You are having lunch with a group of friends and someone is offering you cake, you say “no, thanks, I am vegan” and from that point onwards a whole discussion starts. You are flooded with questions around why you are a vegan, where you get your proteins from and – if some of them are fanatic meat eaters – you even get some weird reactions of people getting super hot on the subject and verbally attacking you.
I’m sure every vegan has been through this situation too many times. Probably some of us have also realized by now that some approaches in these discussions can leave a bitter taste. Unless you are a huge activist or you feel like your purpose is to convince everyone to change – good luck with that! – I wanted to give my own tips to dealing with these situations.
First of all, why do you get these reactions?
Have you noticed that when anyone says they are not having a specific ingredient because they are allergic or intolerant, most people don’t go “have a little bit, you’ll be fine”? Maybe they get some sympathy, but they don’t need to go into a lot of details as to how they became intolerant, what their symptoms are, how they “live their lives like this” and where they get different nutrients.
The deal with us is that we choose to be different. Society has long taught us to respect rules and formalities. It is to the good of a community to have everyone drive on the same side of the road, to patiently wait in line for your turn and to swipe your oyster card when you enter/leave a tube station. The problem starts when we extend this mentality to other things like how people should dress, how they choose to decorate their skin (ie tattoos, piercings), how they choose to color their hair, what sexual orientation they should have and eventually how they choose to eat – and with diet everyone seems to think they are a nutritionist. These are all things that don’t affect the community, but still, we feel like everyone needs to conform.
Having said that…
Tip #1. Prepare before you go out
Some of us already do that because we are never sure if there is an option when we eat out. However, being prepared with your order before you get there also avoids the awkward discussion with your waiter, while everyone else is witnessing. Believe me, if you thought the discussion is over once your waiter leaves, it’s only the beginning for the people at the table :D.
Tip #2. Don’t be too difficult with offered food
Be flexible with your options. If you are in a restaurant or a guest and you are offered food, just pick or combine – creativity helps here – from what you can get. Don’t be like “Oh maaan! Seriously?! How come you guys didn’t think about vegans?! What am I supposed to eat here?” Eventually, don’t forget this is your choice and you are still a minority. Also, you don’t want to invite any further, already defensive, discussions.
Top #3. Don’t offer unelicited explanations
Whenever you are offered non-vegan food, just politely say “no, thank you!” just like any regular person refuses something they don’t want or need. If this is a host offering you their cooked meal or you get surprised eyes – because the food is so delicious in their opinion and they can’t understand how someone could refuse it 😀 – then you can also say a simple “no, thank you, I eat a plant based diet”. Note that using the word “vegan” sometimes invites for discussion because some people don’t know what that entails. I prefer to avoid it or if I use it, then I immediately explain what that means in very short terms: no animal products.
Tip #4. Don’t start the discussion on your own
Unless you are a hearty vegan activist setting up an intervention to all of your friends (and their friends) on a nice dinner out, don’t go out of the blue “Oh by the way, I am a vegan and you should be too!” 😀 . Even when offered non-vegan food, try to refuse nicely without jumping into details about your veganism, especially if no one is asking. I know it’s hard to imagine, but some people really don’t care to hear more.
Tip #5. Avoid discussions in groups
If you are having lunch with a group of people and you revealed you are a vegan, 90% of the cases someone will start a conversation around it asking you one of the questions:
- “Soooo where do you get your proteins?”
- “Why did you go vegan? How did that help you”
- “How can you live without cheese?! Really?!”
- “What would you do if you were stranded on an island and had only fish to eat?” (yep, got different variations of that question)
I recommend humorously answering the question and proposing that you discuss in private “because probably not everyone is interested in talking about my diet”. I also sometimes say “Well, let’s discuss in more detail some other time if you are interested in a vegan diet. I have lots of experience to share so far.”
Tip #6. Arm yourself with some basic facts
Nothing helps more if you end up discussing your diet, than verifiable facts. I have used some I read or heard about through media. A few examples are:
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is one of the largest organization of nutrition professionals states in one of their releases that “a vegan diet is nutritionally adequate”.
- The Adventist population studies using thousands of subjects found that vegans had 15% fewer mortality rates than omnivores.
- The only male lifter to make it to the last Olympics to Team USA was vegan and he broke a weightlifting record (Kendrick Farris)
So this should at least ensure everyone that you are not a hippie going off charts, dying or dissolving into thin air (contrary to some beliefs) haha
Tip #7. Be careful with your tone of voice
An approach like “Eeeek! How can you that, dude?!” or “Don’t you f**in’ tell me that eating meat is ok! You are a killer of animals!” never proved to yield the best results. I think there’s no need for further explanations here.
Tip #8. Humor helps
The discussions around this subject that go really bad usually are a result of people taking the matter too seriously. On either side. So joking while answering questions always helps.
Ultimately, I think it’s important that you don’t let dietary or ethical choices affect your social interactions and your friendships. Life has to be enjoyable for everyone and embracing differences is just one crucial step to getting there. Peace! 😀