Someone close to me has recently started the journey into becoming vegan. They are very hopeful about it, and they are hopeful about being on a plant based diet. They have seen what it has done for me and for thousands of others, so naturally they were pretty excited. That was until a party with several of their friends. When they mentioned that they are working hard at going plant based the negative comments started flowing in. They were smart and let that fuel them to try even harder, but often people will give up because the anger and negative comments are just too much to handle.
I’ve heard of horrible stories, families who have threatened to not invite their relatives over unless they ate what everyone else was eating, a Mother who told her daughter by not eating dairy she was disrespecting her dairy farmer grandfather, a mother who told her teenager that she’d rather him stop going to church than to stop eating meat. The list goes on, and the more stories I hear, the more I am not surprised.
I tell people that the hardest thing about going plant based and becoming vegan are the people closest to you. I have not completely figured this out. Many will say that people are threatened by healthy food choices, especially ones with moral implications. What am I saying about someone when I refuse to eat animal products? Am I judging them? Am I looking down at them?
Some say that it is our very brainwashed society, years and years and billions of dollars later our society has been lead down a path of completely backwards thinking in what is acceptable eating. They say this is the reason for the anger, no one wants to believe that they have been a sucker for marketing tactics and lies.
Others say that it’s the powerful addictions to food that leads people to become angry about your food and lifestyle choices. Have you ever seen a drug addict go through detox? It is not pretty. They become angry and upset and justify their lifestyle and behaviors in every way possible.
For many, food is the drug of choice. Beyond coffee, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes – food is what we consume the most of. It is a part of our lives, a part of our socializing, a part of who we are as a society. Oddly enough, sickness and disease are also a part of who we are as a society, yet most people do not put the two together.
When I first went plant based I was very sick, I was losing the battle of my life. Yet, some who were close to me felt it necessary to make fun of my food choices and my new lifestyle. They would boast about eating animal products, call me names, make fun of the foods I was trying to learn to like. I took great offense to this at first, did they not know that if I did not change the way I was eating, I would suffer great consequences? At times I questioned if they cared for me at all, did they really wish that I would keep eating animal products and get an amputation? Was that really what they were hinting at? They would rather me die than for me to get better, all so that I wouldn’t prove a point that animal products were killing me?
I don’t think that is the case. I do think that by me changing over to a plant based diet, it proved a lot of things to a lot of people, things that they really did not want to have to think about.
The truth is that your food and lifestyle choices will make people think. That could be about the ethical side of things, it could be about the waste, the social justice, or the environmental side of it all, or it could be about the health implications of it all. Going plant based and becoming vegan has more implications than any other lifestyle choice I have ever come across. It covers a vast array of life choices and decisions that impact our world greatly.
The anger, to me is a reflection of a lot of emotions that get thrown on top of it all. Even if you do not continually remind people that you are vegan, just asking a waitress if something has dairy or egg in it, is enough to get people feeling uncomfortable about what they just ordered.
Often that moment of realization can lead to uncomfortable and sometimes hurtful comments. I have found it is more out of people’s own questioning and confusion that they say things that might come off as negative and mean.
So I have some advice for both groups of people.
Plant based vegans:
It’s going to happen. Especially in the beginning, and especially with the people that have known you longer. You have been one way for a long time, and to switch that up will confuse people and will make them think you are all of a sudden judging them. You have to find it in you to let it roll off of you. Know that getting angry back or making comments back will not do anything to help the situation. You can say something like “I am sorry you feel that way” or “It is ok if we do not eat together, if it makes you uncomfortable”. If it’s social media passive aggressive behavior – let’s say someone jokes about the animal meal they just had, I would encourage you to just delete the comment. If they ask about it, tell them you have other vegan friends who would be offended by their comment to you.
Be ready for the negative and hurtful comments, and know that most often it comes from a place of deep insecurity in the way that person is living their life, even if they do not want to admit to that. Be a positive example of what it is to be vegan. Bring tasty food to dinners, talk with joy about your life and how much you are learning. And do not hide from it all.
Most importantly, find people who are in the same boat as you. In every city there are vegan meet up groups! And if there is not one in your city – start one! Find other people who are on board with you. Join twitter, find thousands of vegans to connect with and talk to! Make your world bigger, not smaller.
Chances are your vegan friends are being really nice to you and not telling you close to every thing they know about the food you are eating. If you want to know about the lifestyle, just ask and I would encourage you to not only ask, but tell your friends/family members to tell you every thing they know and have learned. If you don’t want to learn, don’t ask, and don’t make comments about it, doing so does no good for you or the person that you know. Know that people who have become vegan and who eat a plant based diet have tons of reasons, that were thought about over and over, that were researched, and often that were very hard to make the switch. Especially for your friends/family who are switching to a plant based diet for health reasons – know that it is very hard, especially the first month. You making hurtful comments will only sabotage their efforts, and hurt them in the end. So if you are not vegan, offer support and love, or don’t say anything at all.
Of course I will encourage you to find out everything, understand why people go vegan, and why they go on plant based diets. So many are turning to this lifestyle for many reasons, and chances are that many of those reasons will resonate with you and perhaps you will find a reason to start looking into a vegan lifestyle.
There is a lot of emotion that goes into our lifestyle and food choices. In the end, we as people need to ask ourselves if the way we are living promotes a life that we want to live. Does what we consume reflect our love of other creatures, the earth and our body? You might encounter anger regarding your lifestyle choice, but I would encourage you to find a way to respond in love, and to continue learning and researching so that you understand as much as you possibly can about the lifestyle you have chosen.