Sunday, March 24, 2019

Vegans & Non-Vegans: Why The Anger?

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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.

For non-vegans:

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.

3 COMMENTS

  1. elen

    Wonderful post and true on so many levels. I’m going to share with some friends who are transitioning as well.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. WoVegan
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    After being Vegan for 3 years, I’m still amazed at how many people seem offended when they learn about my lifestyle. I don’t know that I’ll ever totally understand their reactions but I do think you’ve hit the main ones in this post. I agree that finding support is so crucial; I still count on certain friends to let me vent about ridiculous comments I here and tired arguements people feel the need to spurt at me to prove to me that I’m “wrong”. I’m just a happy girl who wants to eat my happy food. 🙂

  3. Jan

    Very well-written and inspiring post. I especially like the last section, “To Non-Vegans”.

    Thanks!

  4. Chelsea
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    Well said! This makes me appreciate my family and friends around me even more, since I have mostly been given support myself.

  5. molly
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    Supportive family members are golden. I usually don’t have to defend myself to my family (what’s there to defend anyways?) because my husband will jump in first to tell them how delicious my food is.

  6. Hathor
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    Very beautifully written and I agree with all but one point. When someone is criticising you for being vegan you have the right to feel bad about it. And you have the right to tell them of your feelings – not to criticise back but to own your feelings and express them without blame. The option to do nothing is always there for us and we must all decide for ourselves according to the situation – I would never judge someone for choosing rather to stay silent in such a case – but saying that other vegans would be offended isn’t owning your own feelings. We have that right and duty to ourselves.

  7. Nat
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    Hathor – thank you for pointing that out I just realized I’m missing a small part of my post! I am not sure what happened 🙂 I had a part in there about confronting the person and telling them that it offends you or is hurtful.

    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, you can tell them that the comment offended you or was hurtful. Some people are not comfortable with doing that. If they ask about it, tell them you have other vegan friends who would be offended by their comment to you.

    I totally agree – I think it’s best when you can say that it was hurtful or offensive to you… I know for me, in the beginning I had a very hard time standing up for myself, so I would use that line often.

  8. Meg

    Great post. A vegan 2 years now, I have really seen this more recently, and I am not sure why. I am very quiet about my veganism since witnessing a few scary scenes. When I go to banquet dinners I don’t make a scene and demand a veggie plate. Typically I will eat before I go, if not, I simply eat the plant based items. I think some of the negativity comes in from holding up lines, or being argumentative to wait staff because the veggie alternatives are not to your specifications. I have seen fellow vegans really flip out! LOL, but I learned from these instances and more times than not, I simply eat before I go.

    This is such a good post for people who are considering our lifestyle but are afraid of the backlash or are not aware of the venom that may come – from both sides. Anger is just not good ever, from any of us!

    I feel SO good now that I will take whatever comes my way, though.

    Call me what you will, I won’t eat anything with eyeballs!

    Thanks for this! I wish someone had prepped me like this before I took the plunge!

  9. Amy
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    It’s time to “come out” to my friends and family because some people are coming to visit me…and I’m terrified of what they’ll say and how they’ll behave. This was helpful.

  10. Lisa
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    Another excellent post! Chock-full-of-good-stuff!

    I’ve found the podcasts on Compassionate Cooks.com to be very helpful in dealing with these issues.

    Thanks, Nat 🙂

    Rock on!

  11. Kaylie
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    You’re so right about this. I’m reminded of a video by porolita22 on YouTube entitled “The hardest thing about being vegan?” in which she addresses this same issue of hostility from non-vegans. Sadly, I’ve never known a vegan who didn’t have friends or family react with criticism. But the more of us there are, the more the myths will be broken down, and the more accepting society will eventually become.

  12. little vegan
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    Wow. Beautifully written. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful, heartfelt and helpful post about this.

  13. Russ
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    Why do Vegans automatically assume that non-Vegans secretly (consciously or unconsciously) want to stop eating meat? And deep down they hate their “poor” diet, “whether they admit to it or not.”

    Veganism is not THE lifestyle. It is A lifestyle.

    I have nothing against Vegans or anyone just because of what they do or do not eat (why would you?), but I don’t feel bad for eating the way I do – oh wait, I do eat too much sugar – or maybe I am just in denile.

  14. Elizabeth
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    I used to think veganism was a little extreme and admit I was rather critical of anyone who followed such a lifestyle in the past (how do you get your iron/calcium/B vitamins etc etc, soy milk, lentils and tofu=yuck), but now I like to think I have seen the light!

    I have gone (dietary) vegan for the month of January. Why? Well, I usually only eat meat twice a week, along with maybe a couple of eggs and an oily fish or two, but at xmas I was staying with a friend and I ate waaay too much meat, none of which was free range or organic. Urgghh, sometimes I ate meat twice in one day. Of course I also ate far too much chocolate! Dropping all the animal products this month is my apology to my body, to intensively-reared animals and the poor planet. It’s also a way to get rid of the xmas weight gain, it forces me to try some new recipes, and I will also be interested to see whether it helps with my complexion. I have told a few people about this decision and have not had any backlash, just interest in why/how I am doing it.

    I think it is fantastic when people decide to put more thought into what they eat and where their food has come from. There are a few reasons why I will not stay vegan in the long term, one being I am terrible at taking supplements so would be at risk of iron and B12 deficiencies (my iron is already quite low, my calcium probably is too). Also, I really do like the odd chicken or lamb curry! My sister has been vegan for about 7 years (from the age of 17), and was well-supported by my family from the beginning. The only thing she says she misses is being able to buy stuff from a bakery!

  15. Amy
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    Russ, we don’t think non-vegans want to stop (secretly or openly); we think they react with hostility to US because they feel judged or threatened by what we DON’T eat. We receive hostility like that expressed in your post undeservedly. No one said our life was the only life. Natala was explaining to vegans, who receive crap from non-vegans constantly–some of it terribly hurtful–how to view it in a more productive and positive light.

    No one is going to call you names for eating the way you eat, but vegans strongly disagree with the way you eat. That doesn’t mean vegans think you harbor secret desires to eat soybeans or that you’re an evil, horrible person. Your having a response like the one you had to this article written for vegans to use in their day-to-day coping with life outside the mainstream is very common, but it misses the point, entirely.

    My choice to abstain from animal products in my diet is not a commentary on the food you put on your plate. It is a commentary on a number of things in MY life and in the meat production industry. It has nothing to do with you. If, however, a non-vegan calls me names, points and laughs, accuses me of being malnourished, or finds fun in trying to trick me or make me look hypocritical…I have to wonder why.

    This article and the many like it written by vegans for vegans is a sort of dialogue we use to process the hostility, make sense out of it, and get on with life. Don’t take it so personally because it was neither about you nor for you.

  16. Amy
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    and…btw…none of that is meant to be read with an angry or defensive tone. That’s a fault of this medium that you can’t see my face or hear my voice.

    None of that was meant to be confrontational…merely explanatory from my perspective.

  17. Kc
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    Well said Amy.

    My fiance who loves me very much met me when I was only vegetarian. He thought it was cool and neat that I was vegetarian.

    Then I decided to make the transition to vegan. He has taken my decision as a personal attack. He is actually hurt because I will no longer eat pizza from Pizza Hut with him or cheesy scrambled eggs. He feels betrayed by my sudden change in diet.

    I still cook meat and eggs and cheese for him…..and I’ve tried explaining to him multiple times that I don’t love him any less just because I won’t eat animal products with him any more.

    But he is still hurt by my choice.

    And this is from someone who loves and supports me. I’ve gone to dinner at someone’s house while simply vegetarian and had them start in on me about my diet. Funny how it is never me who brings up the food issues. I mostly just want to be left alone about it at this point. I am, of course, more than willing to share my thoughts and beliefs with those who are truly interested.

  18. Denver
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    Always a fan. I tend to find that I pick up a few interesting of information by looking into any of the latest diets.

  19. Pat
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    This was an amazing post. I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan for those reasons. It’s the negativity. I definitely am as supportive and kind to my vegetarian friends as possible and they help me cut down on whatever animal products I do use. This website is amazing. You are really a beautiful person.

    You might like my blog. It’s got a lot of humor and I rip on a lot of fast food. I’m going to eventually do a vegetarian/ vegan post about why people should be more supportive.

  20. conrad
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    this was great! and what thoughtful comments from your readers. i always admire those who can deliver a vegan message without being ranty and sounding preachy. it’s these myths we need to debunk by representing ourselves thoughtfully to the rest of the world. that’s why i tend to keep my mouth shut because i have yet to learn this artform! :0) w

  21. greenbean
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    I could not have found this post at a better time. Thank you. I just made the transition to Vegan a few days ago, and today especially, I was feeling very negative towards the unexpected and hateful backlash I’ve received. I posted my decision on facebook to keep myself motivated and possibly receive some encouragement from friends only to wake up the next morning to find over ten posts listing the foods that I would be giving up and several warnings against the deadly health implications on going Vegan. One poster actually wrote, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re constantly sick from now on”. I wish I could say I reacted well, but instead I was incredibly angered and threw a bunch of statistics in their face. I feel terrible and wish I had reacted differently… but it’s a lesson learned.

    This post made me feel much better knowing that there are others that have experienced this. It also makes me realise that the best way to handle the situation is with understanding and respect, even if you aren’t getting it in return. It is misunderstanding that this anger is stemmed and fueling it will only make it worse. Thanks again!

  22. greenbean
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    Might I add… when I first told my (now ex) boyfriend that I was transitioning to vegetarian, he too took it as a personal attack. I Believe his words to me were, “it’s as if my best friend has died”. It’s funny now but what a terrible way to support someone!

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Nat
I went on a plant based diet after diabetes almost took my life. Now, almost 2 years later not only have I reduced my type 2 diabetes symptoms, I have lost close to 200 pounds (and still losing). This is a place where I write about my journey as I continue the quest for health, and living a good life for today, and long into the future. Get hold of me on [email protected]