Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor

Posted September 8, 2013

Published in Animals

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The Vegan's Dilemma

Read More: vegan, vegan ethics

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I’m in an ethical dilemma I bet many of you are in too:  Should I speak up or stay quiet when others order meat at restaurants?  The obvious answer most vegans give – and what I have always done – is to stay quiet, set a good example, and wait until someone asks about my diet.  If they ask, then I gently try to open their eyes to what is going on with our food system.  

However, if you think about it, this topic is not just a difference in opinion -- it's not like I'm saying "I love God's little animals and you should too!" -- we are talking about true atrocities and horrors that are happening in our factory farms and slaughterhouses, that most people would never put up with if it was happening to humans, dogs or cats, but are overlooking because they are pigs, chickens and cows.  So, in many ways, simply sitting back, “setting an example” and not speaking out proactively can be construed as allowing the horrors to go on.  As MLK said, "All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to stay quiet."  

Having said that, how does a sane, loving person bring this up proactively without upsetting people, losing friends, or losing your job? For example, I have had clients at work dinners thoughtfully ask, “Will it bother you if I order a steak?” and because I so desperately want to be “normal,” polite and keep my job, I say “Thank you for asking – please order what you’d like.”  But in fact, it’s really not okay that animals were tortured and slaughtered – often alive – for their steak.

I tell myself that it’s okay, because I’m doing my part by setting a good example for them to follow, lecturing, writing a blog and writing books to help people adopt a vegan diet.  These things certainly help offset the damage that is being done, but does that make it okay not to speak up?

Is it ethical to sit back and just watch harmless animals get devoured carelessly with a glass of wine, and not say anything?  Is it okay, when millions of sentient beings are suffering and dying daily, for me to politely sip my iced tea and allow them to order their steak without even commenting on it?

What do you do?  This is a real dilemma faced by all vegans – speak out and be seen as a radical and potentially lose friends, jobs, etc, or stay quiet and watch helpless animals suffer and die?  I would love to hear your comments!


4 Comments | Leave a comment


Hi, Sarah.

I suppose you could say, "I don't mind if you order the steak if you'll watch this short video first." Then show them a copy of "Meat Your Meat" or "Farm to Fridge" on your tablet/phone.

Sad to say, but most people really don't want to hear about it. Like Pollan's opening lines from "Food, Inc.": Don't tell me where my food comes from because then I probably won't want to eat it.


When I am in a group, I alternate between giving a fact about animal abuse and simply staying quiet, for the exact same reasons as you. If I say things in a joking manner, I can get away with saying more!
What is very frustrating for me is, I have T-shirts that are vegan T-shirts and I would love to wear them to the grocery store, but I have to buy for the family, and I am the only vegan. They have improved their diets quite a bit since I went vegan almost four years ago, but still hold on to what will enable them to eat their favorite foods. It does not pay for me to argue, so I sadly purchase products for them and never get to wear my T-shirts.
Most of my activism is done by researching and writing or outside of employment or family.


This is indeed a dilemma and one I too have been in agony over for decades. Regardless of how gentle and amicable I am while admitting to being vegan, it seems many individuals are sensitive and quickly alienated themselves from me. Many possibly feel guilt of their very own personal kind. Who knows, either way, I tell people that until I'm world dictator I can't force anyone to do anything against their will (when they ask if I'd mind if they order a murdered animal). I always tell people it's like Alcoholics Anonymous. People have to find their own path. I'd love to help if they want to explore and know more. I find it extremely uncomfortable being at the same table as those who are consuming dead animals. I frequently refuse invites in order to avoid this. I also make the comment to individuals who happily declare they "just can't give up meat" by saying "murder isn't delicious". This is another comment that I've noticed easily alienates individuals. Too bad. With age, I feel a certain license now to do some alienating of my own.


Lots of good comments above, agreed that it is an 'ethical dilemma' and I am convinced that what we say to non-vegans about animal suffering at dinner time is mostly just going to alienate them and make them resentful. Change comes slowly, vegan numbers are growing but it may take decades (if were still around)to see a real turnaround in significant number of vegan diets/lifestyles in the human population.

Setting an example by showing compassion may be the best we can do. I am very thankful to those who lead a vegan lifestyle

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