Joe and I are vegetarians. We don’t discuss this fact with people unless they ask and we are always careful with out answers. But, for the purposes of writing this, I need to be more open. We are vegetarians for both ethical and health reasons. We are careful in our purchase of foods, we read labels, we ask questions. In restaurants we always ask if their vegetarian vegetable soup has a beef or chicken stock in the broth.
When we moved in to this apartment, we had a new fridge and stove. No meat has crossed our threshold since moving in. That is, until recently. Well, actually, today, about 5 minutes ago. Not only that we’ve not purchased meat or meat products for 26 years. That is, until today, about 30 minutes ago. We are both having a great deal of difficulty with what’s just happened.
Our neighbour has become increasingly disabled over the past few years. In the last year, the progress of her disability has sped up a bit and she now manages to get out to work, and home, and that’s it. She does her bulk shopping for groceries on line, but we always call her when we are going out to pick up groceries to see if she needs anything. She was uncomfortable at first with asking for help. (Been there.) but now she’ll call and ask if we could pick stuff up for her when we’re out.
Mostly it’s been bread, and eggs, and milk and that kind of stuff. Today she asked for us to pick up sliced turkey breast and minced lobster meat. OK. Well. What do we do? Both of us blanched at the request. It was left on our voicemail so she wouldn’t have heard any hesitation in our response to the request. We’ve not purchased anything like that for well over two decades. Decades.
Then, we talked. Had to get by a little bit of upset before any real discussion could be had. Now, if either of us were her staff, if we were paid to support her, it would not be an issue. Her home, her choice, our service, that’s how it works. But we aren’t her staff. We are her neighbours. We don’t have to do anything we don’t want to.
As we talked we realized we’d said, “Yes,” to helping her and shopping for her. We never set any boundaries on that, we just said it wasn’t a problem and we didn’t mind. And, yes, she has a disability and she needs the assistance. But that need shouldn’t give us the power to impose limitations on her choices, should it? But her need shouldn’t make us do something that we are uncomfortable in doing, should it?
You know already, because I’ve mentioned it. We picked up what she wanted. It’s in our fridge until she gets home from work.
We didn’t buy meat.
I know that with my mind but gosh, in my heart, I don’t really feel that. The complex interplay between needs and power and choice and morality make it all seem very messy. That is until we decided that … we said, “Yes,” to helping her. And that’s all we did. We helped. Our values are not compromised because they had nothing to do with the transaction. Why? Because we were not the prime movers, we were not the decision makers, we were simply two people using someone else’s money to buy someone else’s groceries, that’s it.
What do we value more: the ability to help someone out or the ability to proscribe someone’s choices?
That’s an easier question to answer than we ever thought it would be.