As we were leaving the farmer's market today, we stopped to say hello to a woman we've had pleasant conversations with before and to ask whether or not her fruit tarts were vegan. She had said in the past that she might try to make them vegan a time or two, but our attendance has been spotty at the market this summer, and we've missed the few times she's veganized them for us. One of her customers asked if we were allergic to gluten, and I quipped that no, we were allergic to death and suffering. I meant for it to be funny, and I underplayed the comment right away. But it was clearly the wrong thing to say, and in the woman's defense, I can understand why it might have seemed confrontational.
The woman in question told us that she believes all life is sacred but has spoken to the vegetarian society about the reasons why she isn't vegan. I countered that I agreed with her about the sanctity of life but had concerns about the antibiotic load inherent to factory farming and the amount of the world's farm land currently used for feed grain. At one point she mentioned that she didn't eat factory-farmed meat, and I countered that I felt eating meat at all contributed to the factory farming model. Throughout the conversation, she made mention of her admittedly extensive knowledge of farming and at one point mentioned that she's been 'doing this' for a long time and knows 'it can't be done' without the use of animals (for manure and food, as I understood it). I told her that we've been 'doing this' (meaning veganism) for a long time too, and our understanding was different.
Up until this point, I thought we were just having a discussion, and I'm usually much better at reading moods than I was today. But I must have misread her altogether because she stood up, said "Well, then this conversation is over" and walked away. Sean had been getting frustrated throughout the exchange and turned away shortly before she said this, and later he told me that he had seen she was angry. But not me. I was stunned.
So we went to another table, bought bread and left. Sean had to get home and return to work, but I felt compelled to go back to the market and make it clear that I bore this woman no ill will. So that's what I did. I found her outside, approached her gently and prepared to apologize for my ill-timed joke. But she interrupted me and said, "I had to leave because I was about to get really angry." Then she walked away from me. So I followed a few paces and told her that I understood my comment might have been in poor taste and wanted her to have my apology. She replied, and this is a quote, "I've been doing this for thirty-five years, and your opinion is so ignorant I can't even begin to address it, so I'll just leave it at that." Then she turned from me and walked away again. So I said something as she left about needing to make the effort at apology and then let her go.
Strangely, I was so relieved that it wasn't my comment that had offended but rather my core values and that because of this, there was no way the conversation between us could have gone well. I was glad I'd made the effort at peace. I'm wrung out from the encounter, but I'll be back at the market next week and any other week we might have the opportunity to go. I value my opportunity for Gaelic conversation there, I like the German bread-seller's wares, and this is my home now. I can't allow one woman to take that from me, even if I might have inadvertently set a difficult conversation in motion.
There are many times many vegan farms, and ours will be one of them in the years to come, so there was and continues to be no question in my mind about the viability of such endeavors. I'm also secure enough in my other researches that an abject accusation of ignorance, no matter how vociferously stated, doesn't have the desired impact on me. But wow. What an encounter, and one I'll remember ten years from now when my land is carpeted with food.