The Social Vegan

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When you take on the Vegan Challenge,  you’ll find new favorite foods.  You’ll find out what you like and don’t like to eat.  You’ll find great new food options on menus and in your grocery store. Checking labels gets easier and easier. You’ll find that navigating health concerns isn’t such a big deal after all.

And then there are those sideways glances, rolling eyes, and the questions-questions-questions asked by family, friends, and coworkers. This is where your knowledge and understanding really gets a workout. Some people ask with excitement, wonder, or genuine concern. And we will all remember those who challenge your commitment to compassion and justice. Sometimes with all the grace and kindness of an hungry bear.

Despite some awkwardness and discomfort at the onslaught of questions, social settings offers some interesting insights we’ve discovered along the way. A few easy tips for your social tool belt, and a helpful reminder to stay true to yourself and kind to others. It’s not about converting the world, but teaching others that there is another way to live.

When No One Is Interested

Starting out your Vegan journey feels so invigorating. You’re discovering a new way of living, you start feeling healthier, you’re losing weight without trying, it’s easier to exercise, and you can eat all this glorious and delicious food. You’ve discovered a new side of yourself that was always just under the surface of your existence, and you want to share it with the world.

But no one is listening to you…

If you hit that wall, don’t let it discourage you. Your journey is unique to you. While you may have seen, read, experienced, and discovered things that now make perfect sense to you and make living vegan make so much more sense, your friends and family members may not quite see it your way.

As your family and friends discover that you’ve become vegan, some will be genuinely interested in what it means to live vegan; others may be concerned for your health; and some may feel a little uncomfortable because they don’t know what vegan means, or they’re not sure that you are still you. They are genuinely glad you’re excited about your new lot in life, but the hard truth is that they will never understand exactly how you feel. It’s like when your best friend goes on a backpacking trip across Europe. You can listen to every story they tell, but it will not compare to experiencing it yourself.

You know your friends and family better than anyone, and here’s some advice from someone who’s been there: Live by example. Your friends and family want to know you still care about them and that you’re not rejecting them. You’re not rejecting them, you’re rejecting the use of animals, you’re rejecting violence, and you’re rejecting waste.  You don’t have to preach about global warming, hand out literature on the unsustainability, try to get your friends to watch undercover animal slaughter footage, or read the books you’ve read. Be patient. Live by example. Plant seeds and they will grow. And if they don’t, don’t take it personally.

Resistance

It is a resolute fact of life that change does not come easily. New ideas are often unwelcome and those who bring the new ideas are often seen as aggressors, even when those ideas are offered with love or in the spirit of helping the group. Even the most loving, thoughtful, well-mannered person making their vegan lifestyle known to a non-vegan family or group of friends may be met with hostility.

Try not to take resistance as a personal attack. Just because change is strange and intimidating doesn’t mean they don’t love you. The majority of the time, they anxiety comes from concern for you. It might help family members and friends who read this to know that just because a loved one has decided to live vegan, this does not mean they don’t want to be close to those they love. It simply means they’ve found something very important to them; to live their lives fully, they feel they must be true to this new mindset and they want to share that excitement with you.

Dining Out

Eating in restaurants that serve animal flesh and animal products can be hard for some vegans even if it’s at the next table. Sometimes, it’s especially when it’s on the same table and difficult to ignore. This is a comfort level you’ll have to determine for yourself. Some vegans want to eat with others who are not vegan so they can live by example.  Others want to avoid the pain or frustration and eat only with vegans or with those open to giving it a try.  One vegan friend decided to handle dining out with people who are not vegan this way: “I offer to pick up the tab if everyone eats vegan food.  I don’t have a lot of money, but I think it’s a nice way to introduce others to great vegan food. I don’t put myself in situations where I have to sit at a table with animal meat – it’s just too much for me.”

This reaction may seem strange to those who are not yet vegan who may think “it’s just a food choice, after all.  What’s the big deal?”  But as one moves along the vegan path, they often become more connected to their consumer choices.  They begin to learn where their food comes from, who suffered and who benefited.

The fear of some vegans is that they’re going to have to endure the pain and bite their tongue at the dinner table. The fear of those not yet vegan is that vegans are going to make them feel guilty about what they want to eat. Meals might seem like the perfect time to discuss your lifestyle with those who are close to you, but the conversation may also be better left for another time. With something as socially connecting as eating together, it’s important to remember kindness and empathy to everyone, not just animals.

When it comes to telling people, the best thing to do is to wait for people to ask. It is almost guaranteed that someone will ask why you are not eating animal products. You know your friends and family best, so answer in the way that makes the most sense for that group at that moment. If the group is open to hearing what you have to say, awesome! But sometimes, it might be best to suggest talking one-on-one another time. For me, I talked about how I was studying the scientific implications, and how it was an “Awareness Month” challenge. This alone opened up great conversations without anyone feeling guilty or confronted, which is the last thing that needs to happen.

We’re not suggesting that you hold your tongue, but rather that you might want to pick the most effective opportunity. Timing is everything. While you may feel like it goes against your ethics to refrain from answering questions immediately and in graphic detail, rest assured, your actions will speak even louder than words. Your message will be more powerful and better received by those who are open to hearing it. Live by example, plant seeds of compassion, and be ready to open your heart to those wanting to learn more.

The Only One At The Party

If you’re going to a casual non-vegan party, staying vegan may be as simple as snacking before you go, or keeping your eyes open for animal-free snacks at the party like chips, nuts, and veggie dips. You can even offer to bring vegan-approved snacks to help the hosts. What party is complete without Oreos, Doritos, salsa, and Ritz crackers. Or you can be “that one friend” who always brings a veggie tray.

If you’re going to a sit-down dinner party that you know won’t be vegan, let your hosts know ahead of time you don’t consume animal products. Offering to bring vegan items would be very helpful and would take pressure of the host. Simply buy prepared plant-based food from a local store or bring your favorite dish or two. That way you’ll be sure to enjoy your meal and have enough to introduce others to some of your favorites.

If your hosts feel frustrated by your requests, explain that you want to do whatever is least burdensome for the group while not compromising your values. People will almost always understand and find a way to ensure that you have plenty to eat. They may even be excited to learn and try something new.  Be willing to roll up your sleeves and help. The stress your hosts might feel cooking new recipes or adding to their menu may be eased by your willingness to lend a hand.

Why Does Anyone Care About What I Eat

In The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau pointed out, “Though transitioning from an animal-based diet to a plant-based one seems like it’s just about choosing broccoli over beef, it’s so much more profound than that. It’s about questioning assumptions, reexamining our values, aligning our behavior with our principles, and shifting the paradigms with which we grew up. This can be a little unnerving to those who are closest to us…” (240).

In almost every modern culture, food is much more than fuel for our bodies. Food carries with it emotions, memories, and tradition. We make food for those we love. We comfort ourselves with food. We celebrate with food. We even have meetings over food. Food bonds us to one another and to our communities. Food is a large part of our very own sense of who we are.

When someone innocently asks, “Hey, have you considered living vegan?” some might hear it as, “Everything you’ve been told about food is a lie. Your mom lied to you, your teachers lied to you, and the government is lying to you. You should give up your family and friends. And you’ll never be invited to or welcome at another party or family function. Go vegan and be lonely.”

Of course living vegan doesn’t mean you have to leave your friends and family behind, and you can still be the life of the party. Living vegan just means you have found a more conscious and compassionate way of living and eating. Share it with those you love and care about in a way that makes it clear that you still love and care about them.

What Does It All Mean

Start new traditions with vegan foods. Vegan foods are abundant and delicious. Virtually every animal-based food has a vegan alternative. Birthdays don’t have to be without cake and ice cream. Just make or pick up scrumptious cake and vegan ice cream made without animal products. Want to fire up the grill with brats and burgers with your buddies? Veggie burgers and veggie meats, desserts, entrees, and appetizers. The vegan choices are endless. Holidays, celebrations, every day can be vegan, fun, and wonderful. For more information, visit this link.

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