Advice for vegans by a vegan

Jamie Holt // The Flat Hat

Giorgianna Heiko ’25 is an English Major and prospective Creative Writing minor. She is co-President of the Liberal Students League, a debate club, and has been cast in the winter play A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream as the character Puck. She is also involved in the Creative Writing Club and the Gallery Literary Magazine. You can email her at grheiko@wm.edu.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

I have been vegan for six full years. And while most of that has been filled with enjoyable and gratifying memories, those experiences coincide with some anger, frustration and challenges. This essay is not meant to advocate for or justify veganism. This is simply a how-to guide to navigate universal problems vegans run into and to give some helpful perspective to non-vegans. Out of these universal vegan problems, I have learned the following three lessons.

Lesson number one, make nice with the administration, and help administrators when you can. Whether you’re away at an internship or working as a camp counselor, you must call ahead of time and establish a rapport with the people in charge of feeding you. You don’t want your first interaction with them to be a complaint. And if I know anything, there usually will be one. Maybe the food isn’t substantial, or maybe you literally cannot find your food because it hasn’t arrived yet, or worse, someone forgot to order it. 

It’s important to note that most administrators I’ve encountered want to help … until they inevitably realize that our existence is a burden to them; just when they thought they could make a simple order from their favorite pizzeria — think again! Their favorite pizzeria has no vegan cheese, and they need to accommodate you, often by law or policy. But don’t let this “required by law/policy” fool you. The accommodation space is a palatial gray area that could take the form of a BLT … minus the bacon, pizza … minus the cheese or a turkey sandwich … minus the turkey, none of which are substantial vegan meals with plant-based protein. We want instead an FLT (facon rather than bacon), a pizza with cashew-based cheese, or a tofurkey sandwich. 

 To make the administrators’ lives even easier, give them a list of plant-based proteins ahead of time, and better yet, a list of restaurants that have those proteins. Not only is the administration more inclined to help you because you are helping them, but even when they make a mistake, or what is too-often the case, no longer want to take the extra couple of steps to accommodate a vegan, you can say to them “there’s nothing on here that’s on the list of plant-based proteins I gave you.” Though it shouldn’t be a battle, sometimes it is, and now you’ve won.

Lesson number two, raising objections to an omnivore eating an omnivorous meal is not, how shall we say, polite dinner conversation. This can be a real challenge for some vegans. Most of us are vegans for moral reasons, and we are very passionate about our cause. But perhaps even more important than making nice with the administration is making nice with our loved ones. The dinner table is where we socialize, make communion and bond with others. But without fail, your veganism will come up. For non-vegan readers, I want you to know, we’ve heard it all before. “But meat tastes so good!” We know — that’s why we try to imitate it. “I could never go vegan.” Most vegans said that once before too. “Just get cage-free eggs.” Cage-free eggs sound great, until you do your research and find that the label allows businesses to pack chickens in conditions just as horrific as the cages — they fool you on a technicality.

Also, for my non-vegan readers, please know that no one makes the life-altering decision to eat an exclusively plant-based diet without doing extensive research first. Unless you are well-versed in the fields of environmental morals, animal rights and health, your best bet is to not raise these issues in an attempt to argue. 

Back to my vegan readers, if a non-vegan does raise these issues in an attempt to persuade you to return to your omnivorous roots, remember, arguments have no place in the environment we want to foster at the dinner table. Just as we get defensive when someone tells us how to live, most meat eaters would get defensive when you tell them that eating meat is immoral if they literally have meat in their mouths, no matter how nicely you say it. If someone brings up your veganism, you must politely try to change the subject. If they persist, be transparent and say you’d rather not talk about it at dinner where the food you are eating becomes a sensitive topic. You can always discuss it at a more appropriate occasion, like a debating club.

Lesson number three, when people do ask about your veganism, be polite, have answers prepared and be humble — there is a chance that someone brings up a good point that will really make you think. Encourage discourse on veganism, even if someone asks leading questions designed to make you trip. This may take some practice. Let’s start with a real example of what someone has said to me: “My friend is diabetic. She can’t go vegan. Some vegans are so disrespectful about that.” Here is how I replied, starting with positively acknowledging her decision to have discourse about veganism. “I’m sorry to hear about your friend,” then, establishing my humility, “I’ve heard of vegan diets helping and even curing some forms of diabetes. I wonder where she got that information.” She responded with, “Huh, I don’t know.” Regardless of whether that woman actually listened to what I said, I have established my trust with her for future conversations because I chose not to say, “Your ignorant friend is making things up!” No matter what, you cannot get mad at people even when they are mad at you for your choices, as this woman was clearly implying. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” Our goal as vegans is for non-vegans to understand us, our morals and our way of life. 

In conclusion, my fellow vegans, I advocate that we be understanding of non-vegans’ limitations regarding their knowledge of veganism. Let’s not contribute to the vegan stereotypes that we are divisive, dogged and difficult. We must help others to help us. And we must allow others to explore our minds and morals on these sensitive issues in as comfortable an environment as possible.

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