What Every Vegan and Vegetarian Should Know—The Basics
Becoming a vegan or vegetarian is very rewarding but it can also be very challenging. Though most believe that eating is most challenging, the truth is that the most challenging part is actually the deviation from societal norms. This article focuses on the social challenges of living a vegan and vegetarian life in an animal-product-centric society. Our aim is to help you avoid awkward situations and master your social life as a minority.
#1: Always be aware that being vegan is your personal choice
Being vegan or vegetarian is your personal choice. No one, not your friends, not your family, is required to make the same choice as you. Understanding this idea of personal choice will help you to avoid confrontation with your loved ones.
#2: Respect the decisions of others
Be respectful to people with other lifestyle choices. Your decision to become a vegan/vegetarian is an excellent choice for your well-being, and for a better world. However, this does not mean that you can judge others who have made different lifestyle choices. Calling non-vegetarians “murderers”, or accusing them of being complicit in increasing environmental problems is not respectful. Just as you hope to be respected for your decision to be a vegan/vegetarian without constant confrontation, those with other lifestyle choices wish the same.
#3: Don´t pretend to be a superhero
Your lifestyle choice to not eat meat doesn’t make you better than others. Don´t forget, not everyone in the world has a chance to have a meal every day. There are populations of people who only have access to plants two or three months a year. Being a vegan or vegetarian is not an option. 1 in 9 humans around the world have nothing to eat and acquiring a little milk or an egg can mitigate starvation. (For more information about global hunger index, check here: http://www.globalhungerindex.org/results-2017/) Remember that you are lucky and privileged to have the choice to consume a plant-based diet. Having this choice doesn’t make you a superhero!
#4: Accept that you will be different
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize that the world doesn’t change when you change. As a vegan or vegetarian, you are the minority. Most people still eat meat and animal products. Most people are raised on meat and are used to eating animal products. It’s the “normal” way to eat (according to a study “Vegetarianism in America” 3.2 percent of Americans are vegetarians and 0.5 percent of them are vegans. https://www.vegetariantimes.com/uncategorized/vegetarianism-in-america). In addition, not everyone knows that you are vegetarian or vegan, and not everyone knows what that means. Being vegan or vegetarian is like being a foreigner in a foreign country. Always be friendly and kind to people who don´t understand or accept your lifestyle choice, but don’t expect a lot from them.
#5: Don’t start conversations about vegetarianism or veganism
Like rule #1, your lifestyle choices are personal. Similar to the idea that no one really cares to know how you brush your teeth or wash your face, they don’t always want to know why you choose not to eat animal products. This is especially true at the dining table. Offering unsolicited explanations can be considered rude or confrontational. If someone is curious, they will ask and you can explain. Unless you’re in the mindset for a healthy discussion, it’s best to give a short, personal reason such as “for environmental reasons”, “to feel better”, “I don´t want to hurt any animals.” If after this explanation someone shows more interest in your diet choices, then you can explain in more depth. If you feel the conversation taking a turn that is too personal, just be honest with the person and explain that the topic is personal and you would rather discuss something else. If you feel you need to talk to someone about being vegetarian or vegan, find a community with like-minded people, start a blog, or make a YouTube video.
#6: Don´t take the jokes about vegans or vegetarians seriously
“How do you know someone is vegan? Don´t worry, they will tell you!” There are thousands of jokes about vegans and vegetarians. Some of them are funny, some of them are silly, and some of them are stupid and uninformed. They are not directed at you personally. Try not to take them that way. Being able to laugh at yourself is a social construct that connects people with different choices to each other. Remember rule #5 and accept that not everyone can understand your lifestyle choice.
#7: When you get an invitation, be prepared and communicate
Eating together is very important aspect of society. Not eating what most of your friends or family eat can be very challenging. The following ideas below will help you in different group eating situations:
The Dinner Invitation
When you’re invited to a dinner, preparation and communication is key. When someone who doesn’t know you are vegetarian or vegan invites you to a dinner, the first thing you should do is communicate your dietary needs. But, why do this? It might be awkward! Well, when someone invites you to a dinner they want to share your company and enjoy dinner. If you don´t communicate that you don’t eat animal products, it can lead to an uncomfortable, and possibly embarrassing, situation for the host. In general, most non-vegan / non-vegetarian dinner hosts like to prepare something special like steak, fish, or lobster. These dishes are expensive and take a lot of effort to cook. As a sign of respect, you should tell your host in advance that you don´t eat animal products because afterwards it’s too late. It can also be seen as rude to your host to not eat what was prepared for you. One way to communicate your dietary status is to respond to the invitation with: “Lovely, but if you don´t mind, I’d like to bring a vegan dish with me.” or “Thank you for the invitation. May I bring a vegan dish with me to share?” Your host may ask you why a vegan dish or what does a vegan dish mean. This can give you an opening to explain that you don’t eat animal products. In general, offering to bring a dish communicates that you have different dietary needs, and it makes sure you have something to eat. No matter how you choose to do it, when someone invites you to dinner, it’s essential to communicate you are a vegan or vegetarian! Give your host a chance to cook a dinner he/she can share with you.
A fun way to communicate when a non-vegan/vegetarian friend invites you to a dinner is to suggest cooking together. Cooking together makes it much more fun. Just try!
A Party or BBQ Invitation
When it comes to a BBQ or party invitation, just communicate that you’ll bring your favorite salad, plant-based burger, grilled veggies, or whatever you would like to eat and share.
A Restaurant Invitation
When someone invites you to a restaurant, do your research. Be prepared in advance and check the menu before you go to figure out if there is something you can eat. If there are no options for you, you have two choices: eat a snack before you go or suggest a alternate restaurant that has vegan and vegetarian options. Choosing the second option is always best because being proactive will make your experience better. Make a list of your favorite restaurants so you can freely make suggestions at any time. If you happen to be at a restaurant and you hadn’t planned to eat in one, don’t worry the side dishes and salads will usually work. However, remember to be on the safe side and ask if there is dairy, cheese, or eggs added. You can always replace sauce or dressing with olive oil, salt, and pepper. You’re strong and you can make it work!
Depending on the restaurant, you may get a vegan dish that is not as described. Stay calm and act as the well-educated adult you are! Don´t make a scene, and don´t be rude to a waiter. Remember, you are a minority (rule # 5). Kindly ask the waiter for another option.
Follow these classic etiquette standards: be respectful, grateful, and polite. Know your audience. Don’t talk about personal issues, politics, religion, and diet at the table. Don´t be the spokesperson for the vegan / vegetarian diet when you eat with others. Don´t blame those who don´t have the same knowledge you have. Let your host know you are vegan, and always bring a dish when you are invited to a party or dinner. There are always new social situations that you need to navigate; but knowing these basic rules will help you to master the challenges of being a vegan or vegetarian in an omnivore world!
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