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Social Situations

Once you decide to live vegan you’ll find new favorite foods.  You’ll find out what you like and don’t like to eat.  You’ll find great new food options on menus and in your grocery store.  The food part gets easier and easier.  And you’ll find that navigating health concerns wasn’t such a big deal after all.  That’s easy too. 

But then there may be the sideways glances, rolling eyes, and the questions-questions-questions asked by family, friends, and coworkers.  Some people ask with excitement, wonder, or genuine concern.  Others ask to challenge your commitment to compassion and justice.  It’s not always easy. 

Let’s make it easier.  Social Settings offers some interesting insights we’ve discovered along the way, a few easy tips for your social tool belt, and a helpful reminder to stay true to yourself and kind to others. 

Social Pressures

+ Living Your Values. Staying True to YOU.

Going vegan may seem like one of the biggest changes of your life.  Interestingly, going vegan isn’t about changing who you are – it’s about becoming who you truly are.  You’re not leaving your values behind. If anything, by living vegan you are a shining example of living your values.  Most people want to be kind to animals, they want to protect our environment, they care about other people and about future generations.  We share values of justice, kindness, and compassion.  Living vegan puts your values into everyday action.

+ Living in Community and Staying Connected. Why Does It Matter?

Most people live and thrive in community.  We have families and friends.  We join clubs and teams.  We attend concerts and sporting events.  We meet on playgrounds and community centers, places of worship, bars and clubs.  We eat, play, love, laugh, and cry in groups – from two people to uncountable crowds.  

The good news is that this inclination to gravitate toward groups helps maintain social structures.  This is also the bad news.  Even if there is a better way to live, even a way that protects and advances the community, the community tends to avoid change, question outsiders, and categorize people as being “in” or “out” of a particular group.  Are you part of the “in crowd” or are you an “outsider?”  Being an “insider” usually feels better and safer, while being an “outsider” may feel uncomfortable and even scary.

You might have been resistant to fully living vegan because you were concerned about becoming an “outsider” when those you love and those who love you are not yet on the vegan path.  Living vegan in a group that is not vegan can lead to hard feelings, questions, and even hostility toward your vegan choices.  The group may feel protective of the patterns to which they have grown accustomed.  It really has nothing to do with you or your choices.

The good news is that there is no reason you have to leave your beloved family, friends, or community.  Be patient, live by example, stay positive, answer questions, and share delicious vegan food.  You’ll grow more comfortable with time and you may just inspire others to live vegan. 

And remember, for those of you looking for community, there is a large and growing vegan community ready to welcome everyone with open arms, hearts, and minds.

Specific Social Settings

> FAMILY AND FRIENDS

If you’re the only one in your family or group of friends who is vegan, you may feel social pressures to conform (see Social Pressures). 

These pressures are especially strong in small groups like family and friends where the group, consciously or unconsciously, attempts to protect the intimate social fabric of the group.  New ideas and new behaviors can feel threatening to a small group because there is a fear that the group will dismantle.  The unspoken fear is that the culture of the group will change or end, traditions may change or end, belief systems will be challenged, and even social structures might change.  None of these things need interrupt happy families or end friendships.

+ Finding Community

Most people live and thrive in community. We love our families and friends. We join clubs and teams. We attend concerts and sporting events. We meet on playgrounds and community centers, at the movies, places of worship, bars and clubs. We eat, play, love, laugh, and cry in groups – from two people to uncountable crowds.

A fun way to explore plant-based living is to find a community of like-minded, caring people. And a quick way to do that is through Meetup.com

There are vegan Meetup groups sprouting up all over the world. They vary from neighborhood potlucks, to movie nights and family get-togethers, to advocacy events. Not everyone in these groups is vegan – many are just starting out, are looking for support or answers, or are looking for friends with whom to share the bounty of the latest Meatout Mondays recipe.

+ You’re SO Excited About Living Vegan… But Nobody Wants to Hear It.

Wanting to share the joy and excitement you feel about living vegan with your friends and loved ones can feel all-consuming.  Having opened your heart and mind to a whole new way of living, thinking, and being, you might feel like you want to tell the world!  Who wouldn’t?  What a miraculous thing you’ve discovered -- if only everyone knew, then everyone would join you on the vegan path, right?  Well…

If you hit that wall, don’t let it knock the wind out of you.  Your journey is unique to you.  While you may have seen, read, experienced, and discovered things that now make perfect sense to you and make living vegan the obvious solution, your friends and family members might not quite see it your way… yet.  

As your family and friends discover that you've become vegan, some will be genuinely interested in what it means to live vegan; others may be concerned for your health; and some may feel a little uncomfortable because they don’t know what vegan means, or they’re not sure that you are still you.  See other sections of Social Situations for tips.

You know your friends and family better than anyone.  But here’s some advice from some of us who’ve been there: Live by example.  Your friends and family want to know you still care about them and that you’re not rejecting them.  You’re not rejecting them, you’re rejecting the use of animals, you’re rejecting violence, and you’re rejecting waste.  You don’t have to preach and hand out literature or try to get your friends to watch undercover animal slaughter footage or read the books you’ve read.  Be patient.  Live by example.  Plant seeds and they will grow.

+ Trying to Get Your Family to Live Vegan.

If you want to introduce your family to living vegan, good for you!  Trying to get family members to live vegan can be especially frustrating.  New information, however helpful, is often hardest to hear from those who are close to us.  

Happily, living vegan is becoming part of our cultural awareness in the U.S. – from headline news to talk show hosts and sports heroes, from former U.S. presidents to the folks next door, living vegan isn’t so foreign anymore.

If your family is resistant to your ideas, don’t despair.  Be true to yourself and your principles.  Live by example.  When others see you happy, healthy, and living a life that is focused, dedicated, and wholly connected to your principles, you may be surprised how far your message can go.  

Some of us who struggled trying to convince our family and friends to join us on the vegan path found that it helped to focus our advocacy outside our immediate circle.  The time and energy you spend trying to convince a person who resistant to living vegan might be better spent helping those who are open and eager to the idea.  Help thousands of people and save countless animals by helping us Spread the Word.

+ You’re Not the Boss of Me! The Power Dynamics of New Ideas.

As with any established group or culture, change does not come easily.  New ideas are often unwelcome and those who bring the new ideas are often seen as aggressors, even when those ideas are offered with love or in the spirit of helping the group.  So, even the most loving, thoughtful, well-mannered person making their vegan lifestyle known to a non-vegan family or group of friends may be met with hostility.  

Try not to take resistance as a personal attack.  It might help family members and friends who read this to know that just because a loved one has decided to live vegan, this does not mean they don't want to be close to those they love.  It simply means they’ve found something very important to them; to live their lives fully, they feel they must be true to this awakening – and they might want to share that excitement with you.

+ Not On the Menu or Can’t Tell If It’s Vegan? Ask!

“Vegan” is being spoken in a growing number of eating establishments.  If your server doesn’t know what “vegan” means (don’t assume), clarify by stating you want to be sure the food contains no animal products – animal meat, dairy, or eggs.  The server may know or they can make a quick trip to the kitchen to ask the chef. The growing number of people choosing vegan foods along with a growing number of allergies to dairy and eggs are making it so that servers regularly get these kinds of questions.  Be cheerful and be helpful if the staff seems confused.

If you weren’t prepared and find a menu lacking vegan options, consider asking nicely if there is anything on the menu that can be made vegan or if the chef wouldn’t mind creating something for you.  Chefs may be busy (so it helps to be prepared), but ordering something not on the menu may be a fun challenge for chefs who are often forced to restrain their creativity.  

Be gracious and thankful for the added service.  If the staff goes beyond the call of duty, consider being extra generous with your tips!  It not only expresses your gratitude, but you’ll pave the way for the next vegan question or request.

+ Eating With Those Who Aren’t Yet Vegan.

Eating in restaurants that serve animal flesh and animal products can be hard for some vegans – even if it’s at the next table, but especially when it’s on the same table and difficult to ignore.  This is a comfort level you’ll have to determine for yourself.  Some vegans want to eat with others who are not vegan so they can live by example.  Others want to avoid the pain or frustration and eat only with vegans or with those open to giving it a try.  One vegan friend decided to handle dining out with people who are not vegan this way: “I offer to pick up the tab if everyone eats vegan food.  I don’t have a lot of money, but I think it’s a nice way to introduce others to great vegan food.  I don’t put myself in situations where I have to sit at a table with dead animals – it’s just too much for me.”

This reaction may seem strange to those who are not yet vegan who may think "it’s just a food choice, after all.  What’s the big deal?"  But as one moves along the vegan path, they often become more connected to their consumer choices.  They begin to learn where their food comes from, who suffered and who benefited.  To some, eating “chicken” might not seem like a big deal.  It’s just a meal and they like the taste.  But to those further along the vegan path, "chicken" becomes “a chicken.”  “Meat” is seen for what it is -- the actual flesh of someone once living, once happy, then terrified, then killed.  Milk comes from a grieving mother.  Cows' and goats' cheese oozes pain and death.  

The fear of some vegans is that they’re going to have to endure the pain and bite their tongue at the dinner table.  The fear of those not yet vegan is that vegans are going to make them feel guilty about what they want to eat.  Meals might be the perfect time to do discuss your lifestyle with those who are close to you, but the conversation may also be better left for another time. 

Often, the best thing to do is to wait for people to ask. It is almost guaranteed that someone will ask why you are not eating animal products. You know your friends and family best, so answer in the way that makes the most sense for that group at that moment. If the group is open to hearing what you have to say, great! But sometimes, it might be best to suggest talking one-on-one another time.

We're not suggesting that you hold your tongue, but rather that you might want to pick the most effective opportunity. While you may feel like it goes against your ethics to refrain from answering questions immediately and in graphic detail, rest assured, your actions will speak even louder than words. Your message will be more powerful and better received by those who are open to hearing it. Live by example, plant seeds of compassion, and be ready to open your heart to those wanting to learn more.

+ Gross-out Factor and Imperfections.

Will your veggie burger be on the same grill with animal parts?  Maybe (unless you’re in a vegan restaurant).  How you feel about that might be based on being “grossed out” by the contact with animal products, or perhaps you desire to be a “pure vegan.”  What we advocate is not being a part of the suffering and death of animals – not paying for it, not asking others to do it for you, not purposefully consuming it.  If your vegan burger was on a grill that also cooked animals, that does not involve directly supporting, paying for, or purposefully consuming animal products.  

That’s what the vegan journey is all about – doing the best we can to stop the suffering and destruction.  Will any of us ever be “pure”?  Probably not, but doing our best to only support vegan products actively dismantles a system of exploitation and replaces it with one of kindness, justice, and compassion.

+ Alcohol

Some beers and wines are refined using a gelatin-like product called isinglass made from fish air bladders.  Some contain bone-char refined sugar.  Hard liquor may be filtered with bone char. Even if vegan, rarely will an alcoholic beverage be labeled “vegan.”  Liquors don’t include ingredients labels – even if they did, the refining agents wouldn’t be considered ingredients and probably wouldn’t be included.

So, how do you know which alcoholic beverages are vegan?  Luckily, for those interested in this issue, there are some resourceful vegans out there doing the research for you.  Explore sites like Barnivore.com.

+ Tips for Party Planners.

If you’re throwing a party, no need to skimp on the fancy cakes and mounds of ice cream – justveganize it! Check out our recipes and links for ideas for appetizers, entrees, and snacks.  Check out our baking tips for replacing eggs and dairy when baking and for ideas on making your own vegan cakes – even vegan ice cream cakes.

+ Tips for Party Goers.

If you’re going to a casual non-vegan party, staying vegan may be as simple as snacking before you go, or keeping your eyes open for animal-free snacks at the party (like chips, nuts, veggie dips, etc.). 

If you’re going to a sit-down dinner party that you know won’t be vegan, consider this advice from our holidays section: “If you're going to be a guest at the table, let you hosts know you don’t consume animal products.  Ask them ahead of time what you can bring and how you can help. If you're handy in the kitchen or even if you simply buy prepared plant-based food from a local store, bring your favorite dish or two (or more!).  That way you’ll be sure to enjoy your meal and have enough to introduce others to some of your favorites.

You may want to suggest to your hosts that you can bring a main dish to share or offer to help the cook(s) veganize the side dishes to make them cruelty-free, healthier, and delicious. Get more ideas for vegan recipes here.

If your hosts feel frustrated by your requests, explain that you want to do whatever is least burdensome for the group while not compromising your values. People will almost always understand and find a way to ensure that you have plenty to eat. They may even be excited to learn and try something new.  Be willing to roll up your sleeves and help. The stress your hosts might feel cooking new recipes or adding to their menu may be eased by your willingness to lend a hand.”