Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

the tiny signs of potential progress

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!

photo taken by the 6 year old!


11 responses to “the tiny signs of potential progress

  1. b July 8, 2009 at 3:28 am

    We have a good friend whose daughter is 15, and she’s the same way with me – asking questions because she’s genuinely curious and wants to understand. When we’re all preparing to eat together, she often considers how much or how well I’ll be able to eat. We should all apparently be making friends with children instead of adults πŸ™‚

  2. Kristen July 9, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    lovely! I have to keep reminding myself not to be such a “preacher on a soapbox” when it comes to talking about animal rights. It is so hard to restrain all the passion and frustration I feel. I guess with time I will learn how to approach different people with different tactics. I wish my 13 year old brother asked more questions instead of making uneducated statements about how wrong I am and how right he is. I can see that even he at such a young age is already set in his ways.

    The picture taken by the six year old is profoundly beautiful in a simplistic way. I love photography.

  3. Mary Martin July 9, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    That is amazing! I love that this happened to you and went for it. And I love that her dad isn’t all “you’re brainwashing my daughter.”

    Good neighbors to have.

  4. Gary July 10, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Very uplifting! I wonder if, among many other things, kids are far less vested in their lifestyles, and are thus less inclined to defend them and less threatened by alternative ideas.

    I liked your reply about his fatherhood.

  5. Pingback: V for Vegan: » Blog Archive » The easyVegan Weekend Activist, No. 11

  6. prairiebeat July 13, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    How lovely that your neighbors were so thoughtful to make you feel so comfortable. They sound like very special people. Your graciousness in acknowledging the father’s efforts at parenting only helps your veganism to be more widely accepted. Thanks for all you do.

  7. Bea Elliott July 14, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Yes! You have great neighbors! But I think… so do they! πŸ™‚

  8. Deb July 14, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    @b – ha, you’re right about the kids, and that we should just be making friends with them! though these neighbor kids are exhausting. I get pestered with questions just taking my trash out. Now the 6 year old is asking why I don’t drink milk. I told him to ask his sister, that she could explain it! lol.

    @Kristen – I think it can be hard to find that balance when trying to advocate with the people in our everyday lives. I’m not sure there really is an answer as to what is actually effective. it must be different with each person anyway. Mary had a really nice post about this recently. I was going to link it, but then I saw that you commented on the post, so obviously you read it! Like you, I went vegan essentially overnight (or so it seemed to me) once I learned about dairy and eggs, but I was a vegetarian for 8 years who didn’t read or learn about any of the issues…even though the people who got me to go vegetarian were vegans, and talked to me about those issues. Once I went vegetarian, it is like I turned off all other thoughts on the topic. Only after going vegan did I remember that most of the information was not new. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not sure it is ever overnight, even when it feels like it was, to us.

    @Mary – yeah, I was sort of braced for some negative feedback when I talked to him about having talked to his daughter about the dairy industry. Afterwards I remembered other conversations, in which he talked about wanting his kids to grow up questioning things and learning things and standing up for what they felt was important. His wife was an activist (social justice issues) in Berkley when they met, so that’s just the kind of family they are, I guess!

    @Gary – I think that’s part of it, though it can go the other way, with kids blindly doing something because their parents do it…when I was a little kid, I used to say I was going to grow up and be a nurse just like my mom…she’d laugh grimly and say that she thought I could do better. It was confusing for me at the time! lol.

    @prariebeat – it really was sweet of them.

    @Bea – I tend to be the invisible neighbor, but that might make me a great neighbor in the view of most! πŸ˜€

  9. nothoney July 15, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Wow. Very uplifting post. I can’t imagine any of my neighbors doing something like that! Hell, my own family doesn’t bother. Well done, Deb.


  10. Ari Moore July 17, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Awesome story. Yay kids.

  11. Deb July 22, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    @nothoney – honestly, I couldn’t imagine my neighbors doing it either, and then they did! I’m lucky with my family though, my mom makes really awesome vegan food. (And has fun with it!) πŸ™‚

    @ari – πŸ™‚

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