Vegan Living – Why Can’t We All Get Along?
Nobody said doing the right thing would be easy. As popular as veganism has become in recent years, it is still an overwhelming minority stance, and as such, it can be challenging to make it work in day to day life—especially if you live with non-vegans.
From misconceptions about what veganism is, to stereotypes that may have been grounded in reality at one time but no longer fit the typical vegan persona, and even to outright hostility towards your way of life, there are certainly obstacles to overcome for the modern vegan.
For the most part, non-vegan sentiments can be managed. Snide remarks from strangers in a restaurant don’t need to be addressed. Skepticism from coworkers can be dismissed. But when it comes to the people you live with, it is usually not so simple to deal with. In this post, we are going to take a deep dive into the challenges faced by vegans living in non-vegan households, whether it be a vegan teenager with non-vegan parents, a vegan living with a non-vegan partner, and anything in between.
We’re even going to throw in some advice for non-vegans living with a vegan partner. Hopefully, we can help you find a way to make this commendable lifestyle work for you, regardless of how those you live with feel about it.
Vegans have something of a reputation for being preachy and overbearing, and it is not entirely unearned. Vegetarians don’t have this reputation, of course, but for vegetarians, their philosophy is not so deep-rooted. For many veggies, it starts and stops at “don’t eat meat.” For vegans, it is much more than a dietary choice. It is a personal decision to take action that directly results in a little less suffering to animals and, in more recent years, less strain on our already struggling environment.
In other words, it makes total sense that vegans would be more outspoken about their lifestyle since they are actively working to make the world a better place. A person could be a vegetarian for health reasons, or because they don’t like the taste of meat, but it is very rare to find a vegan who has chosen that lifestyle for reasons other than a desire to make the world a better place.
Unfortunately, as good as those reasons are, it has landed vegans with something of a reputation, and it is a reputation vegans have to deal with on a daily basis. It can be frustrating to go out with friends, not mention veganism through most of the evening, and then bring it up once and have everyone roll their eyes and say, “oh, here we go!” Stereotypes are hard to shake, whether they are accurate or not.
This particular stereotype is something of a catch-22 for vegans. A vegetarian in this situation might quietly order their meal and keep their views on eating meat to themselves. That is an option for vegans, of course, but the question of morality arises. If you truly believe you are making the world a better place through veganism, are you doing wrong by not spreading the word?
Wherever you fall on this moral dilemma is irrelevant for how to deal with situations like this. There are two main aspects to overcome the overbearing vegan stereotype;
- Avoid attempts at group conversion
- Know when to stop
The first part, avoiding group conversion, simply means don’t attempt to convert a table full of friends or family to veganism all at once. There will invariably be someone you can’t convince, and that person will just reinforce the doubts of others who could perhaps have been swayed. This is relevant because attempting to bring someone over to veganism—and failing—is what gets you that “overbearing vegan” label. If you succeed in helping someone to see the benefits of veganism, they’re hardly likely to go around telling people how pushy you are about the lifestyle they now lead. On the other hand, if you are at a table with some non-vegans but the vegans on the table are equal to or outnumber them, the non-vegans will be less emboldened to just dismiss your words. That being said, even in this situation, be wary of coming across as an attempt to brow-beat your friends into veganism, as that will only lead to resentment.
The second part, knowing when to stop, is self-explanatory. Not everybody can be sold on veganism, and others may be amenable to the lifestyle but need a bit of time to mull things over. If you bullishly refuse to take no for an answer, you’re not only going to play right into that vegan stereotype; you may strain your relationships as well!
Of course, you could opt to keep your veganism to yourself; not everybody is built for “spreading the good word,” so to speak. Every person who lives the vegan lifestyle helps reduce the suffering of animals, so don’t let anyone tell you you’re not helping because you haven’t ostracized your non-vegan friends when they fail to see the light.
Young Vegans Living with Non-Vegan Adults
Many things in life don’t seem fair to children and teenagers when they are growing up. Some seeming unfairness is there for a good reason; others are genuinely not fair. Unfortunately, no lived life is ideal, and there are some things we simply have to endure.
For young vegans, one of these things may be your parents or guardians refusing to accept your lifestyle choice. There is an issue of power dynamics at play, in that the adults responsible for you feel they know better. And they should feel as if they know better because it would be irresponsible to raise a child without at least believing you knew what was best for them. Of course, a firm belief in something doesn’t mean you are correct about that thing.
As a young vegan, you will be in a better position than any random stranger on the Internet to judge whether your parents might be amenable to the vegan lifestyle. Reactions of parents vary from being so supportive that they eat vegan meals with their children, all the way through to flat out refusing to support the lifestyle and even demanding their children eat the non-vegan meals they make for them.
For most young vegans, their reality can be found somewhere in the middle, such as parents who accept their child’s lifestyle choice but only make a superficial effort to support it. If you can’t talk your parents around to seeing the benefits of veganism—which will be difficult because of them believing they know better—you may just have to grin and bear whatever compromise you can get until you are old enough not to need their cooperation.
The good news is that, for most children, this is a relatively short time. Most children don’t start expressing themselves in significant ways until they are approaching their teenage years, which means it is very unlikely that a child would decide they want to be vegan before hitting that age range. This also means that younger vegans probably already have the support of their parents since it was likely the parents that made them vegan in the first place.
Of course, every family dynamic is different, and we can’t tell you that your parents always have your best interests at heart. Just try to keep a broad perspective. If your parents won’t support your veganism but are otherwise very supportive, try not to give them too hard of a time.
Living With a Non-Vegan Partner
Things get trickier when we’re talking about adult relationships. As a child, the future is always calling; you will soon be able to move out and live your life on your terms. For people in a relationship—assuming you want that relationship to continue—any differences have to be resolved eventually.
There are three main ways in which a vegan can find themselves living with a non-vegan partner.
It Was Always This Way
If it was always the case that your partner is not vegan and you are, then you should have resolved any tensions this might create already. It would be a bad idea to start a life together with unresolved contentious issues between you.
Finding compromises is key, but make sure that your partner understands that you can’t compromise on your principles. While a non-vegan can eat a vegan meal and not break any of their own personal moral rules, a vegan cannot do the same with non-vegan food.
Instead, compromises in this kind of relationship would involve you not starting an argument because your partner has a non-vegan meal or buys a non-vegan product. Push them to accept vegan substitutes for anything where there is no significant difference, but accept that they are going to want to eat something like cheese or bacon from time to time.
Where things can get a little tricky is with products where it is impossible for you to avoid consuming or benefitting from them. For example, if your partner buys a non-vegan air freshener, it is not possible for you to live in the same space as that air freshener without smelling its non-vegan fragrance. These are discussions you will have to have.
You Became Vegan
If your relationship dynamic regarding veganism was set before you moved in together, that’s probably the best-case scenario for a vegan and a non-vegan living together since you both should have known what you were getting into beforehand. If the dynamic changes after you move in together, on the other hand, things can be a little trickier.
If you were both non-vegan before moving in, but you have since become vegan, your partner may be liable to put up much more resistance to what could otherwise have been a reasonable compromise. The phrase “I didn’t sign up for this” may spring to mind.
Now, people change, and you should remind your partner that no relationship—indeed, no person—stays completely static and unchanged for extended periods. But at the same time, you should try to be sympathetic to their plight. Going vegan is not a minor change for most people, and it is a lifestyle choice that can’t help but affect the other people your life with. In the case of living with a non-vegan partner, this is even more so.
They Stopped Being Vegan
Of course, the reverse of the above example is also possible. If you were both vegans when you moved in together, but your partner has since stopped being vegan, many of the problems you face will be the same, however the dynamic changes. In this situation, it is you that would have grounds to feel put out by your partner, making a significant lifestyle change that wasn’t on the cards when you moved in together.
That being said, much like the other example, you should try to accept that people change, and work to find compromises that you can both live with. At least in this scenario, your partner will understand where you are coming from. Even if they no longer want to live the vegan lifestyle themselves, they should be better equipped to make living with them as frictionless as possible for you.
Remember What’s At Stake
As flawed human beings, we have a tendency to be petty and stubborn, even when we are mature enough and wise enough to know better. Vegans living with non-vegans is not easy, and we’ll be honest, not tenable for many types of personality. However, you should always try to remember what is at stake if you cannot find a way to work through these problems.
Things like arguments over what you are going to eat for dinner, or what shampoo you can have in the house, or even what clothes you can buy, these are arguments that can seem insignificant at the time but will start to accumulate. These small, recurring arguments can start to weigh a relationship down to the point where you will start to feel weary of even going home at times.
In a very real sense, a failure to deal with these kinds of issues—minor and major—will almost certainly mean the end of the relationship eventually.
Now, perhaps, for you, that is not the devastating blow that it would be to someone else. If the relationship was never that solid, to begin with, or you never envisaged it being a long term thing, or even if the fact that your partner moved away from veganism is too much for you to accept, then a clean break is probably the best thing for all concerned.
But if your relationship is more permanent, if you really want to fight your way through this kind of friction, don’t let petty victories and snide remarks take over your life. Fighting will usually result in a winner, and a winner will breed resentment in the loser. The occasional argument may be healthy for a relationship, but continual fighting over the same thing will be the end of it.
Tips For Vegans Living in Non-Vegan Households
We couldn’t write an article like this without including some more direct tips for vegans living with non-vegans. These should be equally applicable regardless of what your situation is, whether you are living with a non-vegan partner, non-vegan roommates, and even non-vegan parents.
Load Up on Vegan Facts
Make sure you are fully versed in vegan knowledge. Any minority movement that wants to grow needs those who are part of the movement to be both advocates and educators. It may not seem fair—many people who live lives that are more difficult than average just want to get on with things—but veganism is often misunderstood, and beyond spreading the word, it can also help make your life easier by helping those around you better understand your position.
Be sure to cover a broad base in your vegan education; we are not just talking about things like the impact of cow farts on the environment and how much more food we could grow if we weren’t supporting so much livestock. The people you live with are often family and friends, and they may be concerned about your health. You need to be able to reassure them that you are getting enough nutrients in your diet, and sometimes that may involve explaining to them where those nutrients are coming from. Protein is a particularly common point of concern since many non-vegans are under the impression that you can only get protein from meat. It’s also worth remembering that many non-vegans are completely unaware of how many products—food and otherwise—are not vegan. You will likely find that many of your non-vegan friends think veganism is just a stricter version of vegetarianism. Try not to be condescending and snarky; as popular as it is, veganism is still not widely adopted, and sneering at people who don’t know any better won’t win anyone over.
There is a difference between not being overbearing and preachy and being a doormat. Relationships are complex, and the world is far from ideal, so vegans need to learn to live within non-vegan families and societies and work to slowly bring about the change they want to see in the world. But the fact that you accept that a family member or close friend is not vegan does not mean you should compromise your integrity for them.
If you feel strongly enough about the core principles of veganism to make such a significant lifestyle choice, you should not let anyone pressure you into going against those principles. You should respect that not everyone follows the same way of life that you do, but at the same time, you should demand the very same respect from them.
Share Your Vegan Wares
Veganism takes away a lot of things that non-vegans take for granted, so it is not surprising that it often meets a lot of resistance. That being said, most people who are against veganism, to some degree, are oblivious to the range of treats that the lifestyle can still provide.
Try to share these treats with your non-vegan companions as often as possible. We’re not saying you will ultimately convert a meat-eater with a tasty bowl of soy-based ice cream, but every vegan-friendly bite that a non-vegan takes increases the chances that they will encounter a food they like more than a non-vegan alternative. Saving the world is not an all-or-nothing situation; if someone starts eating thirty percent less non-vegan food, that’s still a move in the right direction.
Where possible, try to avoid making meals about vegan food. If you can just serve up a vegan delight and casually mention sometime later that it was vegan, you are more likely to get a positive response than if you make a big song and dance about it, inviting prejudice from the start.
Keep it Positive
Your demeanor when dealing with people who have different views to you will play a huge role in how that interaction goes, regardless of what the disagreement is over. We mentioned above about avoiding being snarky with your non-vegan companions, and this holds true for all interactions around the topic.
If you are condescending, arrogant, brash, and dismissive, you are considerably less likely to get a positive response, regardless of what it is you are actually saying. Try to keep things positive, but don’t let your desire to be positive get in the way of being assertive about your beliefs.
At the heart of veganism is a worthy goal and one that most people would probably share if they were better educated on the matter, and the world was more suited to the vegan lifestyle. While you should definitely be prepared to fight for that goal, it is important to remember that veganism as a serious movement is relatively new (though the concept has been around for over a thousand years), and goes against what many people see as the natural order of things. The growing population numbers on our little planet necessitate a change in that natural order, but try to have some sympathy for those who are slow to adjust.