One of the reasons I started posting on here is because I wanted to get my head straight before facing my family over the seasonal holidays (thanks to those of you who humoured me!). My Dad’s girlfriend is an ex-social worker and gave me some useful people-skills hints. I thought I would collate some of my thoughts and experiences here, just in case anybody else out there is having similar problems with family and friends. Please don’t sue me if these ideas don’t work out for you! I’m not an expert! And I’m hoping some of you will add your own.
It’s a phase. This is incredibly offensive, but some family like to think this! It’s easier than accepting that you’ve made a life decision that differs from theirs. By staying calm, logical and talking sensibly, you will (eventually) talk them round. They will probably be quite supportive if you can show you’ve put some thought into it! Do some reading round and have answers ready for some of the questions you’ll hear (Where do you get your protein? What’s wrong with eating farmed animals?). Try not to get angry; instead talk with passion about your reasons for choosing vegetarianism: do you object to the ethics of killing an animal, or modern methods of farming, or have a religious/spiritual/health reason? Try to listen to others and learn from them - they may have a point. If an argument gets heated and you don’t have an answer, just say “that’s interesting: I’ll definitely go and look it up.” Some people will get defensive and assume you are trying to convert them, so it often helps to smooth things over if you point out that it is your life-choice, and you don’t expect them to change (then lead by example - you may find them cutting down on meat a few months down the line anyway!)
Emotional reasoning. This is when somebody hears your logical arguments, panics, and doesn’t listen to a word! They are uncomfortable with what you’re saying, especially if it’s very scientific, are convinced they will never understand it, and start to make judgements based on their emotional responses. (This is a layman’s interpretation, there’s some more scientific information through wikipedia). People like this may counter with arguments like “you’re not being normal” or “natural,” or try to find an ulterior motive (are you anorexic? are you trying to impress a boy/girl at school?) The more you try to use logical arguments with a person like this, or provide them with information, the more they’ll panic and the less they’ll take in! They will see you becoming agitated by the situation, and this will reinforce their belief that you are making yourself miserable for some incomprehendable reason! The solution is to try and use emotional arguments back: point out that you are happy as a vegetarian/vegan, and talk about what you feel the advantages are (do you feel healthier? are you thinking more clearly? do you have a clearer conscience?)
If someone is panicking too much to even have a conversation, it can be worth providing a written pack of leaflets, recipies and downloaded information. They may never read it, but they can’t say you haven’t tried!
What do you eat? It’s easy to define vegetarianism/veganism by what you don’t eat (meat and dairy), but this can sound rather extreme to someone who routinely eats meat! It can be particularly upsetting for close family or friends, who may attach emotional importance to providing you with food. For example, if your family get together over a Sunday roast, they may see you becoming vegetarian as rejection, or even a threat or attack. They may only feel able to provide you with a plate of soggy vegetables or limp salad, and feel guilty. A good solution is to show some enthusiasm for foods that you do like. If someone is making a roast dinner, I ask them to make a nut roast on the side (the dried ones are cheap and easy to make, so it doesn’t inconvenience them too much). Have a chat with friends over a pot of sorbet, a platter of mezze and hummus, or some fine dark chocolate. A lot of world cooking is vegetarian or lends itself to being easily adapted, so perhaps you could throw a themed meal or party? If your family really aren’t interested in humouring you, try cooking for them (I’ve heard stories of people serving soy mince to their carnivorous parents, and actually being complimented on the result!)
Starving yourself. It can seem like a cruel trick, when someone refuses to respect your eating habits, forces you to pick at left-over boiled veg, then tells you that you’re not eating properly! It doesn’t hurt to point out that they’re being obtuse. I’ve had a handful of people suspect me of being anorexic or suffering some obsessive eating disorder (I’m never sure if they’re trying to scare me out of being vegetarian, or are genuinely concerned because they don’t understand nutrition). I’ve found the best rebuttal is an enormous serving of my vegan Spaghetti Bolognese!
Image. Unfortunately, there are a lot of prejudices and assumptions about being vegetarian or vegan. It’s traditionally linked to an alternative lifestyle (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). For some reason, certain people associate drug use, or political or sexual subversion, with vegetarianism (though I can’t think why!). Or they start expecting you to run away with some demonic brain-washing head vegan! Religion sometimes rears its head (again, I don’t know why). They may be worried that you will jeopardise your chances of getting into college or getting a job, or affect their own professional reputations. I find it’s worth challenging these assumptions early on, stating why YOU are vegan and what that encompasses for you. We don’t all live barefoot and pregnant in mud huts! You will inevitably mix with new people and discover new ideas, so try to talk these over; you might learn some interesting things about your family, or they might have some good reasons for disagreeing with you. If they refuse to be reasonable, point out that it’s them driving you apart, not your lifestyle.
And if you’ve found a demonic head-vegan to elope with, well done you!
Being positive. If family and friends have interests that conflict with you being vegetarian (going shopping for woolly hats and macdonald’s!), or are still not understanding you, try to include your friends and family in, say, shopping for vegan foods or clothes. And try to make it a pleasurable experience (a trip to a market, hippy town or a farm shop?), instead of a trawl round high street shops that don’t stock these goods anyway!
There is more to life. If you are being relentlessly and constantly attacked, try pointing out that you have other interests too! Invite them on a bike-ride or a trip to the cinema!
Be true to yourself. I endured a couple of years of eating dairy just to keep other people happy. I thought I was being polite and compromising. All it achieved was that they thought they had “won” over my latest ridiculous fad; it became like a game to spoil me by putting cheese or white coffee in front of me and sending me off the rails. I had lost my integrity: everyone fully expected me to give up my “silly diet” and return to being the person I used to be. If your friends and family really care about you, they will not want to put you through this emotional turmoil! You may need to be quite bloody-minded and stubborn (there are only so many ways to explain to mother that a cheese pizza is NOT vegan!) but people do form a certain respect for you if you stick to your guns.