Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

cooking class at the yoga studio…

This past Friday evening my yoga studio had a vegetarian cooking class. I looked at the thai-inspired menu – spring rolls, vegetable stir fry, vegetable dumplings, and vegan chocolate cupcakes for dessert – and realized that it was almost entirely vegan. So I signed up. I have never made spring rolls, am too lazy to make cupcakes, and I was interested to see who else would show up. Plus I’ve been extremely lazy about cooking at all lately, and so this was a pretty easy way to be social and have a real meal all at once.

The mix of students was about as expected. Mostly women, with a couple men, and mostly people who were not even vegetarian. One of the men is someone I’d have classified as a “committed omnivore”, but I thought it was fairly hopeful that he showed up to this cooking class.

Of course he is good friends with our yoga instructor, and he lives a 3 minute walk away.

It is hard to know other people’s motivation without asking them directly, something I didn’t do.

I thought that “vegetarianism and yoga” would come up, but it didn’t really. Nutrition was talked about, but I was disappointed that the yoga teacher (a vegetarian who seems to dabble in veganism) seemed like your typical protein-obsessed American. Are we brainwashed, or what?

She said at one point, when I asked her what stopped her from going vegan, that she “works out so much” and “builds muscle so fast” that she can feel sometimes that her body needs protein. She had a very closed expression, so I didn’t push it, but I found it strange that protein was her excuse. She’d actually explained earlier that someone at her activity level needs only 35g of protein/day, which is accurate in a non-protein-obsessed way, and she explained that at the same time she described a typical breakfast that she enjoys, which is vegan and itself contains 25g of protein.

So, clearly, she knows that she can get a lot of protein in one vegan meal. So what’s with the protein excuse for not going vegan?

Furthermore, that she would use activity level as part of this excuse to me, who she knows bikes 30 miles a day commuting to and from work…well, maybe that is why she had such a closed expression. She didn’t want to get into that conversation.

So I backed off.

Still, it was disappointing that she instilled a belief in a handful of people that protein can be difficult on a vegan diet. That if you want an excuse for not going vegan, you just have to mumble something about building muscle fast.

I don’t know how to break through these walls that people throw up. Maybe I keep too much on the outskirts of my social sphere, and thus have too few opportunities, and never quite the right ones, to bring up issues and have real conversations.

Regardless of my own ineptitude when it comes to opening mental doors, it was a fun night, and I learned how to make spring rolls. Everything other than the wonton wrappers were vegan, and since I was able to have the filling (there’s always extra) with rice, I don’t think anyone thought it was a big deal for me to not have the dumplings themselves.

And maybe the point is that everyone loved the food, and went home with detailed instructions on how to make this (almost entirely) vegan feast. Maybe that’s the door that was opened. As much as I wish some of the ethical issues had been discussed, or compassion in food choices emphasized at the very least given that it was through the yoga studio, I think it was awesome that my yoga studio did this. Maybe it was the right thing to not talk about the issues, and instead make it a fun and tasty social event.

I’m not a very social person. I spend my weekends recovering from the work week, from being around people all week. I don’t personally have or make these opportunities to expose people to other ideas.

Interestingly at work, just by being a bike commuting vegan environmentalist, I have influenced people around me in small ways. One coworker now uses his Klean Kanteen instead of water bottles. Another keeps asking for advice on eating healthier, and now brings in fruit instead of candy. She also is walking for an hour in the mornings before coming to work.

In her words, “if Deb can ride her bike for an hour before work and an hour after work, I can walk on my treadmill for an hour each day.”

Of course they all think I’m insane for riding my bike to work, and laugh when I try to convince them to ride their bike for some errands instead of getting in the car. Any discussion of ethical issues around animals produces a glazed look almost instantly.

Maybe I’m just too impatient, maybe these closed and glazed expressions aren’t the dead zones I feel like they are.

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10 responses to “cooking class at the yoga studio…

  1. b June 1, 2009 at 6:28 am

    I might ramble a bit. Everything you said had such a profound impact on me today.

    Last month I was at a monthly dinner with some folks who mutually share cat sitting duties among a group of expats in our city. Pet sitting isn’t part of the culture here, so we all end up relying on other displaced people to help one another. I’ve been meeting up with these people for months and genuinely enjoy about half of them – sensitive animal-loving types who might not be veg but at least understand their young radical friend and her ways (that’s be me).

    When a new woman showed up – a very business-class corporate type who quickly figured out that I’m vegan – I wasn’t put off until she started making the typical comments: “Oh, you have to sit here with us heathen meat eaters.” I haven’t encountered that kind of overt, nasty resistance to my own basic existence in a while, and so dumbfounded, I could barely respond beyond, “Those are your words, not mine.” I find that even in the situations where I expect to have a real conversation, I’m being shut down before I even begin. Clearly, the awkwardness was about her and not me. I never bring up being vegan unless I’m not going to be able to find something to eat. A friend had gently asked if I had enough options, and this woman had then gone off from there, never asking any substantial questions about my life, my choices, who I am. To say I felt alienated in what I felt was a safe space I’d carved for myself is to put it kindly. I won’t go to the dinner this month because I know that woman will be there, and I refuse to walk into a battle. How completely disappointing.

    I feel like lately, I keep meeting so much resistance in the smallest things. It’s like my own life deeply offends others, though I never enter into these kinds of conversations with anything but my own reality and truth. I was at a temp day job recently, and one of the full time female employees there figured out that when I say “partner,” I mean spouse, and she was practically enraged when she realized we did not share a last name. She ended the conversation by storming away. All I’d told her was my own real name b/c she’d asked, to which she’s angrily responded, “Oh, I see. It’s YOUR name.” My resistance to cultural expectations of my own subjugation made her flee the scene. What gives?

    I suspect most of us are introverts because the world is painful. We internalize so much of that hurt, and we do large and small things to reduce the suffering of ourselves and others. But at what point are we supposed to sacrifice our own sanity to reach others?

    I fell off my bike for the first time a few months ago. My partner convinced me to get back on again the next day, which I might not have done without a little nudge. But it’s true that getting back on makes it easier. As much as I hate riding in high density bike traffic, I’m getting very comfortable in the countryside and among cars. I also save SO much time by biking instead of walking or driving! I remain totally inspired that you ride so much every day, every week.

  2. Nancy June 1, 2009 at 8:48 am

    I understand how you feel. I am taking a chinesse medicine class that I am going to use to help animals. When I asked a question about animals that we have saved from the deadpile, people asked me what it was. So I told them in as a matter of fact voice as I could. Some of them said, oh I dont want to know. Later on the teacher told me that I sounded hard and to not shock people to the point that they wouldnt want to listen. I told her, how it was that I should speak about murder and torture and that if people did not want to hear it, they would keep perpetuating the same atrocities.
    Worse still is when the animal rights movement mixes ovo lacto vegetarians with vegans as in vegetarian/vegan. There is a world of difference between these as we all know. But some vegans, especially the ones in major AR groups get offended when I point that out. Certainly, if the calves and chicks murdered by “compassionate” ovo-laco vegetarians were humans, people would not include them as compassionate.

  3. b June 1, 2009 at 9:38 am

    I had a similar experience to Nancy’s recently, when someone told me they’d suddenly (suddenly?) realized what foie gras actually is. She still didn’t seem to grasp how you could force feed an animal though, so I just told her as matter-of-factly as I could. She kept asking things like, “Doesn’t force feeding them kill them?” to which I would respond, “You kill them in the end to eat them too.” She was so freaked out, and I told her the she oughta really ask me if she wants to know more about what we do to ALL animals in the name of our food sometime. I wasn’t being cranky or rude – I was just being honest. But her own “horror” was too much for her. Never ceases to amaze me.

  4. Deb June 1, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    @b – oh, that’s so disappointing about the new woman, and how she’s ruined the monthly dinner for you. I get so frustrated when that happens (not that I’m social enough for it to have an opportunity to happen often!), and I always have a little voice urging me to stand up and call the person on their behavior. But I’m not sure that’s ever worked for me.

    I recently had a coworker react in a sort of similar way as the woman who didn’t like that you kept your own name. Though it was when I didn’t eat some dessert or something (obviously non-vegan), and he stomped off with a “give me a BREAK.”

    My dad has done the same thing. Like my ethical choices are *annoying* to them, and I should therefore ignore my conscience.

    Sometimes I can get enough distance from it that I think it is funny, other times it just makes me happy to ignore the world as much as possible. Yet, that conflicts with feeling that I need to do what I can to help others change.

    I’m often conflicted about this. As you said, “at what point are we supposed to sacrifice our own sanity to reach others?” I don’t know the answer.

    @Nancy – isn’t it funny how we are the ones seen as too “hard” or “shocking” when we just state the facts? It is like people are determined that those of us with ethics are dangerous, and that those who perpetuate really horrible things should get a free pass. So frustrating.

    The chinese medicine for animals sounds interesting though! Hopefully you’re able to get a lot out of the class.

  5. Kelvin Kao June 1, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    As someone that’s Asian, I happen to be pretty familiar with those dishes, hehe.

    The other day I was reading a blog post about marketing. It says that to find customers after hitting a plateau, you need to either go a lot deeper, or a bit wider. I think there are some similarities in this scenario, where they probably chose not to go too deep into the topic in order to attract a wider audience. And I think, if people are interested and kept coming back, some would want a deeper conversation. One step at a time, I guess.

  6. Deb June 2, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks Kelvin, that’s a really good way to look at things! Marketing often applies to advocacy – we’re trying to sell a message, after all. I’ll have to remind myself of the deep vs wide aspect in the future.

  7. Gary June 3, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Sometimes when people convey that they “don’t want to hear about it” because it’s so awful, I remind them of their power to help stop the horrors about which they don’t want to hear…and of the peace that comes from not having to shove dark images of slaughterhouses out of your mind so you can eat your dinner…and that sometimes allows the conversation to go a bit deeper.

  8. nothoney June 5, 2009 at 9:22 am

    If I didn’t cook I’d have cereal every night. 😉

    I’m glad to read all these comments because it’s always good to learn how other vegans handle these situations. Work is often the most annoying when it comes to being vegan. The annual executive staff holiday dinner is such a nightmare that I typically make an excuse not to go. Same for the annual staff retreat at the boss’ house. It’s hard to be polite year after year when the comments are always the same: “Too bad you can’t have any of this fine barbecued (fill in the dead animal)!” “What CAN you eat if you don’t eat meat?” These are the same people I’ve worked with for seven years and they still treat me like I’m a leper.

    Then there are the friends who drop you by the wayside without any explanation (OK when one friend took a job as Feld Entertainment’s VP of Communications, we clearly had a major conflict). In the last two years I’ve lost contact with four people whom, I thought, were good friends. No explanation, just stopped returning my calls and e-mail messages. My life’s focus has changed a lot in the past three years and I guess we no longer shared any common ground.

    Good advice, Gary, on responding to “I don’t want to hear about it.” I’m sure everyone gets that one a lot. I will try hard to remember that.

    s.

  9. Mary Martin June 7, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Oh so parallel lives. I have the yoginis who are happy meaters and the workout fiends who can’t possibly go vegan because “I listen to my body and it tells me that it needs more protein because of the way I workout.” Luckily, they’re triathletes, and I close my comments with two words: Brendan Brazier. And I try not to roll my eyes.

    I love Kevin’s plateau comment.

    And by the way, good for you for getting out and being so open and giving it all a try. And though you know about the woman who uses the treadmill, you don’t know how many other people you’ve influenced by just being an example and sharing your experiences.

  10. Deb June 7, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    @ Gary – I’ve been thinking about your tactic, and while I haven’t managed to implement it yet, I’ve added it to my arsenal. We’ll see what happens when I can test it! I have used what is likely a variation, namely discussing the peace of choosing the more compassionate options.

    @ nothoney – I avoid most every work function that involves food. Luckily I’m not aiming for promotions or “moving up” in my company, as I hear avoiding these food-centric functions makes you seem antisocial. (if the shoe fits!) Once in a while my coworkers make some effort to accommodate me, but I always feel like it is such a giant hassle. I think that’s more because I’m just not that social…

    @ mary – I’m so glad that Brendan Brazier is around for that same reason! Someday I’ll bring him up to my yoga instructor…between him and Scott Jurek (ultra marathon runner who is vegan) I feel like they pretty much put to rest the idea that ultra sports don’t mesh with a vegan diet.

    As for “being an example” I sometimes feel like I become an example of what others can’t/won’t do, and the more I do myself, the more it convinces them that I’m different/weird/special and actually helps them justify not doing anything. I can’t tell you how many times my coworkers have said they’re not in shape enough to ride their bikes anywhere. I take them seriously, and tell them I’ll give them my secret for getting in shape for biking to work. They wait expectantly, and I tell them that I got in shape for biking to work BY biking to work.

    How do we get in shape for anything, but by doing that very thing? ::sigh::

    I’m the freak of the office, there is no doubt. I’m the weirdo, the vegan bike commuting environmentalist, and somehow I’m therefore what no one else needs to be.

    “Ride your bike for me!”

    meh.

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