Today I want to introduce the social issues many vegans and vegetarians face. Most of us go vegetarian without existing social support because none of our friends or family members are vegan. All of us meet omnivores now and then, wondering whether to tell them about our diets, and answering ridiculous questions. After explaining myself to everyone from high school and college classmates to closed-minded older family members, I want to offer a few rules of thumb.
First, let me present a few facts to understand omnivores, the people who have always surrounded you but you suddenly stopped understanding after you made a principled lifestyle choice that they did not:
* As a species, human beings like to believe that they are as good as, or better than, everyone around them.
* If you make someone feel morally inferior because of what they eat, they will probably get defensive and disregard your reasoning.
* People are generally opposed to changing their lifestyle for any reason.
* Most people know little to nothing about reality. They think of “Happy Cow” commercials or family farm cartoons. They prefer to keep it that way because, as previously stated, they are opposed to change and want to believe they are good.
Keeping these factors in mind, here are some general pointers for expressing yourself in a healthy way and being an example to others without alienating them:
* Make it about you. You should always imply that this is your lifestyle choice, not a moral imperative, even though that is how many of us really view it.
* Answer only what you are asked. When asked why you are vegan, go with something like, “I am against animal cruelty.” You should only go into detail after someone asks, and in an appropriate situation (i.e. perhaps not in front of young children or while people are eating).
* Represent the lifestyle as fun and easy, but be realistic. When people see you enjoying a custom-made meal from the chef at your local steakhouse, or hosting the greatest dinner parties in town, they might be willing to try going vegan even when you explain to them the importance of planning for nutrients.
* Do your research and have sources on hand. You will be much more effective if you can give specific facts and they are accurate. Request some leaflets from Vegan Outreach, who cite other reliable sources in their literature.
* Be constructive. Meat-eaters may view veganism as a form of criticism, so make it constructive. Remind friends and family of the good things they do. Try comparing your diet to your sister’s volunteer work, or reminding your father how compassionate he is towards the family pet.
* Get support from other vegans. Join an online community or local group, or simply post comments to a blogger like me. This helps you stay motivated in the face of social troubles and also gives you a way to share questions and experiences with others in your situation.
For a different discussion of talking about being vegan, I recommend The Animal Activist’s Handbook by Bruce Friedrich and Matt Ball. I thought their analysis of the issues was very good, and it was also enjoyable and easy to read. They mostly speak to people involved with leafleting, but their advice can be applied to any situation where you are discussing veganism. Some of their ideas have probably been incorporated into my point of view, along with my own personal experience.