May 1, 2007

Accepting What Isn’t Acceptable

Posted in abuse, animal advocacy, recovery, vegan at 2:09 pm by nevavegan

Just an odd little note. I have no idea who is reading this blog. I really thought nobody was reading it, which was probably true for the first few months. Now I think a few vegans drop in and check on it, because I love, love, love to read vegan cooking blogs and I comment. Apart from that, I have no idea who is reading or why. Should that make me nervous? Should I feel less open?

My original intent had been to follow along with the weekly writing assignments from the survivors forum, but to post them here, not on the forum. This was partially because my answers always somehow come back to animals and veganism. Suddenly I feel less comfortable with bleeding my angst all over the internet, and yet, I don’t want to abandon the original idea just because I’m paranoid that someone who doesn’t have my best interests at heart is reading.

Blogging is a weird thing, huh? I thought I’d stick all my writings here. Stuff I was sort of proud of but didn’t have a home elsewhere. I thought that if other vegans found something of value, or other people who’ve found themselves in similar situations to mine, all the better. Some of the stuff here winds up being formal essays; some is just meandering mind-dumps.

Well, that was a long opening note. Here’s the real topic.

Those of us who have encountered abuse are often trained from a very young age to accept things that are not acceptable, that are harmful to ourselves, that are harmful to others. In much the same way, our culture indoctrinates us from a young age to accept doing harmful, cruel, even terrifying things to animals. We are told this is simply how things are and we can never, and shouldn’t want to, change it.

This is especially true for me in many ways. I’ve written prior to this about abuse issues and I won’t rehash them here, except to say that emotional and verbal abuse is a form of brainwashing and can set you up for a lifetime of regarding the aberrant as normal.

When this comes to animals, my story might be a tad different than other people’s. I’ve mentioned before that my father is a hunter, and when I was growing up I raised beautiful chickens and ducks that my parents killed and served us for dinner. I remember sitting on the floor next to the body of a lovely deer, stroking his fur. I remember piles of dead ducks and geese, rabbits even. I went fishing myself as a child.

This was something huge to overcome, to get to a point where I was able to see that something that was acceptable, admirable even, to my family was not acceptable to me. It’s not easy to break away from the mind set in which one is raised.

For me the environment was the wedge issue. I grew up surrounded by beauty. As a child I’d go to the pond on my great uncle’s property and there were so many frogs, I had to be careful where I stepped. So many song birds of every color and old magnificent trees to climb. Then one year the frogs just weren’t there. There were older frogs, but all the little frogs were just missing. The shallow waters no longer teemed with tadpoles. It seemed like I saw fewer and fewer birds. Then the trees started dying from gypsy moths. Then I read in the newspaper about the rainforests being clear cut to graze cattle, and how all these species were going extinct as a result. I read that our song birds had no place to go during the winters anymore. That’s the day I resolved to give up eating cows. And when I read about all the pollution from poultry farms, I gave up chicken as well.

That was the first chink in all the armor I’d built up around myself. So often we’re so terrified that we might be wrong about something that we can’t even consider the ideas logically. It’s silly actually, that so many people subscribe to this view that we are either right about everything or we’re wrong about everything and therefore bad people. We don’t want to believe we’re bad people, so we refuse to ever reconsider any of our actions or habits in the face of new information. It’s actually a symptom of mental illness, but I find it widespread among the otherwise sane as well.

Once you allow that one moment of doubt in, there’s a possibility that the whole web of rationalizations and lies will fall too. I found myself, now that I wasn’t looking forward to a steak at my next meal, able to realize: hey, I don’t need meat to survive, there’s nothing “natural” about the way we raise and butcher animals, and hey, I’m actually pretty happy doing this. You know, another of those jaw meets floor moments.

Meanwhile, I see all around me people that are less accepting of death even than I am, people who love animals, but who continue to eat animals because of all that armor they wrap around themselves. These are the people who don’t want to hear terrible stories about how animals live and die. They don’t want to see pictures. They really don’t like the thought of dogs and cats dying in animal shelters. But they are able to insulate themselves from those truths and continue living as they have always lived, because to change would mean admitting something was wrong in the first place.

And so they say things to me like “The Native Americans were very good to the environment and they ate meat” (yes, and show me a hunter/gatherer in NYC) or “I’m really comfortable with my position in the ecosystem” (and how does your luxury house, 2 cars, high rise office, and buying imported foods fit in the ecosystem?). But at all costs, we cannot be wrong, so we have to bend our minds around to force the unacceptable to be ok.

Of course, I think I’m right about veganism, but I’m still wrong in so many ways. Part of making peace with my own mind was understanding that I have been wrong before, and will be wrong in the future, and that it isn’t about being perfect and always right, it’s about doing what I can and learning from my mistakes. I think veganism is a good starting point because it helps on so many levels: it saves so many animals and prevents so much environmental harm. But I still need to do better in other regards; it’s a process, not an end point.

A sort of funny concept to me is the stereotype we have of the curious toddler and the exasperated parent. It’s in movies, TV shows, books, and ads. “But why?” the small child asks and the parent sighs and says “Just because. That’s what we do.” But what if we took that question seriously? “But why do we eat meat?” and the answer isn’t “Because we just do” but is something more like “I don’t know, I never thought about it. Why do we eat meat?”



  1. Douglas said,

    You never stop learning or evolving in life. You have to look at both yourself and the wordl with these eyes. I love this read and you are a very gifted writer. One of the many many things I love about spending time or even reading what other Vegans have to say is, THEY STILL CARE!

    People go through their lives nowadays not caring, not thinking and not making any effort to better themselves. It’s a true shame because after all if everyone in this world tried to be even just a little bit better of a person or make a little difference we would have a much much better place to live…..

    Great read

  2. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks for commenting and all the compliments!

    Of course all vegans care–it’s why we’re involved in this in the first place, no matter what our politics or methods are.

    I’m torn because I do see a lot of people around me who do care about a lot of things. I live in a poor area with high crime, but my neighbors give to charity until it hurts and help each other out. But being in an urban area they are isolated from the truth of animal agriculture. They don’t see the suffering or the environmental damage, so it’s not very real or immediate to them.

    I always feel like there’s so much good in so many people that we could accomplish a lot if we could just our message through all that armor.

    At the same time it’s true that many people don’t care about much. I realize that when I’m in the grocery store and see a man slapping his baby for crying. It’s like “wow, he doesn’t even care about his own child, how could he ever care about an animal.”

    But that doesn’t mean we should ever give up trying to reach the people who do have empathy and compassion.

  3. bazu said,

    Thank you for this post. You know, I always wonder who is reading my blog, and why, and what they think about it… it’s a strange little place, the blogosphere. But I’m also really happy for all the friends and kindred spirits I’ve found here.
    I identify with what you say- for me, veganism carries over to many aspects of life, and I find myself learning more about myself, people, human nature, etc. based on my thinking on the matter.

  4. Deb said,

    Well, I’m reading your blog now that you introduced me to it by commenting on my blog! 😀

    And I really love your blog – I love that you share so much, yet it is in a sort of reflective way that I think we can all apply to ourselves. It seems both personal and universal. I’ve put you on my blogroll, I hope you don’t mind!

    Some of what you said in this post (and others, though I couldn’t tell you which ones – I’ve been reading a bunch of them today) reminded me so much of what Pattrice Jones has written and talked about. Have you read her book, “Aftershock”? I highly recommend it if you haven’t! It is geared towards activists (of which you are one!) but I think applies to anyone who has suffered trauma (which means all of us). And there is a chapter written with therapists in mind, so it might help your therapist help you even more.

    Anyway, I’ll be checking out your blog often, I can tell! 🙂

  5. vko said,

    This is a great post- thank you!

    I always find it fascinating how some people have such a visceral reaction to my veganism, mostly unprovoked. A few have mocked it and then they turn on me to try to catch me to call me out on something. It’s completely bizarre and when I say it is visceral, they are almost foaming at the mouth. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even preaching veganism, simply stating that I don’t eat, wear or use animal products.

    It goes to your comment about the armor. They know that it’s wrong, but they are happily not dealing with it because they like to keep doing what they do and meeting a vegan reminds their subconcious that they should have a conscience and hence the violent reaction.

    Crazy thing.

  6. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Bazu! There is so much inspiration to be found on blogger, so it’s definitely worth it in that respect.

    Thank you Deb, I love your blog so I’d feel honored to be on your blogroll! I’m relatively new here, so I guess that’s where the wondering comes from. I’ve seen Pattrice speak and she’s so good. I really ought to read her book too.

    Thanks VKO. Yes, some people really do go nuts just at the mention of veganism. Though it might be helpful to remember that their reaction shows the depth of emotion they have on the topic. Most will probably continue to be incredibly offensive, but hopefully for some it will later sink in that they do care and that changing is possible.

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