After speaking to many people from vegans, wannabe vegans, vegetarians, omnivores and everyone in between, the idea of potentially not being able to share a meal, celebration or holiday with family and friends in an enjoyable, stress free way is often the most cited reason for people hiding, modifying or abandoning their preferred way of eating. So is it possible to learn how to survive the vegan/omni apocalypse that these social situations bring and make it out unscathed?
It’s not always that the people in our lives don’t want to make changes for the better, it’s not even that they are largely ignorant to any other way of being, for most people the need to fit in, to be polite, to be accepted, to live an easy, quiet life is a much more powerful motivator than an infinite number of distressing animal abuse clips on You Tube. Our associations with food are a deep personal reflection of our history, our family, our memories and our identities. If you sat down over the table and challenged those core beliefs of your dining companions in any context other than food you would be considered a zealot or a bigot which is pretty hard to handle when you just want to quietly enjoy a slice of cake.
I strongly feel that there is a way to co-exist and co-consume whilst still honouring our individual choices and respecting ourselves and those around us. So right here is where I expect to lose to some of you and I get it, I really do. You cannot conceive of sitting down, in all good conscience, to a table littered with the debris of dead flesh and evidence of such suffering and cruelty. You disagree that I call myself vegan yet store my vegetables in the same fridge that contains animal products or even that I still cook meat based meals for my family with minimal fuss.
I understand that for many of you, I’m not your type of vegan. Some of you probably wont consider me vegan at all and that’s ok too. I spent a long time wondering if I should even use the term vegan to describe myself, but in the absence of another suitable label I’m happy to go with it for now. So for every one of you that must now tune out I’m certain that someone else will find strength and encouragement in the understanding that we don’t need to be anyone else’s idea of the perfect vegan in order to be able to make and commit to positive change.
Is it really possible to thrive at meal times and social situations in an omni/vegan family, what does that look like and how on earth do we make it happen?
Set clear boundaries
- Will you shop for animal based products?
- Will you cook with animal based ingredients, if yes to what extent?
- Do you need separate utensils, crockery, cutlery or even separate fridges.
- For everything that the vegan in the household is not prepared to tolerate how will you assign, share or delegate these tasks practically and fairly.
- Know in your own mind what you’re prepared to overlook in any given situation. If someone mistakenly serves you a home cooked vegetarian meal thinking its vegan can you eat it or not. If you’re gifted something that’s non vegan will you accept it, return it, swap it or re-gift it. The answers to these are personal to each individual but being clear of where you stand in your mind and communicating that effectively will potentially help other people respect your boundaries.
Be your own best ambassador
- Always show and demand mutual respect, of course this goes without saying generally but specifically apply it to dealing with food and life choices. You don’t have the right to demand someone agrees with you and you don’t have to detest someone personally just because you detest one aspect of their lifestyle.
- Only agree to boundaries you are truly prepared to tolerate. Don’t offer begrudgingly to prepare an animal based meal if you cant do it with an open heart.
- Take the time to create delicious, nutritious vegan meals that everyone can enjoy and share. The dinner table should represent a place of peace and connection. The ultimate way to open up the world of veganism is to show how easy and enjoyable vegan food can be.
- Be aware of your own energy, language and intentions. Particularly if you are eating out or haven’t prepared the meal yourself. If you communicate from a place of defensiveness or even apologetically the chances are that will be reflected straight back at you and ultimately be the image you portray.
- Keep your highest values and the bigger picture in mind but recognise where you end and others begin. Regardless of how deeply we “know” that veganism is the way forward you are not personally responsible for the actions or more importantly reactions of others towards your life choices.
- A sense of humour will pretty much get you through most awkward interactions or social situations. It’s perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree, but if you can pull it off with humour you’re onto a winner.
Be helpful and prepared
- Simple steps can often make things so much easier. If you’re eating out and don’t feel comfortable waiting until you’re seated in the restaurant ring ahead if possible to prepare the staff before your arrival. Better yet share your recommendation for a vegan friendly place that everyone can enjoy.
- If friends or family are cooking for you offer to make and bring a vegan dish, help with the cooking, source ingredients they may be unfamiliar with or share your favourite recipes. Chances are they’ll feel relieved that you brought it up and appreciate the help.
- Respond to questions honestly and openly but keep potentially challenging ideals away from the table whenever possible. If you do feel assailed give yourself time to take a deep breath before responding. You don’t need to memorize facts and figures to churn out a defensive argument every time someone asks a genuine question. Listen to what’s really being asked. Ask your own questions. Be prepared to tell your story and help open up peoples hearts and minds to the possibility of living a cruelty free life.
- Introduce loved ones to new vegan products or cruelty free versions of their favourite things by making or buying gifts and goodies based on your vegan principles.
- Be the vegan you wish you’d met 5 years ago, or 10 years ago, or in my case (ahem) even 20 years ago.
So now we have a better idea of how to set our boundaries and live freely whilst positively promoting a vegan lifestyle to our omnivore family and friends. I hope we can start to embrace the social situations that often cause anxiety, accept more opportunities to impact the world around us and in a much more stress free, respectful and enjoyable way. If you have a favourite tip for harmonious vegan/omni relationships we’d love to hear it. Please share in the comments below.