Whether you’re the only vegan you know, or you’re a vegan with a ton of vegan friends, there’s a good chance you’re the only vegan the non-vegans in your life know.
I didn’t sign up to be the spokesperson for veganism, and I don’t profess to know all the details about all the issues, but I do know that I am often the “real life vegan” example for many of the people I meet and know.
I don’t take this lightly. People are curious. They watch (and sometimes judge), but mostly, they just want to learn more.
Seeds of compassion
I’ve had people express surprise that I’m vegan because I don’t fit their stereotype of what a vegan is. I’m not a hippy (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I like fashion. I’m not angry.
When people tell me they appreciate that I’m not judgmental (not a “vegan Nazi” in some people’s words), I sometimes wonder if that means I should turn it up a notch. I don’t want people to be comfortable eating meat. But I also know when people are judged, they get defensive, put up walls, and stop listening.
So I live my life, true to myself and my values and drop gentle reminders about how animals are treated and how we can help them.
I’m not a super vegan, don’t get me wrong. But I have to remind myself that my life is different from most people’s in subtle ways. What is abhorrent to me (wearing animal skin, eating animal flesh, testing on animals, being entertained by incarcerated animals) is either normal or a non-issue to most. It’s hard to remember that I was once like that. But it’s important to empathize with people who are lulled into believing all this is normal–it’s certainly culturally acceptable.
I have to remember that people find it strange that I think of all animals (including people) equally. That I wouldn’t eat a pig because I wouldn’t eat my dog. That a pigeon in a city park is as valuable as a soaring eagle. That dolphins shouldn’t be hunted, but neither should tuna.
The big picture
There’s a balance between compromising one’s values and coming across as relatable. When I’m out with non-vegan friends, I focus on the big picture. It’s true, that I don’t eat foods dyed with carmine (from crushed up beetles), but when dining with friends, I focus on the big issues–where the most harm is done–and how to alleviate that. I probably won’t ask the waiter if the spatula used to flip my veggie burger is the same one used for the meat patties.
Of course I don’t want that tainted spatula to touch my food, but I also don’t want to make it seem like veganism is unattainable. Everyone is different. Your concerns and responses won’t be the same as mine. But do think of the impression others get. What’s the balance?
Signs of change
When people I know tell me they are eating less meat, going vegetarian, and going vegan, I want to do back flips! Every bit helps. Every person makes a difference. I didn’t sign up to be a vegan role model, but like it or not, I am. And you know, I like of like it!
How have you influenced the people in your life? I’d love to hear what works for you.