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How to Be Vegan in a Social Setting

Updated: Apr 4, 2019

By Michele Quiles

The hardest part about going vegan isn’t switching from meat to tofu. Food is social and often an item in celebration. When we go vegan, it is easy to upset our relatives and loved ones on holidays. You are going to make others feel uncomfortable. They are going to argue with you about ethics.

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Don’t engage them in an ethics battle. Diets are deeply personal. Instead, discuss how much you enjoy being vegan and how it makes you feel healthy and happy. Lead by example. Do not bother arguing about “The Best Diet” (honestly, is there even one?) nor get into an argument about morality. Food is also deeply emotional. And we forget this.

Here are some social scenarios you may navigate: For example, your family cooks their “Signature Dish” on Thanksgiving that has animal products, and you have to turn it down. How do you navigate this social awkwardness? You can say you have allergies, or that you’re cutting down on meat consumption…Good strategies are avoidance “I’m so full” “I might have some tomorrow” (Even though you won’t) or just say you’re going vegan for environmental reasons. Believe it or not, it is far easier to tell others your veganism stems out of concern for the environment than it does animals. This is because other people will internalize your statement and wonder why they are choosing to eat animals. We are social creatures. We compare. Do not get upset at your relatives or loved ones. Their reactions are normal.

Navigating social scenarios as a beginner vegan is hard. It took me years to finally sit down at a social gathering and just say “Sorry, I don’t eat animal products.” It also took me months to learn to not argue. It also took me years to learn how to argue veganism in an efficient way. In fact, there are tons and tons of books on this. One of them is Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective. It is by Casey T. Taft if you are interested in it.

By all means, if you feel ready to argue, feel free to. I am also not sure if your relatives will argue with you. I am just saying, in my own personal experience it has been likely. In my opinion, it is far too easy already for the Thanksgiving table to become political, tofurkey on the table or not. Bring a lot of your own dishes. Most people won’t offer you food with animal products if you have a full plate.

If you are going to meet your friend at a coffee shop then know before hand, do you drink your coffee black, if you don’t- is there soy, is there almond milk?

A lot of your friends won’t be happy to eat at restaurants that are entirely vegan. Sometimes I enjoy taking my friends to my favorite vegan restaurants and having them unknowingly eat the food and watch them obviously assume it’s meat. It’s fun to tell them they actually ate meat imitation. This will come down to opinion but I take my friends to restaurants that have vegan options and non-vegan options. Of course I want to support businesses that are one hundred percent vegan, but other restaurants are acknowledging vegans. And that’s what we want. We want veganism to become ubiquitous.

Veganism is normal. It's a response to a planet in crisis on multiple levels. Veganism isn’t really radical anymore, and I think that’s awesome.

One of my favorite exit strategies on Thanksgiving is to leave early and then later join an all vegan thanksgiving elsewhere. If you look, you will find. If you can’t find, you can organize your own.

Birthdays are another social scenario that are hard to navigate. Strangely enough, people respond better to things like this “I’m dieting.” “I’m gluten free, I can’t have cake.” “I already had a lot of sugar today.” If you want to avoid the veganism conversation avoid it. Personally, my strategy is to confess I’m vegan and then disengage quickly. I don’t want to get into an ethics conversation at someone’s birthday party.

And I’m not saying that you’re going to transition to veganism perfectly. You may slip. You might have a piece of cake. You might think why on earth would black beans have pork fat, and then accidentally consume pork fat. More on that next week.

In my honest experience though, most people have been respectful of my veganism. I have learned when to argue and when not to argue over the years. Sometimes, I still think I fail at that. Sometimes my emotions overtake me. I'm not confessing to perfection, just suggesting strategy. More and more people are going vegan. There are more and more vegan options and plant-based milks. Veganism is a great thing to do for the environment, the animals, and even yourself. Most of us didn't become vegan because we thought it would be easy.

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