Last night was remarkable for two reasons. Maybe three. Someone knocked on my door to invite me to a party, I accepted, and I had an interesting giving-me-hope-that-i-might-be-getting-somewhere-with-this-stupid-advocacy-crap conversation.
Sitting at my desk, up against the window that overlooks the patio, I saw my neighbor’s six year old boy make his way to the gate on my patio, and then walk to my patio door and knock. Big internal groan. Frantic thoughts of hiding. Cute kid, but he’s got way too much energy, especially for someone like me who is entirely clueless as how to handle kids.
“We’re having a party for my dad,” he told me. “He’s going to Guatamala on Wednesday morning.” I glanced at my neighbor’s patio, and sure enough, there was a table out there and glasses, a party about to start.
I’m not a very social person, but sometimes you just have to suck it up.
When I got to my neighbor’s patio, it was clear it wasn’t just a cocktails party as I’d assumed, but a dinner party. Before I had a chance to say anything other than “I’ve just eaten,” the 6 year old’s dad told me “you can eat everything but the shrimp. Other than that it was all made without animal products.”
It was a simple meal – beans, rice, corn on the cob. I had a little – I can always eat more – and was amazed the whole time. They didn’t know I’d be there ahead of time, but somehow they’d made a vegan meal except for the shrimp, which were cooked separately and so were simply left off my plate. I was able to walk into a dinner party at the last minute where not a single other person was vegetarian, let alone vegan, and eat pretty much everything on the table. Food instantly became the social non-issue take-it-for-granted kind of thing you find and delight in at vegan potlucks. I appreciated it more than I can say, especially because it was absolutely not a big deal to anyone else sitting at the table. Omnis, all. I don’t remember when I have felt more included in the bigger social picture of my neighborhood.
I’m still amazed.
Something else my neighbor said when I first arrived was that he doesn’t think he’s strong enough to be vegan, that it was a big commitment. I looked at him, and at his 2 kids, and I told him that he already does something that’s way harder and a much bigger commitment than being vegan; he chose to be a good dad. This is no small thing – his own father was violent and abusive, so he has had to create his own version of fatherhood, he has no childhood role model to follow.
“That’s just part of who I am now,” he disagreed, “I don’t even have to think about it.”
And that’s exactly how veganism is for me, I told him.
I could see him thinking about that one. He’s a ponderer. He told me that they eat way less meat now than they used to. I encouraged him in this regard, of course.
His 9 year old daughter is fascinating to me. She understands that I’m vegan, understands it better than most adults. She asks questions, and she really listens to the answers, and retains them, ponders them. She doesn’t feel judged by my answers, she understands that she is learning why I do the things I do, why I am the way I am, that it isn’t about her or about me, but about the animals. And after she gets her answers, she comes back later, sometimes months later, with follow up questions.
Last night’s question was whether any of my clothes were made with animal products. And whether any of my Tempest’s cat toys were made with animal products. She was in awe at my answers. “So nothing in your house has animal products?”
I fudged a little, given that Tempest does eat animal products, and said “nothing but Tempest herself.”
Someday I will likely have that conversation with her, about the ethical conundrum that I and many other vegans feel about the issue of what we feed our rescued carnivores. She’s just that kind of kid. She’ll think about it at some point, and ask questions.
Last night, I was simply in awe, again, that she keeps coming up with these questions on her own. Making these connections, learning the ways that animals are used and asking me how that relates to my veganism. She’s not thinking she’s going to trip me up, the way some belligerant adults think, she’s just seeking more information for her own understanding. I’m building her picture of what vegans are, what it means to be vegan, and everything associated with that. It is an amazing process to watch. Especially because she’s already made that leap to understanding that veganism isn’t just about the food we put in our mouths.
I am not sure what influenced my neighbor to eat less meat. Health is my guess, but perhaps some of our conversations played a part. His daughter’s depth of interest in issues is highly encouraged by her parents, and my conversations with her dad have often been (also like his daughter, instigated by his questions) about the human rights abuses inherant in the animal exploitation industries. That’s his thing, having come from an abusive home. After a frank conversation with his daughter about the dairy industry, I saw him out working on his car. I gave him warning about the conversation I’d had since I assumed she’d end up talking to them about what she learned, and assured him that she’d asked the questions, and I answered them honestly but tried to keep the graphic details to a minimum. He was cool with that. He wants her to know, he wants the adults in her life to tell it to her how it is. He wants her to question and to seek, and he’s not going to be upset if that information informs her worldview in a way that is different than his. He isn’t going to shelter her from the reality that life is often ugly.
And so I can’t help but to wonder whether his daughter has played a part in him (and the family?) eating less meat. She’s 9, with a 9 year old’s propensity for straight up honest truth.
“You’re short!” She told me recently. “You’re like a mini person.”
Last night she explained the exploitation of dairy cows to her mom when explaining why I wasn’t having the dessert. We’d had that conversation a couple months ago. She didn’t need a refresher, she didn’t need to ask me last night for confirmation, she just understood and explained it to her mom.
When I told her a few weeks ago how cool I thought it that she really listened and paid attention when we talked about the issues she brings up, she looked at me like I was crazy. “I asked the question,” she said. “Yeah, but not everyone listens to the answers,” I replied.
Kids are the future. Kids are amazing. Kids are, to my mind, the absolute best at advocacy. They’re naturals.
photo taken by the 6 year old!