Table Talk: Vegan manners & handling tricky social situations
Let’s face it, many non-vegans find vegans confronting, annoying and perhaps a little chauvinistic. Unfortunately, it only takes a single bad experience for a non-vegan to form an opinion of “what vegans are like” so it’s crucial that anyone who wants to see fewer animal products consumed handles such situations with care.
Firstly, I want to preface my tips below by saying I completely understand why non-vegans often come to form these stereotypical views. Vegans by nature are extremely passionate people and general very deep thinkers with the very best of intentions. When given the chance to talk about their Veganism and why they choose to live their life the way they do this passion can result in the information they share as being misinterpreted as forceful & intense while at the same time looking like a know it all and taking a position of superiority. So the aim of this blog is to provide some General principles and specific tips for channelling that passion to create more impact through a ‘less is more’ approach.
General principles for handling tricky questions, comments & social situations:
1 – Stay calm. I’m not perfect, but I have always received feedback that I have been able to influence people to look at eating more plants by maintaining a sense of calmness, among other things, when discussing why I personally do not eat animal ingredients. Now I understand that this may be more difficult for some depending on personality type (I’m usually not one for conflict) but you need to remember that if you get someone off guard by coming across too strong or too intense then they are unlikely to be engaging with you at a level where they will act on anything you say. In fact, they are likely to even do the opposite, reaffirming their decision to eat animal products.
2 – If asked for facts do not make things up. If you don’t know the answer its best to put your hand up as admitting you don’t know something is a sign of trust…that’s what trustworthy people do. If you get caught in a back and forth about meat for example and begin making things up it will only discredit yourself and the plant-based lifestyle in general.
3 – Laugh things off. Often you may well be confronted with a ‘baiting’ style comment from someone when they find out you’re vegan or see what you ordered. Rather than firing back something like “let’s see who lives longer” or “at least I’m eating without killing an animal” don’t take the bait. Laugh it off. That person, who clearly is coming from a position that is very anti-veganism, is far more likely to come around and listen to you if they think you have some humour and are a likeable person. So despite everything on your inside telling you to bite back, don’t take the bait and when the time’s right they may open a normal conversation with you about how you eat. Even if they don’t its far better for them to go home and think “Tommy was cool tonight. Interesting he only eats plants”.
4 – Be kind. You may have heard of them say “kill them with kindness”, or perhaps the Selena Gomez track, which essentially means to hold your negative emotions back so they do not get the better of you. For some, this means ‘taking the higher ground’. This doesn’t mean you need to be a complete walkover or not stand up for your values but it may look something like this “Ok well you know what, I totally appreciate your opinion and the fact is what you eat is entirely your choice. I choose to eat this way for me but yeh I’m certainly not here to force that on you or anyone else”.
Specific questions and answers for handling tricky questions, comments & social situations
Q: What to do if you go to dinner with friends or family, sit down and there are no vegan options?
A: My preference is to find an option on the menu that is nearly vegan and then do one of two things. If the meal is quite clearly vegan without the cheese you can just wait for the waitress/waiter to come over and when it’s your turn kindly ask for that meal without the cheese. If you are unsure if the meal has other animal products in it OR there are not any easily modified items on the menu I generally excuse myself from the table and on the way or way back from the bathroom I stop and speak to a waiter/waitress or the chef and kindly introduce myself and say something like “Thanks for having me tonight guys. I’m hoping this isn’t too difficult but I am vegan and couldn’t see much on the menu that I could eat. I’m not fussy, is there any dish you could whip up for me without animal products?”. I have never once been told “no”. Every single time they either say “yes no worries we can do a, b, c or d” or they say “let me ask the chef what we can do”. By doing this away from the table it saves you being the centre of unwanted attention or perhaps a joke (“fussy vegan”). When the waiter finally comes over to take the tables order they will look at you and say “and I have you sorted already”. Smooth and easy as that. Of course, someone at the table may say “did you get something special” and you can quite easily say “yeh on the way to the toilet I nicely asked what the chef could do for me ..they seemed super excited to try something new for once”.
Q: My family doesn’t want me to be ‘plant based/vegan’ and isn’t supporting me at home – how do I change their opinion as I am worried about my parent’s and siblings health too and what do I do when they serve me chicken or beef for example?
A: I think first we need to understand that 99% of the time parents are coming from a place of love. They care about you changing your diet and because they are not too familiar with the vegan diet they assume it will be restrictive and lack everything you need to be healthy and live a long life. So for me, this is best approached by feeding them information or resources that help them understand why a vegan diet is healthy and why you want to pursue this lifestyle. Because their concern for your health is often their #1 priority I think irrespective of your reason for going vegan (i.e if it is due to animal ethics or sustainability) you need to make sure they understand the health side of things. This is where documentaries like What The Health, Forks Over Knives& Eating You Alive are so helpful. In 1-2 hours they provide a clear snapshot of the current condition of the Western Populations and how large a role food plays in the prevention and reversal of disease. So work out how you can get them to watch these…but remember the general principles mentioned above – Stay calm, do not make things up, laugh with your parents and be kind. Nobody, including your parents, will be open to listening and learning if you are overly forceful, abrupt and cannot crack a smile. Also remember, your parents have fed you a certain way no doubt for many years, so you need to be very considerate in your approach. They have no doubt done the absolute best in terms of your nutrition with the knowledge they have… of course your health is always a priority to them so don’t make it personal! I’ve never once made my parents feel bad for the way I ate growing up because we are learning together and fortunately today with the internet and web-based bookstores like Amazon information sharing is easier than ever before.
Some of my other favourite resources that you could show your parents are:
Idiots Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition book by Ray Cronise and Julieanna Heaver
Plantproof.com – Obviously, I am building out this website and adding new content every single week to help people connect the dots between their health and food.
Plant Proof Podcast – A vehicle where I have conversations with inspiring people such as Doctor’s, professional athletes, business people etc all aimed at helping us become more conscious, more mindful and more educated when it comes to the food we put into our bodies. I mix up the type of guests, so choose an episode that you think will resonate with your parents.
Q: I am at a restaurant with friends and my meal comes out and incorrectly has cheese through it. What do I do to save embarrassment?
A: Obviously, point it out to the waiter but the key is maintaining a sense of calmness. “Hey sorry, this meal didn’t say it had cheese on it which I don’t eat. It’s no big deal and I’m happy to wait but could you please swap it for a version without cheese?”. Be sure to smile and when they say yes make sure you thank them. Basic manners leave a good taste in peoples mouths and too often waiters are left thinking vegans are rude and self-entitled. Let’s change that by just being kind and understanding…after all, that’s what we are wanting people to be when it comes to things like animal agriculture and the health of the planet? Lead by example.
Q: My local cafe is mostly vegan but serves some eggs and cheese – should I be worried about contamination in the kitchen or feel uneasy at places like this?
A: Absolutely not. Vegans need to co-exist with non-vegans so we don’t create some sort of great divide. I’m all for non-vegan places adding vegan things to their menu and I support them just as much as 100% vegan establishments. You may be thinking why would I support somewhere that sells animal products? Because if they don’t get good feedback on their vegan menu or see sales then they will remove it. Supply and demand. If you increase the demand for vegan products cafes will add more and more vegan dishes to their menu. Slowly that will mean more people dining with them are exposed to this animal-free way of eating.
Q: If McDonald’s brought out a Vegan burger in Australia would you try it?
A: This one may agitate the purists but my answer is “absolutely”. Hear me out. I, of course, advocate a whole food plant based diet so a processed food like a McDonald’s burger certainly would not be a ‘health’ choice on my behalf and I wouldn’t be rushing to substitute it for my daily buddha bowl, however if we want to see big business embrace veganism and plant-based foods on their menu then they need to see sales. Traditionally big businesses like McDonald’s have been scared of the ‘vegan’ word. They’ve been ridiculed and shamed for their support of animal agriculture. I understand the motives there but I will say that if we want McDonald’s and similar companies to change, we need to support & work with them, rather than creating a McDonald’s versus Vegan’s situation where nobody wins, including the animals. I wouldn’t eat the McDonald’s vegan burger every day because it’s not aligned with my health principles, however, I would try it, praise them for their courage to try something new and I would share the story in a positive light for my friends, family and anyone else to see.
Q: My Doctor has recommended I feed my baby Dairy baby formula – should I be concerned about this?
A: I think we know enough from research to suggest that ‘Breast is Best’ so where possible you should maximise the babies nutrition with Breast Milk whether that is your own or donor milk for the first 1-2 years. Breast Milk is the perfect concoction of macro and micronutrients to help your baby thrive and while formula has tried to mimic it, it will never be identical. In saying that, I appreciate that not every woman has ample supply or access to donors milk (Getting more Donor milk is a whole other topic) so then, of course, you need to find a formula which will ensure your baby’s nutritional needs are met. Whether this is a milk or soy-based formula will be under the guidance of your Doctor. The #1 thing is that formula or not, your baby needs to get all the nutrition it needs and sometimes this may mean a small sacrifice in terms of your value/belief system. I encourage you to sit down with your Doctor and discuss:
How to maximise your own supply (Lactation Consultants are also amazing for this – shoutout to my mum who’s been a lactation consultant for over 30 years).
Options for getting local Donor Milk
What infant formula options you have which should consider organic vs non-organic and dairy vs plant-based options. I have done a blog on infant nutrition here which may also help you in terms of things to discuss with your Doctor.
Q: My Doctor advised me that a plant-based diet is not healthy and I will become Iron deficient – what should I say to them?
A: If your doctor is super anti-veganism then I would suggest you look for a more holistic open minded Dr or if that is not an option grab a copy of “Becoming Vegan” read up in your own time and take some questions to your next appointment. I’d also recommend you go through my blogs and print off certain ones that you think you would like to discuss with them – I have blogs on blood tests, iron, calcium, protein etc and will soon be releasing easy to print fact sheets on all the important nutrients for you to print and take with you.
Q: A friend at dinner says “Humans have eaten meat for centuries since the cavemen. This vegan thing is Propaganda”
This is where laughter should come into it. Lighten the mood a bit. Perhaps something like “haha maybe if I was a Flinstone I’d have eaten meat then. Yabba Dabba Doo!” And then if that conversation lightens up and they ask you to elaborate you could touch on the fact that previous generations may have eaten meat but it’s not as much as you would think and they were really eating based on ‘survival’ and an ‘any nutrition at all costs’ basis. In the modern day, we have been able to analyse populations who show the greatest longevity and they have a huge bias for eating plants over animal products and appear to be living a much higher quality of life without medications well into their 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s. And then perhaps suggest in their own time they look up the Blue Zones.
Q: My friends make fun of Vegan food and ask how I survive on lettuce. What should I say?
A: Lead by example. The very best strategy I have found to respond to such comments is by saying “Hey come over one day or night I’d love to cook for you and show you some of my favourite dishes” or if you don’t have a kitchen then “I’d love to take you to my favourite cafe and show you some of the vegan food I love, you’ll be surprised just like I was when I started exploring this way of eating”.
Q: I know the restaurant that’s been booked for dinner tonight by my friends has a super meat-heavy menu and I heard they aren’t that flexible.
A: There are always going to be situations where you find yourself thinking “Oh no what am I going to eat?”. Firstly, think about what the most important part of the dinner is. For me, it’s about not letting the way I consume food get in the way of the relationships I have with people. Ok it’s not your choice of restaurant but so be it, we don’t always get exactly what we want in life. In this circumstance, I may call the restaurant in advance and find out if they can cater for me with even the most basic of vegan dishes like Roast Potato with vegetables. If yes, then I may have a cheeky little ‘appetiser’ at home before I go so I’m not sitting there with a rumbling stomach. Then you get to the restaurant, order your potato and vegetables or whatever they said they can do and that’s it. It’s very admirable for you to show up and effortlessly enjoy your night. If anyone asks about your meal or if you’re hungry (“Does that meal come in men’s mate?”) just let them know you only ate not so long ago and aren’t actually that hungry but are super pumped to be there to catch up.
I must say though the longer I’ve been vegan the more and more my friends are excited about eating plant-based food. So every time we catch up it is THEM who chooses the plant-based cafe or vegan-friendly place because they see catching up with me as an opportunity to eat healthily.
The more you lead by example and resist being a poor sport, particularly in the early days, the more your friends will grow to see your way of eating as non-threatening and something they may even like to try for themselves! And remember, even though you may feel the desire to convince them to become vegan overnight, for seismic shifts public and planetary health to take place, the world needs billions of people making dietary changes imperfectly, not few doing it perfectly.