Being the only vegetarian or vegan amongst a group of friends will inevitably seem challenging at times. Suddenly meals out require more organization and prior research and unnecessary comments from a friend who’s overly-concerned with your ‘inadequate’ protein intake leave you feeling frustrated, not to mention the worry of being drawn into an emotive moral battle.
Of course there’s no real reason why any lifestyle choice should threaten a firm friendship, as long as you’re able to react to any potential misunderstandings, or unintentional insensitivity, with patience and an open mind. After all, the vast majority of vegans weren’t born into the lifestyle, at one time subscribed to the mainstream perspective on the meat and dairy industries, and were unaware of the benefits veganism can bring.
What’s more, the simple fact is that if all vegans exclusively socialised within the community (which is impractical for most of us who know few or no other vegans anyway) then it would be so much more difficult, even impossible, for others to be inspired by, or even made aware of the alternative way of thinking. So, here are the top five things to keep in mind when you’re concerned veganism might come to blows with your social life.
“a vegan lifestyle NEEDN’T make you an awkward or restricted dinner guest”
1 – Be flexible and prepared
As great as it feels going to a specialist vegan restaurant, and being able to choose anything off the menu, maybe your non-vegan friends (especially those who are unfamiliar with the lifestyle) aren’t as enthusiastic about the prospect. So, if you’ve agreed to go to a mainstream restaurant, it helps if you’re prepared to do some additional ground work before the meal out.
Checking the menu of the intended restaurant online for vegan options, or even items that could be adjusted or mixed-and-matched to suit your needs is a good place to start; many places will even create something bespoke that’s vegan, if you call ahead and give them plenty of notice.
Although this extra leg work can be slightly inconvenient, in the past I have surprised my friends and family by making arrangements to eat at a non-vegan restaurant, by showing them that following a vegan lifestyle needn’t make you an awkward or restricted dinner guest.
2 – Allow your friends the opportunity to try out vegan food
Though it may seem slightly contradictory to the first point, sometimes there is nothing more rewarding than smashing the stereotype that vegans just nibble on lettuce leaves. Whether by bringing an indulgent vegan chocolate cake as an offering to a party, or simply by introducing a friend to your favourite vegan restaurant, they’re bound to be surprised by how amazing vegan food can taste.
A common question I get asked when someone finds out I’m vegan is “No meat no dairy, so what do you eat then?” because few people are aware of the vast, ever expanding world of vegan products and recipes that are becoming available – so show them! The more people realise the variety a vegan diet can offer, the more likely they are to be open and intrigued by the prospect of trying it out for themselves.
3 – Expect to get asked the same questions a lot, so be patient
The current ‘clean-eating’ hype has really pushed veganism towards the limelight, as seen in the huge influx of vegan or ‘plant-based diet’ books available – which has pricked the curiosity of people who were previously clueless on the subject.
Unfortunately, the negative preconceptions about veganism have yet to fade away completely, leaving people conflicted and confused about the merits and potential drawbacks of the lifestyle.
So, naturally they’ll be keen to pose their questions to the resident vegan in their life, and if this person happens to be you, sometimes the torrent of questions from non-vegan friends can feel like being ridiculed: ‘But where do you get your protein?’ ‘If the cow isn’t being killed what’s wrong with milk?’ ‘Don’t vegans get anaemia?’- Not to mention repetitive. The only solution is to be patient and know your facts, or if you don’t feel prepared to answer their questions, direct them to reliable sources of information, such as the vegan society website.
“Be the living proof that veganism is the healthiest and most compassionate way forward”
4 – Leave veganism out of certain relationships
I’m a total advocate of spreading the positive vegan message, not preaching, but engaging people on the subject, and dispelling the myths surrounding the lifestyle. However, with some friends and relatives, in the interest of avoiding conflict, it can be easier to let them to come to their own conclusions. My elderly, retired dairy farmer of a grandfather is a perfect example.
He is a man who doggedly believes that unless a meal contains meat and dairy, then it’s a side dish and to boot, someone once told him that the new-fangled dairy free margarine is largely made up of plastic – which is of course ridiculous. He believes this because that’s what the media has been bleating at him his whole life – and he’s stubborn. It is infuriating trying to express your beliefs to people like this, because they’re usually poorly informed, very opinionated, and absolutely inflexible.
In this instance, the best advice is simply to lead by example; let them see how happy and healthy the vegan lifestyle makes you. Be the living proof that veganism is the healthiest and most compassionate way forward, instead of getting drawn into an argument that will lead to nowhere but a bitter divide between you and your friend.
5 – Don’t let yourself be defined by what you eat
Finally, it’s important to put things in perspective. No matter how passionately you feel about veganism, it’s not all that defines you as a person, despite the infamous stereotype that all vegans have the uncontrollable urge to tell anyone they come across that they’re vegan within the first five minutes of meeting them – a grossly unfair generalisation.
Of course the fact that someone has chosen to omit animal products from their diet reveals a lot about them as a person, in a positive sense, but in no way should it define their other interests, hobbies, or beliefs, any more than their political alignment or religion.
It’s always a satisfying feeling to defy expectations, and being sure to present every aspect of yourself to your friends and people you meet is an effective way to do this, by no means suppressing your beliefs, but painting the whole picture of yourself as an interesting and diverse person.