The following letter (and photo) was published in the UK's Guardian newspaper on 4th March 2017, under the title A Letter To... My Daughter Who Hates Me For Not Being Vegan. Below it is the response I sent to the Guardian.
(NB. If you're looking for a blog that has a green picture, and is seemingly about empathy, it's below this one. This is a very rare second blog, written on the same day as the one you seek!)
When you told me you had decided to become a vegan, I was worried. You had always been a fussy eater and I feared that, with such a limited diet, you wouldn’t get the nutrition you needed.
But you were over 18, so it was your choice. In addition, you did begin to eat more fruit and vegetables and tried to include the right food and supplements in your diet, so I was, at least partly, appeased.
You said your motivation was animal welfare and the environmental damage caused by agriculture. Fair enough.
With a younger child and a full-time job, I found it a challenge to research and cook meals for you, but I took it on board. And when you left home for university, I made sure the car was packed with homemade vegan soup for your freezer.
But it is not enough for you that I accommodate your choice. As you have explained many times, for you, veganism is not just about what you eat – it’s a lifestyle. You have watched all the pro-vegan documentaries, read mountains of information on the internet and can effortlessly reel off the soundbites. You have become passionate about the cause to the point of dogma. You will not tolerate any opposing view. Crucially, you can no longer respect anyone who is not persuaded to go vegan. And that means me.
I am open to at least some of your arguments and have made changes to my diet on account of information you have passed on to me about farmed animals. But, as a middle-aged woman, my choices in life are narrowing and will continue to narrow. I have no intention of limiting those choices further by going vegan. In your eyes, that just makes me selfish.
When we meet, I take you to vegan restaurants and embrace the choices available. I send you vegan recipes and seek out vegan chocolate for you in the supermarket. I know that you appreciate my efforts, but I also know that I will always fall short. I have stopped even trying to explain my reasons for not going vegan as it just ends up with both of us getting upset.
There is an uncomfortable contradiction for me in all of this – I have brought you up to be a strong, powerful, compassionate young woman. I would expect you to be passionate about what you believe in. I have taught you that tolerance is vital, but that there is a point when a line is crossed and certain behaviour cannot be tolerated. So I really can understand, in part, your attitude.
But I can’t tell you how hard it is to live with the knowledge that my own daughter is sickened by me. It is so important to me to feel worthy of your respect.
I hope that, in time and with maturity, dogma may give way to a more open attitude. But my fear is that, while you may mellow in how outspoken you are about veganism, your revulsion of me will remain vivid.
And I will just have to live with that.
I read your letter to your daughter with great interest. I can only imagine how truly disheartening it must be to experience the disdain of one you care for so greatly.
Doubtless, your letter does not reveal all that has passed between you and your daughter. Likely, there is a great deal more to the situation than meets the eye. But from what you have chosen to reveal and share, I would make the following observations:
You have chosen to paint yourself as the victim of your daughter’s disapprobation, and she as the progenitor of your woes. Yet by your own estimation, she has presented you with reasoned arguments for her choices. You, on the other hand, offer no explanation for the reasons behind your dismissal of those choices (which you offhandedly scorn as ‘soundbites’), other than to describe yourself as a ‘middle-aged woman’ with ‘ever narrowing choices’.
If your (inevitable) aging impacts upon your dietary choices for medical reasons, then it is indeed an egregious fault in your daughter that she would choose to be intolerant of your needs. If this is not the case, it seems logical that your intransigence in the face of her attempts to influence you about veganism is based upon taste, habit, convenience and tradition, not belief or conviction.
Presumably, since you portray yourself as one who has accommodated and been fully supportive of her life choices, you have also extended your empathetic inclinations to fully exploring her logic and reasoning?
If this is so, you will surely have been amply equipped with the knowledge that billions of sentient beings suffer unspeakable horrors at our hands, every year. These are facts, not illusory or fragmented concepts. They are unpleasant and inconvenient, Is it not a credit to your daughter that she may not look away, as the majority choose to?
It is apparent that even by your own estimation, you have successfully raised a loving, caring individual who experiences theriocide (mass extermination of beasts) as palpable, personal pain. Her resulting deep-seated conviction that what transpires in our treatment of them is wrong and unconscionable, colours her perceptions of the world around her.
Imagine then, her disappointment in anyone she cares about, who refuses to care similarly. Speculate upon how upsetting it must be to her if those she respects, loves and cherishes, when faced with truths she has come to understand, turn a blind eye and are content to be tacitly complicit in hideous harms.
How should she respond, being governed by her conscience (as she clearly is), when she encounters a mindset intransigent to truths about animal suffering, when she expected so much more?
I wonder if you have had the bravado to examine your own part in this scenario? Have you been able to get past the disturbing experience of receiving such a powerful challenge from one who once held you in awe? Have you allowed the thought that she might be right to creep into your consciousness? Will your ego allow you to go beyond the excuses we deceive ourselves with to legitimise the dreadful misery we cause animals? Is it possible for you to acknowledge that maybe, your daughter is not revolted by you, but incredulous and flabbergasted that you simply don’t care?
Clearly, you believe that your whole stance in publicly demonstrating the strength of your hurt and grievance, is correct and appropriate. Perhaps it is a cry from the heart, intended to bring about rapprochement in your mother/daughter bond.
On the other hand, your whole message could appear rather manipulative and self-serving. It could be construed as an attempt to forcibly justify why you will not examine your own culpability. It may seem like a (very public) act of emotional blackmail to let you off the hook in considering your unwillingness to fully consider her position.
Personally, I applaud your daughter’s stance. I would not condone any rudeness or disrespect on her part. But then, you don’t accuse her of that, do you? In fact, all your letter actually says is that she makes you feel bad - about you. That’s something you’re doing to yourself.
You may wish to reflect upon why that is.