6. How to Be Vegan Around the Nearly or Not-So-Nearly Vegan
We all run into them sometimes: the coworker or family member or friend or just the random person on the street who finds out you’re vegan and talks your ear off about how they only eat organic beef, or how they are vegan too… except for cheesecake and lobster, or how they are lacto-vegan or pesca-vegan or whatever.
In the end, you’re bound to come across people who try to co-opt your decision to be vegan. I’ve noticed a new trend among the “green” and “slow food” and “conscious” crowds to use the word “vegan” to mean just about anything. I’ve seen Virtually Vegan, which apparently includes fish, Lacto Vegan, Ovo Vegan… hell, even The Vegan Cook’s Bible by Pat Crocker (who not only isn’t vegan herself but apparently kind of hates vegan food and possibly vegans) is full of “helpful” information about how healthy fish is. Deirdre Imus, author of the Imus Ranch: Cooking For Kids and Cowboys, sings the praises of a vegan diet and how great it is for kids with cancer, but a good 2/3 of the recipes contain eggs and plenty of ’em. In short, veganism is apparently hot right now, and that means people are jumping (half-assedly though it may be) on the bandwagon. Good for the animals (sort of), but often a pain in the ass to those of us who go all the way and stick with it. Personally, I find these kinds of interactions awkward and often very frustrating, and really, I can really only very barely manage to refrain (most of the time) from finding and beating up some of the worst-case offenders I’ve come across (or at least calling them nasty, nasty names), but there are a couple things you can do to navigate these ethically murky waters more easily and with much less nasty violence or name calling.
1. Don’t take the bait. The easiest way to deal with a “vegan empathizer” (my new term for someone who is “down” with veganism and thinks it’s super keen but isn’t down with giving up cheese themselves but still magically can empathize with you – see? Much more concise) is to simply not take the bait. It can be hard, sure, to let those remarks pass you by without comment (“Oh, I’m vegan too! Well, except chicken. I can’t totally deprive myself!” “I just can’t give up cheese, but I’m pretty much vegan except the milk and cheese and yogurt and whipped cream and, oh, beef.”), but it can be done. Count to 5, take a step back, and evaluate your situation. Is saying something to the person in front of you actually going to help anything? Is it going to make them go vegan or convince them to stop using the term to describe their chicken-eating? If so, proceed with caution, but if the answer is no, then just zip it. Zip it! This goes double if your encounter is on the internet.
2. Be tactful. Yes, the VE is obviously not as evolved and compassionate and awesome as you, but that doesn’t give you carte blanche to get all up in their grill and yell and scream and act like a preachy, self-righteous ass. Remember, this person has done more than most people ever do simply by showing ANY kind of interest in reducing (or “improving”) their animal product consumption. Remember that every meatless or dairyless or eggless or nearly vegan or all vegan meal is a victory for the animals, and it’s them you’re doing this for (RIGHT?). If someone starts spouting off about how great their “happy” chicken or milk is, please don’t take the opportunity to go veginsane (har). Yes, it might be satisfying to grab them by the nipples and scream “Is this how the cows like it? How happy is your milk now, bitch?!” but it would be a really super big turnoff for someone who has displayed some willingness to evaluate and change their diet and who is therefore more likely to consider going vegan, so be nice. Offer vegan recipes and substitutions, or offer to go out for dinner with them at a vegan restaurant. It might bring you a little less instant gratification, but it will bring much more long-term gratification to the animals.
3. Remember what you’re in this for in the first place. Yes, those “nearly vegans” can be annoying and difficult to deal with, but if you want to do right by the animals, you’ve got to try and look at each VE as an opportunity for vegan outreach. Many people who have cut down on their animal product consumption but not gone all the way and gone vegan simply don’t know how awesome being vegan is, so take the opportunity to show them! I was vegetarian for 8 years before I went vegan, and I’m sure I pissed off a couple vegans here and there while I was still eating dairy and eggs. I remember feeling like being vegan was just “too extreme” and that a person like me wouldn’t be able to do it. Then I started dating a vegan, and I realized through his good example that going vegan was something I could do, and I did it. Next time you find yourself frustrated by a VE, take a second to breathe and calm down, and then invite them for vegan ice cream or to the bookstore to look at vegan cookbooks.
4. Know when to disengage. Sometimes even when you don’t bring it up and when you are nice and try to not really talk about it, sometimes people just don’t take the hint. Or sometimes you’ll start off trying to be tactful and polite, and you can see things going downhill. Or sometimes you’ll get into an internet debate with someone only to have things rapidly deteriorate to the point of someone calling you a fundamentalist crazy person who opposes gay marriage (what?)… Whatever the reason, there will be times when you’ll have to end the conversation, whether for your own sanity or to preserve a relationship or just to keep you from committing a violent crime. Some people are just content to be ethically inconsistent and will continue to pat themselves as loudly on the back as possible for eating “happy” meat or eggs or “ethical” dairy. Sure, we know there’s no such thing, and that’s frustrating, but if people want to keep their heads up their asses, they’re going to keep their heads up their asses, so there’s no point getting your undies in a bunch about it. The best thing you can do sometimes is leave them with an “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree” and hope that they come around. At least you’re leaving the door open if they are ready to learn more about going vegan later for them to come to you about it.
5. Refer them, if you feel comfortable doing it, to post number 5.