How I convinced my family to go vegan
Guest Essay by April-Tui Buckley
Being the only vegan in your family or circle of friends is a tricky thing. It is one of the most common problems I see and it is not just the practical obstacles that concern people. Once you make the connection and accept that animals are not ‘things’ that we can use for reasons of convenience or pleasure, it is very hard to live with people who continue to do things you now firmly believe are immoral. I was in this predicament myself, with my husband of over 20 years and my own daughter. I will admit moments of anger and aggression seeped into conversations and I found myself frustrated at their inability to see what I saw and to empathize with animals exactly as I did. I was grateful when they both agreed our home could be vegan, but I didn’t want them to just tolerate my being vegan. I wanted the people I loved to understand this was a moral issue like any other, like any that affected us. What I really wanted was for them to be vegan too.
I went the usual route at first. I showed my husband ‘Cowspiracy’ because he would, I predicted, be intelligent enough to comprehend the environmental catastrophe that awaited us if we pursued our current diet. It worked! He decided right then and there he would be vegan and it was all down to a documentary and a fad 30 day challenge. Good result, right? Well, not so much. We had many conversations about it in the weeks that followed and never did my husband mention the animals right to their own life and bodies. He said things like, ‘ I am more concerned with the survival of our own species’. His focus remained on diet and I knew that in order to really change the way someone thinks about and views animals, we had to actually… think and talk about animals!
It was a problem I ran into with others too, relying on environmental and health concerns was not achieving what I thought it was. You can address both those concerns without actually being vegan, and that’s where the problem lies.
My daughter focused on treatment and death not ‘use.’ Being a teenager, she was less willing to give me her time for these discussions, she seemed more concerned about missing out on cupcakes and the best make-up options. I worried I would not be able to find a way of talking to her on her level. I could maintain a vegan home but if I wanted her to be a committed vegan for life, she had to truly decide this for herself. In this instance I learnt the importance of listening to what the concerns were for the individual. While I stress how necessary it is to talk about animal rights, and I definitely did that with my daughter, I also had to make sure I thoroughly addressed what the issues were for the person I was talking to. My daughter thought she would miss out somehow and it would be a hugely dull and unexciting existence. So, while I was busy reading passages from ‘Eat Like You Care,’ a fantastically helpful book for all those ‘but I can’t because’ conversations, I was also being a Mum to her and hunting down the best cupcakes and lipsticks. While this might seem like I was giving in to her self-interest, I had to consider the fact she is a child and thats what children are like! In the process of showing her vegans still eat yummy food and wear make-up, I was still sharing essential messages about animal rights that today, after over a year of her being vegan, we discuss with a lot more passion and commitment on her part. I’m proud she has become a voice for the animals and the abolitionist approach to veganism is her foundation for that.
At some point I had said to my husband, ‘every life matters to the one that lives it,’ and this is what got him thinking about his own life and how he valued it. He started to think very differently about animals at this point, understanding finally that each and every sentient being values his or her life, like he values his own. He values the rights he has to not be treated as a ‘thing’ and the legal right to decide what to do with his own body. This is one of those ‘moments’ when you realize you have made a difference in someone’s life, not just my husband’s, but the lives of the animals he no longer uses. I did this by talking about animals, not the earth or our health, but actually talking about them in a very similar way to the way I talk about issues that affect humans, such as women’s rights over their own bodies. We talked about the issue from the animal’s perspective, instead of our own.
I could not miss my mother out here, her transition has been an inspiration even for myself and my family here in London. She often thanks us for our help, our encouragement or our recipes! But I learn a lot from new vegans too, especially those with more challenges than I have. My mother is maori and fish, shellfish, and meat in general are a huge part of the diet. She has also been a farmer, proudly rescuing battery hens she continued to use for their eggs. How did I break through all the years of animal use and help my mother decide to go vegan? In a very similar way to my husband and daughter, I spoke about things from the animals perspective. I found something to make the message personal, her love of chickens, and initiated things by talking about them and what happens in the industry to male chicks, what happens nutritionally and psychologically to hens when eggs are taken. That was my ‘in’ to engaging her in conversations which focused on things from the animals’ point of view. She was concerned she couldn’t change the way she cooked or that it would be more expensive, so I gave her practical help at the same time as talking about veganism as a moral issue. Happily she has since said how easy this has been and how great she feels both physically and spiritually.
With all of my family, and now many friends, I look for something personal, something that they already care about. I then use the framework of the abolitionist approach to discuss that topic, always from the perspective of the animal and always speaking about them as living beings. I do this calmly and respectfully, with kindness and encouragement, there is no need or benefit to the animals in being aggressive or unkind. I only speak about health and our environment, or other lifestyle issues, as part of the practical aspects to vegan living, never as a reason to be vegan. Make your focus the animals, change the way your family views them, and you’ll have a vegan for life. Not for 30 days, not until they lose 40 pounds, not because it makes for a pretty Instagram account. But because it is the morally right thing to do.