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Teach Tolerance

Not long ago, I attended the lecture of a well-known author who has long advocated a plant-based diet.  I was really excited to attend, as the topic focused on creating more peace among those who tend to disagree about what makes a healthy diet.  “Right up my alley”, or so I thought.  Two of my friends share this view of loving kindness so I invited them to attend with me.

The room was packed with more people than I would usually see at a talk like this, and the excitement to hear this person talk was palpable.  However, although I generally agreed with his main point (eat a plant-based diet focused on unprocessed ingredients), I left with my blood pressure soaring.

My background (as well as current passion) is in education, and part of my teaching philosophy is “teach tolerance”.  Very few of my students and people who previously attended the community dinners I co-founded have been vegan or macrobiotic.  This has been something that I find extremely positive as over the years they all have been attending for similar reasons, to be open to a different approach, to enjoy community, to learn about new foods, strategies, and cooking techniques, and to get healthier.

Imagine my shock and disappointment when the speaker began referring to others (who don’t believe or educate the same thing as him) in terms of violence going so far as to say things like , “You’re wrong, and I’m right.” “Evil has won.” “If you’re going to take part in this war, identify the enemy.” “Beat them to death like they deserve.” “80,000 years ago they ate children and enjoyed it.” and “They are not listening. There are no limits to what I’m willing to do to win this battle.”

I could never really tell who the speaker was against. Was it  all people who ate meat?  The food industry?  A personal vendetta against certain authors that were pictured during the presentation?

Although I agreed with the premise that it’s good for our health to eat a plant-based diet, I still felt that ‘hate is hate’ no matter which “side” you’re on, and all I felt underlying the message being presented besides the importance of eating a plant-based diet was that anyone with different views was evil. (In case you can’t read this slide it says, “Good vs. Evil We have defined the enemy. Now the troops must unite and prevail.”) This author was “preaching to the choir” at that moment, but if I had been a meat eater (at that particular moment, the minority viewpoint), I personally would have felt a more than a little bit nervous!

This bothers me because vegans often are stereotyped as being militant and intolerant (with carrots stuck up their okoles), a category into which I definitely do not wish to be included in.  When I attempted to speak to this person and share my concerns about the message being presented, he said “Everyone has their method. Thanks for sharing” and then walked away from me.

My purpose for writing this blog is to emphasize once again that in my classes, I take a very non-judgmental approach, meeting people wherever they are to offer a a variety of viewpoints, including cooking techniques, ingredients, or perhaps a new perspective, as a few examples, that hopefully encourage people to add more healthful items into their diet and to get knowledgeable about the food system and become educated consumers. I also encourage the students present to share things with each other that have worked for them and to make their own decisions about what is right for their own lives.

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