Teaching Power without Domination

January 12, 2015

guns n grenades

A friend of mine once asked a question I’ll never forget.

It was in high school, on the first day of a small sophomore think-tank-like seminar, where we, the students, would be setting the curriculum for the semester (my high school was way better than college).

Suggesting a topic for class exploration, my friend posed a question he said he’d been wondering about: “Does every relationship—whether between two people or two countries—end up with one side being dominant over the other?”

Mind. Blown.

It was the smartest question I’d ever heard. With my neck stuck out, jaw a-slackin', I a little bit fell in love with nerd dude. Even the teacher’s eyes glazed over, I thought she might cry.

The question has stuck with me for 16 years. It never grows old, it has never become irrelevant.

Nerd boy’s question occurred to me again recently, when I spotted a 50¢
gumball machine selling miniature plastic “Guns 'N Grenades” on the street (my first thought, of course, was, ...but my children’s books about veganism are “disturbing”?). 

While I stood staring at the gumball machine in world-weary disgust, I filtered through my reaction...welcome to my brain:

Step 1: detect feeling.
Step 2: name feeling.
Step 3: analyze feeling.
Step 4: name correct feeling.
Step 5: repeat Step 3.

It’s not even that I’m necessarily anti-gun. I have family members who would have been murdered if not for guns in the hands of protectors. 

Really, what I felt was abandon; the abandon with which we allow kids to develop a taste for utter entitlement.

What truly disturbs me about “Guns 'N Grenades” is the distorted prerogative that playing with them instills in children. When little kids play “guns,” they’re not usually playing Rescue the Victim. They’re playing domination.

Maybe that raw tendency is human nature, maybe not…but now we have giant, “evolved” brains to deal with that, don’t we?

We have to teach kids about being powerful without domination.

Left unchecked, I do believe that the dynamic between any two given entities is liable to slip toward imbalance. The economic, environmental, and ecological crises we find ourselves in today are obvious consequences of unbridled, unrefined power.

Historically, learning to wield power effectively, honorably, and justly is warrior work. It is never achieved alone, but in a setting of checks and balances, where one has to practice deference, examination, restraint, and self-control; where one has to answer to an otherand be accountable for his or her actions.  

This kind of training is a subtle but very real benefit of ethical veganism. We learn to go through the steps of examined accountability—answering to our better judgement, to the environment, to animals, to the earth. It is inherently a restraint against tendencies toward reckless and unjust domination.

Kindly take the following request as it comes from the bottom of my heart: please consider gifting my books to a child in your life or to your local library. They are about more than veganism—they are about the kind of questions that last a lifetime.

Help! I Love a Meat-Eater!

September 16, 2014

You guys, one of my oldest and best friends is a butcher.


He has worked at Whole Foods, and now he’s at an organic, grass-fed, blah-blah-blah meat company. He's not on the killing floor, but he does carve up bodies. "Wow," I told him recently, "we do the complete opposite things in life."  

"Yeah" he said, "I sell gross animal products." He accepts my stance.
Every time I’m in Northern California, we see each other, we laugh, and have a great time. He visits my family, we feed him plates-full of vegan food. He loves it. I send him and his wife recipes to try.

Career-wise, I’m Mary-Had-a-Little-Lamb (minus the curds and whey), and he’s Freddy Krueger. But friendship-wise, we’ve been Bill and Ted, Burt and Ernie, Sherlock and Watson...I’m just morally and ethically opposed to things he has no problem doing every day.

 love a meat-eater
I mean, basically Bonnie and Clyde. Best prom picture ever, right?

So what do you do? How can you have a deep relationship—platonic, romantic, or familial—with a meat-eater, when you’re diametrically opposed to some of their major life choices? 

Love happens. And I don't think it should be denied. 
You won’t convert everyone you love, nor win every debate. So pick your battles. When I choose not to fight one outwardly, I’m still waging war—by being an excited, happy-about-it representative of veganism.

You know what that leads to? Questions. When he wants health advice, my friend knows who to turn to. 

One time, I got him off butter:

love a meateater2

See? So much love. :)

If you're struggling to reconcile your love for a person with their love for eating animals, look at the quandary practically.

What good would ending the relationship do? Would it cause any ripple of change to the exterior world? Would any animals be saved? Would any animal suffering be alleviated?
If you answered yes even once, you might consider ending the relationship (in severe cases), or more likely, modifying your role in it. 

If it’s an omnivorous spouse or child that you love, consider not enabling any meat-eating and animal-product-purchasing in your home. You can opt never to buy or cook animal products. If they want it, they'll have to figure that out themselves. One activist I know even refuses to dine with family unless the meal is vegan. Otherwise, he tells them, they see each other another time. 

Love who you want, and love big! But don't compromise your own morals and values.

Ultimately, you can not control anyone else's behavior but your own to save animals...fortunately, your behavior has a lot of power and influence. 

Keep on truckin' and watch what happens. 

Tell me about your struggle with your loves who still eat animals. Please share in the comments area below so others can may be part of the conversation, too. 

Entertaining Non-Vegan Guests

June 9, 2014

vegan menu

From the time my friend non-vegan friend Diane threw a vegan party—lovely!

As promised, I'm taking questions! Here's one from a fellow newsletter member, A.K. from the UK:  

Q. My vegan fiancee and I are getting married. We intend to provide tea and coffee after the reception meal, but I don't want to serve cow's milk. Do I tell invitees in advance (thus encouraging them to bring their own, and "making a fuss about it"), let them find out when they're here (thus aggravating lots of people and encouraging them to ask all the questions we get asked so often), or, though I'm wary of this, just provide cow milk from a local, "humane" farm?

A. Entertaining non-vegans is a common quandry, but feeling torn about what to serve is more about us than our guests. What should be a celebratory event/holiday dinner/birthday party/etc. may still inspire guilt and ambivalence if you're still thinking of your vegan ways as "abnormal." Like a punk rock kid at a prep school, you "know" (assume) the other kids are basically disappointed with you and think your choices are weird and annoying. Well, the bully species can smell this apologetic scent of surrender a mile away. It actually makes them hungry, I think. 

What advice would you tell our young punk rocker? Should he cave and throw on a collared shirt or rock his spikes with pride?

Be proud! The way you think and eat is beautiful, and entertaining is about sharing—beautiful food from wonderful recipes, a gorgeous table or buffet full of sparkling candles, shiny dinnerware, and fresh flowers! Forget "veganism," think beauty, marketing, and presentation! Change your own approach to entertaining, stop anticipating predatory reactions, and envision your guests stunned with delight at the exceptionally gorgeous options (remember—you can always serve a variety of vegan milk options, for example—hemp, almond, oat, rice, etc.). 

Anyway, I don't ever recall having seen a menu manifesto on any party invitation—brides and grooms don't generally explain why they're serving fish or chicken. Every party menu has its limits. So stick to normal protocol. Surprise your guests with a gorgeous spread, or, if you're including a menu on the invitation, just lay out the options without any explanation or defense (make it sound gourmet—use adjectives! "Loose-Leaf Lavender Infusion Tea with Steamed Almond Milk, Orange Blossom Oolong with...) 

But by all means, don't compromise your deepest beliefs, especially when you're the center of the party. You are the host, you get to decide...and what a great opportunity to share vegan choices. 

Got questions? Email Ruby here