03/17/2011 05:39 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Attention, Fellow Vegans: Other Humans Deserve Compassion, Too

I recently returned home from teaching on the eighth annual Taste of Health Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise to the Caribbean, which mixed warm, sunny days; white, sandy beaches; chilled-out ports of call; gourmet vegan food with a macrobiotic bent to it; and informative classes, lectures and workshops with some of the greatest, most innovative and gifted experts in the fields of natural health and green living.

It was a magical week. Sandy Pukel, the visionary behind this idea, and John Belleme, the detail man of the vision, managed once again to put together a smoothly run, perfectly delightful week of stimulating classes, discussions and fun, social events. My own classes were packed, and the response to what I do and say was well-received. Vegans and people who live a macrobiotic lifestyle got along like peas in a pod.

Until the very last day.

Conducting a Q-and-A session with Sandy brought some incredibly interesting topics to the table for discussion, from personal responsibility to what foods to choose for health. It was a lively and interesting discussion. A woman asked about the difference between a macrobiotic and vegan diet. I explained that, for me, as a vegan, macrobiotics helped me find nutritional balance, but that macrobiotics was not always vegan, that animal food was sometimes used to create health in people who are compromised. I explained that most people who live a macrobiotic lifestyle are vegan, but some choose fish because they feel it makes them healthier and stronger. I also explained that, for me, macrobiotics made more sense because a vegan diet was not always healthy. As I always say, Twizzlers are vegan.

An attendee in the back of the room asked more about this topic, but because we were short on time, I invited him to speak with me after the class.

Do you know the term "in your face"? This dude was so in-my-face that I thought he might hit me (but would he do it compassionately?). With nostrils flared, he accused me of embracing a lifestyle that condoned pain, suffering and ultimately murder by living according to macrobiotic principles. It mattered not one bit that I am a vegan by my choice. What mattered was his agenda.

Now this blog is not about my hurt feelings or this unnerving confrontation. It's not about this man's misplaced and inappropriate rage.

It's about compassion.

In macrobiotics, we say that by living according to the laws of nature, we are choosing to create a bigger life, one steeped in ancient wisdom, tradition and freedom of choice. Let me say that again: freedom of choice. We also say that we choose foods based on their nutrition and energetic qualities. We believe that there's more to food than food and that in life, we are connected; we are all one.

As a committed vegan, I am deeply concerned about the way we treat our animals, and about how we produce them for food. If we think for one moment that farming and producing meat, poultry and dairy products that take the lives of more than 10 billion animals annually can be done in a compassionate, healthy and humane way, then we are more out of touch with reality than I feared. I also believe that there is no reason for me to eat animal food. That is my choice.

But I also care deeply for human health. As vegans or macrobiotic people who say that we are committed to health -- human health, planetary health and spiritual health -- how can we justify reserving all our compassion for animals and serving up only contempt and rage for people who might make choices different from ours? How can we hope to enlighten people and help them see our view when we are constantly blinding them with our shaking fingers in their faces? How can we hope to achieve harmony when we care only for the welfare of some animals and not for the welfare of others (humans, for example)?

Most vegans tell me that I am not "vegan enough" for their taste because I refuse to berate people who choose to eat animal foods; I don't protest with violence; I don't feel contempt for anyone not playing in my sandbox. As distasteful as that choice is to me personally, I am not so arrogant to think that I am constantly and consistently right -- and self-righteous.

I prefer the philosophy of catching more bees with honey (pun intended). If we are peaceful, inviting, open and welcoming to all we meet, do we not stand a much better chance of them hearing what we have to say and thereby effecting greater change? Seriously, who wants to be scolded? It's exhausting to be so self-righteous, for us and those who must endure us.

You cannot create an environment that includes all people when you call them "murderers" or "flesh-eaters" because they choose to eat meat or fish or dairy. Very few of us were born into a vegan lifestyle. We had to evolve. The highest calling of a human being is to help fellow humans to enlightenment. That is hardly possible when we are calling them names and yelling.

It's time for all those who live compassionate lives to show our fellow humans the same compassion we vegans show to cows, pigs, chickens, fish, puppies and kittens. Compassion opens the door for understanding and with understanding people can -- and will -- make better choices. But they can't -- and won't -- if they are constantly under attack, made to feel that they are inferior to more "enlightened" types and left feeling that they are less than worthless.

Compassion is not selective; rage is destructive no matter the cause or mission. Only with love and understanding can this world change for the better.

The time for "them-and-us" thinking is over. There is only "us": one world, one people, for better or worse; we are in this together.