Before You Hit Reply Take a Deep Breath
By Julia Feliz, Guest Contributor
Last night I encountered a Facebook post made by a fellow vegan friend that was experiencing what I would describe as a “vegan collision”, when our vegan values collide with the very non-vegan world that we live in. We’ve all been there. I certainly have, especially when I was a newbie to veganism. My friend recently re-homed battery hens and was openly questioning whether she could stand being friends with people in her life that could eat the very same animals they saw when they came to visit her home. A non-vegan friend of hers defensively responded that she would do her the favour of removing herself from her list of friends – she only ate those animals that she did not meet. As you can imagine, this started a very hostile communication from quite a very irate couple of vegans responding to an aloof non-vegan comment. The sad thing was that, like most meat eaters I have encountered, I really don’t think that she realized what she was saying.
In my vegan infancy, I was probably short tempered and became openly frustrated like the above vegans that responded. I did not have all the facts and was taken by surprise and quickly became angry when people “got in my face” out of nowhere (even when I wasn’t even remotely talking about veganism!). It’s understandable. We have so much to say and so very few seem to listen. However, since then, I’ve learned that that type of approach really doesn’t work. It doesn’t help the cause or the animals. How have I dealt with it? Well, to tell you the truth, I am still dealing with it, but it gets easier!
Here are some tips that I’ve picked up through the years on how to deal with all that frustration that you are bound to experience from people who may not even mean it (friends, family, co-workers, strangers…).
1. Take a deep breath. Patience is key when dealing with people that just don’t know or don’t get it.
2. If they are truly your friends (non-vegans), they will stick around. Good friends don’t judge you for what you eat, wear, or bathe with. They will respect you and your lifestyle no matter what. Family is family – yes, they may not get it, but as my aunt said to me very recently, “You have to remember that most people don’t realize what veganism really means. You have to remind us that you don’t eat honey or some other ingredient that is not as obvious as meat.” My aunt has been great though. She’s the first to respond on my behalf when someone makes a sly comment. However, when I first went vegan and told her I would not be eating a burger at a BBQ she was having for the family, she said, “Don’t worry – I’ll make you a hot dog.” She’s come a long way. Keep inviting them over for dinner and dropping off those vegan baked goods. They’ll keep asking for those recipes. Your family or friends may not get it just yet, but here’s hoping that they will, eventually.
3. Some people just don’t want to know – don’t waste your time with them. They will only find more excuses and you will just get even more frustrated. They will come around when ready.
4. Be the bigger person and educate yourself. So, some jerk calls you a communist baby killer (believe it or not some guy accused me of this because of my veganism. Don’t ask. I still have no idea), don’t let it get to you. Firmly let them know you will not be disrespected? Yes. Politely excuse yourself from their presence? Definitely! You don’t need that from anyone. However, keep in mind that people are afraid and irrational about things that they don’t understand. Chances are that person has only heard rumors about vegans or has seen some silly movie clip where vegans are completely misrepresented.
5. Do some outreach – it is great prep time for getting to know all those facts and figures about why veganism makes so much sense. You’ll be able to come up with speedy answers in no time and bonus, the more some random person comes up to you and tells you how tasty this or that is just to get a rise out of you, the less it will get to you in time (most of those experiences mean nothing when compared to all the positive experiences you will have while doing outreach). Use that need to spread the word to do just that. Set-up a tabling event at your local health food store, organize a film screening, hand out leaflets at a near-by college, join a protest, socialize with other vegans. There’s nothing sweeter than sharing a meal with other local vegans (it’s usually a great time to air those frustrations!). You could also approach local restaurants and ask them to add a vegan menu or at least one vegan meal to their menu. The Vegan Society, UK has a great catering guide that you can use to send or for ideas on what to write. I’ve used all the above outreach methods and saw changes in my community. In a year, my group or myself made it into the local newspaper more than 10 times, I was interviewed on a local radio station, a local restaurant added a vegan menu, and I met vegans that went vegan through some of the group efforts! Now, it may sound like I am bragging, but I am really not. I just want you to know that outreach does work and you can make a difference. Never in a million years did I think all that would be possible, but it is.
6. Remember that as the probable lonesome vegan in most non-vegan’s lives, you will be watched, so this is your chance to disprove all those ridiculous stereotypes that are keeping people from taking veganism seriously. Take that deep breath and express yourself intelligently.
7. Also, don’t forget that you were uninformed and happily taking part in non-vegan activities once (unless you were born a vegan, which is probably not the case). Put yourself in their shoes, shrug your shoulders, shake your head with a smile, put your arm around your friend, and educate them. It’s the only way people learn.
8. Take another deep breath and think about the non-humans that you are standing up for and all the other good (people, health, and environment) that your vegan choices support.
Remember you are not alone in this journey.
Photo: Julia Feliz & Dennis Skley