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.
Really like your post, it is very motivating! I am much like you (not the stereotype vegan) but also struggling with people around me being judgmental or not understanding why I don’t want to eat animal products or being worried for me that i do not get enough nutrients, especially because I only started eating vegan a couple of month ago. I found when I am informed myself about these aspects and answer people calmly without being missionary, just explaining why I want it for myself but don’t expect people around me to do the same. They are much more likely to try a vegan meal and find out it can be very delicious and there is no deprivation but even more joy in life! 😀
Congrats on becoming vegan! I like your approach. You explain calmly and don’t preach. Sometimes people really are just curious, even thought it might seem like we’re on trial! Showing others that you’re not deprived but enjoy lots of vegan food is such a good idea! There are so many emotions tied up with food that people sometimes worry they can’t enjoy life if they’re vegan. You’re showing them that’s not true!
Well it’s best to be This type of an only vegan, than the “only vegan in this village” type. You know, those lecturing, finger waggling, boring know-it-all and know-it-better and you’re-doing-it-wrong kind of vegans (best part: if they’re actually poorly informed).
True. Humility goes a long way. I’ve met the finger-wagging “know-it-all” and I’m not sure they accomplish much. I understand the passion people have around veganism, but I have to be careful to reach people at their level.
Exactly. Passion is a good thing, but it’s better to attract people to rather than to flog them into veganism.
Even though it IS an urgent matter!
This essay is the best! Excellent as always Jean. Bravo!
Thank you, Claudine! I’m so happy you’re part of my network of amazing vegan friends.
I’m so glad you wrote this because it encompasses a lot of my feelings – I am the only vegan in my closest circle – none of my family or close friends are vegan (not even my boyfriend) so it can feel extremely isolating at times.
Whether we want to or not, by telling people we’re vegan we automatically become ambassadors for the movement. It’s a bit word at the moment – to some it’s a dirty word and to others it’s a big mystery. Once people around us know, they watch carefully – they ask about what you’re eating, they ask about your health, they ask where you can and can’t eat, and they are constantly formulating their opinion of veganism.
I find it difficult at times because while there are many people around me, such as colleagues at work, who are curious, who are fascinated by the lunches I bring in, who drop their jaws when they see me eat an Oreo, or a Hobnob, and who tell me I ‘glow’ with health. But there are also those who are either deliberately confrontational or just down right hypocritical and I struggle to keep my cool. There’s only so much “oh I love animals so much they’re so cute I can’t understand why anyone would want to hurt them but I love bacon and I love steak and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating meat” I can take and it’s easy to fall into the ‘angry vegan’ category.
Does anyone have any advice on how to curb your temper in these situations please?
I’ve been vegan for a year and in the beginning I was more worried about having enough arguments in favour of my choice because I was constantly bombarded with questioning that implied I was making the wrong decision. I can now very comfortably and knowledgeably defend my lifestyle, but it’s when others around me appear to be interested but are completed enshrouded in ignorance that I struggle. I want to enlighten them without alienating them!
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I know it’s hard being the only vegan around. I was that person when I first became vegan. It’s so nice to compare notes with other vegans. Thankfully the internet can provide a bit of a social network.
I find that the longer I’ve been vegan, the less people ask me about where I get certain nutrients. I wouldn’t have lasted 14 years if I was deprived! It’s still helpful to be knowledgeable because a lot of people truly want to know more.
I will gladly talk to people who are interested, but I have to gauge people and figure out who is just stirring up trouble. Sometimes people feel guilty when they learn about another person who is vegan and they act out in anger and by being confrontational. When I see this behavior, I have to disengage. I know it’s not me–it’s them! I think to myself, “Your guilt is showing.” That reminds me of where they are coming from.
I’d like to hear what others do in this situation. If I feel attacked, I have said, “Let’s talk about this another time when emotions aren’t running high.” I don’t like getting into arguments (I don’t like “losing arguments” but when things get heated, people usually stop listening and are just trying to prove a point).
I guess you have to figure out if people just don’t know and are curious or if they’re throwing all the arguments at you because they don’t want to hear the truth.
Being happy and healthy and enjoying wonderful vegan food is probably better than forcing ideas on others. Eventually, people will want what you have 🙂
You make some really good points, and “your guilt is showing” is a great motto which I’m going to adopt for those occasions. Thankfully they’re few and far between, and they’re usually just people wanting to be confrontational.
That’s one of the reasons I started NY blog actually, I think its important to share how good vegan food can be and now when people ask me what I eat or ask for healthier meal ideas I just send them there and let the food speak for itself!
I’m glad I gave you some good info and I’m happy that the occasions you mention aren’t too frequent!
Your blog (http://cheeky-vegan.com/) has amazing-looking meals that should answer the questions, “but what do you eat?” and “isn’t vegan food boring?” Your meals are mouthwatering!
Oh that’s so nice of you to say, thank you Jean 🙂