What’s the first thing you think of if I say to you, “Don’t think of pink elephants”?
Probably pink elephants.
And if I say, “I don’t eat meat, dairy & eggs”?
Probably a bacon, egg & cheese sandwich.
One thing we can learn from this phenomenon is that our words convey imagery, and that imagery plays an important role in framing the topic of conversation. By using this kind of terminology, we make it more difficult for our audience to fill in the negative space with other imagery.
As a vegan, I see evidence of this every time I get invited to a dinner party. The topic of veganism has been framed in the negative: we don’t eat meat dairy & eggs. For most people, the message stops there, and the idea they’re left with is that vegans are a bunch of self-depriving ascetics, who must be munching on plain, raw lettuce all day long. And, boy oh boy, that is NOT the life for me! For a very few, namely, the friends and family who are brave enough to invite me to dinner, it begs the question – what does she eat?
Before we sit down at the dining table, everyone stands around in the kitchen, nibbling at finger-foods as an appetizer. Usually, the negative frame has gotten in my host’s way of imagining all the food choices that are available to me as a vegan. So, I end up looking at a table full of nacho chips, and sour cream- or yogurt-based dips. I’m left with plain raw carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and, if I’m lucky, red bell peppers. Perhaps a small bowl of peanuts. And I’m thinking what about hummus? what about corn chips? salsa? guacamole? corn nuts? pretzels? These things are simple, readily available, and everybody loves them – nobody has to make a big production just for me. But it’s plainly evident from what is not sitting on the table that the hosts were engaged in the “not meat; not eggs; not dairy” way of thinking, and so these possibilities didn’t even occur to them.
And so, I eat what they have for me without complaining because I don’t want to be rude, and then, before I leave, I tell them it’s their turn to come to my place for dinner. They nervously accept. What will she feed us? Should we eat before going over? Do you think she eats like a bird or a rabbit?
Here’s the thing: I love food. I don’t want to deprive myself. I want to enjoy what I’m eating. I want to be able to have comfort food. I want to feel satisfied and warm and energetic from my food. I imagine that raw vegetables & a few nuts & seeds doesn’t do that for you, and it doesn’t do it for me, either! So I make them the awesomest black bean & sweet potato enchiladas that they’ve ever had.
The kids didn’t even break down crying when they saw their plates. Sighs of relief all around.
I think two important things block many people from even considering a plant-based diet : a lack of imagination in the food department, and a lack of education about food – both the nutrition & the preparation aspects. The reason that I was able to make the choice to adopt this lifestyle is that I engaged in research – I found out what it meant to eat vegan food. And I began to see the bounty of the choices I can make rather than the deficit. It was easy once I realized that I could eat so much more food by cutting out the bits that are bad for my body. If you eat dairy and eggs and meat, you have to strictly limit the amount of food you ingest. If you eat those things bountifully, all sorts of health problems typically arise, from obesity & diabetes to cardiovascular disease & certain cancers. Almost all of the 15 leading killers in the U.S. result from the Standard American Diet, with it’s appropriate acronym of SAD (what’s the evidence?). But I can eat bountifully because I eat healthfully. And the comforting & satisfying foods are still there – potatoes, pasta, rice, corn, wheat,…they’re the staples of civilizations for a reason!
Let’s try re-framing the conversation, and finding a positive way to introduce our food choices. Instead of instantly bringing to mind the things that people are scared to leave behind, fill their heads with images of all the wonderful things that vegans enjoy. Need some inspiration? Check out oh she glows, TENDING the TABLE & VeganYumYum, just for starters.