As a card carrying introvert, I do not always navigate social situations with the grace of a gazelle. However, after living vegan for a few years, I have finally crafted my responses to the most common questions posed by omnivores (aka omnis) to vegans. Vegans and omnis can be great friends, just as long as they don’t say these 11 things and rephrase their statements and responses in a positive, respectful way. Whether you’re a vegan or an omni, I hope the following list will be helpful and encouraging!
1. Don’t you miss bacon?
Interpretation (and my usual socially unacceptable response): No. I am not lying around tucked into my bed having dreams of dancing bacon strips above my head.
The Facts: Why do you crave bacon? On an emotional level, there may be some part of me that finds nostalgic comfort in my childhood Saturday mornings when my parents would cook up a big breakfast, and we’d sit around the table playing cards. On a biological level, however, bacon is a fatty, salty meat. Your body may be craving it because humans have an evolutionary biological response to survive and to do so efficiently in order to conserve energy. Salt is essential for bodily function and fat is a dense source of dietary energy and is the quickest and easiest way to ensure energy . The problem comes when it’s consumed in large amounts, aka a large plate of bacon.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: I have explored many wonderful bacon alternatives such as smoked tempeh, but I usually opt for satisfying seasoned grilled vegetables with a side of toast and sesame oil.
Omni Rephrase: I would like to understand more about your lifestyle; I am curious if there are any meats that you ever find yourself craving.
2. I could never give up cheese.
Interpretation: Are you commending my will power or admitting you’re addicted to cheese?
The Facts: Cheese does actually contain traces of morphine (hypothesized to soothe a calf). Casomorphins (which have an effect similar to opiates) are produced when the body digests casein, a milk protein. Cheese is higher in casomorphins than milk because cheese is denser and thus more concentrated. There are alternative ways to obtain calcium that are lower in fat and calories than cheese such as spinach, kale, beans, and calcium fortified grains.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: I do remember cheese being delicious, but I enjoy many great tasting vegan cheeses. Baked almond feta is one of my favorites actually! I get most of my daily recommended calcium intake (1200mg) from spinach, kale, and beans; one cup of beans has about 150mg of calcium.
Omni Rephrase: I’m thinking about living a vegan lifestyle, but I think cheese would be one of the hardest things for me to give up because I love it and eat it nearly every day. Could you tell me a little more about cheese alternatives?
3. You’re vegan? I thought you’d be skinnier.
Interpretation: Wait, did you just call me fat? Maybe if this restaurant had something vegan on the menu other than fried dill pickles and a side house salad…
The Facts: Many unhealthy foods can still be vegan—tempura (fried vegetables) is high in fat and calories, condiments can be high in calories, vegan baked goods can be high in sugar. As with any person’s diet, it’s all about moderation and good choices.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: Like most meals, moderation is key. For example, I have been known to indulge in Friday night French fries (which are vegan), and one of my hobbies is vegan baking so I tend to eat a lot of vegan cupcakes high in sugar. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t consume my fair share of fruits and vegetables. I eat for health and longevity, rather than a number on a scale.
Omni Rephrase: In the media, vegan lifestyles are commonly associated with health, but like many diets, I assume it is all about moderation. Are there any “unhealthy” vegan foods?
4. Would you be offended if I order the burger?
Interpretation: Yes. Meat is gross and cruel and you are probably going to tell me how delicious it is and how sorry you feel for me.
The Facts: Most of the people around me eat meat on a daily basis; I’m tolerant. In a perfect world, there would be no meat eating, but we can certainly coexist.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: It is your choice, I respect your lifestyle as you respect mine.
Omni Rephrase: I am not quite sure how to approach this subject, I want to be supportive of your lifestyle as well as mine, would it bother you if I ordered a non-vegan item off of the menu?
5. Do you eat fish/eggs/gravy?
Interpretation: Is fish meat?
The facts: Fish is meat. Eggs are unfertilized baby chickens. Gravy is meat juice.
Here are the classifications for the most common human diets:
- Carnivore – Eats meat mainly or exclusively.
- Omnivore – A carnivore that also eats fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, eggs, and dairy.
- Pescetarian – An omnivore that excludes poultry, beef, and pork, but still eats fish.
- Vegetarian – Eats fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, eggs, and dairy.
- Vegan – Eats fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains.
Socially Acceptable vegan Response: As a vegan, I do not eat fish/eggs/gravy. Followed by:
- Seaweed provides an accurate and delicious “fishy” flavor when I’m cooking vegan chowder. To boot, seaweed is a superfood full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
- Applesauce or bananas are a fruitful (pun intended) egg substitute in vegan baking.
- I actually have a great recipe for vegan gravy that I can share with you. I use vegetable stock, tapioca starch, and seasoning.
Omni Rephrase: I would like to learn more about your vegan lifestyle; I’m curious if vegans eat fish/eggs/gravy.
6. Do you cheat sometimes?
Interpretation: As in do I commit the offense of adultery on my husband “Veganism”?
The Facts: While there are many reasons to eat a vegan diet, it’s not Weight Watchers or a fad diet. It’s a whole lifestyle change that takes work and determination.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: I am committed to a vegan lifestyle.
Omni Rephrase: I have heard about the concept of the vegan-flexigan continuum where people choose vegan meals most of the time, and sometimes eat meat. Do you have any thoughts on this concept?
7. You don’t eat meat? So what do you eat? Are you starving all of the time?
Interpretation: Do I nibble on the grass like the rabbits do?
The Facts: The proof is in the chia seed pudding. With so many vegan cookbooks, food blogs, and restaurants, it’s clear vegan cuisine is a fun and beautiful art yielding many satisfying and healthy dishes.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: Though I don’t eat meat, I’m hardly ever hungry. I may not eat certain foods, but veganism has introduced me to a whole plethora of foods and exotic cuisines I never knew existed. Last night, for example, I ate grilled polenta, portabella mushroom ragout sauce, and asparagus, drizzled with garlic sunflower seed pesto.
Omni Rephrase: I would like to understand more about your lifestyle; could you tell me more about a typical vegan meal?
8. Where do you get your protein?
Interpretation: So you think meat is the only earthly thing containing protein? Where do you think animals get their protein?
The Facts: I’ve never met an elephant I didn’t think was big and strong; elephants are vegan. My United States Marine Corps Sergeant husband is vegan. A person’s recommended daily protein intake depends on weight and calorie intake. A rough average for humans is about 45-55 grams per day. Some plant-based sources of protein include: 1 cup of soybeans = 29 grams of protein, 1 cup of lentils = 18 grams of protein, 1 cup of chickpeas=15 grams of protein, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter=8 grams of protein, 1 cup of broccoli= 4 grams of protein.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: There are many plant-based sources of protein. I get most of my protein from lentils, beans, quinoa, nuts, seeds, spinach, and broccoli.
Omni Rephrase: I would like to understand more about your lifestyle. Could you tell me about some plant-based sources of protein?
9. Can’t you just peel off the meat?
Interpretation: Are you telling me to stop being fussy?
The facts: This situation most often happens in restaurants when ordering a meal sans meat. It’s important because, chances are, whatever you order — a sandwich, a salad, etc.— will be contaminated with meat juice and flavor. The same goes for cheese, mayo, and other non-vegan ingredients. While a dietary restriction isn’t the same as an allergy, many vegans would like their food to be handled with the same caution of cross-contamination. While being vegan is certainly not about being perfect, these kinds of situations can make a vegan feel vulnerable and, sometimes, defensive.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: Pardon me, kind waiter, there was a mix up with my order; would you mind making me a new one? I would really prefer to stay away from meat all together.
Omni Rephrase: I apologize for the oversight. I will make you a new sandwich.
10. Do you want to come over for a barbecue? I’ll make an iceberg lettuce salad for you.
Interpretation: Because nothing is more delicious, nutritious and filling than iceberg lettuce…
The Facts: Vegans can barbecue it up too! Grilled vegetables are a vegan barbecue staple. If you’re looking for even more ideas, check out Grilling Vegan Style.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: Thank you! If I brought some chopped potatoes, green peppers, onions, and tin foil, could we throw that on the grill too?
Omni Rephrase: I would like to invite you over for a barbecue, but I’m unfamiliar with vegan cuisine. Can you suggest a few items that I could make, and would you mind bringing a side dish to share?
11. Oh look! The vegetarian options are pasta with Alfredo sauce or a tuna salad sandwich.
Interpretation: Besides the fact that my insides would probably explode as a lactose intolerance sufferer, dairy is not vegan (and neither is fish).
The Facts: Although your friend was trying to be helpful by noticing “vegetarian” options, neither was vegan. Many people don’t understand the difference between vegetarian and vegan diets, so refer back to #5 regarding diet classifications. Alfredo sauce contains butter, cheese, and heavy cream, which vegans do not eat. As previously mentioned in #5, fish is meat and is neither suitable for vegetarians or vegans. There are plentiful alternatives to accommodate for vegan living.
Socially Acceptable Vegan Response: Thank you, but I’ll have the side salad with no dressing (and sneak into the bathroom to gnaw on the emergency granola bar I stashed in my purse).
Omni Rephrase: I am not very familiar with the vegan diet, would you please suggest a restaurant that accommodates both of our diets?
Stay tuned for the second part of this series, where I’ll answer other pressing omni questions such as:
How come you don’t feel bad about killing plants?
It’s not like you’re the one killing the cow.
You’re not going to preach to me, are you?
Oh, so are you one of those tree huggers?
Doesn’t my burger look delicious? C’mon, just take one bite…