The Challenges of Being Vegan in a Non Vegan Family
I just finished a text conversation with my vegan friend in NYC. I was telling her about the issues I was facing being home in Philly and being the only vegan. Let me tell you about Philly, if you don't already know. I'm from the suburbs but the Philly accent, the food, the sports, it bleeds into the burbs, let me tell you. I have had so many people talk about my Philly accent lately. Philly is famous for cheese steaks, Italian bakeries, pizzerias. Wawa market is all over the place, a major dairy milk contributor in the area and Wawa, PA, their headquarters is 20 minutes from my childhood home. When I'm home, especially during the holidays, I'm inundated with eggs and milk for cakes and cookies, dairy milk everywhere and cheese is everywhere. It's a lot to take in especially when I'm used to vegan food, vegan friends and vegan friendly New York City.
I do remember why I'm vegan at times like this but I end up being seduced by the convenience and memories of what my family eats. I end up saying various things to myself like: what is the big deal with eating this cookie that is already sitting in front of me, baked with butter and eggs? Maybe the vegan diet is too strict and I should ease up? It's easier to be festive while eating what everyone else eats. Then I get pulled back into the vegan scene when I log into Instagram and I see these raw vegans going about their holiday eating fruit and veggies. I think about how I'm 5 years vegan in just a few days and why I became vegan (animal welfare). It doesn't bother me that there is meat next to my tofurky on the holiday table; it just makes me feel like a weirdo sometimes. Being the only vegan anywhere makes me realize how important it is to have a vegan community to lean on.
The hardest part about being vegan is dealing with other people; their opinion about what you eat, their opinion on factory farming, their questions about why you're different, their questions about why eggs and dairy are not vegan etc etc. There are so many questions to field and so many reasons to defend your way of eating that it can be exhausting. Here are some ways to deal with being the only vegan at the table:
1. Remind yourself how veganism is not a diet but a lifestyle. Why are you vegan? Is that buttery, creamy cookie made with animal products worth succumbing to the pressures of a non vegan world? Think about why veganism is important to you.
2. When you feel angry about the questions or why people won't eat your cookies because they are made with Earth Balance, take a deep breath and remove yourself from the situation, if you can. In a calm voice, answer people's question and then change the subject of conversation or move to the next discussion.
3. Talk to your family and let them know your thoughts and feelings. Let them know that it's difficult being the only vegan and you would appreciate their love and support. Tell them how important it is to you that they try the food you eat or at least keep an open mind.
4. Reach out to a friend or family member who understands; maybe it's your cousin who is vegetarian or maybe it's your friend via text. It helps to have someone listen and give you feedback.
5. Remember that it's not THAT big of a deal that you're vegan. That eventually more people will come around to veganism and realize it's most important in helping the climate change crisis and our health crisis. Holidays can be stressful so it may not be the best time for people to talk about veganism. So, try not to take reactions personally.
Once your family is used to the fact that you are vegan, things will get better. Our attitude towards food is based on our childhood experience, our personal taste buds, our attitude about our personal health and how easily certain foods are available. For me, dairy, especially cheese, was such a huge part of my childhood and it's still around now. A lot of dishes I see around me are bubbling over with mozzarella and I remember how yummy that was and how it was comforting eating certain dishes with my family. I'm also surrounded by sugary foods and I have so many holiday obligations that I don't exercise and tend to overeat. I am definitely a creature of habit and need my NYC routine of the farmers market, Whole Foods right in my neighborhood, Trader Joe's runs, daily exercise, my training runs and more. If you realize that you crave routine, try to make a routine for yourself even when you're not in your own home or when you are away from home.
The best thing to do is not feel like you are the worst vegan in the world because you think cheese still looks yummy; I felt this way over the past week and it wasn't getting me anywhere. I'm still vegan even though I thought about the taste of cheese; we can form new habits or change our lives but it doesn't mean you won't ever look back to where you were.
Lastly, let me tell you what is annoying (other than being the only vegan at the table). When someone says, "can you have this?" "Can you eat this?" Yep! I can eat anything I want. All the meat, cheese and eggs I want. I'm not allergic to them I just CHOOSE NOT to eat them. I know people mean well with that question but it's so annoying! It isn't a diet, veganism is a way of life. We don't need to summon the will power to stop eating cheese, we just don't want to eat it for reasons A, B and C.
I don't want this post to come across as me swaying anyone from veganism because it's hard; I'm writing this to help those in my same position; vegans who are surrounded by non vegans and who are getting fed up, tired and ughhhhhh about being the only vegan in the room. Veganism isn't difficult if you're doing it for the right reasons; if you are only vegan because you want to lose 10 pounds and then you're going back to that filet mignon, that is not a reason to be vegan. You need to become vegan for a reason that will sustain you through the hard times. Through the million questions about what you eat or through the family dinner where everyone is chowing down on cheese stromboli.
Alicia Silverstone's book The Kind Diet helped me make the transition from vegetarianism to veganism. Check it out if you want; it's filled with awesome info as well as yummy recipes. And follow me on Facebook.