So, you’ve got yourself a vegan friend, family member, or partner. It can be tough to know how to react to their veganism and how to behave toward them — heck, “vegan” even sounds like they’re from some alien planet.
Step 1: Deep breath. Don’t worry. Vegans don’t bite (animals). It’ll be ok.
Step 2: Basically, just treat them normally. It can seem like being around a vegan is going to be complicated or weird, but usually it isn’t.
That said, sometimes people’s behavior can miss the mark. So here are a few pitfalls to avoid when interacting with the vegans in your life.
Basic human decency
While one would hope that this “tip” wouldn’t be necessary: please remember to treat people, regardless of what they eat, with basic human decency.
For some reason, people often respond to finding out someone is vegan with really hateful, vicious, spiteful behavior. Look how people felt that it was appropriate to respond to a cute picture of a pig that a vegan posted on social media. Yikes. This is absolutely the norm, to the extent that veg folks have learned to avoid looking at comments altogether (except in vegan forums, where the comments typically just include more pictures of cute pigs! Huzzah!).
In addition to not engaging in this kind of abuse online, please also avoid needlessly hassling vegans in person. Please don’t dangle meat in vegans’ faces (yes, this happens). Please don’t ask “the veeegan” if they want some “baaaacon,” or carry on about how much you looooove eating pig meat. With my white lady privilege, I get to avoid the worst of this, but I’ve seen people be shockingly vicious to vegan dudes.
We do think the whole meat thing is pretty messed up, but we’re biting our tongues. And we have to keep biting our tongues while these people mock us and intentionally do something that they know will make us sad and uncomfortable. That’s not a good way to treat anybody, and it reflects really poorly on the person doing it.
The Vegan Inquisition
I know it’s tempting. Someone you know just told you that they’ve decided to be vegan, and your first reaction is to ask tons of questions, even philosophical stuff like What if vegetables feel pain, too? and If you were trapped on a deserted island, would you eat meat?
It’s always interesting and question-inducing when someone close to us decides to make a big lifestyle change. If someone told you that they were suddenly going to start playing badminton every day, undoubtedly you’d have a bunch of questions for them, too.
And most vegans are glad to participate in The Vegan Inquisition. They’ve thought hard about why they’re making this change, and they’re open to sharing their thoughts with you. However, other people may not be as candid. It could be because they’re tired of answering these same questions over and over again, because they’re worried that you’ll judge them, or because they just don’t feel like being the ambassador of veganism at that given moment.
While you’re certainly allowed to ask, also try to gauge how your friend is reacting. If they’re trying to change the subject, please let them, rather than forcing the issue. While I usually love answering questions and clearing up misconceptions, sometimes talking to people about certain topics (like why I don’t eat cheese) can be really emotionally taxing and get me all choked up — so it’s not an ideal thing to talk about if we’re out for drinks, or heading to see a funny movie.
That’s a big part of why I wanted to create this wiki: to help take some of the burden off Your Personal Vegan in terms of answering all these questions. It’s awesome that you have questions, and please keep asking them! Just be respectful of the fact that your friend isn’t on retainer to address them anytime, anywhere, to the nth degree. If you’re curious about something, you can always check here, too!
Making our veganism about you
I suspect that a big driver of the animosity discussed in the ‘basic human decency’ section above is that people see my personal veganism as a challenge to, or judgment of, their non-veganism.
Granted, I did gain so much from switching to veganism, in terms of mental, physical, and emotional health, and I think others could benefit from it, too. I also think that veganism is more in-line with many people’s values than they realize.
However, this is a personal choice about what I put on my plate. This isn’t about you. You don’t need to make it about you. Doing so results in you being angry, and me being harassed and treated badly. It’s a lose-lose.
So please feel free to ask me about why veganism was a good choice for me, or why I think it’s important. But there’s no need to get angry at me for deciding to live this way. We’re all in the same boat here, just trying to live in the manner that we think is best.
Things you don’t have to do
Good news: there are also things that you don’t have to do!
Ask if it’s ok for you to order meat when we’re at a restaurant.
No need to ask! Just order whatever you want to order.
Asking whether we mind if you order meat kind of puts us in a weird situation, because technically, no — we don’t mind if you order meat. You do you! But also technically yes — we do mind, in the sense that we think it would be awesome if people made a different choice.
Look, we know you’re not a vegan, and that you’re not going to order something vegan. So please just go ahead and order what you want.
However, you absolutely can ask to try a bite of ours, or to share a veg-friendly appetizer/side dish. Vegans love showing off the fact that vegan food tastes good, so we’ll jump at the opportunity.
Hide the animal products in your house if we’re visiting.
Similarly to the restaurant situation: we know that you aren’t vegan, and that you’re going to have non-vegan stuff at your house. We know it’s there, whether you hide it or not. While a thoughtful gesture, trying to hide stuff will just make you nervous, and it doesn’t change anything, so there’s no need.
If you want to go above and beyond as a badass host, you can check with your vegan visitor and see if there’s a plant-based item that you can grab for them (soy milk for their coffee, HUMMUS!, etc.). But that’s just extra credit — only if you’re able to and want to. We can fend for ourselves!
Figure out how to cook vegan food.
If you have a vegan staying with you, or if a vegan is coming to your holiday meal, that does not mean that you have to become fluent in cooking vegan food!
Depending on the situation, you can ask the person for recipe suggestions, but more than likely they will volunteer to bring something vegan-friendly for themselves with extra to share, or will offer to help prepare the meal.
If it’s a party situation with snacks set out, don’t worry about providing tons of vegan stuff. Vegans assume that there will be nothing for them, so they’ll either bring something to share or will eat ahead, depending on the situation. So having zero vegan-friendly things is fine. But then again, this also means that just having one thing is amazing, and we will be floored by how awesome and thoughtful you are.
Provide a vegan option at your wedding.
Weddings are so dang hard to plan, and vegans completely understand that throwing dietary restrictions or special entrées into the mix can make things painfully complicated. Whenever I receive a wedding invite whose RSVP card options are beef and chicken, I usually write a little note explaining that we won’t be needing either since we’re vegan, and we understand that could be tricky to accommodate, so there’s no need to arrange something special for us if it’s a hassle.
Don’t worry that it might be awkward for your vegan guests if they don’t have something to eat. First of all, vegans are experts at “pre-eating” or “post-eating” or “hidden purse granola,” so we will find a way to be adequately nourished, no matter what. Secondly, we would hate to find out that, in order to accommodate our vegan meal, the couple had to pay a bunch of money, or that it added significant stress to their wedding planning. That would be terrible! No matter how impolite you fear it might be not to accommodate your vegan friends, we would feel far worse if it turned out that our dietary choices negatively impacted your wedding planning experience. It’s your wedding — do what you gotta do, and we can fend for ourselves!
Luckily a lot of venues and catering services these days are very good at accommodating dietary restrictions, many times at no additional charge, in which case this won’t even be an issue. But if you do run into an issue, and there isn’t a feasible way to provide vegan food, no biggie. Just give your vegan guests a heads-up (so they know not to come hungry), and don’t feel bad. We’re there to celebrate you, not because of the food!
Even mention that we’re vegan.
You don’t have to introduce us as, “Hey, everybody, this is so-and-so. She’s vegan.”
It sounds a little silly, but these situations happen a lot. You don’t have to hide that we’re vegan, but it also isn’t relevant to most situations, so it can get weird when people are constantly forced to focus on that one teeny aspect of who we are.
It would be awesome if instead folks introduced me as, “Hey, everybody, this is so-and-so. She’s one of those people who actually prefers Ringo!” That probably says a lot more than the fact that I’m vegan.
Be vegan yourself.
Of course we’d be happy if more people were vegan. But we also understand that plenty of people aren’t, and aren’t interested in trying it. We get it. Just because we’re vegan and you aren’t, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends, or that we think something’s wrong with you. That would be super weird and hypocritical. So you do your thing, we’ll do ours, and feel free to have some of our hummus if you want some. (For more on this, check out Do vegans hate/judge non-vegans?)