Conversations with a meat eater generally go like this:
"You are vegan?"
"Do you eat chicken? What about fish?"
"How do you get your protein?"
It is at this point that we, vegans, have a choice about how to have a conversation that is informative and perhaps even inspirational. The protein question gets everyone going because for some people protein is a synonym for meat. Suggesting that it is not necessary (or healthy) to eat meat goes right to the heart of the issue, which is that we have been taught to believe something and, because it is a way of life, most people don't question it.
"We eat beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, spinach, peas, walnuts, cashews, almonds, quinoa, millet, etc."
"Aren't you hungry? Don't you need to eat meat to get iron?"
"Not hungry, I eat all day long! And I especially love to indulge in homemade cookies. No, you don't need to eat meat to get iron. I get it from broccoli, walnuts, lentils, spinach, oats..."
Sometimes meat eaters stop here, nod and wish me luck mumbling something about making sure I eat enough. Others want to debate the protein issue. I am fully armed with answers based on my own experience and my Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell.
The bottom line is this: there are no nutrients in animal based foods that are not better obtained from plant-based foods. Plants have protein too!
It is interesting that a vegan never questions a meat eater's ability to take in all of the nutrients necessary for a balanced and healthy diet. We don't question their food choices. Instead, we are the ones who need to defend ourselves. But at the end of the day, the key is to not get defensive. The key is to offer some information that will hopefully cause the person to, at a minimum question their own dietary habits, and at a maximum will convert them on the spot!
We could talk about the benefits of a vegan diet for our health. We could talk about The China Study and explain how some cancers, diabetes and heart diseases are hitting levels of epidemic proportions due to the intake of animal based foods. We could talk about the outrageous sums of money being spent on health care instead of preventative medicine. We could talk about how it is much more extreme to have major heart surgery and live on medication forever versus making dietary changes. We could offer President Clinton's story about his decision to go vegan and why.
We could talk about the animals. We could reveal the secrets of the factory farm and the inhumane treatment of, not just the animals, but those that work at the slaughterhouses. We could explain how a steady diet of hormones and antibiotics given to the animals create more disease and illness. We could talk about how dirty the food supply really is.
We could talk about the environment. We could quote the report from the United Nations that says that methane emissions from all of factory farmed animals are contributing more to global warming than all of the cars, trucks and buses in the world. We could talk about how the oceans are being depleted and how the world is going to suffer because of it.
Any or all of these tacks make for good conversation. In my experience however, most meat eaters can't listen to this stuff. Truth be told, it is tough to talk about and tough to hear. I have my elevator speech, my condensed explanation that encompasses points about our health, the health and welfare of the animals and the planet.
I believe that the best way to have a productive conversation with a meat eater is not to have a conversation at all. Invite them out to a delicious vegan restaurant or even better invite them over and cook for them. Let the food do the talking.
Photo credit: TDIV