Talking about veganism with omnivores isn’t always the most fun thing to do.
Whether it’s because of stereotypes about vegans being militant, defensiveness from both sides about respective lifestyle choices, or the awkward moment when you have to turn down food, these conversations can be difficult. However, if you are a vegan, you’re guaranteed to have these types of conversations. A lot of them.
Have Compassion For Omnivores
Lucky for you, you’re on a website with the tagline “Non-judgmental Vegan Living.” You’re at the right place. The best way to avoid negative conversations with omnivores is to approach your interactions with a level head. When you go out of your way to vehemently defend your choice to be vegan, others begin to wonder whether you’re trying to convince them, or yourself. Being genuinely confident, happy and proud (not boastful) of your decision to be vegan is one of the most convincing signals for meat-eaters.
Some omnivores tend to approach vegans with a lot of defensiveness, since the idea of veganism is a threat to the lifestyle that they’ve been practicing their entire lives. The aggression can get pretty old. However, we have to try to have some compassion.
Put yourself in their shoes: It’s scary to think that, not only have you been contributing to the harm of thousands of animals each year (likely without even thinking about it, since eating meat is so institutionalized in our society), but that you’ve also likely caused your own health to be damaged by your diet. And not only that, this harmful diet is something that’s been promoted by almost everyone you trust — your parents, your society, and even the government.
It’s a lot to come to terms with. So, it’s natural that meat eaters will do their very best to defend their choice. No one likes to admit when they’re wrong, especially on such a large scale. This is why even doctors can give vegans a hard time, while the hospitals they work in serve food that’s making sick patients even sicker. Social conditioning is extremely powerful.
Although it can be a challenge to stay calm when someone is attacking the lifestyle that you know does so much good, it’s worth taking a deep breath and reconsidering the goals you have for the conversation. Would you rather prove your point, or do something that helps more animals?
It’s true that asking vegans to curb their attitude can come off as tone policing. However, veganism is about doing the greatest good. Having an open and friendly attitude about your lifestyle (even when others don’t) does more good for animals than defensiveness ever will.
You won’t convert every omnivore, but here are some pointers for dealing with some of the ones who are close to you.
It makes sense that veganism is something we’d like to talk about — it’s important! However, it’s a good idea to consider how much you bring the topic up in conversation. Think about it from this perspective: how would you feel about someone who felt the need to bring up how important eating meat was to them every time you hung out? Probably not that great.
While the reasons we have for wanting to talk about veganism are different than the reasons someone has for bringing up eating meat, the intention isn’t really what matters — it’s the impact that makes a difference. The impact of constantly bringing up veganism in conversation is that it gives people a very specific, negative impression of the vegan cause. Regardless of if you have your own anecdotal, positive experience with vegans (this makes some sense — you are likely also a vegan), veganism does have a bad reputation among many omnivores. Even if the stereotypes about vegans are not true, it is true that people believe them.
Make it a challenge to yourself to only bring up veganism when someone else wants to talk about it. It might be difficult at first, but you’ll likely find that the conversations you do have generally end up being much more positive.
If someone doesn’t agree with veganism, you likely won’t convince them to change by bringing it up the next time you see them with a hot dog in their hand. You wouldn’t appreciate someone using your tofu lunch as a reason to criticize your dietary choices.
Vegans have some footwork to do for the animals we want to help, and that sometimes means letting go of our emotions about veganism objectively. The objective fact is that research shows there are effective ways to debate. Take a page from business negotiation tactics: don’t make the debate about you and the other person, and don’t get dragged into personal attacks. Stay focused on the issues.
It’s also a good idea to learn how to vet the people who try to engage you in conversation. It’s important to identify someone who isn’t looking to learn and is really looking to prove you wrong. While it might feel great to dive into an argument with someone who’s adamantly anti-vegan, the truth is that if that person isn’t willing to learn, you likely will neither change their mind, nor help the cause or reputation of veganism.
It’s better to respond this way:
“This is my choice to make. My choice doesn’t impact you, or your ability to continue enjoying the foods you’d like to eat. I have lots of reasons to eat and live the way that I do, and if you’d like to talk about them I’d be happy to explain. Unless you’re open to listening to the information that has lead me to make this choice, I’d rather talk about something else right now.”
Bringing In Friends And Family
Parents and family can be some of the toughest critics when it comes to our personal dietary and lifestyle choices. Maybe it has to do with the fact that they feel like a decision not to eat meat is a personal critique on their parenting. After all, it’s a big statement to make that eating animal products causes a whole host of health issues when your parents probably fed them to you for many, many years.
Friends can also be tough. It can be difficult for some people to come to terms with the idea that your own decision to not eat animal products and your personal opposition to eating meat isn’t the same as a judgement on them about their decisions. That’s why it’s important — both for your relationships with others and for the vegan cause — to prove to them that it’s not. Show them that your choice comes from a place of compassion, both towards the animals and towards the people, who also suffer from the effects of consuming animal products.
Share your knowledge and keep your heart open. We all start on our journey to veganism somewhere, and we all would be better off with more compassion and understanding in the world. It helps all vegans when it’s a collective goal to work together to create a welcoming community of individuals committed to reducing suffering. What’s most important is that we continue to do the best we can for those that don’t have the means to help themselves.