When I was still new to veganism, all I posted on social media were facts: “useless” male chicks are often thrown into grinders or suffocated. More than 30 millions cows are killed every year to feed Americans. Farmers often break off piglets’ teeth to make sure they won’t bite each other while confined in cages.
On Friday nights, I curled up with cashew milk ice cream to watch documentaries exposing the meat and dairy industries.
I thought I was the only one who cared about the worldwide mass murder of helpless creatures and decided it was my job to tell every person in my life about the absolute necessity of ditching chicken for tofu. I became the preachy, overly passionate vegan we all hear horror stories about, and I lost friends over it.
Sometime between proselytizing the good word of PETA and shoveling another bite of lactose-free dessert into my mouth, I realized I was not only making everyone around me miserable, but my constant anxiety was also making me miserable. I couldn’t keep bombarding my mind with graphic images from slaughterhouses if I wanted to be mentally and emotionally stable.
It was also around this time a friend pointed out that I own an iPhone and that I sometimes buy clothing from stores that profit from sweatshops or child labor.
I had a meltdown because I couldn’t take on every injustice in the world. With some time, I came to realize that every person does something that they think helps better the world in some way, and veganism is simply my way of contributing. From that point on, I never pressured or lectured anyone about veganism unless they asked for information, and I let go of my guilt over what I could not change.
Now nearly a year into veganism, I realize my part in the perpetuation of certain vegan stereotypes. But I’ve also heard my fair share of unfunny and frankly offensive vegan jokes.
You may have seen the video of the foul-mouthed older woman making a vegan version of a Turducken — a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey — making the rounds on social media over Thanksgiving.
I’ve seen the memes, too: vegans think they’re better than everyone else, vegans only eat grass, vegans announce their no-meat, no-dairy status within seconds to every new person they meet. Most of my friends and family members who tag me in vegan memes mean well, but sometimes it can get exhausting.
A 2008 study conducted by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau for the Vegetarian Times found that 7.3 million U.S. adults follow a vegetarian-based diet and 1 million of those are vegans. The study also shows that 42 percent of those who are vegetarian and/or vegan are between the ages of 18 and 34.
Considering the sheer number of young Americans who are vegetarian and/or vegan, it may be time for meat eaters to do what I’ve done. Take a step back and ask yourself if the vegan joke you’re about to utter is a. Funny b. Original c. Worth the public shame you’re about to impart on someone else’s lifestyle. Here’s how to speak to vegans without making them want to punch you in the face or cry.
Don’t Tell Everyone That They’re Vegan
Too many times I have been in a situation where I am with a friend, meeting new people and my friend tells everyone that I am a vegan. “Oh great,” I think. ‘Now I have to defend myself in front of a room full of strangers.’
Although I am not ashamed to be vegan, there is a stereotype that vegans will jump at the chance to tell everyone and anyone of their self-righteous lifestyle choice. Being painstakingly aware of this stereotype, I try to conceal it unless it is relevant or I am asked.
This shouldn’t just be a rule for having vegan friends — it should be a general rule. Trust me, your friends don’t need you to air their personal issues, they can speak for themselves.
Don’t Tell Them What They Can and Cannot Eat
When I go to restaurants with friends or family, the first thing they do is scan the menu for dishes I can eat. It’s sweet, and I know the gesture is usually coming from a place of concern.
But we can read menus. Most of the time, vegans know what we can and cannot eat, and if we can’t tell, we can always ask the waitstaff.
Also, it’s not that we can’t have something — we are not being restrictive. Vegans choose not to eat meat or dairy. It’s not a chore to us, it’s a voluntary life choice.
Don’t Be Their Nutritionist
Ah, the age-old question — “Where do you get your protein?” Here’s my question for anyone who has asked this: since when do you have a dietetics degree? Vegans are aware of their own veganism and know we have a different way of getting nutrients. If you must know, protein is in virtually everything. If someone is eating enough calories, they are most certainly getting enough protein.
After I went vegan, a host of my friends and family who were never previously concerned with my nutrition started asking detailed questions. Why all of the sudden concern? Non-vegans and non-vegetarians can make bad food choices, too — visit the Forbes Avenue McDonald’s on any Friday night and you can see those bad decisions in action.
Don’t Ask Them If They Eat
You may be making a joke because you have no idea what vegans eat — hint, it’s not grass or birdseed — but you can ask politely or do some research. The funny thing is, you probably eat vegan all of the time.
That peanut butter and celery you had for a snack? Vegan. That packet of Oriental-flavored ramen noodles you scarfed down before night class? Vegan. The 12 Oreos you ate while streaming “A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix? Yep, vegan.
And everything that has meat or cheese in it also has vegan substitutes: ice cream, pizza, burgers — we eat more than plants.
Don’t Tell Someone They Don’t “Look” Vegan
Beware — this is especially offensive. You’re either implying that the vegan in question is not thin enough or doesn’t look enough like a hippie to be an herbivore. You don’t have to be thin or be a hippie to be vegan — you just have to avoid meat, dairy and all other animal products.
Having a vegan friend is not complicated if you respect their life choices. After all, their food choices don’t personally affect you — except, of course, that they help save the environment and the planet you live on.