Compassionate Choices

TurkeysI was at Essencha Tea House, finishing my lunch of a creamy split pea soup, delicious quinoa salad and their amazing vegan buckwheat crepes with a cup of black tea and a book, when a man at the neighboring table asked me what I was reading.

The older couple at this table came in just a few minutes before and I overheard at least one of them ordering a turkey sandwich. “There is no telling where this conversation will go.” I thought as I turned the cover of Tom Regan’s “Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights” towards them.

Admittedly, this wasn’t the best choice of a book for a peaceful lunch. Reading about someone’s suffering is never easy. It has a benefit of boosting one’s determination to work towards putting an end to abuse, but it does make eating a bit challenging at times.

“Animal rights.” he acknowledged. “Why do you read this book?”

There were so many ways to answer his question. But I thought that these people came here to enjoy a quiet Saturday lunch. They don’t need to hear about the suffering of the turkey they are about to eat right now. So I went with a neutral and fairly meaningless answer of “I’m just interested in animal rights.”

“We don’t like it when animals are abused or mistreated.” the man said and his companion nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, most people don’t.” I concluded.

The conversation stalled.

They resumed talking to each other. I opened the book again and stared at the paragraphs of text describing the abuse of the animals in our factory farms. I felt very guilty. I had an opportunity to make a connection between the abuse of the animals that I’m sure these nice people would find unacceptable and the meat on their plates and I didn’t take it.

There was no lengthy internal deliberation about my choice. I simply opted to prioritize the feelings of the strangers sitting at the next table over the unimaginable suffering many animals have to endure during the course of their lives at the hands of our species. Why did I do that? Was I wrong to keep my mouth shut? It certainly felt that way.

Nevertheless, I felt like my choice was informed by compassion. I spared this couple the discomfort of having to face the reality of their day-to-day choices, at least at this time. It was as if the compassion for these people was at odds with the compassion for the animals.

But is it really a compassionate choice to avoid bringing up a painful truth just to spare someone a little discomfort? I know that I would prefer to have learned the truth of animal agribusiness much earlier in my life.

We are often on this fine line between educating the people around us about the suffering our society inflicts on others and becoming those unpleasant characters who get into your face with their brand of propaganda every chance they get. Think what you will, but the time and the delivery of the message matters a lot. You can’t just shove your beliefs down someone’s throat and expect them to respond favorably. On the other hand, we never want to miss the opportunity to open someone’s eyes to the implications of the choices they make.

There are no simple answers. Which makes me long for a world where I won’t have to think, read, and agonize over the other people’s choices to eat, use and abuse the animals. I would much rather just enjoy a delicious vegan meal on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

5 comments for “Compassionate Choices

  1. K
    February 13, 2014 at 8:12 PM

    I have been in that same spot many times. Really interesting!

  2. Leah
    February 13, 2014 at 9:53 PM

    Perfectly put. I completely understand this.

  3. Tony
    February 14, 2014 at 7:32 AM

    I think you did the right thing. One step I like to believe I would have done is said something along the lines of ” Oh, this a really good book would you like to take the title and authors name down? By the way here is where I bought it.” I do not believe any good would have come from telling the other customers that the non human animal they were about to consume suffered abuse on a horrific scale. In fact it might have just closed a door that you by just sitting and reading a book opened. PEACE

  4. Lisa
    February 15, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    I long for the day when the eating of animals is far behind us. When animals and people can live together in harmony; even in companionship. I long for the day when humans take better care of their bodies, beginning with the elimination of animal based products.

  5. Jayn
    February 17, 2014 at 3:41 PM

    More than thrilled to see this website, but I must respectfully disagree with the decision not to have taken this (missed) opportunity to open others’ eyes. Howard Lyman said it so well that once you are able to get people to question you (rather than you jumping out of the bushes to lecture them) about going vegan, you have a chance to save animals.

    If done tactfully, people should not take umbrage — after all they have opened the door themselves! If we are to be the voice for the voiceless, that means taking advantage of every opportunity.

    Just last week, I asked a clerk at Fresh Market how she stayed so thin and she responded: ” I’m vegan!” In talking to her more, she also is into fitness and exercise but she didn’t miss a beat in letting me know about saving animals.

    So even if it means making folks uncomfortable about the turkey that they jave just ordered, being boiled alive is a lot less comfortable for the turkey!

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