Navigating conversations with friends as a new Vegan

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As a new Vegan I have to admit, the first few months were a bit of a struggle, but to my surprise, this had nothing to do with food. The biggest concerned I had during the first few months of my transition to veganism was how would this affect my interactions with my friends and family. From my best friend to my co-workers, I wondered what would it mean for me to go all in with this change. I was afraid of the dreaded question: Why are you a Vegan? I tried to hide my food choices, make more normal ones like ordering a salad which many times can be consider as a step towards trying to be more “healthy” and so perceived in a positive way, and even evaded asking the waiters about any vegan options in the menu. Even saying the word Vegan out loud made me cringe. Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am very proud of my choice and believe profoundly in the benefits and importance of being Vegan. But I knew this would require some explaining at some point and I wasn’t sure how to approach the conversation without sounding abrasive or judgmental. I mean, the act itself of not eating meat when everyone else on the table is eating meat can be seen very strange and alienating. Specially during summer barbeques or holiday parties, certain dishes can be considered part of the experience itself. Add to that having to explain to my friends why I was not eating any animal products, it was definitely not an easy position to be at. My concerns ranged from not been able to correctly explain my choice and represent the issue, to making sure I was not offending anyone by doing so, or becoming the annoying friend who won’t shut up.

Little by little I became more comfortable talking about the topic. The first thing I had to get over was my fear to ask waiters in restaurants about their menu. It became very obvious that most of the time it was up to me to help myself and talk to someone in order to get more and better meal options. It wasn’t that the options were not there, it was more about knowing how to tailor the order or ask for additional options. This, at the same time, allowed my friends to realize I was a Vegan and forced the topic into conversations. Although my intention from the start was to just answer questions, suddenly I found myself in long deep philosophical discussions on this and related topics with my friends. I quickly learned this was not necessarily a good thing. In more than one occasion I had become the dreaded annoying friend I mentioned before. I guess that’s just something you have to go through to learn. Honestly for me it felt unavoidable, once I started talking about something that had become so important to me I couldn’t stopped myself from sharing what I had learned. This was not always a well-received approach. But, after a while, I had mastered to some degree, the skills on managing a conversation about Veganism as the only vegan in the group. Or at least I think so. I started directly answering the questions with no further explanations or data unless there was an open invitation for amicable discussion. For example, to the question on why did I became a vegan, I would often answer with a short “for ethical reasons”. This proved to be a satisfactory answer for most people. It provided a quick way out to the polite inquiry made by friends wanting to recognize their awareness of the change without necessarily wanting to dig into further conversations about it with me. Other questions included concerns about the nutritional implications of veganism, the why now, and about my intentions moving forward. Did I expect my family to become vegans too? Will I stay Vegan? I knew most of these inquiries were just concerns about me and my health, and I held myself responsible for responding with candor and love. I really do believe asking and challenging others shows you care, and this is the best response I could expect from friends and family.

To these questions I respond like this. I became a vegan for ethical reasons. This include my believe in compassion for all sentient beings, in protecting our planet for this generation and the ones to come, in taking responsibility for my own health, and in overcoming  and transcending the boundaries  of culture in order to grow as a human being. This is not to say I have any less of an opinion about anyone who does not share my view. Some of the people I respect, admire and love the most in my life are not vegan, but it is just something I need to do.

Other questions include:

Where do I get my protein?

There is a variety of plant protein: lentils, tofu, tempeh, almonds, kale, broccoli, chickpeas, oats, quinoa, soybeans, beans, pecans, garbanzos, brown rice, flaxseeds, peanut butter, potatoes, chia seeds, green beans, wheat bread, just to name  few.

Where do I get my calcium?

Fortified non dairy milk, spinach, kale, almonds, papaya, tahini, broccoli, flaxseeds, green beans, avocados, asparagus, cabbage, oranges, just to name a few.

Do you miss eating meat?

No. But I think this is different for everyone.

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Navigating this territory of conversations about veganism with non-vegans can be very intimidating and difficult at times. It is important to remember it is easier not to think about these things, and we can’t make anybody. Although I am no expert, by any means, I can only hope to serve as a source of information for those interested in learning about it, share what I had learned. To be the kind of person who can spread a positive message with actions and not just words. To always remember how I used to think just a year ago, and how it made me feel, so that I can stay compassionate to others when talking about this topic. Everyone has a different experience and this is just my  perspective on this topic. I hope this may, in some way, be helpful for someone experiencing the same and for non-vegans to get a peek from the other side of the coin. For me being a Vegan is about compassion and awareness. It is not a diet, is an ethical stand.

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