4. Being Vegan Around Your Friends
I noticed that people are finding this blog when searching “being vegan around friends,” which, frankly, is kind of a passive aggressive way to get me to write about it, but fine. Fine! Today’s topic is dealing with your social life as a vegan.
This issue seems to be most urgent in relatively new vegans, which makes sense. Myself, I’ve been vegan over six years, and by now, I have little time for friends who aren’t vegan (oh god, that’s unhealthy, isn’t it?). Okay, actually, in my case, it’s mostly that 1) I’ve been vegan long enough that most of my friends have only known me as a vegan, and it isn’t weird to them, and 2) some of my friends have converted to veganism since I’ve been vegan, or I’ve just been vean so long they know it’s pointless to heckle me about it, and 3) being a part of the vegan community means meeting lots of vegans and becoming friends (and then your vegan friends replacing your “normal” friends until all you have are vegan friends, and you’re fully ensconced… I’ve said too much).
Anyway, it seems like friends have a couple different kinds of reactions to vegans. There are the hostiles, those are the people who get mad at you for going vegan, take it really personally, and act all butt hurt and defensive that you aren’t part of the meat/dairy/egg-eating club anymore. Then there are the wannabe vulcans, who will try and find any kind of loophole or reason why veganism is logically inferior to whatever kind of diet or lifestyle they follow. These ones will ask you about some of the most hilarious hypotheticals ever but totally won’t have a sense of humor about it. Then there are the sympaths. They will sympathize and support your decision but sort of bait you too with remarks like, “Oh, I could never do that – I love cheese too much!” Finally, there are the people who are cool about it, which is nice for a change.
No matter what kind of reactions you get when you talk about veganism with friends, following a few guidelines will definitely help you maintain not only your friendships (well, those that are worth maintaining) but your sanity as well.
1. First rule of vegan club… Okay, you don’t have to lie about veganism or avoid talking about it, but I’ve found that one of the things non-vegans seem to like least about vegans is when they’re all up in your grill and preachy. Not that there are necessarily a lot of vegans out there like that, but the idea of the preachy, annoying vegan is in enough of the minds of the people that we have to be careful how we act. Yeah, it sucks, but who said life is supposed to be fair? Anyway. What I mean by this is that bringing up veganism as a topic of discussion among your non-vegan friends (and this is true even if you’re in a group of vegetarians – they can be super defensive about the dairy and egg thing) is generally not a good idea. Unless they’re also vegan (in which case – stop reading now – this is for people with actual lives!), they’re probably going to feel at least a little defensive and preached to if you bring up your cruelty-free lifestyle, even if you’re totally not being preachy or annoying about it. Hanging out with your friends is time for socializing and fun, not veganvangelism, so try to concentrate on that. If your friends bring it up in a non-confrontational way (usually this means they ask you honest questions like, “how do you bake without eggs?” or “isn’t it a pain to find restaurants to eat at?” – don’t get into it if they’re just firing “gotcha” questions at you to try and make you look stupid), by all means don’t ignore their questions or act weird. Answer their questions and be cool – just don’t bring up your many reasons for being vegan while you’re eating dinner with omnivore friends. It’s rude and will invariably lead not only to fighting but also to a reputation for you as the unpleasant vegan.
2. Don’t get your back up. This is true for interactions with pretty much everyone, but if preserving friendships is your goal, this advice is especially important here. Sometimes, people act like jerks about things they don’t understand or that make them feel uncomfortable. Even if your friends are all super awesome people, chances are that one of them, at some time, is going to ask you an inflammatory question or say something stupid about veganism or even act hurtful to you about it. This sucks, no question, but if you care about your friendship with this person, you’ve got to rise above. People seem to like to get a reaction out of vegans and then write them off as unstable or over emotional or just plain annoying and whiny, so the best thing you can do is brush off these kinds of loaded, baity questions. Don’t be rude – a simple”annnnnywaaaaay” and a quick change of subject will work just fine. If they persist, give them a quick, bare-bones, dry-as-dust answer and change the subject again. If they still won’t let it go, move to another table. That said, I’ve seen a lot of vegans get really defensive about being vegan and take legitimate, non-confrontational questions the wrong way, which makes them feel like they’re being persecuted when they’re really not. So I suppose what I really mean is not to get riled either way. Be careful to really listen to what people are asking you and be friendly and candid in your answers when merited. Just because someone asks you where you get your protein doesn’t mean they’re attacking your diet – they may be legitimately curious, and your answer has the potential to put them one step further on the path toward going vegan. Stay calm, be reasonable, and stay friendly for both yourself and the animals!
3. Don’t apologize. It’s easy to be too accomodating. It’s often easier to acquiesce to what we think others want and what will be easier for others than to reasonably ask for what we want or need. Don’t take the easy way out (and I’m talking mostly about eating out here, but this applies pretty much universally). We’re pretty hard wired to avoid inconveniencing others in North America, and it’s hard to resist the urge to suffer in silence so as not to inconvenience omnivorous friends, whether it’s at dinner, out for coffee, or anywhere else. I’ve heard lots of friends complain about the shitty iceberg lettuce salad they had because they ended up at some steakhouse or similarly uninspired dining choice as part of a dinner with friends, and I say it’s not worth it. Unless you’re suggesting places like Hippie Yoni’s Seaweed Hut, chances are your omnivore buddies will survive eating at a vegan-friendly restaurant for one meal. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been thanked by omnivorous friends for introducing them to “off beat” vegan-friendly eateries, and I’ve had exactly zero complaints from unsatisfied friends following a vegan-friendly meal. People tend to default to what’s convenient and familiar, but that doesn’t mean people are assholes who are going to be totally put out because you suggest the awesome veg-friendly Thai restaurant instead of The Keg Steakhouse! Don’t apologize for being a vegan pain – revel in being the savvy diner with good taste!
If this tack fails (and while I’ve yet to have it fail on me, I am ready to believe it could in other circumstances), you may have to make a contingency plan. If you have friends who steadfastly refuse to try a vegan-friendly restaurant (or coffee house, or bar, or whatever), you don’t have to sell out your vegan ethics and/or settle for a crap salad. If they’re not budging on dinner, suggest meeting up afterward for drinks or coffee or a movie, or better yet, suggest drinks or coffee or a movie instead of dinner. You don’t have to get on your soapbox – just say you’re through paying $12 for a hunk of iceberg lettuce and some vinegar and that you’d rather scarf popcorn and see a movie or get your calories in the form of (vegan) beer. Don’t be apologetic and present your veganism as a wet blanket – just look at it as an excuse to be more creative socially, and do it with a smile.
4. Know when it’s hopeless. Some people are going to be dicks about you being vegan. I don’t know why it is that some people just can’t hang, but that’s the sad reality. Sometimes these people come around after a little while, and sometimes they don’t. The important thing to remember when you have to deal with a friend who just won’t deal with your veganism is that you only can control one person’s behavior in that situation: your own. No matter how mean and jerky your “friend” is to you, rise above. Don’t resort to insults or “comebacks” (full disclosure: the concept of “comebacks” is one of my least favorite things in the whole world – I think they solve nothing and just serve to make everyone look like they’re characters in trite sitcoms – nauseating!), and don’t sink to their level. You’re not going to do either your friendship or the animals any good by losing your cool, so keep it together, and if nothing else, you’ll have your dignity and a clear conscience when all is said and done.
If your friend(s) are so incensed by your veganism that they can’t be around you without bringing it up and making a big deal about it, it might be time for a break. Maybe they’ll come around and get over it, and you can go back to hanging out with them, or maybe they won’t, and you’ll realize they were kind of a jerk anyway. It’s hard, I know, but it’s best in the long run. Whether it has to do with veganism or not, friends who don’t respect you or your choices or values and who can’t be civil are friends you don’t need.
5. Know your stuff. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I advocate having your vegan facts straight. You don’t have to become a nutritionist or a philosophy major, but having some basic vegan knowledge (like knowing that there’s calcium in dried fruits, greens, and most soymilk or that factory farming produces more greenhouse gases than all the cars on the planet) is a good idea so that you don’t come across as a clueless devotee of some diet trend. People are going to respect you and your opinions more if they know they’re at least partially informed, so be informed!
6. Don’t go changing. Remember, your friends like you for YOU (unless they’re bad, shitty friends who you have no business being friends with in the first place; if your friends only like you for the way you eat chicken wings, you need new friends), not what you eat. Lots of times, your friends may be defensive about your veganism because they’re worried that they’re losing a part of the person they befriended (and potentially gaining a very annoying element to that person). You don’t have to change your personality or treat people differently because you’re vegan, so don’t. Your friends will be a lot more likely to accept veganism if you don’t act all crazy like you’ve just joined a cult. Be yourself, but vegan, and the rest will follow.