Most vegans know how it feels to be surrounded by people who are different: non-vegans. Although we try to ensure no one feels put down by our lifestyle choice, we still want to inform people – not with the purpose of changing them, but giving them details about what they put in their bodies so they can later decide by themselves whether they want to try it or not, especially since those we speak about it with are those we care about and we want to see them improve their overall health and, as a bonus, help with the fight against environmental destruction and social injustice.
We don’t even have to say much to be thrown in a situation where conflicts may arise. I myself worked in a company whose most prized product was meat… and of course, this relationship didn’t last long. It was mutual. The break-up was easy on my end, but surprisingly difficult for them. Most employees in that company were either making fun of my decision or trying to convert me back to being an omnivore (I had just become a vegetarian a couple of years before joining them and became vegan while working there). I’m sure part of the reason was the type of products sold there, but all the while I knew that explaining to them why I chose that path only stirred up some negative feelings, no matter how I explained it. Several times, it led to fights with co-workers who would at times even lie to try to make their point.
No matter how you explain it, there will always be people who think you are pointing a finger at them. However, there are ways to try to decrease their judgement and maybe, just maybe, have a few will start listening to what you’re saying with an open mind – open enough to try it themselves.
First, remember that we are often considered as crazy, extreme militants. Thank the media for this and, unfortunately, a few vegans who did actually do crazy – or even violent – actions and made it in the news. A first approach to telling people about veganism is to calmly explain that we aren’t all going to try to shove it down their throats. Making sure they feel safe to talk about it with us is a foot in the door.
Second, I chose to only talk about my choices with those that listen. By this, I don’t just mean anyone who accepts to stick around while I explain. I am talking about those that won’t go to any means to argue with you about it and try to make you look like an idiot. There will always be people who just don’t understand, and never will. Steer clear of those because they will never support your choice and may go as far as putting non-vegan ingredients in your food and drinks, thinking that they can make you change back to your old means, or convert you if you were born in a vegan family.
That being said, being patient with those that show a note of interest is the key to opening communication. We can’t make other people become vegan; they are the only ones who can make that decision. It’s also much better for your stress level if you keep your cool.
Second, remember what society teaches everyone, and what is always hidden. Try to view it from their point of view, and from the one you had yourself before becoming vegan. Often – even if it is unjustified – traditions are what matter most to people. So is the way they were taught by society. Try telling a non-vegan registered nurse to stop drinking milk. Or try telling a man who believes meat is his identity that he is the one giving himself his heart condition. The list could go on.
However, this doesn’t mean that you need to be quiet about it. Mentioning why eating veal is wrong does nothing more than tell the one who is about to dive into their veal parmesan what the consequences of their actions are. If they don’t believe you, they can look it up. If they don’t care, don’t insist. But if they agree to talk about it, don’t be judgemental. Stick with the facts, and try to avoid making them feel guilty.
One more way to deal with our anger at those who will never chose to listen is to become an activist. You can join an organisation, research and post online, or write. As we are all doing here.