My vegan relative really gets to me!

How do I convince my relative that she is wrong to be so concerned with animal rights & veganism?  She is a good person but its seems that she is more concerned w/animal welfare than people welfare.  Where did this attitude come from?


Dear Bernadette,

We have a two-word answer for you: You don’t. In general, it is usually ineffective and often destructive to try to persuade anyone to abandon their convictions and sign on to our own beliefs.  Trying to change the religious, political or social beliefs of others generally achieves nothing but damaged relationships.

Arguing about facts is fine because the answer can easily be discovered.  We could insist that Mount Rainier is 14,400 feet high and thus some 2,000 feet higher than Japan’s Mount Fuji, to anyone who claimed the opposite.  But arguing about beliefs is quite different. We would nod smilingly at the person who expressed the view that Mount Fuji is the most beautiful mountain visible from a major city.  We believe that this distinction belongs to Mount Rainier near Seattle but why would we argue?  We have different beliefs.

Your relative’s views are part of her belief system and have nothing to do with facts.  That said, it is not impossible to influence the beliefs of others but seldom by direct face-on confrontation.  When we watch our Christian friends successfully evangelize, it is never the result of sophisticated arguments and persistent debates.  Instead, we have seen atheists being brought into the church by warm empathy, compassion, and hospitality.  When we invite secular Jews to join our Shabbat meals, we don’t initiate arguments about God and His Bible.  We focus on being good hosts, we gently answer questions, and hope that exposure to our family and God-fearing lifestyle might eventually have some impact.  But setting out to convince someone that your beliefs or values are better is seldom a good idea.

Now, if you don’t mind, we would like to turn your question around and ask why you feel the need to change your relative’s ideas?

We agree with you that, while animals may not be treated with cruelty or abused, people’s welfare takes priority. We also happen to be fans of eggs, steak and cheese. We think that pets can be wonderful and farm animals are a blessing, but animals are not children. All of these convictions are based on the idea that people are not merely highly evolved animals but an entirely unique creation made in God’s image.

For the past five decades the belief that we human beings are on this planet as a result of a lengthy process of unaided materialistic evolution has been hammered into the culture.  Politics, entertainment and education joined forces in this quest to secularize society.  The natural consequence of this indoctrination is that people start believing that, like animals, we function on instinct and therefore have no moral obligation to lift ourselves above nature.  Clearly, it isn’t polite to eat your cousin or wear his skin, so the relative whom you describe is really just being a good disciple of society’s moral message.

While we oppose any government regulations equating people and animals and object to PETA’s violent tactics, when it comes to individuals we don’t feel a need to eradicate the personal beliefs of those who think differently. Why is this relative getting under your skin? Is it possible she makes you feel guilty or insecure?

Occasionally we have been asked by a friend or relative to donate to a cause that is not a priority for us. If the cause is not important to us but it is innocuous, we might give a token amount. If, for whatever reason, we object to the charity we might even explain that while we value the relationship, we aren’t comfortable attending that dinner or making a contribution. While we might hope that our friend or relative’s eyes get opened and perhaps that we have the opportunity to offer a counter-point, we can be firm in our own convictions even if others disagree with us.

We encourage you to focus on those areas where you and your relative agree rather than being hyper-sensitive to areas of disagreement.

May you be wise as an owl, (but don’t eat one),

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


23 thoughts on “My vegan relative really gets to me!”

  1. Dear Rabbi: I should clarify why her (my relative, my daughter s ) being vegan is an issue to me. It’s not that I care what she eats. Its that she has stated that she never wants to have children. I think caring so much for animals has made her prefer them to children.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Bernadett–
      Thanks for clarifying. We had wondered. And your point is exactly why distinguishing ourselves from animals is so vital. Part of how we distinguish is that we do eat animals. In so doing we recognize that we are not being cannibals but eating a lower life form. Not one that deserves no consideration or kindness but one that is definitely not on the human level.

    2. Wow that’s tough. I’m a vegan and though I love animals, I do it as I beleive in it for health reasons, and since I’ve been vegetarian or vegan since high school an my health has been great except for injuries/ accidents. To me I do it and like being kosher without meat. Why is this even an issue. We all have choice. And some have judgement but I, normally accept people no matter what they eat unless they have lots of of illness issues and being vegan or even vegitarian has helped many feel better and healthier.
      To your health
      K. H.

  2. Thank you Rabbi Lapin for your advice! It is wise, as usual… I am a victim of such attempts – guilty, as charged! I insisted on discussing political views with my very close friend. The result – we haven’t spoken for more than a year… Right now we have rather abbreviated version of our past friendship. We meet for lunch twice a week, we talk very carefully about everything else, but politics, and we do not extend our friendship to other parts of our lives, like it used to be…
    I guess, that is the extent of what we can offer to each other now.
    Political views have never been anything as important in my life as it is now. As an immigrant from the Soviet Union, I took American values and freedoms to heart – you have to “live” the difference to understand it truly. Looking at the destruction of American values and spirit, I get frustrated to no end – black is white, and white is black… That was precisely the message that we used to get from our party leaders. I recognize the message, the methods, and even the language – never mind that it’s in English now. Thinking that our country is falling into the same communist, socialist old trap upsets me to no end, and certainly makes me want to discuss it with my friends. It seems obvious that being from the same background she couldn’t possibly fall for it… But she did.
    There is also this aspect of being quiet, when surrounded by the left, that makes me uncomfortable, as if I conformed, as if I’m being defeated, as if I gave up on my own American dream, as if I betrayed my grandfather and millions of others who perished in Gulag for this horrific experiment that is called socialism…
    So, my question is: how can we not try to talk about it with our friends or children (who have also been indoctrinated in college), even when we know it’s going to have unpleasant consequences?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Luda–
      It all makes sense once we remember that politics is nothing more than the practical application of our most deeply held values. I have yet to see a successful and fulfilling marriage with spouses adhering to opposing political views. Oh I know there are many marriages with a conservative husband (who holds his tongue) and a liberal wife (who doesn’t).
      However, such marriages are ‘make-do’ marriages and nowhere even close to what a marriage can be.

  3. Eddie Sanders

    I’m been a Vegan since 1996. As usual, Rabbi Lapin’s response is elegant and well balanced. Hence, he’s “My Rabbi.” On another note, if you want to optimize your body and spirit…Go Vegan!…jut sayin…😉
    Thank you!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Eddie–
      Thanks for writing especially with such kind words spoken in good humor. I’d respond at greater length but I’ve got a bunch of beef burgers and hot dogs on the BBQ that I must go and attend to.

  4. Dale Baranowski

    The problem with regarding animals and humans as equally valuable will result in either elevating animals to the status of humans – which is what is happening now – or removing the sanctity of people and regarding them as mere animals. Animal rights activists have elevated animals to the level of sanctity of humans. But the opposite will also happen and it is heading towards people deciding to remove the sanctity of humanity to the lowly status of animals. Equality means either that animals are as sacred as humans or that humans are as lowly as animals. This is the belief humans are no better than animals, and therefor people may be hunted and killed, their numbers culled and only and humans become part of breeding programs where only those judged as the ‘fittest’ would be allowed to flourish. In short, the next step in the animal-human equality is for eugenics to become acceptable if not promoted.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Dale–
      This of course is 100% accurate. Failure for a society to adequately distinguish between animal and human is a signpost to impending extinction.

  5. Deborah Christensen

    Paul addressed this in Romans 14. He said if one person thinks eating meat is wrong and you don’t, then don’t eat meat in front of them for you might cause them to sin in their own mind. It is okay for you to do it alone. Respect what others believe.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Deborah,
      Surely you can’t possibly be suggesting that whatever others believe is worthy of your respect. I could easily name a dozen people whose beliefs were so unutterably horrid and downright evil that they merited loathing rather than respect. Then there is a spectrum. The beliefs of the late Corrie Ten Boom and her family deserve veneration and respect. The beliefs of vegans, well, not so much. Thanks for writing.

      1. Romans 14 has to do with eating meat offered to pagan gods , causing the weak new believers in the true God to question their beliefs when they saw mature believers eating the meat ( the mature believers weren’t concerned that meat was offered to false gods). So they didn’t eat it in front of new converts so they wouldn’t confuse them.

      2. Deborah Christensen

        No, I didn’t mean that everything that others believe is worthy of respect. Of course we have to be discerning. But when it comes to the food we eat, it matters not to me what others think is the right thing to eat as long as they respect my desires, I will respect theirs.

  6. Rabbi,
    Agreed, that the arguing is often counterproductive. Yet, Did HaShem tell us what we wanted to hear, or did He correct, and or exhort?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Mr. Hoffman,
      God does many things we can’t (splitting seas) or shouldn’t do (killing those who insult us-see false prophets of Baal)

      1. No scientist who studies biology can fail to appreciate the links that we humans share in common not only with primates, but with all terrestrial life. The message of Darwinian evolution indeed has its merits, if it has also inspired much departure from the faith. Still, humans remain uniquely distinct from animals. Animals have only instincts, whereas humans have a conscious CHOICE, which if guided righteously can heal rather than hurt. With all due respect to our animal ‘cousins’ who are not blessed with the Divine spark of consciousness, kindly pardon me if I re-quote a dire yet timely thought that you aired once upon a time: that those who insist upon treating animals as humans will reap the horrid consequences, to wit, that one day they will find humans treated as animals. G. K. Chesterton’s Law applies: that those who do not believe in God will fall for believing most ANYTHING.

  7. I am a vegetarian in Texas of all places. It’s my choice. It’s her choice also. I would not attempt to convert anyone to my choice. It would be rude either way.
    The response was well reasoned and on point as well; exponentially more gentle than mine would be.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Janet,
      Happy to hear you rated our response as gentle. While we’re not often thought of as touchie-feelie softies, we certainly never want to sound harsh or insensitive. We feel we respect our audience by always being honest and direct.

  8. Thank you for your teaching on this subject! It was an answer to prayer. I am going to a family reunion soon and was concerned about tensions with relatives concerning their lifestyle choices. I’ll put your wisdom into practice. 🙂

  9. My wife and I are not vegan. My oldest son and his wife have been vegan for decades. We enjoy each other’s company and treasure our time together. It’s never been a problem. I understand that some vegans act like reformed smokers and some non-vegans try to goad vegans by pushing ‘hot’ buttons and both sides sometimes mock each other. Our family doesn’t do that. I hope Bernadette can find that place.

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