Who's in need of a lesson in veganism? And just how do you convince them it's all rainbows and happiness as opposed to bitter closed doors?
Think about your audience
Let's face it: we want the world to give up meat. We want people to see the reality of an industry which promotes all the things most everyone in the West claims to hate, like animal abuse, world hunger and poverty, plus the excessive rise in greenhouse gases and its environmental impact. We want people to face up and be responsible.
I think the problem is often, and I've definitely been guilty of this, that we can be pushy as hell. Copping an attitude puts people on the defensive, however, so it's not such a great way to get people to see your side. A little bit of patience all around has surprising results when it comes to explaining veggie reasoning to a non-veg (or even a transitioning veg).
The thing is, we all have different backgrounds, different experiences, different levels of tolerance and acceptance. We all have individual comfort zones and varying resistances to change, creature comforts and hard-set lifestyles. It's sometimes hard to see or even acknowledge the barriers, so I figured I'd posit what I've observed as stereotypical populations involved and the opposing views of which I've made mental note over the years.
The vegetarian / vegan
- Who: This is the group with the strongest sets of beliefs, those who follow a specific set of dietary guidelines and are not likely to budge.
- Obstacles include omnivore responses like "you make everything difficult", "well I'm not the one who's picky", "can't you just pick the meat off?", "but I like flavour in my food", and "what could you possible eat? How am I to cook for you?"
- Advice: Try to set aside the feelings of frustration and remember the anti-veg flavour enthusiast is not educated about your foodstyle, and their own diet is likely to be quite limited if they truly cannot contemplate a veggie way of life. Suggest cooking familiar meals, like a vegan pasta dish or pie, before introducing them to scrambled tofu. Bake them some vegan brownies before offering them a glass of soy milk. Build them up slowly and then ask if they'd be willing to trust your judgement (then wow them with a chocolate pie and vegan icecream). Be patient.
The recently converted
- Who: This is the group whose choice to eat veg is a new one and they may (or may not!) still be living off of dishes presented in cardboard with Fry's or Amy's branding. At this stage you still remember the flavour meat imparts to its accompanying vegetables and you're still learning about this new lifestyle, so you're probably seeking simple transition foods.
- Obstacles involve pressure from friends and family who think you will die of malnutrition and think they can lure you back to the meat side. It's also a very anxious time for a lot of people because they're making a big decision, often alone, and have a whole new lifestyle to grasp and old habits to overcome.
- Advice: Be patient and do your research. While you can live a perfectly healthy veg life on a veg diet, it is a big change. If being hounded is a huge concern to you, show them proof from a nutritionist that your choice is in fact a very healthy and sustainable one. For meals ask friends and family to use vegan alternatives. I've heard many an omnivore praise a vegan meat alternative (the basics like sausages and pies especially).
The anxious but willing omnivore
- Who: Perhaps you are that person who feels veg food is dull and flavourless but you're genuinely interested in how to feed your newly vegan kid/friend/colleague. Your mind is open to trying something new if you're given room to understand and learn.
- Obstacles generally revolve around accepting someone else's choice and the potential impact on your own lifestyle.
- Advice: Please be patient. Buy a veggie cookbook and ask questions. If you're hosting or planning anything which involves food, ask people about their dietary requirements and any specific requests. Ensure there's no such worry as being a pain in the arse and that you want to know. If there's only one vegetarian at a meal, think about a whole veggie-friendly meal rather than a meat-based meal with a veggie option for the one person (this can be uncomfortable for everyone). It can't be put into words how much this means to a any veggie.
The Meat and Potatoes Dad
- Who: Arguably a veggie's most difficult, this is the population who have made up their minds that it's not a meal if there isn't meat. Meals often consist of meat and two veg with often no more than butter or maybe gravy.
- Obstacles are often very difficult to overcome by both sides in these scenarios. On one hand you have someone with a value-driven lifestyle with which they will not make compromises and on the other you have an individual who's very intent on eating what they've been happy to eat their entire lives.
- Advice: Remember the person with the veggie diet is more than likely doing it for moral reasons. Try thinking of it in terms of a cause that's important to you. Think of situations which may be uncomfortable for you but you know aren't an issue for others and imagine the vegetarian/vegan being in that position. It's also important to remember no one's doing this to spite you. Try to keep an open line of communication and explain your difficulties, and request simple dishes like shepherds pie, spaghetti bolognaise, and other dishes which are familiar but easily veganised.
Are you an omnivore currently trying to work with a vegetarian or vegan? A vegetarian or vegan sharing a kitchen with an omnivore? Do you have any additional suggestions on how to cope with the differences and difficulties presented by these situations? Leave a comment below!