Successfully Alienating One’s Neighbors

I just finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and now feel compelled to post offensive signs in my front yard in an attempt to change my neighbor’s minds about eating meat and animal products. Not, that the signs wouldn’t be true , but people get a bit uneasy when their ethics and habits are called into question.

I’ve been here before, when I first started on me journey of veganism – the confrontational vegan activist phase of my life. It was not something I enjoyed. Mealtimes became battle scenes. Family gatherings were awkward. I bought lots of activist literature to distribute and stickers to put on products in stores that were tested on animals (but was usually too scared to actually place them on products for fear of getting caught). I thought I had outgrown this episode in my life. But this book compels me not to be silent about the suffering of factory farmed animals. Taking a personal stance and changing one’s personal diet is one good step, but trying to get a few other people to join me would be better and is, in fact, necessary if anything is going to change.

But how exactly does one go about this without becoming the neighbor of nightmares? I don’t mind if people talk about me, but I’d hate to become the object of avoidance or to have my kids targeted because of something I did. I don’t, in short, want to become the wacko freak lady who puts signs in her yard. I have a decent relationship with quite a few of my neighbors. Our children play together. We have them over for dessert. They stop and chat with me when I’m working in the front yard garden. I don’t want this to change. They’re nice people. But they all eat factory-farmed meat and processed cheap food.

I am just utterly mystified that people who mostly like animals (I don’t know many people who don’t have a dog or cat at home) can so willingly fill up the pockets of those corporations that routinely torture, deform, and cruelly slaughter animals. Is it a case of ignorance is bliss? Or simply they’ve been duped by our terribly dysfunctional and unethical food system? I realize money is tight and most of these people grew up eating cheap, processed food. I did, after all. Lots of these people, my neighbors, probably can’t afford to spend the $150 – $200 a week on organic, muchly local, “health” food that it takes for me to feed my family of four (that expense also includes personal products and vitamins). But I also choose not to buy a lot of new clothes and thrift store shop, when possible. We don’t eat out terribly often and I cook most meals from scratch. In other words, if it means spending a bit more on food and opting out of cruelty, I’ll do it. Many argue that eating organic and vegan doesn’t have to be expensive. True. IF you buy only fruits, vegetables, and staples like dried beans, flours, oils and tofu. If you are buying processed foods, like breakfast cereals, crackers, cookies, canned soups, you can expect to pay pretty dearly. A trip to the farmer’s market to buy fruits and vegetables in the summer costs me about $30 – $40 a week, if I’m not stocking up on a case of peaches, for example. And this is only to supplement what I grow in our garden at home. 

My husband thinks I should take the environmental angle – “It takes umpteen thousand gallons of water to produce one steak” argument. Or, better just stick to the positive and put up a sign promoting the importance of gardening at home. Meanwhile, I’m thinking up more blatant, disturbing messages: “Eat Meat. Support Animal Abuse.” “Factory Farmed Animals – the New Holocaust.” “How many animals suffered to feed you today?” You get the gist.

I’m not one of those naive vegans who think it’s possible to convert the entire world to veganism. And, unlike most vegans, I don’t necessarily disapprove of local farmers who humanely raise and slaughter their own animals. If you’re going to eat meat, this is the way to do it. I would even argue that this is more natural than veganism. I just can’t make the leap myself from caring for and loving an animal to slaughtering and eating him. I’m not comfortable with blood on my hands or bloody hands on my behalf. But I think most rational people would agree that factory farming is beyond inhumane and is not sustainable. If the coorporate farms and slaughterhouses cease to exist, and people curb their insatiable appetite for huge quantities of meat and animal products, we would all be better off.

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