TRIGGER WARNING: EATING DISORDER TRIGGERS.
There are many people that we will meet in our vegan journey who will try to discourage and demean us. I’m sure you’ve experienced it in one way or another, from doubting friends and incredulous relatives to reluctant significant others, but the behaviors I’m talking about tread into abuse territory. This is a topic I’ve been meaning to get to for a while as well, and my temporary hiatus this week gave me the excuse I needed.
This week I hosted my in-laws for four days so they could see Deyna. For three months prior to arriving nothing was discussed outside of sleeping arrangements, then suddenly just a few days before their arrival food and diet became a concern. My mother-in-law came with her (19 year old) daughter and insisted that she was too picky to like most of anything I could cook and demanded that they be allowed to bring dairy into the house in the form of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. I told her this was outside of my boundaries. She told me I was unreasonable and that it was “just food.”
Even after I expressed both the ethical and safety related reasons why this wouldn’t be acceptable (I’m allergic to dairy and my husband has celiac’s) she would not budge. This was prior to her arrival, but already there was a massive level of disrespect toward my and Deyna’s boundaries, as he expressed it was against his desires too, regardless of me.
She leveled the accusation that we were controlling them, or forcing our morals down their throats. This is an abuse tactic, redirecting the blame for the wrong-doing at the victim. Even trace amounts of those respective substances can make us both very ill, and she didn’t believe a word of it.
When she arrived we went to the store and purchased vegan versions of several things her and her daughter liked, many of which her daughter ultimately spat back onto the plate and refused to eat. She encouraged this behavior by making fat jokes about her partner and insisting that “we all have different palettes and you can’t expect her to eat your food.”
She tripped my eating disorder repeatedly throughout the trip and told me that she “was a walking eating disorder herself,” “only ate once a day normally so we ate an excessive amount of food,” and, “was a private person, keeping such things to herself.” She effectively shamed me and my partners for our eating habits, and me for disclosing my eating disorder and asking for some consideration for triggers.
These behaviors are all abusive, though they can often show up in omnivores under the guise of “consideration.” You must be considerate and violate your morals in your space, because we don’t all have the same beliefs, they say. It’s all hogwash.
I received a fantastic piece of advice from Veggieboards recently, and that was the fact that whatever you may believe, the only life guaranteed to us is this one so we need to stick to our guns and live what we believe in. Allowing her to step on my boundaries in the name of peace would have simply showed her that I was easy for her to trample on, which she attempted to do several times while staying with me and I stood strong.
All abusers see these concessions as weakness and demand more until they pick apart your entire philosophy. I’m not talking about every omnivore in this instance, simply the ones that insist on the compromising of your morals even after you communicate their value to the parties involved.
So how can we deal with these people? These are the techniques that I found effective on this trip, as well as in other interactions with omnivorous friends and family. I’ll try to give examples of various subversive behaviors and how to deal with them. Again, these behaviors are only abusive if they persist after the first no and explanation, as they are boundary violating at that point and no one should make you do things you’re uncomfortable with.
- “Come on, it’s just one bite!” Many omnivores see veganism as just a phase or fad, particularly when you just get started. This particular type of boundary violation takes the form of repeated insistence that you consume omnivorous food after the first rejection. Some responses you could try are: “I could get sick if I eat that, it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten animal products.” “I don’t like the taste of dairy/eggs/meat any more, so I wouldn’t want to waste a bite on something I wouldn’t like.” “It’s against my beliefs to eat that. You wouldn’t ask someone kill just one kitten would you?” “I don’t appreciate the way you’re trying to invalidate my beliefs. It’s disrespectful.”
- “It’s just food!” This tactic can show a degree of ignorance, though if it stubbornly persists it becomes abuse. If explaining how it isn’t just food to you elicits a massive negative and possibly ad hominem attack response, then you’re probably dealing with an abuser. Making your boundaries firm is key here. “Food may mean more to me than it does to you, but that doesn’t make it any less important to me.” “You wouldn’t say that to someone with a peanut allergy, would you?” “Would you say ‘it’s just sex’ to a monk? My beliefs are just as important to me.”
- “You’re forcing it down my throat.” This one was one I dealt with a LOT while they were here. Asking someone to abide by your rules while in your home, or to watch their language due to triggers, is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. It’s your right to feel comfortable and safe in your relationship, whatever relationship it is. “I’m not forcing anything, I’m asking for respect. Is it that hard to eat the way I do while you’re here?” “I wouldn’t ask you to give up your beliefs and way of life while I was staying with you.” “Look at it as an opportunity to bond and see how I live. If you see it in a positive way rather than acting like I’m trying to change you, maybe you’ll even enjoy it.”
What are some ways that omnivores have violated your boundaries, and how did you handle it? Are there any other stubborn behaviors you would like to see responses for in a future post?