Vegans can find it very difficult to respond to the multitude of reactions they receive from their family members about their vegan lifestyle choices. The extent of the difficulty depends on why they have chosen veganism. If the choice is one of adopting a healthy diet, reducing food costs or because of the impact of food production on the environment, they are likely to be less challenged than the ethical vegan.
The ethical vegan is someone whose life is underpinned by the philosophy of the non-use and non-exploitation of animals. The vegan, who is primarily concerned about their health, might easily be able to counter criticism or undermining by others in the same way as someone who doesn’t drink alcohol or is on a particular diet. They might get tired of comments and attempts by others to change their behaviour, but they wouldn’t necessarily be offended by other people’s choices to drink alcohol or eat different foods themselves.
The ethical vegan is in a different situation. They have chosen this path because they are distressed by animal cruelty and the use of animals for food, clothing, cosmetics, furniture etc. When they see others act in ways that collude with this cruelty, they understandably find it enormously difficult.
The Vegan’s Dilemma
When the vegan enters the non-vegan’s home, they are confronted by reflections of animal use. It’s not a case of ‘I am a vegan and your non-vegan choice doesn’t affect me’ but rather ‘By you choosing not to be vegan after I have told you the facts of how animals are treated (and how humans demonstrate their control over animals by using them for their own use), you are colluding with the inherent cruelty in the production of those items.’
This is the vegan’s dilemma – they can’t look the other way because to do so, they avoid speaking out for the voiceless and, in effect, collude with the cruelty themselves. However, there is an extra layer of challenge when the non-vegan context includes one’s family with all the complexities of family bonds, upbringing, culture, tradition and influence.
How does the vegan respond when they see other people contribute to animal use? This may be passive or active. It might be passive in terms of having to witness one’s family eating, wearing or using products that have included animal use without them attacking the vegan for their choices. It is still difficult for the vegan to witness this, especially when all the facts have been shared about animal use. The vegan can become frustrated, angry or feel powerless to get people to change. It also complicates their relationship with their family since they may love them but loathe their choices. The other scenario is when the vegan is criticised, ridiculed and undermined about their choices or the extent of animal suffering. Worse still, they may be tantalised about the joys of eating meat or wearing fur. These two different reactions by non-vegans can be easier to manage by imagining people are somewhere on what I call ‘The Continuum of Awareness’.
The Continuum of Awareness
Imagine a continuum that extends from Indifference/Disinterest at one end and Full Awareness/Positive Action at the other end. The indifferent person has no interest in veganism despite possibly having all the facts. The person at the Awareness end is open to changing their life and making an emotional commitment to not contributing to animal use. In the context of the non-vegan family, decide where you think each person is on this scale. The passive family member would appear to be indifferent. The active and anti-veganism family member might be considered beyond indifference, far beyond awareness. But don’t be fooled.
The person who actively attacks you for your choices is affected by what you have told them. If they weren’t, why would they spend so much energy trying to undermine you? They may have an increasing awareness of what is going on and it must have reached them at an emotional level or else they would remain indifferent. We could argue that they strongly believe it is acceptable to use animals and for some it might be. However, if they were secure in their choices, why would they have to defend them by attacking the vegan lifestyle? It’s likely that they have moved along the awareness continuum and resisting it strongly, despite a strong emotional reaction that somehow it’s not right to continue as they are.
Influencing Others to Change
If you wish to influence others about veganism or anything else, attacking them won’t work and, in the context of veganism, nor should it. The non-abuse of animals must surely include the non-abuse of human animals as well as non-human animals. The best thing is to become the best example of being a vegan that you can be.
Learn to manage your strong emotions and transmute them into powerful words and actions that get people saying ‘This person seems to be so self- assured, healthy and happy about their vegan lifestyle, perhaps I should look into it?’ It can be difficult to keep calm, when others are attacking you about something you hold so dear to your heart, but if you want to be the best voice for veganism, you must start with yourself.
There are proven strategies that can help manage your anxiety, anger, despair in many life experiences, including veganism. When you become equipped with the tools and strategies to manage yourself across time and situation, and you combine it with proven ways to communicate effectively under pressure and when feeling strong emotion, you will become a powerful voice for veganism – both within the family and outside of it. Do whatever you can to learn these techniques and seek professional help if you find you just can’t do this on your own.