My seven-year-old nephew, Isaac, loves to eat meat. His favourite meals are chicken schnitzel, barbecued sausages and toasted cheese sandwiches.
Isaac’s parents have explained why his Aunty and Uncle don’t eat meat, and he’s accepting of our values, sometimes even protective! However, he’s open as long as we don’t come between him and his meat.
So when Isaac comes over for sleepovers, it’s a battle to get him to eat our food. We’ve tried pasta with a simple tomato sauce, tofu scramble, spinach stew, baked vegetables, potato curry. You name it.
One thing he’ll always happily eat is Maša’s pancakes, because, vegan or not, which kid doesn’t love pancakes?
Knowing our food struggles with the little guy, we thought we’d take him out for dinner one time. We went to our favourite vegan Asian restaurant, which has a large selection of mock meat dishes.
Maša ordered the Eggplant Hotpot, and I went with the tofu satay sauce with rice. Isaac was to decide what meat dish he wanted to order. At least so he thought. In the end, he went with the “beef” Massaman Curry, which I thought was an excellent choice.
We watched on as Isaac scoffed down half of his curry and saved the rest for later. He was pleased with his meal, and it looked like we found a go-to restaurant for when he came over.
Fast-forward to the next day when we dropped him off at my sister’s house, we were reflecting on how much fun we all had together. Isaac was praising the food he ate the night before, telling his mother that we let him eat meat.
To my sister’s surprise, she enquired about the meal. I told her that it was fake meat, but he loved it. We all laughed and thought it would be amusing to reveal the truth to Isaac. We thought the experience would teach him that vegan food can be tasty.
Little did we know…
My sister dropped the bomb on him, and his response was a deathly silence. No acknowledgement, no surprises, no dialogue. Just silence. Isaac was so disgusted with what happened that he wanted to erase this experience from his memory.
Last time I’ll be truthful to a child. Lol!
But in all seriousness, we blurred the lines in this kids head, and now he was never to trust our food choices. He didn’t know what was right and what was wrong.
Anyway, I share this story because I too used to feel like Isaac. I loved my meat. And even though I generally understood how it got on my plate, I intentionally stayed ignorant.
The power of willful ignorance.
Willful ignorance is the practice or act of intentional and blatant avoidance, disregard or disagreement with facts, empirical evidence and well-founded arguments because they oppose or contradict your own existing personal beliefs.
Kids and adults alike from a young age are taught that animals are slaughtered for our consumption. However, we’re also fed animal products from a young age, and we become addicted to the taste and smell of animals on our plates.
Our choices to eat animals are validated at school outings. Where every kid is eating meat pies, or your family goes to McDonald’s after your soccer game. Never mind the volume of advertising coming into our subconscious daily.
Furthermore, the packaging of animal products makes us disconnected from how they land on our plates. We use terms like leather instead of animal skin or meat instead of flesh. This terminology is designed to make us feel justified for our consumption and exploitation of animals. Ironically, the visuals in advertising consist of animals living happy and free lives—when it couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s the concoction of these experiences that make it okay to eat animals. Instead of looking for a reason not to eat animals, we instead remain willfully ignorant because we don’t want the truth to mess with our pleasure.
Breaking through willful ignorance for the animals.
I’d like to believe most humans are compassionate toward animals. I know this to be true because of the love and generosity I see humans display with their pets. I know this because of how I used to see humans interacting with animals at the zoo or how we celebrate animal characters in cartoons.
When we look into the eyes of an animal, we feel a connection with them. We sense their fear, their joy, their love, their sadness, after all, they are living beings, with their own emotions.
It’s this connection we feel with the animals that will help us meet the truth head-on.
We need to feel the love and empathy for animals, and then we need to feel the fear and anxiety they experience before being slaughtered or abused.
Unfortunately, it means seeking the truth head-on. It means watching films like EARTHLINGS and Dominion to embed images of death into your mind. It’s these vivid images of slaughter and abuse that made me vegan. There are things I saw that I could not unsee. And from that moment on, each time I saw an animal product, I remembered those images.
I could no longer turn a blind eye to the truth. And giving up animal products became easy, as a result.
What can you do about helping people overcome willful ignorance?
As you can see with my seven-year-old nephew, it’s hard to get people to take on the truth of their actions. You can’t force people to change, even though it’s frustrating at times because you know what’s at stake.
Sometimes our consumption habits are not enough, and we need to be a little more proactive in our approach. You can plant the seed in people’s mind with approachable activism.
This also means getting outside of your bubble and immersing yourself in reality, so you can better empathise and relate with people.