Eating out socially as a vegan is certainly an experience that you might find challenging at first. We live in a society where meat and/or dairy are included in almost everything-almost. We, as vegans, make up a very small percentage of people overall in the world (about 2-3%), but that number is growing fast as people are becoming more and more aware of the serious health, climate, and animal issues associated with eating animal protein. Restaurants are even starting to mark their menus with labels such as “vegetarian” and “vegan”, and waiters and staff typically understand what those words mean these days. But, despite this, it’s still a way of life that is foreign territory to a lot of people-especially in America. My sister and I find that at almost any social or dinner table setting that we are in (including just being at work around people, eating in a group, or even with family and friends), our way of eating comes up. This is great because we love the way we eat and we certainly enjoy talking about how great we feel both physically and spiritually living this way. This conversation can go a few different ways though-and all too often it can get uncomfortable-especially for a new vegan. Most people ask questions out of sincere curiosity, but others will ask questions with antagonistic and sarcastic undertones-or overtones actually. Some people can get downright rude or ugly. We’ve experienced it all and have figured out ways to handle each situation as gracefully as we can.We’d like to share with you our game-plan and talk about certain things that can come up when peple find out you are vegan.
Where to Eat
If you have any control over where you will be eating out at, know in advance some options where you know that you can easily find vegan food. For instance, I keep a list in my phone of all the restaurants that my husband and I like to eat out at and where we can find good food that we enjoy. Whenever we plan a dinner date or something social involving food, we can quickly reference and suggest a bunch of different places. If the decided upon place is new to us, we’ll check out the menu online or call ahead of time asking if they can accommodate us the way that we eat. 98% of the time, they can and happily do. Upscale restaurants seem to be the most accommodating, as a good chef should have a few vegetable-based dishes on hand that he can whip up for instances like this that do come up, moreso these days than ever, I imagine.
Most restaurants today have around one to five vegetarian options already on their menu. And, like I said above, most places are very accommodating and can alter their menu items to not include any animal products at all. Our cousin Bonnie suggests, as she stated in a previous post, to tell your waiter that you have a food allergy-such as to dairy or eggs. This can better ensure yourself that the restaurant will do their best to not include it in your meal. If you end up going somewhere where your food options are limited, most places can at least steam up some vegetables and make you a basic salad, or remove the meat/cheese/egg from a salad order for you. When ordering, we try to be as easy and friendly as possible, not trying to make a huge fuss over the food. We really prefer to make everyone at the table feel comfortable.
Happy, Healthy Conversations
When people ask general questions about veganism out of curiosity, this usually leads to a very healthy, happy conversation. Most will ask you what exactly you eat or where you get your protein, etc. So we answer them. A lot of times, as you can imagine, this conversation takes place over plates of food-most of which have some kind of animal or animal by-product on them. People seem to be very curious and pay special attention to what we order. We do our best to be respectful of others as they eat, and if they ask questions that could lead to a gruesome explanation, we try to warn them as they chew or tell them that we would love to discuss it with them away from the table. This sort of thing, if handled aggressively, could be the first and last time your friends ask you questions about this-so you’re possibly closing a window of knowledge to them by immediately going into the horrors that the animal farming industry is. A lot of times, we will simply sum it up by saying that it is a true nightmare and that we would encourage them to do their own research that is readily available on the web, in documentaries, and in books.
Aside from that, most always, we hear things like ‘Well, I could never give up my (fill in the blank with cheese, milk, butter, or some kind of animal)!”And I believe that people truly feel this way because I used to feel that way about cheese-until I educated myself on it and overcame the addiction. So we like to acknowledge them on it and talk about our own personal experiences about it. This is a healthy conversation that could plant a seed in someone’s head and maybe, down the line, they’ll start to make healthier decisions for themselves. Between my sister and I, we can’t tell you how many times we’ve realized that we have influenced someone else in a healthy direction-which feels awesome!
While it’s intimidating being the center focus on such a personal issue, we really want to give people a positive feeling about this because we know that it can help a lot in so many ways. As a rule of thumb, we try to maintain ourselves at what we call being “Happy Herbivores” versus “Angry Vegans”. We feel this will inspire more people to be open about and to our lifestyle.
Sarcasm and Antagonism
I read somewhere that Ellen Degeneres’ wife, Portia De Rossi, once said that she caught more flack when she went vegan versus when she came out as a lesbian. I totally believe her too because of the amount of additional flack we caught when we simply switched from vegetarian to vegan. When we encounter people who just want to poke at us or make fun of the way we eat, we can see them coming a mile away. There’s generally a cockiness about them and an “I know more than you and I’m about to show everyone” attitude. These people aren’t interested in learning more or opening up to us, they’re just bullies who, for some reason, think making fun of someone else will justify their actions and the way they eat or live their lives. We used to feel the need to get into arguments or fight back at these kinds of people, but we just don’t even take it up anymore. It goes no where and that bully gets a free show. I remember one time, Jason and I were out with some friends and a friend of theirs showed up who we’d never met. He overheard someone else asking me questions about why I eat the way I do and felt the need to jump in and start bashing me. He ended up looking like the jerk because I didn’t take him up on his sarcasm. I do remember one thing he said. He mimicked a baby voice to me saying “Oh I dont eat anything that’s alive waah”… How rude, right?! My only response to him was, in an easy, relaxed voice, “My food is alive. You’re the one eating a dead carcass.” And done. What else could he say? But you see what I mean? I promise, you might encounter this rudeness but just don’t give it much or any attention. It isn’t worth stressing yourself over it.
Basically, what we have found that works best for us in social settings is to answer whatever questions, posed by a friendly source, that you are comfortable answering. Try to stay calm and simple about things-leaving there something to be wanted or learned from whoever is asking. Direct them to a great blog or movie about it. (See our suggestions at the bottom of our FAQ page). It can be hard, but try not to overwhelm people with info and stats and facts etc. because that’s definitely a turn-off (unless someone corners you and is begging for info. This happens too thankfully! 🙂 )
Here are 2 blog posts by Lindsay Nixon (The Happy Herbivore) that we find
very helpful in dealing with the social aspects of talking about eating a plant-based diet.