You can lead a horse to water…
How true is that? We hear it all the time, we believe it, and yet when someone blurts out, “My favorite food is veal,” we spend the next fifteen minutes telling them that it’s bad. Has it ever worked? Not for me.
In fact, I was that person who loved veal. I was 11, at a green-minded summer camp in the North Carolina mountains. We sat cross-legged circle out in the woods, saying our name and our favorite food. Everyone said the usual: ice cream, pizza, spaghetti. When it was my turn, I proudly declared that veal was my favorite food. It was true! My mom makes a delicious breaded veal, similar to fried chicken cutlets.
Well, I couldn’t have chosen a worse food. My counselor was a vegan and I had unwittingly lobbed the first grenade in what might have become a two-week long food war. He was obviously frustrated with my response, and quickly told me that veal is baby cow that has been confined in a cage the whole of its innocent little life.
He did not change my mind.
Oh, I believed him. And I understood that confining a baby cow to a cage and being mean to it was bad. But just didn’t want to think about it. Luckily, he let it go and instead focused on making my camp experience as magical as it could be.
If that counselor met me now, I wonder if he would recognize me. I’m a carnivore, but a conscious one, eating only grass-fed beef, if any at all, and reacting with a squeal when at the bottom of a restaurant menu it says “We source meat from local purveyors, only choosing that which has been raised humanely.” I could do better, yes, but it’s far away from the snotty girl who knew and looked away from animal abuse involved in her food.
What changed? Well, it was a long process. I’ve always remembered that conversation, and though it didn’t change my mind that year, it stayed with me, one part of a slow accumulation of knowledge about the way our society contributes to suffering, environmental degradation, and consumption-fueled malaise. That two weeks at camp, where we hiked and learned about Native American philosophy and were introduced to the concept of unnecessary packaging by a granola-bar-brandishing field guide was just the start of a long journey toward more conscious living.
So next time a friend or acquaintance unwittingly makes what you think is a stupid statement, next time your mother buys a package of Perdue chicken at the grocery store with which to make dinner, the next time you encounter someone who is “ignorant,” don’t get frustrated. Just smile as you explain while you disagree, and hope that you’ve planted a little seed in their mind that will grow into a full-grown tree hugger ten years down the road.