In 2010, we presented this question to our members:
I have tried unsuccessfully to talk with my family about the cruelty of factory farming. I get the same response from just about everyone: Don't tell me, I don't want to know about those things, I don't want to see all those gross pictures. Some even laugh it off saying animals have been eaten for food since the dawn of time. How can I get my family and close friends to listen and take me seriously? It hurts me that they won't even consider reading and learning more about this cruel treatment of animals. HELP!
Here are portions of a few responses:
I have some suggestions on how to get friends and family members to read a booklet:
1. Do a favor for someone. I agreed to babysit one night for my sister, but only if she read a booklet first.
2. Ask for someone to read a booklet, in lieu of giving you a present for your birthday.
3. Serve someone a delicious vegan meal or dessert, to peak interest in a booklet.
4. Give leaflets to strangers. For every friend or family member who doesn't want a leaflet, you can find hundreds (or thousands) of strangers who do.
Obviously it's hard to sit and watch our friends and family still eat animals when we know how much they suffer. However, if we are going to help animals, we have to use our time and energy as efficiently as possible on the animals' behalf. Therefore, what I have decided to do is not to focus on trying to change those most close to me. Instead, use Adopt-a-College as a way to reach out to those who are receptive. Why spend 30 minutes talking to a friend or family member who we know is never going to change, when we could be spending that 30 minutes handing out hundreds of leaflets to people, some of which will embrace the new information!
I've had similar issues with co-workers and clients. The best way I found to influence them is to make it known that you are vegetarian, but not really bring it up unless they do, which inevitably they will. All three of my co-workers are now eating more vegetarian foods; I believe eventually they will go veg. In addition, I've had really good discussions with a few of my clients who have asked me about being vegetarian. The best way to get people interested is showing them how happy and friendly you are!
I wanted to write about my own frustrating experiences at trying to get my family and friends to have the same reasonable responses to the cruelty of modern farming that I had when I found out what goes on in modern agriculture. I was sure that the strength of my relationship with them would compel them to take the issue seriously and stop supporting cruelty to animals. By and large, this has not been the case. But I did not give up in my commitment to end as much suffering as I could -- I expanded my efforts. It is statistically unlikely that a significant number of those we are close to will have the honesty and motivation to change when informed of the brutality of modern farming. But taking the message to a wider audience -- like students who are conveniently gathered for us on college campuses -- is likely to bring about big results as we sift through the population looking for those who are brave and honest enough to look seriously at the issue and make changes. Years ago I decided to stop beating my head against a wall in debating my sister about God's views on battery cages, and to start showing up with booklets where I was needed -- where I could reduce the most suffering.
I have had the exact same problem ever since I went vegan, and even when I was still just a vegetarian. Most of the people I know think I'm crazy for being a vegan, and it's an awful feeling to have to know that the people I care about so much, who I know care about me just as much, could be so against the thing that is most important to me in my life!
However, if we think about it, we can understand where they're coming from. People do not want to listen to the horrors of what is happening to animals, because it is too terrible to think that their actions are causing so much pain and suffering. Even if they know deep down in their hearts that horrendous things are happening to these innocent creatures, they feel they can clear their conscience of it all if they just try not to think about it.
Our job, therefore, is to do our best to show them the positive side of veganism, instead of the negative side of factory farming. One of the best ways I've found to do this is to make delicious vegan dishes to bring with you every time you go to a big family event. Between the turkey and the brisket, someone is bound to try your stir-fried veggies and seitan dish, and chances are they'll love it so much they'll ask you what's in it. (This has happened to me on numerous occasions -- I've even gotten my carnivorous Grandpa to like my seitan dish! :-) ) This may lead to a whole conversation about the benefits of veganism, including environmental and health benefits. Don't offer information about factory farms unless you're asked for it, because this will just give you a bad reputation as being the pushy one who ruins happy family events.
Above all, hold your head high, and continue to stand up for what you believe in, no matter what. For many families, eating meat has been a symbol of happiness and merry-making; we don't want them to see us as taking away that joy -- we've just found a different way to experience it without hurting anyone else. We just see the world a little differently, and hopefully, through kindness and patience, we will be able to show them our side.
When it comes to the issue of how to change our stubborn family members, we are simply asking ourselves the wrong question.
I routinely run into people who tell me that they became a vegetarian or a vegan because of a pamphlet they received from me. In many cases, they can't stop thanking me for how I changed their life, and then they go on to tell me how they went on to change the lives of others around them. By contrast, when dealing with my own meat eating family, I have yet to convince them to read even a single pamphlet, let alone get them to consider going vegetarian.
The reason we have trouble convincing people in our immediate social circle is simply one of statistics. When you hand out pamphlets to a young audience, about 2% of the recipients will go vegetarian. Hence, if you are only dealing with a small handful of people, as in the case of your family, the odds are against you. Nevertheless, when dealing with strangers, I can hand out over 1,000 pamphlets in a single day, which can yield 20 or more new vegetarians!
There are millions of people out there who you can convince to go vegetarian from just the brief two second interaction involved in handing them a pamphlet -- or donating to print and ship more booklets. By contrast, we can spend a lifetime trying to convince our family and friends, and in the end, have relatively little to show for our efforts, even if we are successful. It is simply not the best use of our resources. As more people go vegan, more vegan options will appear in restaurants and supermarkets, and veganism will become convenient in terms of social interactions. Nothing you do might be able to influence your family members ... now. However, as society changes, they will change with it. Even the most die-hard segregationists changed their attitudes once their viewpoints were no longer popular.
Some people might never change. But even this does not affect the endgame. Here in Texas, I am friends with a number of hunters and cattle ranchers who assure me that they will never be vegetarian. I reply, "Probably not. But your grandchildren will be."
I used to try to get my friends and family to recognize these cruelties too. Eventually, I realized that they weren't ready to do so, and that trying to convince them to change was negatively affecting our relationships.
Try to remember that most of the people who are now vegan weren't born that way, and probably didn't make the change overnight. If you're already leafleting or tabling on behalf of animals, you know how important it is to focus on the people who are willing to listen to you, and not to get discouraged thinking about the ones who aren't. If you haven't tried leafleting yet, it's a fantastic way to make a real difference! Convincing strangers that veganism is great will help you feel better about not being able (yet) to convince your family of this.
In short, don't focus on changing your loved ones, focus on changing the world! And make some vegan friends in the meantime, so you don't feel alone in your principles.
We must keep the door of communication open. Continue to show them love and look for ways to connect with them. For instance, there are many ways that our views and their concern for sentient beings intersect, such as sharing in the loss of a beloved pet. Along the same lines, anyone who has accidentally hit a deer or dog while driving knows the devastation of being the direct result of that animal's death. Being there for others at such a time and seeing your compassion and grief will be remembered. Their circle of compassion can widen when they relate these experiences to the death of other such creatures who are bred for the sole purpose of food production, leather or fur. Triggering these connections in their minds can be done lovingly even though we feel so desperate and urgent about the matter. If we are a continual dump truck of "gross pictures" or information that incriminates their culturally-accepted choices, they are overwhelmed in the wrong way. This all takes time as we live our life around others.
On a lighter note, there are the occasions we often dread, like holidays or birthdays, that need not be as stressful for us. Be creative and take the initiative! Make a shockingly delicious dessert for a family member or friend's birthday with no strings attached. When the time is right, they may feel safe enough with you to take those first baby steps in the right direction. Because of your track record of showing love and concern for them, you will be there when the time comes, to reach out and lead them to higher ground.
After being a vegetarian for 13 years and a vegan for the last few, I have yet to convince anyone in my family. Over the years I have learned that it's good to be open about it and answer questions, it makes people more responsive. Trying to push it on them results in more stubborn attitudes.
I think energy is better spent leafleting -- you reach many more people. Unlike those close to you the public won't take your opinions so personally.
The way of handling this varies from person to person and evolves over time. For me, for now, I figure it may be years before people, including those I care about, will be able to face the suffering that goes on. When someone says they couldn’t bear to see explicit videos, I acknowledge that seeing them would be painful. When someone says they couldn’t bear to give up meat but that they like this or that vegetarian food, I let them know that any time they choose to eat vegetarian, they are reducing the demand on and suffering of animals. When someone says that certain foods are part of their tradition, I acknowledge that it feels important to connect with family members who may have passed or moved on, and food can provide link. Then I may ask if there might be a way to balance maintaining some traditions and adjusting others.
With very close family, I will ask how being around talk of animal suffering and veganism impacts them. How do they feel about it? How do they think I present information about animal suffering -- is it effective or off-putting? What can I do to better reach people? In asking these questions, I learn things. Further, the family/friend is heard, which needs to happen before they are going to be remotely receptive to anything I have to say.
When the opportunity presents itself to plant a seed about animal suffering, I try to keep my statements brief and poignant -- a picture that I think is most likely to reach the person I am talking to. This may be pointing out that pigs are as smart as dogs, that dairy cows have their babies taken away and mourn year after year, that up to 18 hours of crowded transport to slaughter with no food or water is accepted practice. By picking only one or two things to say, so much is left unsaid, and that is hard to do. But going further with a reluctant or resistant audience is likely to lead to my being shut out, and the opportunity to plant a seed will be lost. For now, I view myself as one of several seeds someone will need before they really hear and comprehend how tragic the life of most animals is. I want to do my part in planting a seed so that when the next seed is planted -- likely by someone I don't even know -- it will have a greater chance of being the one that takes root.
For me, the most important thing is to remain calm. I have found that if I become visibly irritated, start using more aggressive language, and start get really frustrated, it makes the other person even more turned off to the original cause: stopping the suffering of animals. I also make sure to restate what they are saying in my own words, but without adding any negative connotation to it. For example, I will repeat back to the person, "So let me see if I have it straight -- you are an animal lover, but you eat meat." You have to do this calmly and without it sounding judgmental, it often stops people in their tracks and makes them defend an irrational belief, or they just don't know how to respond.
Be respectful. I hate the idea that people close to me (or complete strangers for that matter) do not agree with the importance of a vegan lifestyle. But I want to be respected and heard as much as anyone else, and it's important to realize that we can't make other people change their minds, we must provide them with all the reasons and tools they need to take that next step and hope that they open their eyes a little bit. So take a deep breath, remember that YOU are making a significant difference in the world just by living a vegan lifestyle, and go hand out some pamphlets. I use my frustration as a fuel for taking action -- it works and it really does alleviate some of my unrest.