How to Deal with Non-Vegan Family and Friends

How to Deal with Non-Vegan Family and Friends

“You’re vegan? Why?”

If you’re vegan, I bet you’ve heard this question plenty of times. So how do you answer it?

You could focus on the health reasons: you don’t want to be one of the 2.7 Americans with heart disease, and veganism is demonstrably healthier than an omnivorous or lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. Or perhaps you just can’t look past the ethical or environmental implications. Whatever your reason, be prepared to justify your decision. Over and over and over again.

That’s usually the first reaction to telling a family member or close friend that you’re vegan. They’ve probably witnessed your transition from meat-eater to vegetarian, so it shouldn’t come as a complete shock to them.

But maybe you went from burger connoisseur to tofurkey fanatic overnight, or maybe they’re especially unobservant, or maybe this has been a long-standing argument that they’re just waiting to pick.

non-vegan family and friends - answer their questions

Not the protein question AGAIN!?

Answer their questions.

I know, your reasons for going vegan are probably complicated. It’s not a decision that most make at the drop of a hat. When they ask "why?", answer their question as calmly and succinctly as possible.

It’s an open-ended question, yes, but they don’t actually want to hear the whole answer. Otherwise, you might be accused of “ranting.” So, pick something simple, and answer quickly. If they’re still curious, and they ask further, then feel free to elaborate.

Why this level of caution? In case it’s escaped your notice, vegans don't have the best reputation. No matter what your reasons are for deciding to go vegan, they’ll feel less judged if you don’t continually bring it up.

They don’t want to feel less environmentally-conscious, unhealthy, or less concerned for animals. But, inevitably, when you explain yourself, you’re drawing a comparison between you and who you used to be - an omnivore, like them - and they feel like you’re passing judgment. So, keep it short and sweet unless probed.

non-vegan family and friends - annoyed

This is the face I make at people who annoy me.

Don’t make yourself an inconvenience.

Most people don’t think about the fact that nearly every meal they consume has some sort of meat or animal byproduct in it. Actually, not only are there animal products in the meal, the meal usually centers around meat. This is obviously an issue for omnivores when they invite anyone with a vegan diet over to eat, which makes up a large portion of social interactions.

This can be a bit of a pain on both ends, but you can gently ask what they would prefer. Would they like for you to bring a dish, eat something beforehand, or give them a vegan recipe? If they have a preferred option, go with that, and don’t feel guilty. If you’ve made your dietary choices known, then you’ve done all you can.

non-vegan fast food menu

Typical fast food menu

Furthermore, going out can be complicated, especially if you are traveling and aren’t familiar with local cuisine. This is a menu at a typical fast food outlet, where many of your traveling companions will want to grab a bite at the airport or bus station.

See the huge lack of vegan options? Even when considering more diverse menus, a huge part of traveling, whether it’s across the state or across the globe, is trying local specialties. Luckily, there are ways to work around that; you’ve just got to plan ahead.

Don’t make a big deal out of going to certain restaurants. Bring your own vegan snack pack to fill you up if nothing at the restaurant hits the spot. Recommend or ask for places that might be more likely to include vegan options, but don’t ruin your friends’ experience while doing so.

Yes, you shouldn’t be inconvenienced either, but you can make do. You won’t convince anyone to become vegan, or even vegetarian, if they feel alienated by you.

non-vegan family and friends - joke

Are they laughing at me or with me?

Take jokes in stride.

You know how you joke with your mom about her porcelain doll collection, or your friend’s insistence to always do the math on sales tax? That’s what they’re doing to you.

Of course you might be the victim of some malicious jabs, but generally they’re just trying to poke fun. Do not overreact to this. In general, the more chill you are about your veganism, the more chill they will be about it too.

Of course, this is just a guideline rule. Some people are too headstrong and oblivious to deal with your veganism in an appropriate way. If that’s the case, drop them, and move on.

This can be especially scary in a foreign country, but I promise that there are plenty of exciting people to meet and experiences to have with them! Different hostels and universities are a great place to start, but locals can be surprisingly open and friendly as well.

Have you ever had a bad experience with revealing that you’re vegan? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author

Dayton UttingerGuest blogger

Dayton currently lives in Idaho, where non-vegan friends and family can be found in abundance. She has navigated this dangerous land for the majority of her life, and she enjoys potatoes just as much as you'd expect.

Photo credits:
Annoyed by Alex Archambault
Fast Food Menu by Megaprint

About Wendy Werneth

Intrepid traveler, vegan foodie and polyglot. Having become vegan after many years of travel across 7 continents and 100 countries, I'm on a mission to show you how you can be vegan anywhere and spread compassion everywhere.

13 Comments

  1. Just in right time: because, as new vegan, already with long time vegetarian husband, I get so many more or less polite questions, ideas, “advices” and “are you out of your mind?” And it was the hard way to learn that as a vegan it’s most unconvenient to get hungry out of the house. I love your advice on how to stay calm, friendly (and not hungry) in such situations. Great article, thank you, Wendy!

  2. BUT WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR PROTEIN!… is what i always hear from family members. I literally answer them now with “have you ever heard of someone dying of protein deficiency?” and walk away ! Thanks for sharing this some times its nice to know that others go through the same things and your advice is great!!

    • Hi Liv,
      Yes, the protein myth is definitely the most common misconception about veg diets. It’s a lie that our society teaches us starting in early childhood, and I used to believe it myself. I know how frustrating it is to hear it all the time, and walking away is sometimes the best response. But it’s also good if we can educate people, in cases where they seem to be open to hearing new information. I’m glad you found the advice in the post helpful!

  3. Yes, Yes, YES! To everything – YES. I’ve had friends wave food in front of my face as if tempting me with something I’m struggling to resist… I’ve struggled coming to terms with my boyfriend eating meat whenever he travels because “it’s hard to find vegan options”… realizing that many people just look at it as a temporary diet that we don’t “have to” adhere to. You should see my face!! People worry about protein and iron and B vitamins… they say, “Well, what CAN you eat?” It’s funny that underneath that reaction is an understanding that the traditional menu is largely ANIMAL based… but the rest of the connection is lost. Pets vs “food”. Anyway, it’s hard to be chill when EVERYONE else around me makes it an issue while I’m minding my own business… and you’re right, I have to explain myself over and over and over and over… ad nauseam. There’s a point where it goes beyond a genuine curiosity to learn about something new and it become passive aggressive. I don’t say what I really think because that would come across as judgmental… but the rest of the world gets to poke and prod and judge… and then accuse me of being judgmental when I answer questions asked of me. I really struggle with handling this. Your advice is very much on point, I just have to figure out how to stop letting it get under my skin.

    • I’m glad to hear that the article resonated with you Jade, but of course I’m very sorry to hear about the difficult time you are having with the people around you. It’s tough being a vegan in a non-vegan world. By becoming vegan for ethical reasons, you are inadvertently reflecting a light back on them and reminding them that their own actions might not be in line with their values. That’s why they see you as judgemental even if you’re not; it’s really them judging themselves in the light of your actions.

  4. Disagree with taking the jokes in stride. People that are disrespectful should be politely put in their place.

    • I do understand what you mean, Cara, and I too find it difficult to laugh it off when people poke fun at veganism. If putting those people in their place is what feels right for you, then I say go right ahead. I think the argument for taking jokes in stride is just that people who think of vegans as radical extremists might change their mind if they see that we can laugh about it. It’s a tricky area, though, and one where I think different approaches can work for different people.
      Wendy Werneth recently posted…“Carnage: Swallowing the Past” Shows Why the World Will Be Vegan in 2067My Profile

  5. Hi Wendy,
    Thank you for a great article. After my family actually waved a steak on a fork in front of my face, I finally said, “You see a steak. I see an animal that wanted to live. “.
    You wouldn’t wave a beer in front of an alcoholic. Or bread in front of the gluten free folks. So what’s going on?

    • Hi Melany,
      I’m sorry to hear that your family members have reacted in such a negative way to your veganism. It’s most likely because you being vegan has triggered something in their own conscience, and that’s what they’re lashing out against. By saying that you don’t eat animals because it goes against your morals, you are implicitly saying that you also find their actions morally wrong, and so they feel judged. But that’s their own inner stuff that they need to work through. At the same time, you are perfectly entitled to set boundaries and ask that they show respect.

  6. As a mild omnivore, meaning I don’t eat a lot of meat, my only concern with your article is the judgmental phrase ‘some people are too headstrong or oblivious to deal with your veganism in the appropriate way”. It’s a two-way street. Omnivores often ask ‘how do you get your protein?’ For omnivores, it’s a valid question based many times on curiosity or lack of knowledge, and yet rather than simply naming some sources, the vegan becomes defensive or aggressive. Personally, people have a right to choose their lifestyle, diets, philosophies, religions so it makes no difference to me whether someone is vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, as long as they aren’t preachy. My body, my food. Their body, their food. I respect their choice to eat what they want, just as I expect them respect mine. The fact is, vegan or omnivore, we should all work together to improve all life on planet Earth, but it takes everyone, Vegan and Omnivore, to recognize they are complicit in the destruction of life and environment. Whether meat eater or plant eater, the waste is horrendous. The destruction of the environment to make bigger farms or ranches to grow more food creates death and extinction of many animals and species. We all have blood on our hands. No one is entitled to take the moral high-road on this issue. Vegans and Omnivores are not enemies. Once each side understands that the world will be a better place.

    • Hey Fran,

      I completely agree that it is a two-way street- just as omnivores should accept our dietary choices, we need to accept theirs as well. In my article, I specifically discuss how you should answer questions casually and take little jokes in stride, but I stand by my statement that “some people are too headstrong or oblivious to deal with your veganism in the appropriate way” because SOME people are. I’m acknowledging that not everyone will be accepting of vegans, as the commenters above had detailed. This is the sort of thing you have to be prepared for if you’re going vegan, just like if you were making any other significant lifestyle change you’ve got to be prepared for intolerant people.

      You’re right that SOME vegans are not accepting of omnivores either, and that’s not okay. Really, I’d say that most people on both sides are accepting. We don’t agree with the other side, but we’re respectful. This is what I’d like to encourage and see from omnivores and vegans alike. We shouldn’t let the intolerance on either side define us, but we should be prepared to deal with it.

    • Hi Fran,
      I support what Dayton said, and I’d like to make a couple of points of my own. I completely agree with you that “where do you get your protein?” is a valid question and that vegans should be patient when answering it. I also agree that we should all work together to improve all life on planet Earth, and that we are all complicit in the destruction of life and the environment. For myself and many other vegans, this is, in fact, a primary reason for choosing this lifestyle. Choosing to eat plants over animals is the single most impactful thing that we can do to minimize our footprint on the Earth. If you have not seen the film Cowspiracy, I strongly encourage you to watch it, as it explains in detail how animal agriculture is the number one cause of environmental destruction. I know that I still cause some harm and that vegans aren’t perfect. Veganism isn’t about being perfect; it’s about doing the best we can to cause the least harm.

      I’m sure that you also do things to lessen your eco-footprint, and I can certainly respect those choices and can respect you as a person. I cannot, however, respect your choice to willfully cause harm by eating an animal. Your assertion that it’s “your body, your food” would be valid if yours was the only body involved. But where you see “food”, I see the body of an animal who was completely innocent and who wanted to live. This is not about you or me; it’s about the animals. You seem to see the choice of who or what you eat as a personal choice, but choices are only personal if there is no victim.

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