The number of people choosing to lead a vegan lifestyle is increasing exponentially each day. The word “vegan” can be seen on menus and labels of all kinds around the world, especially in big cities and metropolitan areas. However, the general public largely misunderstands veganism as a concept. Most assume it pertains simply to food, and yet still don’t know the difference between vegan, vegetarian, raw, gluten free, and organic (some think they’re all one thing). People may glean their understanding of veganism from posts they see on their Facebook wall from their family, friends or co-workers. Veganism is similar to yoga in that people who incorporate either into their lifestyle tend to do so very passionately and vocally. Visit a typical yogi’s Instagram feed and you’re bound to find the person strutting their practice. Vegans also post a lot about veganism in the form of what they learn, graphic images, their food, and their advocacy because of their passion and dedication to sharing this information with those they know and spreading their message of veganism.
The unfortunate side of oversharing one’s interests is that it can annoy and turn people off. I’ve been a vegan since 2010 and since that time, I’ve learned a lot about how to approach others on the topic of veganism and how to explain my lifestyle choices to them. I’ve lost many friends and followers and I’ve had my fair share of arguments based on my content, whether the topic is veganism, animal rights, or yoga. Some people get sick of seeing something they don’t necessarily understand and will tune the person out or delete them all together. Although I have had much success in turning many people towards veganism, I found that I did the opposite at times through my actions (though my intentions were pure). This behavior was not conducive to the overall movement of veganism, and I’ve found a balance where I can continue to stand up for what I believe in, reaching the hearts of many, while not completely turning people off to my message. Here are 7 ways to be a vegan while continuing to have friends and maintain a social life.
1. Show others the positive side of Veganism
For starters, let’s define what veganism is. It’s not simply pertaining to food. “Vegan food” should actually be called plant-based food, as food itself cannot be vegan. Vegan is a philosophy and a way of living. It means living a lifestyle of compassion in all aspects of life. Yes, a vegan doesn’t eat animals, but they also don’t wear them or purchase products made from them or tested on them, and vegans don’t participate in anything that involves animal exploitation. This incudes circuses, rodeos, and animal amusement centers like SeaWorld. Vegans adopt animals from shelters, rescues, or pounds and never support breeders. Choosing to live this way and to abolish slavery from one’s life is very empowering and joyous. It’s quite a beautiful and profound thing, especially in this time, as it’s not the status quo.
For many years after finding my vegan truth, I was so angry and depressed by the violence towards animals and the suffering they endure (I still am). I am often times kept awake crying or thinking about it, and knowing that people continue to support these unnecessary and cruel ways of life filled me with rage for so long. I reacted from this place when talking about veganism and people associated this with veganism. I’m sure many people thought, “I don’t want to be vegan and risk being as angry and sad as Rima is!”
Now, I try as often as possible to show the many benefits and glorious parts of living a vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle. It’s liberating, it’s peaceful, and it’s satisfying. These are the thoughts and vibrations I put into the world now, so people can see that being vegan isn’t about being a Debby Downer all the time. It includes amazing foods, restaurants, communities, health advantages, and more.
2. Use “I” statement when people ask, “Why are you vegan?”
People will genuinely want to know why someone decided to live a vegan life. As a therapist, I always teach clients to use “I” statements to keep their words relevant to themselves. Following this, I respond to this question by saying, “I’m vegan because I want my actions to align with my morals and ethics. I believe in nonviolence and freedom, and I want to support that belief in all that I do.” Stopping there leaves people intrigued and thoughtful. If they don’t immediately follow up and ask more, they will leave with something to ponder and click in their brain down the road. Part of being a vegan is planting seeds. We won’t always see the fruits of our labor, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue spreading our love of veganism.
A good friend who is vegan said her nephew, who’s a toddler and barely speaking, observes and asks her why she doesn’t eat all the things he does. She doesn’t say much to him except that she doesn’t eat animals, and he has now chosen not to eat animals as well. She joked that her nephew will have a bigger impact on her family than she ever has, and I pointed out that the she planted the seeds in her nephew’s mind, and that his impact is her impact. It’s all an interconnected web.
3. Think of everyone as Pre-Vegans instead of Non-Vegans
Remember that you weren’t always vegan (unless you were raised that way). Most people are taught that eating and using animals is normal from the time they’re born. Undoing that programming takes more time for some than others. We must never judge those that haven’t had the opportunity to see the beauty of a vegan lifestyle, and rather view them as pre-vegans on their path to veganism. The question we must ourselves ask is, “How can I best support them on that path now?”
4. People respond to energy with similar energy
If someone feels a vegan is being aggressive, they will likely get defensive or aggressive back. Violence begets violence, and condemnation has it’s time and place. Publically shaming someone for their lifestyle choices with further alienate him or her, as they’ll associate the feelings they get with the message. Instead, approach others with kindness and support on their transition to veganism (remember: there are no non-vegans, just pre-vegans!). Talk about how veganism is about love, kindness, and happiness. This way, they associate veganism with positive feelings and energy.
5. Know your audience
Some people love to debate and to hear different points of view. It can be healthy and educational. Getting into a heated debate is totally okay, and I’m not here to discourage anyone from speaking her or his truth. There are also times, though, when it’s better to keep these conversations one-on-one. In groups, there will tend to be people that love to challenge the vegan and the rest of the group that’s sick of hearing about it. As a vegan, it’s important to learn not to engage bullies, but rather to let the debate be constructive and in an appropriate setting. Simply stating, “This conversation is better one-on-one… let’s resume it on the porch!” can turn a volatile conversation into a constructive one. There are different methods to approach each person, so get a feel for their energy or risk turning them off completely.
6. Avoid the topic while food is being eaten
One of the places where it’s usually not appropriate to get into vegan-topic-blow-outs with pre-vegans is at the dinner table or any time food is being eaten. Vegans find people eating animals to be offensive and people who eat animals find vegans to be offensive when they’re eating. It’s a lose-lose situation. People might poke funs at a vegan for not eating what they’re eating or make rude comments. Like above, stating, “I don’t prefer to talk about this while everyone is eating but I’d be happy to talk about it afterwards!” and changing the topic can go a long way in getting others to respect and listen to the message. When someone feels accused of promoting atrocities while they’re eating, they’re bound to shut down altogether and not hear the message at all. Of course we know that consumption of these products continues to create a market for them, but that’s not the whole story and that’s not the way to help a pre-vegan see the light. I used to make a big fuss at mealtime and was very difficult, and people eventually stopped inviting me to Holidays or dinner outings because of it versus listening to what I had to say, and it backfired.
7. Find balance
As vegans, it’s important to find balance in the things we post and the things we talk about. Beating people over the head with the same thing over and over is not a good strategy to inviting friends and family into a compassionate lifestyle. Avoid negative energy and bad blood through balance. Post positive and happy images of animals and of veganism in addition to posting the images most would rather not see. Both are reality – make sure people see the positive side as well!