A new vegan in a family of ranchers.

In today’s post, I answer a question I received on Tumblr:

Blogs like yours have really opened my eyes to the importance of the vegan movement. I would love to transition my diet! But, my family is part of a branch of local ranchers, so eating meat is literally a part of my lifestyle and livelihood. I don’t know how to explain to my mom to honor my transition to vegan without hurting her feelings or sounding like I’m attacking her passions. Any advice would be very helpful. And thanks for the awesome blog!

Deciding to go vegan while surrounded by a family of meat-eaters can be intimidating. You have no clue how to convince your parents that this isn’t a phase, and meal times can be particularly stressful. Add to the equation a family that works in the meat industry or in an industry adjacent to it, and your transition to veganism may seem futile. Don’t worry, you can still make it happen! Who knows, you may even convince your family members to give it a try as well.

I would recommend explaining to your mom and family that you are interested in trying veganism for health reasons. Eventually, you may choose to explain other reasons for going vegan, like environmental or ethical ones, but I would avoid these topics of conversation in the beginning. You’re absolutely right, it will be difficult to explain all aspects of veganism to your family because meat is an integral part of their livelihood.

I’ve found that convincing others to accept veganism is easiest when you show them the health benefits of a vegan diet. As a healthy vegan, you’ll be a walking billboard for veganism since you’ll no doubt experience more energy, weight loss (if you happen to be overweight at the start), and clear skin. Health improvements are the best way to convince others about the benefits of veganism because they are easily noticed, factual, and objective. Not only can others see how your health has improved with their own eyes, but blood tests can verify it as well. Basically, you can prove veganism is better than the alternative.

In my opinion, environmental arguments for veganism are weaker than health arguments but stronger than ethical ones. Environmental claims can be proven but the fate of the environment is so far removed from the average person, it’s difficult to persuade these people to care about it, let alone drastically change their diet. Most people feel their actions, detrimental to the environment or not, have no measurable impact on our environment as a whole. It may sound selfish, but people are more likely to be interested in a vegan diet if it improves their health because it directly impacts them now, today, and this is more important than worrying about climate change and how it will impact future generations.

Ethical arguments may seem compelling since many of us stopped eating meat because we care about animals, but one can’t prove veganism is better than the alternative by ethics alone. Ethical arguments for veganism are subjective because ethics are abstract. Various ethics-based arguments that animals should not be used as resources, that we should minimise suffering, or that animals have ‘rights’ all vary in their soundness and validity (at least as I see it) even though they all lead us to the same conclusion—that we should be vegan.

The problem with using ethics to state your case about veganism is that people don’t feel the same way about animal cruelty across the board. While most people are against cruelty and abuse to dogs and cats, animals bred for human consumption are viewed differently. Those who work in the meat industry don’t view animals as sentient beings with feelings and desires much like our own. Ranchers simply view them as resources. They aren’t bad people at all, that’s just what they do to make a living and the thought of not eating animals most likely has never crossed their mind.

If you aren’t familiar with Howard Lyman, I recommend looking him up. He’s a fourth-generation rancher from Montana who turned vegetarian. He authored “The Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher that Won’t Eat Meat” and now works as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. His story is interesting, to say the least. He worked on a feed lot for 20 years, then decided to sell his ranch and help farmers in financial trouble. Now he advocates for smaller organic farms and wants to abolish factory farming.

Here’s a quote from his book, found on his website:

“The question we must ask ourselves as a culture is whether we want to embrace the change that must come, or resist it. Are we so attached to the dietary fallacies with which we were raised, so afraid to counter the arbitrary laws of eating taught to us in childhood by our misinformed parents, that we cannot alter the course they set us on, even if it leads to our own ruin? Does the prospect of standing apart or encountering ridicule scare us even from saving ourselves?

That prospect intimidated me once, and I can only wonder now what I was frightened of. It’s hard to imagine, now that I’m a hundred thirty pounds lighter, infinitely healthier, more full of life and energy, much happier. Now that I have vegetarian friends wherever I go, and feel part of a movement that is not so much political as it is a march of the human heart. Now that I understand how much is at stake. Now that I’ve come to relish shaking people up.”

Maybe you can be the one to shake up your family since you’ll probably be the first vegan they encounter. Be the best vegan you can be, set the example, and stay positive.

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