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Tension at the Table
We are desperate for help to keep our family together and loving each other. My grandson has been a vegetarian since he was about thirteen. He is now twenty-five and currently lives with us. His continual anger at our eating meat causes much unhappiness and division within our family. We are supportive of his lifestyle and cook veggie food for him when we are together, but more and more he won't join family celebrations and is highly critical of the rest of us. Surely vegetarianism isn’t supposed to be a source of conflict in families. It is hurting us all badly. What do other families do? How do most vegetarians feel about this? Certainly he will never convince anyone to become a vegetarian through his angry ways. Please give a concerned granny some direction. I don't want to lose my grandson, and I don't know where to turn.
Many vegetarians, especially teens and young adults, are incensed about the abominable cruelties heaped on animals raised for food and their rampant and needless deaths. It can be difficult for these committed young people to understand why friends and relatives don’t “see the light,” particularly when the solution seems so clear, at least to them. Sometimes those who are closest to them turn into “the enemy” because they continue to eat meat even after they have been presented with myriad valid reasons to become vegetarian. As with any social cause, vegetarians can be self-righteous and may behave indignantly when others disagree with them. They also can feel betrayed by their loved ones when their family’s actions collude with the very industries they vehemently and steadfastly oppose.
For those whose motivation for being vegetarian is rooted in a sincere ethic of reverence for life, the matter presents a sense of urgency. Every plate of meat represents an unnecessary, violent death--one that could have been prevented had other choices been made by the diner. At the same time, some young people often forget that their nonvegetarian friends and family fall under the same umbrella of life as other animals and are equally deserving of respect and loving-kindness. It’s a delicate balancing act that can be hard for some people to negotiate.
An alternate possibility is that your grandson simply is an angry person, and if he wasn’t angry that the world isn’t vegetarian, he likely would select another target for his resentment. Just because a cause espouses compassion doesn’t mean that all the supporters of that cause are compassionate individuals. People are drawn to social causes for a variety of reasons, some of which may not necessarily entail selflessness.
Although you prepare vegetarian meals for your grandson, it sounds as though he will not be satisfied until the entire family is eating vegetarian meals along with him. One of the joys of dining with other people is sharing the same dishes. Perhaps you could begin bridging the gulf by making vegetarian meals the whole family could enjoy on the nights he has dinner at home. Making an effort to meet him halfway--not by merely serving him vegetarian foods but by showing a willingness to sit down and dig your fork into them, too--will demonstrate that you not only want to comply with his wishes but that you also support him.
Having a totally plant-based meal now and then, and even for celebrations, is not such a big sacrifice, especially when you can cook meat at any other time you like. In fact, it’s a healthful choice that could expand the family’s dining repertoire. Eating vegetarian meals is not a compromise of a meat-eater’s ethics. On the other hand, to vegetarians, having family members or other loved ones eating meat in their presence can feel like an affront to their most deeply held beliefs.
Participating in vegetarian meals together will enable your grandson to feel included in the family, rather than being treated like an outsider. Instead of offering lip service or providing something “special,” sharing the same dishes would be a tangible demonstration of your concern and support.
The answer seems to lie in your (and the other family members’) willingness to compromise about the food that is served when your grandson is home for meals. It is essential that you talk with your grandson openly about your concerns and feelings. While you may not wish to become a vegetarian, it is critical that you weigh the concessions you are prepared to make in order to salvage the relationship and demonstrate your respect for and ability to honor your grandson’s decision. At the same time, you must ask him what you can do (short of becoming a vegetarian yourself) to make him more comfortable at mealtimes and restore your bond. He needs to know how you are feeling in specific words and through direct conversation, rather than a show of exasperation. You will feel a sense of relief by communicating instead of keeping your emotions about this bottled up. You both need to establish your limitations as well as expand your boundaries with each other. A little bit of “give” can go a very long way.
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