The Liberation Pledge is a commitment to anti-speciesism which involves refusing to sit where the bodies of animals are being eaten. I wrote two years ago about why took the pledge, and over the course of that time I’ve had many interesting, awkward, upsetting, and inspiring conversations with family, friends, and colleagues about that decision.
But this week, for the first time since I took the pledge, I started a new job. And not just any job, a job where they take lunch very seriously. The company provides a catered lunch very Tuesday and Thursday which the staff are expected to eat together, and new team members are welcomed on their first day with a lunch out, on the company card. For most, this would be a dream come true. Who doesn’t love a free lunch??
For anyone who has taken the Liberation Pledge, though, this situation may quickly start to feel like a nightmare, and could lead to some serious anxiety. The first week of work is stressful enough!
Here is how I survived my first week on a new job without breaking the Liberation Pledge:
1) Don’t procrastinate the conversation!
First thing in the morning, after realizing they were planning a welcome lunch for me, I immediately emailed my contact in HR to express my concerns. Since it was just my first day, I didn’t know who was in charge of coordinating the lunches. Contacting HR to direct me to the right person gave me confidence that the person I was speaking to had the power to make the call. Having the conversation as soon as possible both increases your chances of success, and shows that you respect your colleague’s time by not giving them extra work to deal with at the last minute.
2) Set the right tone.
Always communicate using polite, non-violent, compassionate language. Your goal in this conversation should not be to “win”, or defeat them in a debate on ethics. Rather, you are looking to cement alliances with those who are in charge of the food. Speak without making judgments on others, and be understanding of the situation they might be in (for example, if food has already been ordered and the caterer has an expensive refund policy). Reiterate your excitement for the job and the company, and try to keep the message overall positive in tone. Focus on finding solutions rather than creating problems for your coworkers.
3) Talk about your feelings, not the pledge itself.
Most people don’t know what the Liberation Pledge is, and honestly probably don’t care. But what your HR reps and team at work should care about is how you feel, and the experience you have as an employee there. Companies spend a lot of time and money to hire and on-board the right people, so making sure you are there to stay is financially beneficial for everyone. Companies are already used to creating accommodations for people with religions, disabilities, or dietary needs, and by talking about your feelings and desire to feel “welcome, safe, and included”, you are speaking their language.
4) Always be prepared with a backup plan.
Start your ask high- “Could we possibly make this meal all vegan?” and know where your boundaries are from there. If the meal can’t be entirely vegan, will you settle for a vegetarian table? If the meal will have meat and they can’t or won’t change that, would you be willing to sit at a separate table in the same room? If there are no separate tables but you are required to attend the lunch, can you pull a chair aside or to the back of the room? Examine all possibilities ahead of time, and determine where you draw the line. Be prepared to help pick a nearby animal-friendly restaurant, offer to help call around for a good catering company, or suggest vegan recipes. Be proactive in suggesting solutions!
5) Don’t cave, not even once.
Although it can be hard to have these conversations on your very first day or week of work, before you’ve really established yourself or gotten to know your coworkers, now is the best time to do it. Setting this boundary right away makes it clear that you are serious about your ethics, and people will respect you for it (even if it comes with a bit of confusion at first). If you fail to enforce you boundaries from the beginning, people will expect that you will continue to cave later, and it will become even harder to make your boundaries clear.
The email I sent first thing Monday morning resulted in switching the reservation for my welcome lunch to an all-vegan restaurant, and served as a lead-in to the conversation about handling staff lunches (feel free to copy any part of this that helps you!):
Hi, (name) –
I’m not really sure how the staff lunches normally work, so I apologize in advance if this request sounds weird!
I don’t remember how much it came up during the interview process, but I’m actually pretty involved in farmed animal rescue, including having conducted investigations inside slaughterhouses and caring for rescued animals. I currently live with a chicken who we rescued in June, named Angie.
As you can imagine, after having these experiences it’s pretty hard for me emotionally to be around when animals are being eaten. All I can picture is Angie, or any of the other animals I cared for or left behind, and it makes it hard to truly be present and enjoy the meal. Because of this, I would love it if our welcome lunch today could be all vegan! I would be happy to provide some recommendations or direction if that would be helpful.
I hope this does not sound too weird/needy — I’m honestly so excited to be starting today and it’s so sweet of you all to coordinate a welcome lunch!! If it’s not possible since this is a last minute request, I completely understand. I’m looking forward to having a great first day!
See you soon 🙂
After this, my new ally in HR agreed to set up a separate “meat-free zone” table, announced it in our office Slack channel, and agreed to consider “meatless Tuesdays” for Tuesday catered lunches in the future. It led to a great discussion, and overall the team was very supportive! Later in the week, when I joined a few coworkers for happy hour after work, they agreed to eat vegetarian so I could join them.
When done right, the Liberation Pledge is a powerful tool to take an anti-speciesist stance in all parts of your life. If you need help figuring out how to handle the Liberation Pledge at work, shoot me an email and I’d be happy to help!
Disclaimer: My views are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.
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