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6. How to Be Vegan Around the Nearly or Not-So-Nearly Vegan

July 21, 2009

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.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Michal Mymo permalink
    July 23, 2009 4:56 pm

    Excellent post and I totally get where your coming from. Some guy came into work today he was all like “oh yea im following a vegan diet, i really want to get healthy”. So we chatted for a few minutes then he order a pound of raw meat and then eats it right infront of me. I almost gagged when he had blood running down his chin. ): He was all saying how much better he felt being vegan all the while ugh.

    Michal (lilearthmuffin)

  2. July 23, 2009 11:24 pm

    Oh that was hilarious….awesome post. I particularly loved this line: “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?!”” LOL! I have to agree….I’ve been irked far too many times by such individuals…I find it helps my state of mind to just “not take the bait” as you say.

  3. July 29, 2009 12:04 pm

    I just went back and read through your old posts. Very well-written and reasoned. Women, particularly, seem to get very apologetic around me and say they’ve thought about not eating meat but they can’t give it up because they run a lot, or some dumb reason like that. I’ve also noticed pseudo-veganism becoming trendy, i.e. Mark Bittman from the NYT bragging about how he’s “vegan until 6pm.” But I guess some of these trendy vegans might become full-time vegans, or at least vegetarians, and that’s a good thing.

  4. August 8, 2009 6:35 pm

    Great post! I just went to the Virtually Vegan website to check it out. After reading some of the posts, I felt the rage creep up inside me and decided to close the tab and slowly step away. I agree that reducing consumption is really important and a huge step for most people, but I can’t help but get annoyed by how the term “vegan” has been co-opted and diluted to the point in which it means nothing more than “an omnivore who likes to eat a lot of vegetables.”

  5. Diane permalink
    August 15, 2009 6:01 pm

    Jordan, I have recently joined twitter just so I can be informed, find recipes, and have support from Vegans. I am under the name Veganeophyte. I think you are too hard on some of us. I can understand you not wanting people to say they are Vegans when in fact they are using the term loosly. I find that with Vegans, it seems ‘all or nothing’. Please let us do this gradually. If some want to pretend then so be it. It makes the public more informed as to why people become Vegans. As you say, even if it is partial, it’s better than nothing. It is in fact the animals we are trying to save not our Vegan egos. I have been working on becoming a Vegan for a year now. I am proud of my accomplishments. There are days when I slip because I am not aware of ingredients, or there just isn’t anything else to eat at a restaurant, but I am trying. I think doing it gradually is not a sin and I will continue to work on my diet. I do not consider myself Vegan, but I have helped apply myself to the world of Veganism.

    • jordan permalink*
      August 15, 2009 9:22 pm


      Thanks for your comment. I hope I don’t seem like I’m hating on those people who are making an earnest try, because that’s not what I’m getting at. While I still honestly don’t understand why it takes some people such a long time to become vegan, the issue I’m addressing in this post is how to deal with the people who try to co-opt the vegan “identity” or the term “vegan” without making the commitment to actually BEING vegan and also those who crave approval from the vegan community for their non-vegan diets and lifestyles. I don’t have nearly so much of a problem with people who aren’t vegan and who don’t call themselves vegan.

      I really hate when veganism gets portrayed as something that’s “too hard” or “unreasonable” or whatever, and then us vegans are expected to be understanding. Being vegan is EASY, and that’s why I have some issues with people who claim to want to do it but rationalize their not doing it. Reading ingredients and planning your meals out ahead of time is not rocket science, and I don’t like when people view these things as an unreasonable burden rather than simply taking some responsibility for what they consume. If we want to save the animals, we should go vegan, and when veganism is presented as something that’s too difficult for just anybody to do, the animals lose out, because people are discouraged from becoming vegan. That’s why I have a problem with it – not because of my fragile vegan ego.

      Like I said in the post, I think every meatless meal is a victory for the animals, and the more people we have eating less meat and dairy and other animal products the better. You, and all the other non-vegans out there, have every right to eat whatever you like under whatever kind of ideology you prefer, but as a vegan, I’m simply not going to applaud the dietary choices of people who aren’t vegan, and that’s perfectly reasonable. I’m not the vegan pope, and certainly no one needs my approval on their eating habits, anyway.

      Anyway, I wish you the best of luck on your (hopefully) continuing journey to veganism.

  6. March 10, 2010 11:42 am

    what a great post! this is especially needed today, as i have read somethings online that have really pissed me off. i kinda wanna punch some people… great job!

  7. May 13, 2010 1:01 pm

    Great post. Recently someone introduced themselves to me as a “quazi-vegan” and followed that by telling me how he enjoyed eating mostly steak tartar and copious amounts of fish… I wasn’t really certain how to respond to that. So I just shrugged and did an internal WTF?

    But really excellent advice all around (and I liked your response to Diane).

  8. Devin Smith permalink
    November 1, 2010 9:08 am

    great post

  9. Kate permalink
    June 26, 2011 9:10 am

    My husband calls himself vegetarian, despite the weekly fish and the Thanksgiving turkey. I know in part he does that out of solidarity with me, and in part for shorthand for waiters at restaurants, friends, etc., but it still gets on my nerves since it’s incorrect.
    He also calls me a vegan, something I regularly deflect. Not because I don’t like the idea; I see myself as on a journey there. I’ve already cut out eggs, milk, I just have that last problem with cheese, which I use much less of than I used to. I’m not looking for props for this journey, however, I see how both of the terms have been co-opted and watered down in the process and understand the frustration.
    I know you’re also calling for a bit more patience and understanding for people who are making strides to take animals out of your diet, but in the end, it still feels a touch harsh. Even though I eat cheese twice a week, I have a lot more in common diet-wise with vegans than with most people eating the SAD. Is it wrong for me to want to compare vegan eating notes with a vegan? Ask them what vegan products they recommend? Commiserate about eating rolls and french fries at a steak house on a family member’s birthday because even the salad/beans/green beans weren’t vegan?

  10. Rita permalink
    October 19, 2011 6:39 am

    My mom drives me crazy with stuff like this. I’m a vegetarian and she eats burgers or chicken or something almost every day. Then once in a while she’ll have a salad and say “I’m more vegetarian than the vegetarian! I hardly ever eat meat!” When I point out the burgers and stuff she’s eating, she’ll say “I just eat that once in a while.” Yeah..okay.

  11. Mandy permalink
    April 28, 2012 5:21 pm

    Just came across your blog and I must say that it is SUCH a breath of fresh air. I love what you are saying and this is great advice on how to speak to people who are on the cusp of vegansim/vegetarianism. 🙂

  12. Jarret Marcel permalink
    November 20, 2012 2:25 pm

    This was a great post…..I am not going to pretend to be a VE, I will be upfront and honest by saying I have been trying to get to at least to being a consistent Vegetarian and have gone for periods of a year or more (family and friends NOT being in this line of thinking make it hell); however, my best friend just recently made the complete dive to being Vegan (not part time either, complete and total for the last 4 months), but she attacks all of our friends, her family, my family and is constantly mean and condescending…On the flip side, for my recent birthday, I had a total Vegan birthday because she is my best friend and I wanted her there (I made my whole family eat Vegan for my B-day). We experimented with Vegan “Lasagna” and deserts and had fun with it, but even with me doing my best to include her, she continues to be mean….As for myself, I can see myself “getting there” but her wholesale attacking of even those in her life who are at least making significant changes (like myself) are simply alienating her and taking a toll on me and our friendship….She attempted suicide last week because she said she does not wish to live in a world in which people eat animals…I need some serious wisdom on “helping” her or finding some resources for her…I do not think every Vegan threatens to kill themselves…I continually tell her, “How will you make any kind of difference if you kill yourself?”…but she simply says that the world will never change and she doesn’t wish to live in the kind of world where people eat animals…Do you have any resources I can steer her towards? I am completely lost and in over my head with her…also, if I hadn’t gotten her to the ER last week she would have succeeded….how do you or other Vegans get through a world that is not Vegan??….I am lost…

  13. Kathy permalink
    February 14, 2013 2:38 pm

    I found this post while trying to find a name for what I am which is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat dairy or eggs. I know I’m not a vegan but sometimes use that title so I won’t be given dairy or eggs to eat. I read your post and I just wanted to say although I understand your frustration you also come accross as feeling superiour. Good for you that you found it easy to become a vegan but some of us don’t and are still willing to try, try and keep on trying for the sake of the animals and not for our vegan ego.

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