Recently I was asked how long I've been vegan, and after calculating that it has been just over thirteen years, I thought it was about time to reflect on the personal journey that I've taken during this time. Looking back, I now see that many of my original perceptions regarding how to talk to people about veganism have changed. Whilst my desire not to participate in the exploitation of non-human animals remains as strong as ever, I've certainly learned some important lessons along the way:
- No two vegans are alike. A fellow vegan won't necessarily become my best friend, and that's ok, because we are all individuals. Likewise, vegans aren't always on the same page when it comes to politics, music, or parenting philosophies, and I now try to take the time to get to know each person, rather than reducing their personality and identity to veganism alone.
- Support (or a lack of) can come from surprising sources. A professor who teaches animal ethics won't necessarily remember to provide a vegan option at a welcome event, whilst a meat-eater might jump in to defend vegans when a restaurant refuses to customise an item. Counting on specific persons for support can lead to disappointment, so rather than making assumptions, it's best to talk openly to find out people's opinions on vegan issues.
- There are no, 'one size fits all,' answers. Just as people choose to become vegan for a variety of reasons, others are motivated differently to ask questions about veganism. „What do you eat?“ can be asked out of general curiosity, ignorance, a desire to sneer at a perceived, 'extreme,' diet, or a potential vegan's wish to educate themselves further. Rather than have a stock answer prepared, it is necessary to pay attention to the context of the question, and answer accordingly, hopefully leaving the asker both unconfused and inspired to find out more. Even if they reject our answers, a show of openness and politeness may still plant the seeds of change, ready to blossom in the future.
- Veganism does not need to be justified, nor must vegans apologise. However, we can help, and we can thank. At first, I was tempted to see myself as an inconvenience to those who had, through choice or not, received the task of cooking for me. Now, rather than saying sorry, I say thank you to my hosts, and where appropriate, offer help and recipe suggestions. Caring about other species is not something to be ashamed of, and nor should it be a source of conflict between humans. Rather, it can be a conversation starter, and provide cooks with a chance to try new ideas.
- Pity is often well-intended, but misplaced. Yes, I've been pitied for being different from the 'norm,' which has hurt in the past, but mostly, I've encountered a sense of wonder at how I could sacrifice cheese, or make my life so difficult, for the sake of a cause. Firstly, I was offended by this, but I've come to see it as an opening to talk about both my reasons for becoming vegan, and how living as a vegan, in my region at least, is not actually hard at all. Giving persons the benefit of the doubt has led to some fascinating conversations and even friendships; open-mindedness is perhaps the most important lesson of all.
Photograph courtesy of Andreanna Moya Photography. Used in the original format under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.