How can we get along with family and friends who have very different lifestyles?
You probably know it only too well: once you’d learnt the sad story of how meat, dairy, fish and eggs get onto your plate, you probably had a simple belief – if other people also knew, they would go vegan, too. And much the same with cosmetics and household products that are tested on animals – if only people knew, they would naturally choose more ethical alternatives. Because once you know, you can’t continue to live in blissful ignorance. Right?
Sadly, it seems most people are actually quite happy to ignore the uncomfortable truth and carry on as usual. It’s disappointing but it can be outright heartbreaking if they’re your close friends and family and just don’t seem to care. What can you do about it while still keeping your sanity?
Even though your friends or family are the ones judging or challenging you, try to keep your calm and let them know you do understand their point of view. Unless you were born vegan or vegetarian, you were in their shoes at some point in your life. Remind them of this – that you once shared their view, so you know where they’re coming from.
If they are worried about you, for example for health reasons, acknowledge it: “I know you’re worried about me and the old me may have had the same reaction but I’ve learnt a lot over the past months/years.”
With older people, the situation might be different because when they were young, meat and animal products may have been a luxury and your rejecting that may be seen as disrespectful. If that’s the case, tell them you understand but while you do respect them, you cannot with a clear conscience support the way farmed animals are bred and killed or how the oceans are decimated.
Educate if appropriate
Whatever you do, don’t lecture people – be personal and reassuring about their views – something along the lines of: “I know you’ve got a good heart and I honestly believe that if you knew what I know, you’d make the same choices as me”. It may sound cheesy but people like to know you see the good in them. Approaching the general through a specific example is often a good approach. Pick one animal, one incident that you found particularly shocking and tell them about it. A telling example is always the fact that cows give birth every year but have their calves taken away from them within hours so humans can have the milk intended for their babies. Another shocker is that broiler chickens are forced to gain weight so rapidly that their legs often break under their own weight.
It’s important not to bombard people or make them feel judged so it’s best to then change the subject but you may well have touched a nerve.
Take control of the situation
It’s all too easy to get emotional or even angry but this is not the best situation for a constructive conversation. Whether that happens to you or the other person, take a step back and say you’ll talk about it some other time.
If someone confronts you with science, ask them to show you the studies that back them up. Of course, they may ask you to do the same and that’s fair enough so be prepared. Don’t let people corner you and put you on the defensive so you make wild claims and then have to frantically search for scientific studies to back them up. Once you’re on the defensive, you forget to put the onus on the challenger to produce simple facts. Arguments are not ideal but you can afford to be fair and give them a hearing because the facts are on your side.
Agree to disagree
Sometimes, it’s the only way. Agree to disagree and don’t talk about it but be reassured that some of the things you’ve said will be lodged in the other person’s consciousness, fermenting away. If the subject comes up again, try to not make it a big issue and lead by example instead. It may be that with some people it will always create tension or even aggression so just get on with your life and leave it alone. Over time, you will show them that your lifestyle is a great one and that’s hard to argue with.
Don’t compromise (even theoretically)
It’s hard sometimes not to compromise for the sake of peace but don’t do it! Keep your views clear and straight and don’t fall into the “what if” trap. “What if you crashed in the jungle and had to hunt to survive?” Or the good old “desert island” scenario. Unlikely theoretical situations of survival have nothing to do with the suffering of millions of animals and the fact that we have an exceptional freedom of choice and can choose the most ethical and sustainable options.
Sometimes, you have to let people go. It’s incredibly difficult but if your encounters always create friction and bad feelings, you may need to admit that perhaps that relationship had run its course. Or you need a break – try not to see the person for a couple of months and see how things are afterwards.
The whole situation is different when the people involved kill for fun and go hunting or fishing. Sometimes these ‘sports’ run in the family and are a deeply rooted part of someone’s identity. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t think about their actions. Even if it’s difficult, try to have an open conversation with them about why they like it or what is the most and the least favourite part of what they do. Be inquisitive but not judgmental, even if it makes your skin crawl. Giving them a chance to explain makes them feel heard and therefore more likely to respect your views.
Obviously, you’d like them to stop killing animals and even if you think the chances are slim, it’s not impossible. Sow some seeds of doubt in their mind – but judge it carefully. Maybe ask them if they ever feel sorry for the animal they’ve killed or injured but don’t get into a lengthy conversation – ask and let it go. Stress that you are not challenging them but are simply curious. It’s not about their answer, of course, but about the thoughts you’ve triggered in their mind.
Why does it have to be us?
You might be thinking “why does it have to be me – tiptoeing about, being careful and keeping calm?” – and you’re right, it shouldn’t be like that. However, as long as the vegan lifestyle is in a minority, we have to make more of an effort to state our case to non-vegans.
It can be draining to maintain your lifestyle while trying to get on with everyone, even feeling lonely at times – and that’s why vegan friends are priceless. Things are so much easier when you have like-minded friends around and it’s well worth going out of your way to find some! Not to replace your old pals but to add a level of comfort to your life that only a vegan friend can bring.
So where can you find them? Try local vegan groups (search social media for meetups and events), vegan festivals, vegan cafés or volunteering for a vegan charity.