The Quiet Vegan. How to 'Speak Out' with Grace.

As we approach Thanksgiving, and the holidays in general, there is a natural peak in the discussion (both online and in-person) regarding the topics of 'farm to table' 'where does our food come from' and 'animal rights'. On Thanksgiving day there is a great big red line drawn across dining tables all across America. Those who eat turkey and those who do not. (And by 'turkey' I mean any sort of main dish animal product). Which side of the line do you fall on?

Blurred Line.
You don't have to be a full-fledged vegan to find yourself on the VEG side of the line. Because even among the veg community, there is a great divide. There are the loud vegans and then there are the quiet vegans. Which are you? Is being a 'quiet vegan' enough? Enough for the animals? Enough for your own peace of mind? If you truly believe in your vegan way of life, you should have no hesitation in sharing your point of view with the world, right? But how do you 'speak out' while still showing your friends and family the same respect for their diet as you'd expect to receive regarding yours? How do you master the art of speaking out this Thanksgiving with a little grace, class, knowledge and eloquence? Because nobody wants to be the loud crazy vegan at the end of the dinner table. However the 'outspoken eloquent vegan' does have a nice ring to it. Here's my advice on how to gracefully 'speak out' this Thanksgiving...

The Quiet Vegans. For many years (mostly in high school and college) I was the picture perfect quiet little vegan at the end of the dining table on Thanksgiving day. I love celebrating the holiday with family and friends, so I never refused a Thanksgiving invite simply because I ate differently than the house I was at. I was never loud, mouthy, aggressive, outspoken or pushy with my vegan beliefs. I simply sat at the end of the table, quiet and silent as I watched the turkey and gravy get passed around the table. A simple 'I don't eat that' was my vague response. I didn't even want to say "the V-word". I was 'the quiet vegan'. My plate was filled to the brim with a compilation of side dishes. I'd pass the turkey, pass the stuffing and pass the sausage down the line. Yet every quiet vegan has an inner struggle: how do I sit still and silent about something that I live everyday. Why are my beliefs muffled from the conversation? The answer is pure fear. Fear of alienating family and friends whom you love. Fear that you will be shuffled off into the 'crazy vegans' category. Fear that you won't get invited back because 'the vegan thing is too much trouble' for the household cook to manage. Fear of alienation, pure and simple.

The Loud Vegans. My First Protest. Pouring rain. Thirty to Forty souls gathered along Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC - embassy row. The Japanese Embassy. It was the first day of the seal slaughter in Japan. I was invited by good friends to a protest. I went. I stood for a few hours with my body shaking from adrenalin, fear and freezingness. My little sign in hand, my voice shouting the same line over and over. The cars went by. Many would honk. Many would look at us like we were nuts. One of the ring leader ladies had a blow horn. She was clearly the loudest. Leading the chants, changing the words every so often. There was a news crew. She was interviewed. I hid my face a little. The protest ended. I climbed into my car like a soggy rat. I felt good, but a little off. Did I really make a difference?

I applaud the protesters - the loud shouting animal rights activists of the world. They have big bold brash voices and aren't afraid to risk alienating themselves to use them. They are confident and unapologetic. But that's not me. That's not my personality. I struggled with this because I wanted to help - desperately. I wanted to be louder, but still in my own quiet and polite way. After years of struggling with this, I have pretty much mastered my interaction with the world when it comes to being vegan. Not all of us are the 'protesting type' and that's OK.

Vegan Community: Online.
The internet, twitter, blogging and facebook has made me feel so much more confidant in my 'vegan' lifestyle. And I hear this same thing from readers all the time - vegetarians who live in Texas with steak-hungry families or mid west meat and potatoes folks who go veg and their family is shocked and confused into telling them they are 'crazy'. But the internet has changed the vegan community. Veggie folks from LA, NYC, DC, and small town USA can all gather online and discuss their veggie trends, thoughts and celebrations.

From Quiet to Loud: Inspiration.
The online community is also a huge motivator to speak out. I try desperately to not watch all the 'behind-the-scenes' footage of the factory farming houses. I feel like I have already seen enough to convince and educate myself of the horrors of factory farming and animal abuse. But once in a while my curiosity gets the better of me and I watch the new videos - I have nightmares for days. More recently, I watched one posted by Wayne Pacalle of the HSUS regarding veal calf cruelty, and then one by PETA regarding 'throw-away-male-chicks' (up to 150,000 male chicks killed daily- the adorable little fluffy yellow chicks used on Easter cards and baby clothes.). Both truly horrifying videos. But when I see footage like that I am reminded that I cannot sit at the end of the table silently chewing my green beans and sweet potatoes while my meat-eating friends chomp away laughing and gleeful, dining in pure ignorant bliss.

The Solution: Grace Under Fire.
So what is a quiet vegan to do? Shun all mainstream party invites? NO. Bring PETA pamphlets to the Thanksgiving dinner table and place "Go Vegan" stickers all over the turkey? NO. Start a 'meat is murder' conversation as everyone dives into their turkey and gravy? NO. Here's my solution: practice grace under fire and be a role model for the vegan community. Here are your two options this Thanksgiving...

1) RSVP 'yes' to your non-veg relatives dinner. But don't sit still, quiet and polite. You're smarter than that. Wait for the doors of discussion to open for you - don't break down the door. If someone asks you "so you're vegan, eh?!" Consider the doors opened for discussion about why you are vegan. Just make sure you speak with grace, class, knowledge and eloquence. I like to say something like this:

Example 30-second "why I'm vegan" speech: "I've been vegan for about nine (insert your number) years now. Vegetarian since I was a teen. It all started with my love of animals and how I simply 'didn't feel right' eating them. I've done a lot of research into factory farming as an industry and found the animal abuses to be shocking, grotesque and inhumane. It was a slow transition. Insert or remove bad joke here: (No 'cold turkey for animal products. ha!) I started experimenting with vegan food items such as tempeh, seitan, rice milk, tofu, vegan cheese, hemp milk ice cream, vegan chocolate, adding more organic fruits and veggies to my diet and I realized that I just didn't need animal products in my life. My vegan diet makes me feel energized, healthy and morally at peace with myself. Plus since everyone (including myself) wants to 'be more green' nowadays, I am really doing my part by not participating in the earth-damaging cycle of factory farming. I'm respecting the earth, my body and most importantly the animals I love. A day doesn't go by when I am not reminded how grateful I am for choosing a vegan way of life. I'd never go back to my old life of consuming animal products. Never. I love being vegan."

option #2 (what I'm doing this year)...

2) Host a "Vegan Thanksgiving" bash! Invite everyone and anyone who you'd like to celebrate Thanksgiving with. Veg or not. Make your vegan table an open door to anyone willing to sit down and try something new. They can eat turkey, gravy and sausage stuffing any year. But how often can they try vegan cheesecake pumpkin pie, seitan stuffing and maple mashed vegan sweet potatoes. Show everyone that your vegan lifestyle is glamorous, delicious and oh so enviable. By displaying your picture perfect vegan way of life, you are automatically speaking out in a graceful and non-abrasive way. You won't win any arguments by being abrasive. You must add some class and grace to your visual and vocal presentation of answering the question "why vegan?"

The Quiet Vegan. Is it Enough? The simple answer is no. Being a 'quiet vegan' is like winning an award you know nothing about. It's like calling yourself 'green-friendly' and driving a hummer to Joe's Steakhouse everyday...but hey you 'recycle'. Being a quiet vegan is not enough. You must speak out in a graceful and eloquent way. Get educated. Learn the facts. And share your knowledge with anyone who will listen. If you truly believe in what you have chosen for yourself (a vegan way of life) you should have no hesitation in sharing your point of view with the world.

Good luck. And Happy Healthy Thanksgiving.

...don't forget to continue reading my Vegan Thanksgiving Series for some delicious recipes for your Thanksgiving day bash!

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