Whether you've just turned vegan after growing up in an omnivorous home, are sharing a kitchen with seven non-vegan flatmates, or are lodging with extended family members who don't fully understand what veganism means, being the only vegan in the house can be tough. Here are a few survival techniques I've learned along the way, plus some I wish I'd have known earlier:
- Do your research. If you are lucky, your housemates will ask genuine questions about plant-based food, and your reasons for rejecting animal products. If you're not so lucky, you might be on the receiving end of sarcastic comments and implications that you are crazy, stupid, or both. Being well informed about nutrition, environmental impacts of factory farming, and moral philosophy, and responding to both questions and comments in a calm, confident way, will show that you know what you are talking about, and mean serious business. Hopefully, this will get you taken more seriously by the sceptics, and might even inspire the friendlier housemates to try a vegan dish or two.
- Negotiate use of the top shelf of the fridge. Trust me, there is nothing worse than being assigned a lower shelf and waking up to find that dairy milk has dripped down onto your vegetables, tofu and soygurt!
- Promptly communicate your comfort level for handling animal products. If you are the property owner, or rent on equal terms as the other residents, don't be afraid to state what you are comfortable with, and agree on reasonable rules. It's best to do this quickly upon moving in, before too many incorrect assumptions can be made. For example, you might be willing to have meat in the house, as long as you aren't contributing financially to its presence and the suffering it represents, whilst an adult equally may tell their partner that no non-vegan products are welcome at any time. If you are a minor, or staying with friends or relatives rent-free, you won't be able to enforce major rules, but try to make some agreements, such as that vegans need not wash up pans in which meat has been cooked, before arguments arise.
- Label your food and possessions. You might not need this one, as you hopefully live with people who don't, 'borrow,' without permission! Yet if your style of sharing is of an open variety, and it's agreed that housemates can use and replace each others' things without specific permission, vegan items need marking. A well-meaning friend or sister might take your falafel wrap in a hurry, without realising that you can't just make a new wrap using the chicken and mayonnaise from her part of the fridge.
- Be prepared to buy your own cleaning products. If washing-up liquid, laundry detergent and other such products are bought communally, it might be difficult to convince your flatmates to purchase items which have not been tested on animals, as unfortunately, these tend not to be the cheapest. Again, as a homeowner you might be able to put your foot down on this point, but in a flatshare situation, the easiest way to avoid conflict may be to buy, or even make, your own products. As a non-earning minor, do your best to politely inform the decision-makers about the horrors of vivisection, but if this is something you ultimately need to compromise on, don't lose heart. When you live independently and have a little more money, you'll be able to take charge of your veganism to a greater extent, and anyway, we are all simply doing our best, and that's what matters.
Photograph courtesy of stevenearnshaw, used under the terms of the Creative Commons license.