You know those smug vegans everyone is always complaining about? Well, I was one of them. I was filled with self-righteous indignation that I was superior because of my morals which led me to give up meat and all animal products. At least I can blame this on youth. I was 12 when I went vegetarian and 15 when I went vegan, so pretty much everything I did at the time was indignant.
Even if you aren’t the slightest bit smug though, you will still probably be accused of being a smug vegan (or some other similar adjective). In fact, you might be surprised at just how much wrath you invoke by simply announcing that you are going vegan.
This reaction actually isn’t limited to vegans. Just think how much society hates people who are on weight-loss diets.
Whenever people see someone else making a conscious effort to change (be it for health, moral, or whatever reasons), they get defensive about their own choices.
The defensiveness gets particularly bad if the person knows deep down that they should probably also be making similar changes. Instead of taking the steps to change, the person often ends up condemning the other as being smug or self-righteous.
For people going vegan, this defensive reaction creates an obvious problem. After all, you will eventually need to tell your friends and family that you don’t eat animal products anymore (unless you never plan to eat in front of them again). I find it funny that all the advice on how to go vegan recommends joining some local or online vegan group. It is as though they are preparing you to lose all of your friends!
Going vegan does not mean you have to isolate yourself from all your friends and family. You will however have to be really carefully about how you lead your new lifestyle so you don’t end up putting people on the defensive or (worse) offensive.
If you have gone vegetarian, then chances are you will want to tell all your friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, etc. about your new diet. Here are some ways to tell people you have become a vegetarian.
1) Start handing out animal rights flyers. Make sure they are as gruesome as possible. Try to give them to your friends while they are eating.
2) Right as your friend is about to bite into a burger, give a detailed description of how the cow was slaughtered to make it.
3) List all of the hormones and chemicals in the meat your friends are about to eat and then start spouting off all of the health problems which can occur from eating meat.
4) Say really loudly, “HOW CAN YOU EAT THAT?!”
5) Force them to try your new macro-healthy Brussels sprouts and kale shake.
6) Tell them that going vegetarian would help them with their weight problem.
7) Talk about how your bowl movements have improved since you stopped eating meat.
Okay, there are probably not the best ways to tell people you have switched to a plant-based diet. You will just end up sounding preachy and smug – something which vegetarians are constantly being criticized as being. But, the truth is that with any diet change, you are sure to ruffle some feathers. People automatically become defensive of their own dietary habits the moment they hear someone else has taken an initiative to follow a different diet. This happens regardless of whether the new diet is based on health or moral reasons.
Since food is such an important part of our everyday lives, you will eventually have to tell people that you no longer eat meat. It isn’t smugness – it is just a practicality so you don’t end up in an awkward situation like your date taking you to a steak house where your only option is plain salad.
If you want to avoid sounding smug and pretentious when telling people you’ve gone veg, keep these tips in mind:
Keep the focus on you
Instead of saying things like “A vegetarian diet can help you lose weight”, instead say things like “I’ve lost 10 pounds since going vegetarian and feel great!”
Don’t get defensive
Instead of saying “At least my tofu burger wasn’t tortured just so I could eat it”, say instead “This tofu burger is actually really good! Want to try some?”
Be upbeat about your decision
Focus on how good the switch to vegetarianism is making you feel. No one will think you are smug if you say things like “I really want to focus on being healthier this year. I’m going to try a vegetarian diet and see how it makes me feel. The fact that it coincides with my moral beliefs is just another perk.”
Share instead of criticize
Saying things like “how can you eat that?” are not going to win you any friends or vegetarian converts. Instead, offer them a bite of your mock-chicken salad so they can see for themselves how good it is. Make sure you always bring extras!
Don’t give nutrition advice
You hate it when people start telling you things like you need to eat meat to get protein. So, don’t be annoying back by giving out unsolicited nutrition advice.
Don’t: Be an activist
Trying to force veganism on others isn’t going to get you anywhere. In fact, it will probably just isolate people who are actually generally interested in veganism and might have made the conversion. The best activism you can do is to lead by example.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t judge other people for their choice to eat animal products. If you do, you are just opening up the door for them to judge you. And I doubt you are perfect! Judging others will also put them on the offensive. You’ll end up hearing a lot of stupid and illogical comments like “humans were meant to eat meat” or “what about all the field mice who are killed to grow vegetables?”
Don’t: Talk about your diet until asked
Just because you are excited about going vegan, it doesn’t mean you’ve got to shout it off the rooftops. Wait until the appropriate moment to tell people you are now vegan – like before going to a friend’s for dinner. Don’t start discussing your reasons why or any other aspects unless the person specifically asks. Then, only offer information. Don’t force it. “If you are interested in my reasons for going vegan, I will happily provide you with some articles and links to websites.”
Don’t: Get defensive
Yes, there will be some jerks who consider your choice to go veg as a personal affront to their “right” to eat meat. But most aren’t like this – so don’t instantly get defensive just because someone asks a stupid question like “where do you get protein?” Instead, stay positive. Instead of answering the protein question with an angry “you don’t need meat to get protein!” you could instead say “I’ve just discovered tempeh! It is low fat, loaded with protein, and tastes awesome in a burrito.”
Don’t: Talk about other people’s diet
You are going to make people hate you if you constantly talk about what they are eating along the lines of “do you know where that burger came from?” Just say how great your veggie burger is and offer a bite.
Do: Keep focus on yourself
When someone asks why you are vegan, we have a tendency to turn it around and speak in terms of “you”:
By going vegan, you will feel a lot more energetic.
By going vegan, you will help save animals and the planet.
By going vegan, you can experience a lot of health benefits.
If you do this, then you are going to get people feeling defensive about their own choices – and defensive people stop being so open minded. Instead, make sure you always talk about your reasons for going vegan on a personal level. So, say something along the lines of “Ever since I’ve gone vegan, I’ve felt great and even lost 5 lbs. And the diet is in line with my moral beliefs for animal rights and the planet.”
Do: Be creative with ordering
Going out to eat at restaurants can be challenging as a new vegan. Instead of ordering obnoxiously by asking a series of questions about the ingredients, just ask what vegan-friendly dishes they have. Better yet, call the restaurant ahead of time to figure out what your options are. Or, look for dishes which are almost vegan and ask for a substitution: “I’ll have the brick oven calzone with roasted vegetables and extra spinach. Hold the cheese.”
Do: Be specific
Surprisingly, not everyone knows what a vegan is. Heck, not everyone even knows what an animal product is (some people still think eggs are vegetables!). So, it is best to be specific. Like if you have to go to a dinner party, tell the host beforehand that you “do not eat meat, fish, eggs, cheese, butter, or milk”. Otherwise, you could end up with some surprises on your plate and will be in the awkward position of having to refuse it in front of everyone.
Do: Stick with it (even if you slip up)
A lot of vegans slip up (either accidentally or because of failures of willpower). Don’t let these slipups destroy your attempt to go vegan! If you thought people hated you as a vegan, just wait until you are an ex-vegan. No one likes a quitter!