You’ve probably heard it before. You sit down to a meal with a friend, co-worker, parent, or classmate, and they ask, “Is it ok if I eat meat in front of you?” And you find yourself with mixed feelings about how to respond. Let’s talk about it.
When this happens, the first thing we can recognize is that the person who asked the question is being conscientious about you, your beliefs, and eating habits. This is great! But it gets harder from here. Their question was not “What happened to the animal before they died?” or “Should I start eating more plant-based foods?” The concern is about you and not necessarily about the animal. We can respond in a way that inspires the other person to consider the effects of their food choices and shift toward eating foods that cause less harm to animals.
First, acknowledge their concern about you. A simple “thanks for asking” will suffice. Second, you may also want to express how you feel. If you’re uncomfortable, you could say, “Yes, it’s difficult for me to be around this because I care about what happens to animals.” Third, reaffirm their choice. While we know very well the dire effects of individual choices on the lives of animals, in this context, showing your respect for the other person’s autonomy gives them space to make their own choices. When they don’t sense a demand (whether in the moment or in the ongoing relationship), it’s easier for them to consider changing the way they eat. Saying “I respect your choices” or “I want you to make your own choice about what to eat” will more likely inspire them to be open-minded.
Fourth, you may want to offer to be available for more conversation or assistance in the future. You could say, “I’d be happy to make food for you some time” or “If you’re open to it, let’s talk about animals and ethics” or “I’ve got this great recipe that I think you’d love.”
Altogether, your response might sound something like, “Thanks for asking. It’s difficult for me to watch you eat animals because I care about them, but I respect your choices. How about I make you some vegan tacos next week?”
Of course, what you choose to say and how you choose to say it will depend on your relationship with this person and on how you’re feeling at the moment. Remember that your tone of voice and body language are also powerful communication tools.
Be forgiving of yourself if you can’t muster patience in every conversation or find the right words to say. When you consider the treatment of animals regularly and reflect upon your behavior, you’ll find it easier to respond positively and constructively. And you’ll make a huge difference for animals.