When your friends and family challenge your vegan choice

Kia ora whānau, hope everyone’s coping well. I’ve been getting this question more and more often from my new vegan mentees, and imagine it would only be more challenging while you’re quarantined together. How do you manage when your loved ones tell you you’re silly, argue with you, or completely dismiss you? Sometimes it can be really upsetting if someone you care deeply for and look up to doesn’t seem to understand the ethics that make so much sense to you. I’ve found it’s really helpful to step back and remember that most of us were pre-vegans not so long ago too, and it took patience and compassion from others for us to see living vegan and eschewing animal exploitation as feasible and accessible for us in a non-vegan world. Psychologist Melanie Joy‘s website, her videos about carnism, and her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows are helpful places to start in understanding the psychology behind eating meat and what has to happen for someone to realize it’s wrong.

I find with family it’s best to wait for them to bring it up. If they ask, answer honestly with as short and succinct answers as possible. I try to respond with questions myself, try to help them reflect on what they are really feeling. You need to ask yourself truly what your reason for being vegan is. For most people there are a lot of factors, but it will come down to one basic thing. For me, even if being vegan weren’t the healthiest choice for my body, for the planet, and for solving human world hunger, I would feel that no one else’s body is mine to take. That will never change no matter what “what if” scenarios people try to bring up. A common one is “well what if it’s done humanely/kindly, surely that’s okay?” This is something that comes from the misleading images in the media and on packaging of happy cows and hens foraging around in the grass, an image that couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, even if someone is “keeping” hens in their backyard, they have likely been purchased from a factory that kills male chicks, they will have painful genetic problems because of the way they’ve been bred “for us,” and they will not likely be able to live out the rest of their lives in peace after the frequency of their egg laying declines. I just ask, truly confused, “in what way could forcibly impregnating someone, taking her infants away from her, and killing her babies and herself at a young age be done in a ‘kind’ way?” Or simply, “in what way can killing be kind?” Many people don’t realise that the dairy and egg industries by necessity involve violence that we would never imagine inflicting on a human being.

Knowing that I have the privilege of living comfortably without causing unnecessary exploitation and suffering, why wouldn’t I choose that? A family member once responded, “oh, so sentience…? That’s a line in the sand that’s…. pretty hard to argue against.” If they are genuinely asking, and you are answering with compassionate honestly from your own experience and learning, they are far more likely to be receptive. You will likely have fewer conversations at all, but the ones you have will be more effective. Your loved ones may very well have a hard time confronting previously held misunderstandings, but it is something we all have to go through throughout our lives, and I should hope that as vegans we are continuing to do the same. If they are asking, they’re showing you that on some level they are ready.

Secondly, never underestimate the power of sharing yummy vegan food. Part of many people’s mental block is that they truly believe you can’t be satisfied or healthy as a vegan, and looking at the media’s messages, who can blame them for thinking so? Thankfully, the image of the vegan eating grass and cardboard is getting less common nowadays, but it’s still prevalent in a lot of communities. Instead of talking people into veganism, come to family events with yummy, hearty dishes to share. Something important to keep in mind when sharing with carnists is to make sure you’re cooking food that is both hearty and familiar. It’s not really the time to try out the sprouted adzuki bean and chia seed crackers. Cookie & Kate has put together a great list of vegan recipes that are tested and loved by meat-eaters. Alternatively, brownies, pie, cookies, and cakes are always a hit. (Again, keep them familiar – save the black bean brownies for the vegan potluck). The Minimalist Baker is my go-to.

Thirdly, I think it’s really important to be reasonably well-versed in vegan nutrition, because loved ones will inevitably challenge you with misinformation that’s disseminated by people with a monetary interest in keeping animal agriculture alive and well. I firmly believe that veganism is a moral baseline regardless, but it sure doesn’t hurt that it’s also the best choice for our own bodies! It’s also cheaper, better for agricultural workers, and massively better for the earth (pretty essential if we want to keep it, actually). The Gamechangers and What the Health are some great documentaries on vegan nutrition. The Challenge 22 Vegan Children page and the other pages on the Challenge 22 Blog are written by registered dieticians and contain clear, concise, relevant, important, and accessible information on how to easily get all the nutrition you need as a vegan.

Finally, my mental health took a real turning point for the better when I found solid vegan community. Whether that is online, in person, or both, it makes a huge difference to be with people who have been through part of the same journey you have been, who understand where you are coming from, and from whom you can learn more about intersectional animal rights. Meetup.com is a great place to meet vegans in person (local vegan potlucks and vegan demos are great!). To join community online, I can’t recommend Challenge 22 enough. Challenge 22 is an amazing support community for new veg and veg-curious folks! 100% free Facebook groups include groups mentors, personal 1:1 mentors, 24/7 registered dietitians on call to answer any questions you have, recipes, and more! After the first guided group, you can join the international Graduates’ group for life 😊 If you’ve been vegan for quite a while already, you can join as a mentor. It’s a lot of fun, and I can’t recommend it more. Again there is not and is *never* anything to pay, as it is volunteer run 💜 Just put in your details at Challenge22.org and you’re all set 🌞 Please let me know if you have any other questions! You’re welcome to comment here or message me privately any time.

Tl; dr:

  • Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Be friendly.
  • Engage only if they bring it up first and are clearly genuinely interested, not just trying to mock you. Otherwise and as well, lead by example.
  • Cognitive dissonance (being confronted with something that goes against your previously strongly held beliefs) is often painful but healthy and necessary for ethical shifts.
  • Stay connected with your vegan community, and keep learning.

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