A Lesson in Compassion
I am struck first, not by the breathtaking views of the Long Island Sound, or festive décor depicting our host’s milestone birthday, but instead, by the slab of meat illuminated by a red heat lamp, in which people have actually lined up to sample. I shudder and head towards the bar.
“I know,” my husband says, accurately anticipating my discomfort.
“Honestly, I just don’t think I can keep company with non-vegans anymore. It is just getting too hard for me.”
This is not the first time I have made this argument, nor will it be the last. Ever the sensible man I fell in love with, my husband talks me down. “You can’t just cut people out of your life because they eat meat. I don’t like it either; what would you like to drink?”
He is so good. “Vodka, cranberry,” I bark, annoyance threatening my temper. “Both of which are vegan, I might add.”
The evening progresses as I consciously steer clear of the carcass. Finally, I notice the water as the sun sets upon us. Catching up with old friends I momentarily forget the injustices of the world; then dinner is served. My husband and I make our way to the buffet table, shielding our eyes from the carnage, we pile our plates high with fresh salad, grilled veggies, roasted potatoes, sautéed green beans, and steamed broccoli. I make a mental note to thank our hosts for considering us with their menu choices as I fill up on dinner. As usual, my plant-based meal has left me feeling full and satisfied. Looking up from my plate, I notice a friend taking inventory of my dinner.
“Oh, you’re still a vegetarian?” she asks.
There is no criticism in her tone, in fact, she sounds enthusiastic about it.
“Yes, well actually, I am vegan.”
I may as well have a scarlet letter S on my dress. All eyes are on me as I inhale another piece of broccoli.
“That is so healthy,” she responds, wide-eyed with sincerity.
I shake my head and smile, not eager to discuss my veganism with a table full of carnivores. It isn’t that I’m not prepared. On the contrary, I am armed with countless facts and statistics about the benefits of adopting a vegan lifestyle, the moral issue that surrounds factory farming and the consumption of animals, as well the numerous, positive impacts a vegan diet has on the environment. Simply put, I have learned to choose my platforms and my battles. This was a war I would not win.
Surprisingly, another friend genuinely asks, “What is the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan?” I meet her gaze, noticing at the same time that I have the attention of everyone at the table. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to educate those earnestly interested in learning about veganism, I explain:
“Along with not eating meat, (flesh is my preferred term, but I thought better of it at this particular juncture) I don’t consume any animal derived by-products. For instance, eggs, milk, butter, and cheese. Additionally, I don’t wear leather or wool, or use any products that have been tested on animals, or have animal products in them.”
“Cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, toothpaste, glue, the list goes on and on. I don’t use anything that comes from animals in any way.”
“So, what do you eat? A lot of pasta, I guess?”
“No, actually I hardly ever eat pasta. Although it is usually the default choice when eating out at most traditional restaurants.”
My wonderfully supportive, cruelty-free, animal-loving husband chimes in, “Ethnic foods like Thai, Chinese, and Indian are great alternatives; even Mexican, if you order without cheese or sour cream. Really, it isn’t as hard as you might think.”
The conversation propels into an enthusiastic ethnic food review, taking the focus off of me, which I am grateful for. I squeeze my husband’s thigh and plant a big kiss on his check. I am so proud of him; newly vegan, he is proof that anyone can make the switch; you just have to care enough to want to. I love him for caring as much as I do.
The evening rolls on. After a few dances in my stylish, pleather shoes it is time for cake. We sing and cheer as our friend blows out his candles, a life and man well worth celebrating. Grabbing my purse, I make my way to the ladies room. While there, a teenage girl compliments the color and shape of my bag. She asks, “Where did you get it?” With yet another opportunity to promote a cruelty free obsession of mine; shopping, I tell her about the vegan websites I frequent. I am again surprised by how well this information is received. Wishing her a good night I navigate my way to the dessert table; eager to sample the fresh fruit I passed by on my way to the restroom, I fill my plate with pineapples, strawberries, and blueberries. My husband passes behind me eyeing my strawberries, “Get your own,” I warn.
“Coffee?” he asks.
“Yes, please. Black.”
I carry my plate to our table. The party is in full swing now, most people dancing or mingling. Taking my first bite of a delicious, fresh, chunk of pineapple I am reminded of just how much I love summer. My reprieve is interrupted by yet another friend’s admonishment, “Ugh, you are so healthy!”
“Yea, well, if the cake didn’t have milk and eggs in it, I promise you I would be eating that.”
“Oh, right,” she says, looking serious. “Wow, it’s really easy to forget what we are actually eating.”
“No, I’m serious. I really admire your commitment. It’s amazing.”
And she means it.
Though there is still the all-to-often and pervasive disconnect that allows good-hearted, kind people to partake in the abhorrent practices of animal cruelty—and let’s face it, murder—this is not a woman—a friend—who deserves my anger. But that is the daily challenge of the passionate, moral vegan. The undeniable truth about this cause is that unless change does occur, billions of living beings continue to die. Most days I feel frantic. How can I do more? How can I, in my small corner of the universe, help to save the lives of those who in my eyes, are no different than me? I go to bed every night with a furrowed brow, the lines of despair etched into my still young face, a silent prayer spoken so that I do not crumble beneath the weight of my personal revelation: “Please, help me to have compassion for those who do not yet see.”
After all, how can we fight for the compassion of others, with anything but compassion? It isn’t always easy. And everyday animals die. But one thing I am sure of is that a resolution is not a resolution without peace.
Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/9428166@N03