Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

“It didn’t work for me”


I heard this today. I’ve always thought my favorite barista was veganizable. He’s often been interested in the fact that I go to the sanctuary to help out, and he’ll ask me my opinion about various animal issues that come up in the media. We’ve had very interesting conversations over the past year in the minute or so it takes him to make my lattes.

I’m not sure I ever told him that I’m vegan (though I consciously mentioned it today), but I have often brought people in there; we always all get soy milk, and it is often a crowd of us going to the sanctuary. It was probably self evident. And I have worn message t-shirts in there. Today it was a RAN t-shirt, but I most of my t-shirts are animal message t-shirts, and he’d have been bound to have read one or two of them.

Today as we were talking he asked if I’d been to one of the local vegetarian restaurants in town. I’d been to it, and we talked about how it is hit or miss with the dishes. Some people rave about this restaurant, and I find myself driving an hour away to go to a different one. The menu is extensive, however, and I’ve always half assumed that if I found the right dish, I’d be much more impressed. In fact, I am pretty sure this is the case.

He asked me about nutritional yeast and where I got it. We talked about various food items, the local grocery stores, and he mentioned that he wants to take charge of his nutrition. Or his eating habits. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but that’s when he said that he’d flirted with veganism for about a year and that it didn’t work for him.

I never know how to respond to that, and it isn’t the first time I’ve heard it. I don’t know why it didn’t work for him. It wasn’t the time or the place to ask further, but of course now I’m very curious. My assumption when people tell me this is that they were eating mostly junk food or perhaps almost nothing at all. A lot of people end up eating far fewer calories than they need when they first go vegan, and they seem surprised when you point this out to them. I didn’t have this problem, maybe because I was a lot closer to a vegan diet than I realized before I went vegan, so it wasn’t that much of an adjustment for me.

Hopefully I’ll have a chance to talk to him more next week when I stop in for my latte. I’m bringing him a cookbook (if I remember) because he also talked about a tofu dish he used to have that he misses. I told him I’d bring the cookbook for him to look at and borrow if he thinks the recipe I’m thinking of might be what he is looking for.

Former vegans are usually among the people least open to hearing about veganism or animal rights, but I don’t think my barista is among that crowd. Maybe he really is veganizable. I don’t know why he flirted with veganism for that year – it could have been purely for health reasons, though if that was the case, he does seem to have a greater understanding of the real issues behind animal rights than the average non-vegan.

The conversation we had today made me think of the several posts Mary at AnimalPerson has made in the past week, especially “On the Human Truth Threshold.” This especially seemed appropriate:

We have our unique truth thresholds, and once they’re reached there’s a law of exponentially-diminishing returns that kicks in and makes you less likely to do anything and more likely to be defensive once you’ve reached your threshold. And the problem is that because everyone has a different threshold, unless you know the person you’re speaking with fairly well, your enthusiasm to get them to think about what they’re doing could easily be the reason you fail (because you say too much at once and it’s simply too challenging for them).

She thought I was operating on this premise already (no chance) because she complimented me on the way I plant one seed whenever I see her or talk to her, and I don’t necessarily explain anything, though sometimes I do, and I don’t initiate the discussion. Ever.

My interactions with my barista have been exactly like this. I don’t initiate, and there is time for only the briefest conversations. It is impossible to do more than plant seeds, mostly with no explanations. It works both ways – he mentioned a book once, wondering if I’d read it. That was all he had time to say, but I found myself checking it out of the library the very next week.



9 responses to ““It didn’t work for me”

  1. Neva October 21, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Since I’m someone who commented over on animal person that I gave up on being vegan the first time around (in other words it didn’t work for me), and then subsequently gave veganism another try and it HAS worked for me for 13 years now, I feel somewhat qualified to comment.

    I would think the first thing would be to listen to his reasons why it didn’t work for him.

    It could be that he, like the former me, wasn’t consuming enough total calories or a varied enough diet. In that case the plethora of vegan convenience foods right now, and vegan options in restaurants might be a good thing.

    I know someone who gave up on veganism because he was dating and eventually married a non-vegan who nagged him continuously about how much she hated his veganism, and even gave dinner parties at their shared home with nothing he could eat because vegan food was “a pain in the ass.” So he quit being vegan. I’m not sure anyone is ever open to the suggestion that they dump a partner who isn’t supportive, but in that case the issue was respect not veganism.

    It might not have worked for him primarily because he “flirted” with it. If he was eating cheese once a week and then eating the same stuff minus the cheese other days, then he might have been setting himself up for failure. He wasn’t learning to love any vegan foods and was keeping his taste buds primed to crave animal fats.

    I know one woman whose downfall was that she either cooked elaborate organic vegan meals for her kids (and they often didn’t like them) or gave up and ordered non-vegan pizza. She felt pretty strongly that vegans didn’t understand how difficult it was to try to convert kids to veganism, but I think listening non-judgmentally is helpful. She slowly needed to realize it wasn’t either a five course vegan meal or giving up, it was ok to be lazy and use vegan hot dogs now and then.

    But I guess stumbling blocks are all different, and the person probably has a strong desire to defend their backsliding (or whatever you call it). I know that after I quit being vegan for the first time, when we had a vegan speaker come to our college I was pretty vocal on saying how horrible my blood count had been and what my doctor had said about protein from eggs, etc. I was completely wrong of course (blush) but I wanted to think that my reasons were good reasons and I also wanted to not get sick again. I think if someone had given me some good practical advice on vegan nutrition, after letting me get out the “you don’t know what it was like, I couldn’t climb the stairs without getting dizzy” then maybe that would have worked.

    Of course I think for most of us, the animals are the primary motivator. I didn’t have great vegan nutritional information when I went vegan again, but I did print out some charts saying what foods had what. But I was willing to risk feeling sick again for the animals. Luckily I did it more carefully that time and it did work for me.

  2. Deb October 21, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks for your input! I guess I find the “it didn’t work for me” to be such a closed comment that I’m never sure if it will be fruitful to even ask “why” when someone says it like that.

    So now I’m curious – you felt awful and had the dizziness and all kinds of problems the first time you tried to go vegan. Did you say afterwards that “it didn’t work for you”, and if so, when you said it, how would you have reacted if someone asked you to explain further?

    He’s a very laid back and thoughtful person, so he didn’t appear defensive…though now that I think of it, there might have been that second where we both sort of paused and he relaxed when I didn’t immediately get on his case about it.

    I obviously don’t have any information at this point on why he went vegan or why it didn’t work for him. My feeling is that he brought it up today, along with the veg restaurant, nutritional yeast, and this tofu recipe, because he might be open to it, but wants guidance. I really don’t know – we had more like a five minute conversation today, but that still isn’t much time to talk about much!

  3. Neva October 21, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Well, no I didn’t say it didn’t work for me. I said I tried being vegan for about a year and had some health problems and my doctor said I couldn’t be vegan. The thing was I totally believed it, even though as a non-vegan vegetarian I was pretty close to vegan and was just eating a more varied diet and getting sufficient calories.

    I was anemic. The dizziness, pukiness, sleepiness, weakness etc went along with not having enough red blood cells. However, knowing what I know now, I simply was not consuming enough total calories and I was basing my entire diet around brown rice and broccoli, so not a great diet.

    I rarely encountered vegans after I gave it up and when I did, many of them seemed to have similar health problems or other health issues going on, so I didn’t have much going in the way of a good example. When people questioned me on why I stopped I don’t think it came across as a real exchange, so it’s hard for me to say how I might have reacted. I recall one woman saying “well, if you’re eating eggs you’re not a feminist.” and my response was “I tried and I got sick.” I would like to think that it could have gone better and I could have gotten more information.

    I did get bombarded with peta mail telling me I needed to go vegan, so I finally gave it another try, and I ordered the Peta cookbook, the first one (all they had then), and just by having that cookbook I was eating a much better diet. I was still worried I might not be getting everything I needed but I decided to be vegan until I started getting sick again. I then bought the UPC cookbook… You get the picture. I was eating a much better diet and though still stupid about nutrition I didn’t have a repeat of the previous problems.

    I do think it sounds good that the guy isn’t incredibly defensive. Maybe if you just take it slow and give him information. I do think the reason behind it is kind of important. As I said, in my case I think some really good nutritional info would have helped me…. Oh, ok, so I was eating a lot of broccoli, and this vegetarian thing I got about anemia said “eat more broccoli.” But I was so freaking clueless. I really needed to be told how much food I should eat each day, other sources of iron, since apparently me with broccoli wasn’t working out, and so on. You know… Anyway, I’m just saying that for him, if it isn’t about nutrition, then nutrition info won’t help. If it’s about an incredible weakness for snack food, maybe he just needs to try “Tings” and realize how good they are. If it’s about cheese cravings maybe he needs to visit the sanctuary and learn more about how cheese isn’t better than eating meat. And so on.

    But if you’re just exposing him to more vegan foods that’s positive! It starts to show him that veganism is possible.

  4. Deb October 21, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    Being limited to barista minutes definitely means I’ll be taking it slow, no matter what! But I think that is why it even got to this point to begin with. I think that sometimes we plant seeds without saying anything at all (which is both encouraging and frightening, since it can go in either direction, and we might never be aware of having had an impact).

    Regardless, I definitely agree that starting with vegan foods is a positive thing. And now that I think about it, when I was vegetarian, I hardly ate any variety (I lived off spaghetti and jarred sauce for years), and when I went vegan I also started cooking and collecting cookbooks, so that was probably also why I didn’t have the calorie problem.

    I probably didn’t say it very well in my actual post, but when I said that people are surprised when you point out that they’re not eating enough calories, I didn’t mean it in a snarky way. It seems to start out with them saying they don’t feel well, and when they list what they’re eating, it just isn’t enough food period, which they didn’t even think about. Having some good recipes does make that easier to avoid without having to think about it, as well as getting more variety.

    I’ll have to gather some resources and remember to bring the cookbook with me next week when I go for my weekend latte. I keep forgetting (since I only see him face to face in the coffee shop) that I can provide him some online resources as well!

  5. Relax October 22, 2007 at 11:24 am

    I was useful very much.
    Thank you.

  6. Mary Martin October 24, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    Did you coin “veganizable?” I’ve never heard that! I had the absence of conscience to go from vegan to eating filet mignon for a year, and my reason was as bad as it could get: I had no support and I was in a place where no one I knew was a vegan and I was in search of ways to normalize my social life (I was a teetotaling vegan). I recall loving the taste, and never did a meal go by when I didn’t think of the suffering. But I did it. And I have no real excuse. I couldn’t have been as committed as I am now or I was before then, so I guess that’s the real thing to look into: what makes someone who has developed a conscience about something suddenly behave as if that strong moral belief system doesn’t exist? And I don’t have an answer.

    Keep the goats comin’.

    And thanks for the mention . . .

  7. Deb October 24, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    I doubt if I coined it, though I definitely use it fairly frequently!

    The part where you said that you always thought of the suffering when you were eating the meat reinforces something that I’ve often thought, that when we focus just on the suffering it leaves some big holes for people to walk their excuses though. (I know this isn’t groundbreaking to most of us.) I think I tend to talk about the death of the animals, and gloss over the suffering, for the most part.

    I’m trying to remember my own thought processes when I first went vegetarian and then 8 years later when I went vegan, and for both of them, it was never the suffering I thought of, but the death. I didn’t want to take part in the death of sentient beings, and so I became vegetarian. When I realized that I needed to go vegan to avoid causing the cows and chickens to not be killed for my sake, that’s what I did. The suffering was something I really didn’t know much about until later.

    I don’t know if that is relevant or not, actually, since whether it is suffering or death you want to avoid taking part of (or both, obviously), you’d still be turning your back on those beliefs if you turned away from veganism.

    It will be interesting to see what my barista says this weekend. I have the cookbook sitting on my table so I (hopefully) won’t forget to bring it with me when I get my latte!

    There’s always more goats! They’re irresistible. 🙂

  8. Mary Martin October 24, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    The thing that I’m now committed to, oddly, has nothing to do with the suffering or the death. For me, it’s taking or breeding a sentient being, and completely controlling her life, from what traits she has genetically, to whether she sees the light of day, to when and how she reproduces/procreates/is inseminated, to what happens to her kids, to what she eats, when she eats, where she lives, and in what conditions she lives. For most, I’d imagine, death might be a relief. To totally control someone for your benefit–for something not even necessary–is what keeps me vegan and makes me a bit militant. I guess that’s why my pamphlet focuses on that piece of the puzzle.

    Thanks again for the goats. I had such a hard time deciding which one to use. I almost wanted to use only goats to hit home the individuality piece. But I don’t think too many people would’ve “gotten” that.

  9. Deb October 24, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    For most, I’d imagine, death might be a relief.

    That’s exactly what makes me uncomfortable about dwelling on the suffering. Death does sound like a release, yet even as a kid I had such a hard time when we had to put our old ailing cats to sleep. Euthanasia in the true sense. All the “what ifs” and “what if they don’t want us to” were the questions I couldn’t stop asking. So in a way I guess it is the same motivation for me, though I don’t tend to articulate it like that. Though maybe close.

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