Due to the nature of my career and having relocated several times, I‘ve met a lot of people, many of whom, either immediately or later, want to talk about the philosophy.
Depending on the context, my fellow vegans either say, "Me too," and leave it at that, chat about the best shops and restaurants in town, share info about demonstrations, or engage in discussion and debate about different motivations, challenges, and benefits, or animal rights in general. Whilst I don‘t automatically get along with every vegan I know, frequently these conversations prove interesting and enjoyable, and even the more tense ones are productive in that I learn to argue for, and strengthen my own views.
Non-vegans react or comment in a huge variety of ways, ranging from the understanding and genuinely interested, to those who make me want to bang my head against a wall! Over the last fifteen years though, there have been a few questions which seem to crop up more than others, albeit in varying tones of voice. Here are a few that come to mind, and how I tend to handle them, though of course, context is everything, and there are no 'stock answers'.
Why am I vegan? Well, to be blatantly honest, I cannot remember! I‘d been vegetarian for five years for animal rights reasons, was highly passionate about the environment, and had recently become more concerned about my fitness. Somehow this all came together, not completely consciously, and one day I just woke up and realised that veganism makes sense. How could I ever have lived any other way?
This story isn‘t really concrete enough to satisfy some questioners though, so I usually say something along the lines of my decision being primarily for animal rights, but also for environmental and health reasons. If the person politely asks for further explanation about any of these factors, such as how eating meat harms the environment, I‘ll be happy to answer. However, if I can tell that the person has utter contempt for veganism, I might replace the initial statement with, "Why not?" which can lead to debate. Yes, it can also lead to being sneered at, but those people, unfortunately, aren‘t likely to be convinced by me anyway.
2. "How long have you been vegan?"
Sometimes asked out of general interest, but sometimes used to imply I am going through a phase. Answering truthfully, which surprises doubters, makes me proud!
3. "What do you eat?"
Whilst it might be tempting to reply, 'food,' this tends to be context-specific, and can mean things like, "What do you do for lunch when the work canteen has no vegan options?" or, "How do you ensure that you get enough B12?" Again, respectful questions deserve respectful answers, but I admit that I sometimes get speechless as the notion of vegans being stuck for food is luckily a distant memory. A similar question is, "Is it easy in [a place famous for its meat-based cuisine]?" to which I‘m fortunate enough to usually be able to say yes. I‘d be interested to read comments from those who have to say no, with whether that leads to productive conversations.
4. "Do you miss cheese/fish/ice-cream/bacon?"
Animal versions? No! But for those who do miss the taste or texture, there are plant-based versions of dairy items, as well as a wide range of mock meats. Perhaps there will be lab-grown meat before long, which is a whole other discussion, but anyway, knowledge of the suffering of other species can go a long way in overriding the odd craving.
5. "Do you wear leather?"
I heard this a lot as a teenager, with people assuming that my veganism was a front for an eating disorder, or a fad diet, rather than a philosophy that covers all ways of life. As I‘ve gotten older, the question relates more to second-hand leather, and the issue of using up, donating or throwing away materials of animal origin purchased prior to becoming vegan. Personally, I‘ve always been happy to discuss this, as long as the person asking does not use any sarcastic comments in order to try and prove something, "is not really vegan."
6. "Do you eat meat if it comes out of a tin?" / "The egg in these biscuits isn‘t noticeable, won‘t you try one?" / "How often do you cheat?"
These are all real questions which I have encountered, and I always wonder what my facial expression looks like upon hearing them! The implication is that veganism involves a sacrifice, that can, or deserves to, be compromised upon now and again, in the same way that someone eliminating sugar for non-medical reasons might occasionally indulge in a treat. Firstly, I would not call animal products a treat, but in any case, I explain that my right to eat something would not trump the rights of countless others to liberation from pain, slavery, and exploitation. Some freegans, or persons transitioning to veganism, may consume a limited amount of animal products, but I‘m inclined to say that it‘s better to err on the side of caution and assume that is not the case unless told otherwise. In my experience, most people ask questions like this out of innocent ignorance, not malice, so it‘s good to politely set the record straight for the sake of their future dinner guests.
7. "Do you partake in [a certain adults-only act]?"
The day someone is interested in a discussion about consent and exploitation, rather than juvenile jokes, is the day I may respond otherwise than asking why they feel this is appropriate. Unfortunately, that has not yet happened, but you never know…
Of course, the malicious comments are hurtful, and repeating the same information can be frustrating. On the other hand, though, every question posed out of genuine interest provides a great opportunity to spread knowledge and about veganism and bust some of its attributed myths.
Image courtesy of Eric, used unchanged under the Creative Comments license (CC BY-ND 2.0).