2. Coming Out As Vegan*
This one goes out, primarily, to all the teens and young adults out there, though I’ll try to include some pearls (NV!) of wisdom that apply to everyone.
Telling your friends and family that you’ve gone vegan (or are vegan and have been for some time) can be tough. People, unfortunately, tend to get defensive when they think you’re judging them, and it seems like at some point, the meat-and-dairy-and-egg-eating public decided that people go vegan only as an act of judgment upon the eating habits of the meat-and-dairy-and-egg-eating public. That is, lots of people interpret you going vegan or telling them that you’re going/are vegan as an attack on their way of life. To make matters worse, if they aren’t interpreting your decision as an attack, a lot of MDEEs (Meat, Dairy, and Egg Eaters) interpret veganism as a sign of mental illness/an eating disorder/youthful (or not) misguided idealism. In other words, siiiiiigh. There are some things you can do, however, to ease your passage out of the vegan closet:
1. Get your story straight. Especially when you’re a young person, people can smell any whiff of indecision or lack of confidence a mile away. Before you let people make you feel insecure about your decision, take a couple minutes and think about (or better yet, write down) why you decided to go vegan in the first place. It’s not fair, but a lot of people will be reluctant to take your decision seriously, and having taken a bit of time to compose your thoughts will help people to see that you’re serious and that you’ve thought things through. If you want some inspiration or you want to see why other people have gone vegan, check out Compassion Over Killing or Vegan Outreach for some other people’s stories, which may help you figure out how you want to present yours.
2. Stay calm. it sucks, but people can sometimes be really big jerks when it comes to veganism. It’s easy to get upset and lose your cool when someone starts getting your face and saying stupid things like “that cow would eat you if it could,” but for your sake and the animals’, do your best to stay frosty. I am, by nature, a bit of a fiery person, and I totally understand the urge to scream and yell and cry and generally vent your frustration in the face of someone who may be being a bit of an ass, but, sadly, that will do nothing but turn people off veganism and convince them that vegans really are irrational and crazy. It’s unfair, yes. It’s crazy that people like Ann Coulter can rant and rave and generally act like crazy, hateful bitches and still retain the, uh, respect and/or admiration of a shockingly large percentage of the American, population, but that’s life, kids. In the immortal words of Kenny Rodgers, you gotta know when to hold em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. That is, stay calm, and…
3. Pick your battles. Sometimes, people are going to refuse to accept your decision, and they’re going to be jerks about it. there’s no point wasting your time and energy trying to win over or even talk sense to someone who’s determined to keep a closed mind. When you come across someone like this, be it a casual acquaintance or a close friend or parent, just walk away. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but the only person’s behavior you’re ever going to be able to control is your own, so when you come up against someone who disagrees with you and isn’t willing to listen, just walk away and save yourself the grief of dealing with a jerk.
4. Information is power. Especially if you’re a young person who’s living at home, you may come up against people who are really worried about your decision. Lots of people don’t understand that people of all ages can be healthy and happy and vegan, and lots more don’t understand that a person who decides to go vegan doesn’t necessarily have an eating disorder or a mental health issue. If you have your facts together, you’re going to be a lot more prepared to set these people straight. Do some reading, and look at some cookbooks and cooking blogs. Find some good vegan recipes and some good articles or books on vegan nutrition. Know where you’re going to get your protein and B12 and iron from so that when a concerned parent or friend asks you about it, you can tell them. In my experience, vegans know way more about nutrition and the properties of the food they eat than MDEEs do. Remind people that it’s easier to fill up on junk food when you eat animal products and that veganism tends much more toward a whole-food-based diet (widely, almost universally, recommended) than the Standard American Diet does. Get your facts straight, and people will almost invariably have more respect for your decision.
5. Don’t apologize. Some people are going to try and make you feel bad for inconveniencing them/ruining their lives. These people may be your parents, siblings, coworkers, or friends, but it doesn’t matter who they are; you don’t have to apologize to them! People may make you feel like you’ve forever ruined dinner dates and parties, family get-togethers, holidays, and even after-work drinks. You haven’t! All of these situations have work-arounds, and I guarantee (and you can tell your parents, siblings, coworkers, and friends I said so) that you can still have awesome dinner parties, family get togethers, holidays, and after-work drinks without animal products. I’ll post about each of these particular social/family situations in more detail in coming weeks, but for now, a quick google search for “vegan dinner party” or “vegan birthday cake” or “barnivore” (for vegan drinks) will probably give you enough information to muddle through for now.
6. Learn to cook. 1) If you’re a young person living at home, these people may be your parents, and they may have a point. While it would be awesome if your decision to go vegan could influence your entire family to make the change as well, the chances of that happening (at least right away) are small, so you might have to deal with being vegan in a non-vegan household for a while, and the way to do that is to learn to cook! Rather than letting people make you feel guilty for your new “pain in the ass” diet, go to your local library and pick up some awesome vegan cookbooks. Take ‘em home, and impress your family by cooking them dinner, or a batch of amazing vegan cupcakes. If your parents have concerns about expense, I recommend going for cookbooks/recipes that require relatively few ingredients and that rely heavily on items you can buy in bulk. Rice and beans are delicious when made right, and you can make LOTS for a couple of bucks. 2) If you’re not living at home, learning how to cook is still essential. Yeah, you can buy pretty much whatever kind of vegan treat you could want nowadays (though depending on where you live, you might have to order off the internet), but cooking for yourself is cheaper AND will allow you to show up at work parties or potlucks or whatever kind of social situation you might get yourself into with an armfull of vegan treats to share. Though there are no concrete figures on this, and while I know some people would disagree, delicious food is a great first exposure to veganism, and, I think, makes more converts than just about anything else (though seriously, don’t quote me on that, and don’t slack in other areas of activism!). Learning to cook vegan also heps you put yourself across as a sane, “normal” vegan person, rather than perpetuating the stereotype that vegans have to rely on crazy health food store stuff and expensive prepared foods, plus it’s cheap and fun and gives you an excellent excuse to catch up on all the podcasts you’ve been missing.
7. Finally, be proud! Going vegan is awesome, and if you’ve decided to do it, you’re awesome! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! The animals think you’re awesome; I think you’re awesome; and that’s what matters, right?