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1. Being Vegan Around Your Family

February 20, 2009

Unfortunately, most people aren’t born vegan. Most of us had some moment of conversion at some point in our lives, and that’s where all the trouble starts. You stop eating meat and animal products, and your family goes ballistic, and henceforth, your Thanksgivings, Xmases, birthdays, and family reunions become battlegrounds. The lucky ones get questions about protein and botched “vegan” (read: made with butter) mashed potatoes, while the less lucky have meat hidden in their food, screaming matches, and crying. Here is the incomplete guide to how you deal:

1. It all starts with you. Sure, it’s easier to flap around wailing and bemoaning the fact that your family are a bunch of mean, ignorant jerks, and it may even be more satisfying in the short term to just flip your dad off when he gives you grief about your veganism, BUT in any situation, the one variable over which you always have control is yourself and your actions. Your family may never support your veganism, but the way you behave has a lot of power to influence the way people act around you and the way they feel about your decision to live vegan. The stronger you are in your vegan convictions, and the more you know and can clearly and unemotionally articulate your reasons for being vegan, the easier all this will be on you. If you’re secure in your decision, your family will pick up on that, and that’s a good thing. Even if they hate your morals and everything about your dippy new “lifestyle,” even your confederate-flag-waving uncle should be able to at least respect that you can stick to your guns. This is strongly related to…

2. Stick to your guns. I’ve heard lots of vegans talk about caving and eating butter or eggs or whatever because their mom/sister/dad/grandma/little brother/uncle/etc. was nice enough to try and make them something they could eat… even if the end result turned out to not be vegan. I advise against this kind of behavior because 1) it sends the message that your veganism is negotiable and makes you look flaky and/or ill informed; 2) it just furthers the confusion the people around you have about what is and isn’t vegan; 3) it’s not vegan; and 4) it’s likely to give you the runs. Your mom/sister/dad/grandma/little brother/uncle/etc. is a big girl/boy and will (I promise) be able to handle it if you politely but firmly turn down* the candied yams that they thought were vegan but actually contain butter. Yes, it’s nice when family members try and make vegan food for us, and it sucks to turn down a thoughtfully-prepared dish made just for you, but if you eat it, you’ll only be left with that gnawing feeling at the end of the day that you compromised your values… and that because you caved, it’s probably going to happen again. How do you combat this kind of thing?

3. Be proactive. Yeah, it’s not ideal to have to bring your own food to Xmas dinner, but when the alternatives are 1) eating questionable/non-vegan food; or 2) starving and being a miserable wretch, BYODinner sounds a lot better. Of course, another option is to arrange real vegan food options ahead of time. If people in your family are willing to make vegan stuff for you, take them up on it, but be sure to make sure that what they’re making is actually vegan. Call well ahead to make sure they know about Earth Balance in place of butter and that chicken stock isn’t veg friendly. Ask them what they’re making, and offer help in the form of recipes, shared shopping trips for supplies, and lots of gratitude. If they’re not having any of it, then make and bring your own food! You’re probably a better cook than them anyway.

4. Be sane. I come across a lot of people who engage in questionable coping tactics when the family dinner gets rough. I’m talking breaking down in tears, getting in shouting matches, stomping away from the dinner table, or even taking off in a huff in the middle of dinner. These things? Not good practise. We all get it. People can be super annoying about the vegan thing, and sometimes, the best thing to do is give ’em a well-timed “shut the hell up, grandpa,” delivered with a smile. For the most part, though, the thing that’s going to get people off your back is presenting a flawless facade of sparkling sanity. You may be in hysterics on the inside over your sister’s insistence that “real women eat meat,” but if you meet her baiting with poise and grace and good humor and a complete refusal to get riled, she’ll eventually end up looking like the Jessica Simpson to your Natalie Portman. That is to say, she’s going to look unsophisticated and bad, while you and your bad vegan self are going to look calm and collected and good (though don’t run off and do any questionable short films with Jason Schwartzman – those bruises are creepy). Ahem. Anyway, if you don’t take the bait, they can’t reel you in, savvy? Stay calm, eat your delicious food, and rise above.

So there you have it: the four points that will help you successfully deal with your non-vegan family without losing your mind. Happy familial relations to all, and keep your eyes on this spot for next week’s post on dealing with being vegan on the job!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2009 10:42 pm

    nice new blog, jordan. i like your slant, and i think your first topical post has some really good advice in it.


  2. wherestherevolution permalink
    February 23, 2009 9:21 am

    great post! it helps that people keep the long-term in mind. most people, most family members will come around as long as you stay a steady and positive vegan example. my family is so different now than they were a few years ago- they now drink soy milk voluntarily, cook for me, and like it when I cook for them. normalcy for the win!
    (this is bazu by the way. too lazy to sign out etc.)

  3. February 24, 2009 11:19 pm

    This is awesome, Jordan. Solid, well written advice for ALL vegans, not just the newly enlightened.

  4. etmakesmovies permalink
    November 18, 2011 6:27 pm

    Fantastic read, sharing with everyone.

  5. Tess permalink
    May 19, 2012 5:43 pm

    Agreed, great stuff.

    Just wanted to know what the ethical qualm is with eating your own chicken’s eggs if you have happy, laying hens and no rooster? I’m a (strict) vegan of 17 years, and myself and my partner (also vegan) are about to house a couple of ex-battery hens who apparently lay every day. We want to house them for companionship and to give them a good home post their trauma, clearly not for the eggs, but if they lay and the eggs sit there then isn’t it still within ethical practice to use those eggs? I have no specific desire to eat the eggs, but don’t see the problem with it in theory.

    I also heavily practice sustainability and was considering it so as not to waste them. I am considering bartering them and other options, but I think if we are trying to use what we produce in the garden and occasionally eat one of the eggs from our own chickens within an otherwise 100% vegan life (since the age of 13, by informed personal choice), then I don’t believe thats harming anyone.

    Personally, a hypothetical situation in which I chose to sometimes consume my chickens eggs I think it seems more rational than advising they be discarded, and I think that logic can sometimes put non-vegans off veganism.

    I’ve been a practicing strict (and vocal) vegan through puberty, schooling, adult life and long before I could even find a non-chalky brand of soy milk, let along vegan yoghurt. Back in the time when we didn’t use the internet in school and no teachers, let alone students, were aware of veganism. I was (am) absolutely non-bending. But my purpose in that is to not cause any harm or pain, and to live as sustainably as possible. And I do believe that the hypothesis of eating the eggs from your own chickens doesn’t interfere with that. I always tell people I’m not vegan for the sake of it, I’m vegan to make a difference. And I think that’s still congruous, just for the record.

    As for whether I could actually eat one or not after all this time, we’ll see. I certainly won’t be able to stomach them often. But If I do consume any of the eggs, I’m not going to stop calling myself a vegan, I’ve been firmly dedicated to veganism for alot longer than most people I know and not just the avoidance of animal products, but trying to avoid non-sustainable products, palm oil, non-eco packaging and the like. I only buy fairly traded cocoa products, I buy in bulk and decant to avoid packaging, I garden in any small space I can, only purchase organic produce (on a tight budget) and have shown plenty of interested non-vegans learn to cook vegan. At 30 years old and living in a city, I think I’m (humbly) doing pretty damn well. A humble yet uncompromising attitude is key.

    I’d love to hear from others, just for interests sake. Though I’ll inevitably choose what I believe to be the appropriate path on the matter, I’ve been very interested in the ethics of this situation since we found out we’d be housing the hens.

    And for the record, it’s absolutely amazing and unexpected to be living in an era where veganism is often now know, accepted, even applauded. There really are vegans everywhere these days, it’s undeniably the way of the future!

  6. Tess permalink
    May 19, 2012 5:56 pm

    Just to clarify:

    When I’ve owned chickens previously as a much younger vegan, I didn’t eat their eggs and, if I didn’t give them away, they would just sit there and rot. The chickens took no claim to them (I’m all about respecting the animal’s needs). With my near-future chickens, I will likely barter most for veggies if I can, but I’d like to discuss the ethics of eating your own chicken’s eggs in theory.

  7. Brittany Atkins permalink
    October 31, 2012 9:19 pm

    Awesome advice, Jordan.! I’m one of those people who brings their own food to Christmas and Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I do have some family members that get their feelings hurt when I won’t eat their cooking.

  8. Irene AKA The Vegan Grandma permalink
    December 30, 2012 6:47 am

    Hi there, Try being a mother and Grandmother and at the age of 48 going cool turkey Vegan. I think my family thought i lost my mined. When my grand kids 5 & 8 ask me way i don’t eat meat i said pointing at there dog’s would you kill and eat your dogs ? they said no grandma that so gross. will i said he is just meat just like that cow you eating.Then they said we are not eating cow we are eating hamburger. at that point i realized they had no idea that the meat they eat was a living thing just like there dog and by then my Daughter was telling me to just stop talking about this because what i was saying (the truth) would just scare and confuse they. But my plan is to keep telling my Grand kids the truth when they ask. P.S I also told them Milk cames from cows boobs and that drinking it was stilling it from there baby’s. My daughter did not like that. she told my i better not start talking about eggs and chicken vaginas LOL !!!

  9. October 4, 2015 1:27 pm

    I’m so glad I came across this! This will help me a LOT as we all approach the Holidays! I feel secure and calm in my decision to become vegan this year. 🙂 thankyou! You are so funny, too, I love it.

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