Create a Positive Vegan Environment for Your Family
by Melanie Wilson
This Easter my family attended a community potluck and egg hunt. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it was actually a quite perfect day for us as a vegan family. I’ve been aware for some time that my friends and acquaintances were making an effort to accommodate us at such events, but this particular experience made something clear to me – they also respect us deeply and care about our beliefs. The person in charge of filling the plastic eggs for the hunt chose 100 percent vegan items, and the potluck table boasted at least five vegan dishes. There is not one single vegetarian among the 30 plus other adults and children in our circle of friends; they did this for us. I have heard from countless families who have experienced prejudice or difficulty for their eating choices. For a long time I thought I was simply lucky that my extended family rarely questioned my beliefs, that my friends never seemed to be offended, and my community almost always to catered to us at group events. Then I realized that I was doing something differently, and I want to share what works for me.
From the beginning, I have viewed my veganism as an incredible change in my life after years and years of meat eating and then a short period of lacto-ovo vegetarianism; it was a personal enlightenment. I try to remember that I spent thirty years of my life eating everything under the sun. Did becoming vegan suddenly make me a better judge of what was wrong or right? No. I simply decided that veganism was right for me, and I make that clear to everyone I talk to about it. I accept people where they are. I’m careful to share that attitude with my children, teaching them that they should never speak ill of others’ eating habits, and should never berate them for their food choices, especially when we are eating together.
I do my best not to proselytize. When others ask me questions about my diet, I am careful to determine what their real interests are before giving too in depth an answer. If someone is really interested, then I offer to give them some literature on the topic. Then if they come back to me, I know I can speak freely. Otherwise, I’m viewed as the fanatic vegan trying to convert the masses – even if they asked the questions. I wasn’t converted that way, and I don’t view it as my job to actively convert others. My healthy children are the most beautiful example, and I have to remember that I still have a lot to learn about life.
I rarely debate, and when I do, I do it respectfully. I know that there are some of you out there who would bust at the seams if you weren’t allowed to argue with others about the virtues of a vegan diet. In fact, I think there is a place and a time for it. But you must pick your battles wisely and determine where your motives lie. In some cases you may discover that you feel the need to debate because you feel insecure about your choices. I let people know that I am not threatened by not allowing myself to be drawn into a needless debate. When I’m in a situation where someone is spouting ridiculous information that I cannot listen to without my hackles raising, I take a deep breath and politely share what I’ve learned. I never say “You are wrong.” I teach my children that the world is full of different ways of thinking and living and that our way is right for us.
I ignore hurtful jokes and careless comments about my diet. My mother taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, then I shouldn’t say anything at all. People who hurt me are not worth my time, so I walk away. If that doesn’t send the message loud and clear, then I say, “Hey, quit picking on me.” Sometimes others don’t realize when what they say is unkind and wounding. If the barbs are coming from a friend, I wait until another time to address the topic, a time when I am feeling less upset and my friend is less likely to get defensive. My children know how to defend themselves in a positive way, and they know that they don’t have to associate with people who hurt them.
We all have personal boundaries, things we can live with and things we can’t. You must decide if you are comfortable sharing a holiday table with meat eaters, if you can refrain from sharing your good fortune when people don’t really want to hear it, if you can walk away from an argument, or ignore cruel comments. There is a fine line between being a passive, peaceful activist and allowing yourself to be trodden upon unnecessarily. There is also a fine line between actively and positively educating others and appearing pushy and overbearing. It’s worth taking the time to determine where that line lies for you.
Keep in mind that there are people who will never understand your way of life, from whom you cannot dissociate yourself, and who will always tease you relentlessly. Try to step outside yourself, and look at that fact for what it is – a chance to further your own inner growth and develop interpersonal skills. Accept that there are situations you cannot change and go on with your life in as positive and joyful a way as you can. Your children, family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and others will notice, and your environment will change – if only from your own perspective.