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2. Coming Out As Vegan*

February 25, 2009

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?

Happy veganing!

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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!

What’s This All About?

February 10, 2009

Hi, kids. I’m here to talk some sense to you all here today.

We vegans have to deal with things “regular” folk don’t sometimes, and apparently, that really freaks some of you out. This blog is about dealing with the awkward/rude/uncomfortable/ambiguous situations we sometimes find ourselves in with (what I hope is) aplomb, dignity, and guts.

As for me, I suppose I don’t have any formal qualifications to be doling out the advice, but frankly, neither does Rory Freedman, so I figure I’m good.

Stay tuned for my first real post tomorrow!