Dealing with Non-Vegan Friends and Family

A big part of family and friendship is spending time together. There are dinners, coffee catch-ups, BBQs, birthday celebrations, and countless other social events – all of which involve food and conversation. For both recently-turned-vegans and old-timer-vegans alike, going out or entertaining with non-veg friends and family can feel incredibly daunting.

Early on, the nervousness may be because you don’t want to “be any trouble”. Your parents or partner might do most of the cooking, your Grandmother might have a special dish she makes when you visit, and maybe your work meetings are catered for. Making a big change can seem too difficult without wanting to create extra work or offend anyone. 

Further into your vegan journey, the anxiety may be because you simply don’t feel like sitting at a table of meat-dishes, heavily outnumbered, being interrogated about your dietary and lifestyle choices. You get asked about veganism non-stop, and concurrently get told that it is all you talk about. Sometimes, rightfully so, you just don’t have the energy to go along with it.

Those times when you are feeling alone as you face another meal surrounded by people who seemingly no longer understand you, know there are thousands of others sitting through similar experiences – you are definitely not alone.

It goes without saying friends and family won’t always be of the same beliefs and opinions. It also goes without saying that social interactions are inevitable. In order to survive them with our sanity and our dignity, there are three key aspects we need to learn to navigate – the food aspect, the other people aspect, and the “you” in all of this. 

vegan dinner socialising

The food aspect

Undeniably, food is a major element of spending time with loved ones. There is no right or wrong way to go about this aspect. There are, however, plenty of options, and you may find yourself changing your approach depending on the event, the crowd, and how you’re feeling. 

For example, if up to it, you can strive to keep things as normal as possible and demonstrate that vegan food can be easily accessible, wholesome, and delicious. On the other hand, you may find a particular event more challenging, politely decline, and opt for some you-time instead. We’ve certainly done this before! Brazilian BBQ? Spit Roast? Live-Seafood restaurant? Thanks for the invite, but I think I’ll stay in, read Vystopia, and cuddle my companion animal on the couch instead.

Other days, you might be in the mood to take on the world, armed with feel-good energy from knowing that you’re doing what’s best for the animals, the planet, and yourself. When that is the case, here are some of our top suggestions for dealing with different social scenarios from a quick coffee outing to hosting guests at home –

Coffee catch-ups:

  • Most cafés offer an alternative milk of some description, so there’s no need to miss out on chats over a chai. When choosing beverages that include flavours, like mochas or chai-lattes, just be mindful of sneaky ingredients like milk powders and honey.   
  • Don’t be afraid to ask if there is a particular type of alternative milk available. On occasion, there are plant-based milks such as macadamia or oat in the barista’s fridge, that are yet to be listed on the menu.
  • Have a favourite spot that makes amazing coffee? Organise to meet your friend there and offer to shout them coffee with a plant-based milk of choice. You might be surprised at their willingness to try it if you’re buying, and your coffee date might be surprised to find that oat-lattes become their brew of choice!
alternative milk coffee vegan

Dining out:

  • On most menus, vegan options are marked with a little leaf symbol or “Ve”, but you can also ask restaurant staff what menu items can be made vegan. Sometimes there’s a separate vegan menu available. More often, there are things that can be easily “veganised” by removing cheeses or sauces. If you’d like extra peace of mind, phone the venue ahead to check the options.
  • Use the HappyCow website or app to find accommodating eats in your area, or follow Social accounts like Sydney Vegan Guide (@sydneyveganguide) or Melbourne Vegan Guide (@melbveganguide). Using these resources, you can suggest going for dinner at a vegan, veggie, or omni restaurant that has great vegan options so you don’t get stuck with a side of fries again. Don’t get us wrong, we love fries – but as a “dinner”, they just don’t cut it.

Going to a BBQ:

  • Let the host know if you are happy to bring food for yourself, and bring a little extra to offer around in case people are keen to try your alien veg food. 
  • So that you don’t miss out on the barbecuing element of the BBQ, bring along things that are grill-friendly – mock meats such as Beyond Burger Patties or Herb & Sons Sausages are available from Coles, tofu steaks and marinade can be easily tossed together in a container, or Vege Skewers can be thrown together with bamboo or stainless steel skewers and chunks of any grill-able vegetables.
vegan bbq vegan meat

Going to a dinner party:

  • Dip platters are always crowd pleasers. An array of dips can be made at home, or Hummus or Chris’ Plant-Based Dips are available from most major supermarkets. Chop up some carrots and celery sticks, tip out some milk-free crackers, and you’ve got yourself a grazing board.

Attending a birthday party:

  • For those game enough, bake some tasty cupcakes, make a no-bake slice, or bring some lollies if you’re short on time. Let these cheeky treats show the party that vegans don’t have to miss out on any deliciousness!
  • If you’d rather leaving baking to the pros, order some vegan Grumpy’s Donuts, Nutie Donuts, or a decadent cake from Loretta’s Vegan Cakes. Unless you mention that you’ve brought vegan goods, it’d be rare for someone to notice any difference to “regular” doughnuts or cakes. Be mindful to flag any possible allergens though, as some guests may be intolerant or allergic to things like soy or nuts, among other ingredients.
vegan cupcakes baking dessert

Entertaining at home:

  • For finger-food or a grazing board, you can’t go wrong with a spread of Mediterranean plates – think pita bread, stuffed vine leaves, olives, hummus, bean salad, falafels, and tabbouleh. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s traditional Turkish Delight, and Vegan Lebanese Street-food have perfected honey-free Baklava.
  • If fake-meat isn’t your thing, there’s the option to go all-out veg fest and impress your guests with a whole-food vegan spread. The Simple Veganista has numerous recipes to demonstrate that you don’t need meat, or faux meat, to have a hearty meal.
  • Alternatively, you can fly under the radar by making foods people already eat and don’t consider as “being vegan”. For example, an Italian inspired cook up could have Garlic Bread (simply switch butter for Nuttelex, or check out Loving It Vegan’s recipe, Bruschetta, and Pasta Arrabiata, or warm bread rolls and Minestrone Soup. For an inconspicuous Mexican style dinner, corn chips, guac, and salsa are common starters/sides, and rice and black bean burritos are fairly common and not necessarily associated with veganism.
vegan platter nibbles
Vegan Lebanese Street Food share plates

The other people aspect

There may be times when all the questions make you feel like you’re living in a never-ending interrogation. You may face a handful of comments on repeat (that may make you want to scream, or cry, or laugh, or run away), but keep in mind that answering them has the possibility of leading to a fruitful conversation. A healthy conversation can build intrigue, enough to plant a seed for someone to go off and do a little investigating on their own, in their own time. 

When responding, be prepared that not all answers will be welcomed with receptive ears and an open mind. Amongst the questioning, being “the vegan” at the dinner table often comes with being the butt of many jokes. Why? Because veganism is going against the norm, and people often react to change and difference with resistance, defensiveness, or ridicule. There may be times, unfortunately, where it may be best not to engage. This is unique to each situation, depending on the sincerity of the query and how you are feeling at the time.

Your responses will transform and grow continuously, as you do. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Veganism is a topic that conjures up a lot of emotion, and we can’t all expect to deliver our thoughts with the clarity and tact of Earthling Ed in our first vegan vs non-vegan spar. 

As there are often just a handful of similar questions asked by curious friends and family, arming yourself with information on these topics will enable you to answer them more calmly. Visit Common Arguments Against Veganism as a starting point. Everyone is different, and you’ll find your own groove, but we’ve found that responding with a combination of information, personal anecdotes, and return questions, ignites the most positive interactions. 

As an example, if someone asks why you don’t eat eggs, attacking the act of eating eggs as being monstrous could make them prop up defensive walls. Instead, something along the lines of the following acknowledges the realities of the industry, why you made the change, and engages them in a way that can keep the conversation going –

“I used to think that no chickens were hurt in the egg industry. Then I learnt that they kill the hens after just a year of laying, and of the chicks that are hatched to replace the spent egg-layers, the male chicks are deemed useless and are killed. Did you know this happens in Australia, too? Once I found out, I Googled egg-replacers and switched to alternatives. If you’re interested, I can send you the names of some really eye-opening documentaries or links.”

With varied opinions and beliefs, it is important to always be respectful when answering genuine queries and not jump to shaming anyone for not being vegan, or not being “vegan-enough”. We are passionate about what we stand for, and we know the animals need us to be vocal and active in our fight for their rights. That said, being unwelcoming could scare people off and create a fear that you need to “a perfect vegan” from day dot. For most, transitioning to veganism is a journey of learning and changing habits, ingredients and products over time. Most of us were not born vegan – we saw exposés, read books, watched documentaries, asked questions, and made changes. We aren’t sure who first said this, but it’s a good quote to remember; be the vegan that you wish you’d met before you were vegan.

rescue pig vegan
Betty – living life like every pig should be able to
Sugarshine Farm Sanctuary

The you aspect

You are important, too. When it boils down to it, you don’t want to put yourself into situations that don’t serve you well. Each situation is unique and you need to consider you. What is tolerable for some is not tolerable for all, and that is okay. 

Know that you are doing what you think is the right thing, and you shouldn’t give anyone the power to make you feel silly for standing up for your beliefs. There are thousands of people out there, sitting at dinner tables, feeling as odd and out-of-place as you may be. We are a community of “outcasts” and we truly believe that in a good few years, being “the vegan” at a party will be so normal we won’t need blogs like this one.

Online vegan communities exist and can provide support. It is sad to have to say this, but some vegan forums can be toxic as with any poorly monitored online environments. There is a disappointing trend of vegans pointing out “faults” of “impure” vegans. In a time when you feel misunderstood by your nearest and dearest, being ostrasised by the veg community can make you feel even more alone. This goes back to what we mentioned earlier – always speak to one another with respect. The world around us harsh enough, and at the very least, we should be able to be kind. Kindness doesn’t cost anything and the more you give, the more you create, so sprinkle that stuff around like leaf-petal-eco confetti.

And save some of the confetti to sprinkle on yourself! Make time outside of working and socializing to practice self-care. Think about what helps you recharge, because you can’t save the world if you are depleted. Meditation, reading, painting, and exercising are all excellent for your mental health. Visiting a sanctuary and spending time with rescue animals always helps us, too (and puts a big smile on our faces). It can serve as a nice reminder of why we are going against the grain, and who we are doing it for. 

Being vegan in a non-vegan world can be exhausting. After dealing with friends and family, rather than focus on any negative remarks, focus on any little wins – Did someone try your food and like it? Was anyone showing genuine curiosity in your reasons? Did anyone put in a little extra effort to accommodate? We know how hard it can be, so trying to flip your mindset to celebrate little positive happenings can make a big difference.

This goes one step further to the news we consume. While it is very important to be aware of the realities occurring in the world, train your brain to absorb positive news to avoid becoming overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and doom. LiveKindlyCo share plant-based and vegan related news stories – subscribe via email or follow them on socials for daily doses of positive.

If you are ever feeling overwhelmed, and it feels out of your control, do seek help. Organisations like Beyond Blue have a range of support services where you can call, chat online, or email.

We should view mental health like we do physical health – it is something we should constantly work on in order to maintain and strengthen it, it should be as common to chat about as boot camps and training programs, and we should get comfortable with the idea of seeking professional help when something isn’t right.

What do you find works best for you when dealing with non-veg friends and family? Let us know in the comments below.

vegan lamb child

Ari Feldmann