Okay, I’ll admit that I was one of “those” vegans when I first made the decision to forego animal products. No, I didn’t throw animal parts onto dining tables or plates for shock value. Instead, I gave out extra copies of John Robbins’ Food Revolution to friends and family as gifts, and included the C. David Coats quote that begins with “Isn’t man an amazing animal?” in my holiday cards. And I found social gatherings very tough to endure where meat was anywhere in the vicinity.
This article provides some suggestions on how best to handle social interactions around food as a born again vegan. You’ll discover ways to protect yourself while not resorting to behaviors that may alienate your family, friends and co-workers.
Vegan Ignorance is Bliss
I recall my strong emotional reaction upon the discovery of the truth about how animals raised for food are treated.
There is a lot of information available now – even more than there was over 15 years ago. Much of it is raw and graphic, and it can produce overpowering emotions and feelings. And you just want everyone to also know the truth, as difficult as it is to digest.
After processing the truth and deciding to make a major change in your diet, it’s difficult not to judge others for continuing to consume meat (especially after they know the truth too). You can’t help but view people who eat animals as directly participating in the torture and harm of billions of animals – because they are whether they realize it or not.
Take that and throw in the harm animal agriculture does to the environment, what a huge inefficient source it is for “food” (where we grow grains to feed to animals to then eat instead of just eating the grains we grow directly). Add the proven negative and life-threatening health issues a meat-based diet produces, and it just doesn’t make any sense to the logical-thinking and newly converted vegan. And now that you know the truth, you’re not going to remain quiet about the animal agriculture’s dirty secrets.
When Others Just Aren’t Ready for Your Veganism
So with all of this knowledge and understanding, it is frustrating when others aren’t also having their “a-ha” moments and making more humane and healthy diet decisions as well.
Some people may assume that your strong aversion to the sights and smells of meat indicate some kind of a temptation to consume it on your part – as if it takes some great amount of willpower or resolve to abstain from it. But we’re not talking about chocolate cake or donuts here, are we? So it’s just the opposite – you probably find it disgusting; it conjures up images of all of those helpless animals and their violent end of life. Billions upon billions of them. It’s tough to wrap one’s head around; it’s also tough to:
- Be around family and friends while they eat meat.
- Attend a party or other social gathering where meat seems to play an important role.
- Dine out at a restaurant while surrounded by meat.
- Visit a county fair where meat is barbecued out in the open in large quantities.
- Hang outside of your home in the summer while neighbors barbecue and the smell / smoke drifts into your yard.
To make matters even worse, people have a tendency to rationalize it, minimize it, downplay it, make fun of it, or turn things around as if you’re the one who’s not doing the right thing.
So I know how tempting it is to react toward those who insist upon eating animals; common reactions toward carnivores include self-righteousness, anger, judgment, intolerance, and impatience.
For me, I couldn’t be around meat or watch others consume it at first after going vegan. Because I had such a strong physical and emotional reaction to it, I chose to stay at home quite often. I felt isolated and alone but resolute in my decision because I:
- Didn’t know how to respond to questions without sounding defensive or offensive.
- Wasn’t sure how to handle dinner invitations – and neither were my friends or family who invited me.
- Didn’t want to become “that vegan” who made a dining experience awkward or unpleasant for others.
But I also needed to figure out a way to be true to myself. I was horrified when some people insisted on pointing it out or literally held meat under my nose. Less horrifying but still awkward was trying to answer questions inevitably asked just as everyone sat down to consume a meat-laden meal.
Television commercials promoting meat (especially fast food advertisements), corporate cafeterias, grocery stores, street fairs, and even hospitals were also difficult to endure. They all seemed to do nothing but promote or offer meat / animal products along with what I now knew to be falsehoods and lies about protein, healthy balanced diets, and nutrition in general.
Born Again Vegan at Social Gatherings
Eventually, my desire to be around others and celebrate important occasions with friends and family won out over the aversion to seeing, smelling or being around dead animal flesh.
Here are some suggestions on how to handle the meat dilemma in social / public situations:
- Bring a vegan dish or other plant-based food for others – including you – to enjoy.
- Utilize humor, lots of patience and tolerance toward others.
- Always honor your own feelings and honestly express them without anger, accusation, defensiveness and/or antagonism.
- Suggest alternate ways to spend time with family and friends where food is not a focal point.
- Choose to remove yourself from an uncomfortable situation as gracefully as possible.
- Compromise; perhaps that turkey or pig carcass can remain somewhere other than on prominent display at the center of the table.
- Discover creative ways to answer questions without delving into graphic details. If someone asks, tell them you’d be happy to answer their questions another time – but not at the dining table.
It can be challenging to find that happy medium between not wanting to knowingly put yourself in a situation of having to endure meat surrounding you, while wanting to spend time with your friends and family.
If you can learn to maintain your composure and remember that you too were once ignorant / closed and chose to consume animals and animal by-products at nearly every meal, then you can still enjoy social gatherings. And you can continue to find better ways in which to demonstrate the many benefits of adopting a plant-based lifestyle through your actions, attitude, and words – by setting a positive tone and example as an advocate for the animals.