Vegan Social 101: Answering difficult questions

Vegan Social 101: Answering difficult questions

In the last few posts we’ve been debunking the myths surrounding veganism and social situations. After giving you some general tips for being a happy and social vegan, helping you navigate dining out at restaurants, as well as dinner parties, weddings and other events, not to mention enjoying your travels, today we’re approaching a different area regarding socializing and your new eating habits. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but as it turns out, the moment you go vegan, you will be at the receiving end of more questions than you’ll know what to do with. Although some reactions and questions do come with a little dose of anger attached, fortunately this won’t usually be the case. Many times people are just curious, concerned or in many cases actually interested in knowing as much as they can about your new way of eating. When I look back to the first time I met a vegetarian, I remember bombarding her with questions, and it all came from the most loving place of admiration (read about that story here). Trust me when I tell you that questions are rarely meant as a frontal attack, nor is it necessary for you to whip out a PhD in plant based nutrition from your back pocket. It is however one of the greatest opportunities for you to speak your truth, and show people that the word vegan doesn’t equal  ‘alien from another planet who suddenly invaded my friend’. It’s not an opportunity to get up on an almighty horse, and judge down from it, nor is it the chance to spend two hours telling your friends how the cow on their plate died, or preach your new ways for hours on end. Here’s what questions do provide. They provide a chance for you to tell your friends why this change has been so special for you, they provide the opportunity for them to take a peek into what some people know nothing about, and they provide a beautiful new ground where by simply being yourself you might be planting seeds for someone unexpected.

the social aspects of being vegan: Answering difficult questions

If you haven’t been at the receiving end of any of these questions yet, here are some of the ones I got at the beginning and which often show up every now and then with new acquaintances:

Where do you get your protein? (The infamous joke among vegans!)

Where do you get your calcium?

Aren’t you worried about osteoporosis?

Can you get all the nutrients you need by eating a vegan diet?

What do you eat?

Isn’t it difficult to eat out?

Why don’t you eat dairy?

What’s wrong with eggs?

What about the pesticides in vegetables?

Did you know vegetables have feelings too? Why don’t you mind killing them?

What about our canine teeth? Surely they’re there for eating meat!

What about eating cruelty free, hormone free, free range, organic meats, dairy or eggs?

Why is it cruel or bad to eat fish?

Why don’t you spend your energy on other ‘human’ causes?

Can you be athletic if all you’re eating are plants?

Our ancestors ate meat, isn’t that how humans evolved?

Aren’t you disrespecting your cultural traditions?

What about the insects that die in crop production?

Does it bother you that I’m eating meat?

Can pregnant women and children live healthfully on this diet?

Don’t you need super massive willpower to go through with this?

Isn’t it too tempting to eat with non vegans?

If you don’t eat meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, etc. then what do you eat?

and… the biggest question of all:

Why did you decide to become vegan?

I’ve been asked all of these questions (many more than once!), and although you don’t need to go and get a degree in biochemistry, nutrition, agronomy or animal husbandry, I firmly believe you do need to do a little reading, so that you can start debunking myths, be the greatest activist you can be, and plant your seeds now and then. When people (especially family members) see that you’ve done your research and didn’t change your diet on a whim, they’ll be more likely to understand or at least respect your choices.

Debunking myths is a wonderful special thing. Like most things in this high and wide information highway we live in today, ideas and opinions about diet and nutrition circulate with little to no actual facts to back them up. When you do your homework, you can answer questions with the side of things people never tend to hear because this isn’t the traditional way of eating, and because there are political and economic powerhouses behind keeping it that way. Don’t think I’m talking about spending gruelling hours in a library. There are so many incredible books, podcasts, websites and lectures you can start checking out now, and the joy you’ll find behind those pages, videos and episodes will be priceless. You’ll feel validated and in good company, and you’ll have answers to many of the tough questions people ask, not to mention the issues you’re still wondering about.

Books worth reading

So what do I read?

Well, first stop, take a stroll down our ‘I feel like reading’ library, and our ‘I feel like watching’ video recommendation section (including some you can watch online right now!). Next stop, start getting some podcast magic into your life. Some of the leading experts in plant based nutrition have radio shows or podcasts you can listen to on your commute to work or even while you’re cooking or cleaning! Podcasts are wonderful little gems when you go to the right sources. For me, few soruces are as complete as Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s Vegetarian Food for Thought Podcast. Look for it on iTunes and download it to your listening device, or listen online (both for free). We’ll be talking about this amazing woman very soon in the next edition of our rockstar series, but let me just say this: Colleen covers every single question you have ever had about veganism in an eloquent and beautiful way. I’ve cried, laughed and had hundreds of OMG moments while listening to her. Check out more great podcasts in our ‘I feel like watching’ page.

Debunking myths and staying informed is also exactly the reason why I started this blog. I wanted to share everything I was learning and help guide you to my favorite resources, so the different posts you’ll find here are also meant to give you answers to all of these questions. Although we haven’t covered some of the questions on the list yet, today I do want to help you navigate two of the questions I get the most and which might make some a little shell shocked when needing to answer them in front of a table full of people staring at you!

If you don’t eat meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, etc. then what do you eat?

When you explain to people what a vegan eats (or more likely doesn’t eat), you will get the question above as a follow up without fail. With meat, dairy and eggs being at the center of the non vegan table, it’s no wonder our friends and families feel there’s nothing left! For a moment, supress the urge to answer ‘everything else’ and try the following. Ask them a question. Ask them what a normal day of food would look like for them. That way you’ll have a frame of reference as to what is normal food for that person, and you can relate to them a bit better. Tell them about how you might have the same day of eating but veganized: a black bean and shitake burger with all the fixings instead of a regular burger, a big bowl of pasta with a cashew alfredo sauce instead of regular cream, a salad with blackened cajun tempeh or crispy orange tofu instead of chicken. Show them how familiar it can be and find a way to relate to that person. If you feel like going further, then tell them about the wonder that is a grilled tamari portobello mushroom, or a lentil meatloaf with ketchup and mashed potatoes. I find that telling them about my creamy pesto fetuccine with almond cheese is a better way to explain the bounty behind veganism than saying ‘I eat vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and seeds’. To some, this list sounds like crazy granola eating hippies with anemia, even though it’s technically correct. Make it sexy and show them the delicious dishes that make up your vegan table.

Why did you decide to become vegan?

To me, this is by far the most important question and many times the most difficult to answer when the spotlight has been placed upon you and everyone is waiting for your answer. It’s the most difficult because it’s personal, and also because there rarely is just one reason you can wrap up in a pretty little sentence. On the one hand, you don’t want to explain the horrors of factory farming as your friend is digging into a T-bone steak, but on the other, you want to be a rockin’ activist and plant those little seeds or at least open up a subject that some have never even thought about. Personally, I decide what to say and what not to say depending on where I am and who I am with. In most cases, with friends and family, I always speak my truth and tell them that I’m an animal lover, that I started reading about how animals are raised and killed for human consumption, and I just couldn’t eat them anymore. I also say that after my eyes were open, I continued to read and research and found out it was not only healthy enough, but could prevent and reverse most chronic illnesses, and that it’s also one of the most environmentally sound things a person can do. How cool is the vegan trifecta of goodness?! If on the other hand I’m at a gathering where an answer like this isn’t appropriate or I don’t know people that well, I simply tell them that there were many reasons why I made the decision initially. That after reading about these industries I decided to give veganism a try and see if it fit, and that I started feeling so incredible, so healthy and full of energy and so happy about it, that I just kept going and made it a permanent change. With whatever answer I choose to give I always offer to talk about it more later if the person has any questions (and they usually do, and come up to me with a completely different attitude, much more curious and open for a dialogue). I never talk about the difficult topics if my friends or family are eating meat or dairy at that meal, and I always answer as joyfully and honestly as I can.

This is what works for me, a balance between keeping this information as digestible as possible for others, but still opening some minds to the fact that something is seriously wrong and most of us are unaware of it. You need to find what works for you. When you make it about your journey and your great experience, nobody can argue that this isn’t true, speak from what you have felt and gone through and share the love!

Stay tuned for answers to many of the questions above through our posts and recommendations, but in general, I can tell you that if you read a little and stay informed, and speak from your heart without getting angry or upset about people’s reactions, you’ll sail past the inevitable vegan Q&A. Remember that angry responses or comments are usually never about you personally. Relax and enjoy a good debate if it comes to that at all! Plant your little seedlings with love when you can, and be yourself. No one can ever argue with you about your own experiences or about how great you feel about this change.

Read up… speak your truth…  be joyful… share the love!

books on veganism







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