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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

The Art of Forbearance

Here is a short dialogue between me and my niece and nephew. Olivia is 7 and Quinn is 4. We were on our way home from the amusement park on Long Beach Island, talking about dinner plans. I was sitting between them in the backseat.

“Aunt Mealey doesn’t eat that,” Olivia said. “She doesn’t eat anything that came from animals.”


“Because I don’t want to hurt them.”

“A hamburger isn’t an animal!”

“Yes, they are, Quinn,” Olivia replied earnestly. “They used to be animals.”

These kids are smart. They are well aware of how their actions affect the feelings and well being of the people around them, and I have every confidence that they will someday include animals in that circle of compassion too.

But talking to kids about veganism is tricky, because you don’t want to criticize the choices their parents have made. (Diet aside, my stepsis and bro-in-law are amazing parents—they exercise affection and discipline in ideal proportions, which frankly isn’t something I see too often when I observe other people interacting with their kids.) I definitely felt that I was treading carefully in the car that day, though, because I love my family and I don’t want to offend or alienate them. I’m not helping “the cause” any by playing the vegan evangelist under those circumstances.

I’m able to have an extended conversation about animal foods with my Little Sister, since she’s older—she’ll be 14 this fall—and we aren’t in the company of her guardian (who, again, is a wonderful person who has raised my LS to be kind and considerate.) When we go out to lunch, she invariably orders a grilled cheese. Sometimes she asks me a few tentative questions about veganism, and her curiosity has given me opportunities to practice articulating the facts as clearly as possible—not to mention the art of forbearance.

Recently she asked why I didn’t want to eat cheese. “Cows aren’t killed to make milk or cheese, right?”

I decided to begin at the beginning. “You know why we have boobs?”

She nodded.

“Well, cows are like us, or any other mammal—they only produce milk when they’ve just had a baby. So we have to keep making them pregnant so they’ll make the milk, and in the meantime their babies are taken away from them.”

“But they aren’t killed, right?”

“They are,” I replied. (I don’t think I clarified that male calves are killed pretty much right away for veal or kid leather; but I’m sure this will come up again at some point.) “Once they stop producing enough milk, the cows are killed for meat.”

She looked down at the sandwich in her hands with a queasy look on her face.

“But we can talk about this some other time,” I added. “Just enjoy the rest of your grilled cheese.”

Continuing the thought from my Veganversary post, I’ve realized that when I have conversations like this, I have to take into account where people are coming from. My niece and nephew and my Little Sister all eat the Standard American Diet at home, chicken and hamburgers and the rest, so the fact that they are even asking me these questions is cause for optimism.



1 Comment to The Art of Forbearance

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    June 11, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t cows actually tricked to think they’re pregnant with increased hormones?

    Also, they’re the cutest!!!!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.