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I decided to be a vegetarian about six
months ago, and have not touched meat since then. I
recently chose not to eat eggs or cheese, yet I still
drink milk, making me not a vegan. The members of my
family don't understand my reasons for my lifestyle.
They think it's stupid of me to not eat meat, eggs,
etc. My father always teases me, my mother very seldom
remembers that I don't eat fish (according to her, fish
isn't meat), and my sisters are always asking if I'd
mind eating meat for one day so we can go to a steakhouse.
In the summer, my family is going to visit our relatives
in a different country. I will be living with them for
two months. I will be surrounded by a bunch of people
who oppose my choice and will be asked a million questions
per day (even more than I get asked now, which is sometimes
more than I can handle). Please help me, in any way
you can, in dealing with these sorts of situations.
When people decide to engage in behavior
or beliefs that are contrary to their family's customs,
it is not unusual for there to be resistance and opposition.
When that choice is vegetarianism, and there was no
previous hint that such a change was on the horizon,
parents are taken by surprise. They may feel shocked,
confused, frightened, or concerned for a variety of
If you never told your family that you
were even thinking about becoming a vegetarian, there
is no way they could be prepared for such news. Therefore,
they may presume that you are just "experimenting" or
that your choice is faddish and temporary. Most people
know very little about vegetarianism, except for distorted
impressions advanced by ill-informed media. Considering
the myths that most sources circulate about vegetarianism,
your parents cannot be faulted for their mistaken assertion
that "fish isn't meat."
Because you are the person who initiated
the change, the brunt of educating your family falls
on your shoulders. However, before you can enlighten
others, you must grasp the issues thoroughly yourself.
It will be impossible to discuss your decision rationally
unless you are completely aware about what motivates
you to be a vegetarian.
You mentioned that you recently stopped
eating eggs and cheese but continue to drink cow's milk.
Are you in transition to becoming a vegan? If so, your
family may not understand the reasoning behind what
could appear to them to be a sudden and drastic transformation.
If your impetus is an ethic of compassion, be aware
that others will probably point out the hypocrisy of
not eating cheese but drinking milk. How will you explain
this? For many people, the progression to veganism is
gradual. Nevertheless, outsiders might expect an overnight
metamorphosis, and they are often quick to point out
moral inconsistencies. Have you examined your reasons
for giving up some but not all animal products? Have
you considered the connection between other commodities
(such as leather goods and wool) and animal suffering?
Are you clear about the path you have chosen, why it
is important to you, and how you intend to pursue it?
As long as you fully comprehend what
compels you to be vegan or vegetarian, you will be prepared
to deal honestly and respectfully with the flurry of
questions and comments your relatives toss your way.
You will also be better equipped to maintain your commitment
in foreign surroundings where vegetarian options may
be somewhat limited.
There is no point in getting indignant
or defensive about your family's misinformation and
insensitivity. It is reasonable to assume that their
barbs are unintentional and innocent and stem from their
loving concern about your health and well-being. Your
parents may also be worried that as a vegetarian you
won't be able to fully participate in family functions
or other social activities. Your father's teasing may
simply be a way for him to gently vent his tension,
or it could be a playful attempt through humor to demonstrate
his abiding love for you and desire that you remain
close. If you can, smile and laugh along with him. Learning
to laugh at yourself and take your family's razzing
less seriously will go a long way in tempering the strain
of your present relationship.
Once your own feelings are sorted out,
talk to your family, as a group or individually, whichever
feels more comfortable for you. Speak from your heart
in a composed, mature fashion without lashing out or
becoming emotional. Simply let them know that vegetarianism
is your personal choice, that you have given it much
consideration and thought, and that you love them and
would be grateful for their help and respect. If you
approach each family member with the deference you hope
to receive, it is likely to be reciprocated. Once they
realize that you are informed and sincere about your
decision, they'll be better equipped to support you
at home and during your travels. In turn, the process
of investigating your convictions will effect greater
determination and self-confidence -- qualities that
will be manifest whether you're expressing your ideals
to family, friends, or strangers.
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