Imagine you’re at a wedding reception, say, sat at a table that consists entirely of single people and couples who’ve only just been introduced to each other. And imagine that the following conversation were to occur:
Person 1: [To Person 2] Do you ever watch that Sunday morning discussion show thing on BBC1?
Person 2: No, I’m usually out then. Is it any good?
Person 1: Why are you out?
Person 2: Well… I go to church.
Person 1: Church?
Person 2: Yeah. Erm, I’m a Christian.
Person 1: [Apparently curious] Right. Perhaps you can tell me something. I’m just curious. But why are you a Christian?
Person 2: Oh. Okay. [Thinking] Well, I guess it’s because I feel blessed by the love of Jesus Christ and inspired to follow his teachings.
Person 1: [Looking a bit determined now] And one of those teachings is that you should do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, right?
Person 2: Yeah. It is.
Person 1: Okay. [Starts getting aggressive] So what if, say, you had a daughter, and she was in hospital dying, because she had something wrong with her heart, and she needed a heart transport, but there were no donor hearts available, and then some Columbian gangsters murdered a nine-year old street girl and stripped her body down for spare parts and her heart was being offered for sale on the black market, would you buy that little girl’s heart from the people who’d murdered her? Which would be basically paying them to kill someone else’s daughter? Would you do it?
Person 2: But… I don’t have a daughter who needs a heart transplant.
Person 1: [Really quite aggressive now] Yeah, but if you did, would you? Would you?
Person 2: [Helplessly shaking their head] Well I don’t know. Anyway, about this Sunday show?
Person 1: [Insistent] I’m just curious. I’m not being nasty. But would you? Would you do it?
Person 2: How could I know? How would anyone know how they’d react in that situation?
Person 1: [Sits back in chair triumphant, as those he’s proved a point] Ah. See! And what about…
You’d probably find such an exchange bizarre, incomprehensible, even. On what possible planet is it in anyway acceptable to demand that a complete stranger provide an answer to your bizarre, random, arbitrary, hypothetical thought experiment?
And yet it happens to us vegans all the time. If I had to pull a guestimated fact out of my body’s rear-mounted, downward-firing, solid waste disposal orifice, I’d say that on about 25% of the conversations in which it emerges that you’re a vegan, one of the others persons present decides to demand that you answer a bizarre, random thought experiment, typically involving plane-crashes on Pacific islands populated entirely by rabbits. And of course, if you do try to provide an answer, the person usually takes that as an invitation to badger you about it for the next half hour, no matter how much you say, “Could we not just agree to disagree?”
(I don’t mean that 25% of people react this way. I’m suggesting that in any such occasion, there’s about a one in four chance that one of the several people present will react in this way.)
And of course, although they’re aggressively demanding that you explain to them why you’re a vegan, they’re not actually expecting you to give any kind of logical, internally coherent answers; if you do , that only makes them more aggressive, as they take that as some kind of personal attack by you, on them. It sometimes seems that the only way to make them stop is to either agree to abandon in their entirety your ethical and philosophical beliefs, or just get quite rude and tell them to shut up, sod off, and leave you alone.
It really pisses me off, and I know from talking to other vegans that it really pisses them off too. It happens often enough that you’re sometimes inhibited about mentioning that you’re a vegan, and instead dance around the subject, as though you’ve got some kind of bizarre eating disorder you’d rather not discuss. It’s important to stress that these aren’t occasions where we’re in any way proselytising, trying to push our opinions onto others. It’s simply situations where us being vegan has merely come up in conversation.
It most recently happened to me, two days ago, at a wedding.
Him: Why aren’t you eating the starter?
Me: Erm. We can’t.
Him: Why not?
Me: Well… We’re vegans, and there’s cheese and honey in it.
Him: [Apparently curious] Right. Tell me this. I’m just curious. What would you do if you were trapped in some woods and there were only rabbits to eat?
Me: But we’re not trapped in some woods with only rabbits to eat.
Him: [Insistent and demanding, if not quite aggressive] But what if you were?
I’m always more than happy to explain why I’m a vegan, to anyone who genuinely wants to hear why. And if you’re curious about the ethical difficulties I face in my day-to-day life, that’s fine too. But please don’t then hit me with the bizarre random thought experiments. I’m not a barbarian living in the bronze age. I’m not trapped on a biologically implausible tropical island. And I’m not living in a near-future dystopia with a sick daughter who urgently needs a heart transplant from a transgenic pig. I’m a middle-aged, twenty-first century bloke on a reasonable income living in an advanced Western democracy.
And I’m also just trying to enjoy the wedding.