Telling the fam
I’ll admit it — I was a little nervous about “coming out” to my parents as vegan. Granted, they had always been really supportive of my various big announcements in the past, including when I switched to vegetarianism, but… we are all huge foodies. I was really worried that my decision to be vegan would mean that we couldn’t enjoy any of the wonderful restaurants and home-cooked meals together that had always been a hallmark of my visits home.
And my folks might’ve been a little nervous, too — it’s unnerving to find out that your kid is only eating lettuce now. But thankfully they were troopers, and by the next time I saw them, I had figured out some ins and outs of veganism that actually expanded our culinary adventures.
Without going vegan, I don’t think we ever would’ve tried and embraced Ethiopian food, which is now one of our favorite cuisines. While we may have stopped frequenting a restaurant or two that didn’t have any good veg options, in their stead are the new and fabulous veg-friendly places that we sought out (if you’re ever near Louisville, KY, don’t leave until you’ve eaten at Dakshin). And it turned out that plenty of the places we already loved had great vegan options — I just hadn’t realized that the things I was eating there had been vegan-friendly all along. We still cooked together at home and prepared fabulous food, but now it was things like an absurdly creamy clamless chowder, or other delicious imaginative stuff that we might never have tried cooking otherwise.
Granted, not everybody’s family is going to be supportive. It’s a bummer, but it’s true. In particular, guys often endure a lot of hassling and teasing, since American culture obnoxiously equates meat eating with traditional notions of masculinity.
And while it’s easy to say, “Hey, those are their hang-ups, not yours — just pay them no mind,” ignoring the harshness and hassling can be really hard to do in practice.
Personally, I’ve seen a few things go badly for new vegans. While it’s tempting to get defensive, raise one’s voice, or start listing out gory facts when you’re under attack, in my experience this typically makes the problem worse, and the antagonistic family member just feels more validated and unmoved in his or her anti-vegan sentiments.
How everybody deals with these obstacles will depend on their personal family dynamics. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to try to divert, deflect, and move on to another subject. Or if they’re in a “talky” family, maybe the vegan could say something like, “I had hoped that you would support this decision, because it’s really important to me. But if you don’t support it, I can accept that. Let’s just please move on to something else.” Or, if all else fails, maybe they can make themselves seem more relatable by pointing out that whenever Peter Dinklage eats a sausage on Game of Thrones, it’s actually a veggie sausage.
Gatherings can be tricky, but usually they turn out not to be. If I’m headed to a holiday meal, cookout, or potluck, I typically just make sure that I bring something I can have, with enough to share with others. That way I’m not forcing anyone else to change what they’d normally do, and usually people are pretty curious to try whatever vegan thing I bring. (Especially if I pitch it with this level of enthusiasm.)
That said, it can get a little awkward when you have to turn down your aunt’s famous Jello salad. But usually vegans can navigate this without making a big fuss. After all, these days most families have someone with an allergy, or diabetes, or other situation that affects what they eat at a gathering, so you probably won’t be the only one who politely passes on a thing or two.
But sometimes vegans do find themselves in a bad situation where people just won’t stop teasing them. It’s sad when this happens, but typically I find that if I just take it in an even-keeled way, rather than blowing up, most people only have two or three vegan jokes, and once they run out, they’ll get bored and move on to something else.