about veganism and turns the truth upside down.
Moreover, when a vegan is being asked about veganism he/she/x feels almost as if being questioned. Since most of the time when non vegans sneer, they seek a shortcoming in the vegan person, a confession from the past, a too sensitive nature, an attention seeking personality, … .
It is even worse when vegans ask people to take into consideration the pain they carry because of killed animals being served. The vegan is more often than not then being portrayed as the perpetrator instead of the victim. People resist vegans and instead of asking oneself why they do, they blame the vegan for their awkwardness and accuse him/her/x to have no respect for other lifestyles. Merely being vegan is enough to trigger the hostility, the fear of being told what not to eat.
Yet, since mosts vegans live a life of compassion, they are not born to argue, shame or blame. It is not in their nature. They feel the pain inflicted on other living beings. That is what makes them brave, bearing exclusion day in and day out. While longing to be part of the group, they do what is not good for them: they eat differently and by doing so they deliberately exclude themselves. It takes courage every day to take the risk of being put aside, being mocked, over and over again. When I come to think of it, vegans "live their values by the food they put on their plates", as stated by Jonathan Safran Foer. In return they are being cast out because of it. However, no one should feel as though he/she/x doesn’s belong. Should one?
Contrary to common believes, vegans bear their own exclusion not for themselves but despite of their needs, in danger of severely harming themselves. For, because of their sensitive and empathic nature vegans need togetherness even more than any other person. Yet, they embrace all living and breathing fellow creatures on earth. And therefore they put aside their most vital needs for nothing else than a just and cruelty free world. They put aside that craving need of belonging and being understood. Since it is the only thing they can do. It is their hounest sacrifice. Their silent voice for the voiceless.
Your values our your own
Being the mirror of other persons’ conscience is not what we vegans signed up for. Nor is it in our nature to
criticise, blame or shame. Being a mirror is the curse we have to put up with. This role affects our
lives more than people know. It makes us the scape goat. It puts us in the lonely corner. It does not
feel fair. However, it helps remembering that we are not responsible for the bad feelings of
others. We are not at all guilty of guilt tripping and as such we are not the perpetratorl. We are not to
blame for how we make people feel about themselves. One cannot blame the mirror that one is not beautiful or young. Nor can one blame the mirror that one does not live ones values.
So no, dear new colleague, you eating the “ugly” rockfish after having looked him in the eye, has nothing to do with me at all. That story is cruel, not only to the fish you ate but to your empathic colleagues who
do care about animals and didn’t say a thing. We were being polite even when you were mocking the
other woman who went crazy when she saw the poor fish was still alive. Do not turn the table and
don’t tell me I resist meat eaters. I don’t. I really don't. I love my sister and all my friends. I even married my husband in the days he was a meat eater. So, no, you are very wrong. I don't resist people who eat meat. I do resist cruelty and cruel behaviour. Which is a good thing. It shows my empathy and my craving for a just world in which every living being of every species is included. Own your image and live according to your values. Don’t put the blame on veganism, nor on me. It is no use because I don’t take the bait.