Tips on How to Deal with “Vegan-Shaming”
As exciting as it is to take control of your health and live in line with your ethics, being a new vegan can also bring on burdensome feelings of guilt and shame.
“Sorry, Nana, I can’t have your famous loaf this year. Nope, none of the butter tarts, either. I’m not trying to be rude! I’m not that difficult!!” Feeling that you’re being perceived as rude, inconvenient, and tacitly judging everyone by simply eating your own meat-free meal can make any dinner party nerve-wracking and exhausting.
How do vegans deal with these situations? Surely we can’t just withdraw from society altogether. The answer will be different for everyone, of course, but here are some tips that have helped me with “vegan-shaming”.
1. Know why you're doing it.
And I mean really know it, in your mind, heart, and soul. If you’re strong in your convictions, feelings of discomfort will likely pale in comparison to your feelings of self-satisfaction and determination to live the way that you feel is right. This doesn’t mean you need to shout these convictions from the rooftops around your friends and family who appear to be judging or shaming you. It means that you can give yourself a quiet smile knowing that you’re secure in your decision, even in the face of what feels like disparagement. If family members or co-workers say things to me like, “You’re ruining the tradition!” or, “Gosh, veganism seems like a punishment!” I can give them a polite smile knowing that I don’t want to sacrifice my morals for the sake of tradition and that it’s far from a punishment to me.
2. Don’t shame them back.
I say ‘give them a polite smile’ because I’ve learned, the hard way, that responding to vegan-shaming with carnist-shaming, (shaming their decision to eat meat) is not the way to win over a room.
"Vegan shaming comes from peoples' need to normalize meat eating."
In general, people don't want to disrupt the way that they think about what's on their plates. A certain amount of ignorance of farming practices and cognitive dissonance is needed for people to be able to consume meat at all. As tempting as it might be to launch into an impassioned exposé of the animal agriculture industry, if someone is uncomfortable just by the fact that you are at the table choosing not to consume animal products, then adding to their feelings of guilt will only make tensions rise.
This is not to say that it’s not productive to inform people about these things. I’m always prepared with facts about the environmental and health impacts of meat-eating as well as what animals and slaughterhouse workers go through. There’s only so many times you can hear someone tell you, “I’m just concerned for your health!” or, “They have humane slaughter laws now!” without offering at least a bit of information on these topics. But I tend to stick to polite smiles or some light-hearted jokes until someone asks me directly why it is I’ve chosen to go vegan (and I haven’t been in many situations where someone has not asked me that question).
3. Be ready with some facts.
This tip brings together numbers one and two on this list. If people are curious, they’ll be more open to your response, making that the perfect time to launch into your calm, reasoned explanation. To aid this explanation, arm yourself with a few hard facts for if (or when) you are asked. Or, if you feel you need to self-defend, try to phrase what you’re sharing as some interesting information you’ve learned and not as a personal criticism.
Remember that the information you’re sharing is not mainstream, so ignorance to these facts is the norm.
4. Learn to read the room.
If the people around you are so insecure about their own choices that they feel the need to shame you loudly and continuously, they will not be open to receiving your message, however logical or backed up with evidence it might be. How to maintain your polite smile or force a laugh at some of the insensitive or downright gruesome jokes that’ll be thrown your way? Well, that’s always difficult to navigate, new vegan or not. But you’d be surprised at how many people will follow you if you lead by quiet example.
Many people who ardently mocked me at first have, over the years, become either vegetarian or full vegans. Even my mother who was downright anti-vegetarian for most of her life has now adopted a pescatarian diet and is planning to keep reducing her consumption of animal products.
"Try to keep in mind that just by being there and not consuming animal products, you are taking a political stance and you are causing a disruption."
Just by virtue of being there and being vegan, you are making the people around you think even that little bit more about what they are consuming and why they are consuming it. This will undoubtedly provoke backlash from a lot of people initially, but the fact that they are trying to mock you means that they are thinking about it. Surely you can smile about that! Your courage and conviction is planting seeds in people's’ minds, and who knows where that will lead. Over time, the jokes and shaming will cease and you might even find yourself surrounded by a bigger group of allies.
5. Bring your own food.
Lastly, to avoid or lessen feelings of guilt for being perceived as inconvenient, make sure you show up to any event with something you know you can eat and enjoy. Don’t expect that everyone will know how to accommodate you, because they won’t, through no fault of their own.
If you bring a dish to share with everyone, you won’t have to be that “picky” person who needs the host to scrape the cheese off of everything or make something else for you personally. Plus, you’ll get to introduce people to delicious veganized recipes that they might want to replicate at home. Yes, having to think ahead in this way is a definite hassle, but it has really helped me to feel more at ease at parties or dinner events and to focus on the event itself, not trying to deflect jabs that people are throwing at me.
As veganism becomes more normalized, the shaming will decrease.
Like I said, having the courage and conviction to show up and lead by quiet example and not let criticism dissuade you is working to normalize veganism in everyday spaces. This is a deeply political act.
You might be the only vegan that people know, but the next time they meet a vegan it will seem more mainstream and they might feel less emboldened to mock them. So keep showing up. Keep smiling to yourself and know that attitudes are changing. You are part of that and it’s a wonderful thing.