I don’t know how often you re-watch movies of the 1980’s, but my husband and I were flipping channels a few weeks ago and came upon Roxanne. For those of you who don’t know it, it was a modern-day take on Cyrano de Bergerac, with Steve Martin playing a man named C.D. who rocked an unusually large nose. Thinking that no one could find him attractive, he wooed the woman of his dreams through his handsome friend. In one scene, a man at a gathering called Martin’s character “Big Nose.” Martin launched into what became a stand-up routine of all of the better styles of jokes at his expense that the guy could have used.
Fashionable: You know, you could de-emphasize your nose if you wore something larger. Like… Wyoming.
Sympathetic: Oh, what happened? Did your parents lose a bet with God?
Obscure: Oh, I’d hate to see the grindstone.
I’ve been writing a lot in these past few weeks about things you discover when you first go vegan, and one that definitely comes up is that you’ll hear a lot of jokes. I think there are many reasons for that, and one of the biggest is that jokes, as a tool, are used to diffuse an uncomfortable situation. When we, as people, are suddenly aware of ourselves or our habits in a way that makes us feel defensive or uncomfortable, jokes are an easy release valve. They’re a way of voicing that discomfort in a socially accepted way.
That’s understandable and something we all do in one way or another at times. However, when veganism is totally new to you, and you’re suddenly getting teased regularly at mealtimes, it can get… tiresome. Jokes also highlight beliefs that separate us and that unite us. Sometimes when you’re a new vegan and the only one in the group, jokes create an interesting us-versus-them power dynamic, which can feel very startling when you’re suddenly in the minority.
As a new vegan, what do you do? Become grumpy and have people think you’re a spoilsport? Or laugh even when the joke is at your expense? (I mean, to the bald guy, is the 10th bald joke funny? Probably not.) Plus, when a person is vegan for the animals, it can feel like the joker-in-question is not only laughing at you, but also making light of the victims of the meat, dairy, and egg industries, who you care about.
Something that worked for me when I was newly vegan and meeting up with people who were very vocal about their differing ideologies was to take it all in as if I were watching a documentary. The jabs and jokes didn’t really have anything to do with me, even though it could feel very personal. These statements said more about their views than they did about me. I tried, not always successfully, to observe with curiosity and without attachment. (This advice goes for misguided jokes. Obviously if someone is being cruel, that’s another story…)
This past summer, my husband and I went to a grill out at a public campground. It was with a group of people that we didn’t know well, most of whom I was meeting for the first time. We brought cookies to share and Field Roast sausages and vegetables to grill. We have a mini grill that we like to use on those occasions that we’ll be cooking out with people who are grilling animal flesh, especially when public grills are involved. I think it’s easier and more pleasant to have my own grill, spatula, and tongs, and then I can keep our food animal-free. Anyway, we set up our grill not far from where some guys in the group were also cooking. They noticed that we had our own grill and were inquisitive about why.
When I told them that we’re vegan one of the guys chimed in with, “Oh, so do you have room for a cow heart on your grill?” He said it as if it were a joke, but it’s kind of insensitive and aggressive when you look at the face of it. If I’d been like Martin’s character in Roxanne, perhaps this would have been the time I pulled out the many jokes I’ve heard over the years:
Classic: Oh, you’re vegan? I’m a member of PETA. People Eating Tasty Animals.
Culinary: Yeah, I love animals too. Next to the mashed potatoes.
Philosophical: If God didn’t want us to eat animals, why did he make them of meat?
Instead I smiled and said, “Nope. We don’t have any room for that.”
As has been common in these last few posts about veganism… It gets easier. First, the jokes slow way down. After a while, people run out of jokes or they’ve already said their best ones, and so it’s not an interesting topic anymore. It’s old news. Second, people get more comfortable with you being vegan. They don’t need to diffuse an uncomfortable situation, because they aren’t uncomfortable. Third, they realize you’re still the same person you always were and that you’re going to keep being vegan. There’s no reason to continue commenting on something that’s not going to change.
So now the times when I hear jokes it’s in one of two circumstances – when I’m just meeting people and it randomly comes up or when I’m with people I know very well and who are comfortable with me being vegan. In the first case, it’s easier now to give people slack. I get it. There was a time that veganism seemed very foreign to me too. The only way that I can communicate that vegans are warm, and open, and have a sense of humor is if I give the same compassion I want to receive and the same compassion I want the animals to receive. In the second, now when my close family and friends joke with me about veganism, it’s good-natured. They know I care very deeply about animals. They get it. And it feels entirely different when a joke is made that’s born out of long conversations and shared history. It’s the kind of joke that recognizes our commonality.
Oh, and one more little thing… Why did the vegan cross the road? Because he was protesting for the chicken, man!