Today we'll be talking about navigating one of those vegan gray areas that we often go through when we are vegan and we share our life with non-vegans: What should I do if I’ve decided to go vegan, but the people who live with me aren’t willing to make this change?
What should I do if my partner isn’t vegan and I’m in charge of most of the grocery shopping?
What should I do if my kids, parents or roommates, aren’t vegan and I have to do some or most of the cooking?
What should I do if I’m buying lots of produce and delicious vegan products for myself, but I still need to purchase animal products for family members?
I get it, having to purchase animal products once you’ve learned what happens in these industries can be hard. Even more so if your personal motivation for going vegan was reducing the cruelty and harm done to animals in these industries. Although I was very lucky that Carlos, my husband, decided to go vegan shortly after I did, the rest of our family and friends are in different places of the animal eating spectrum. Some are pescatarian, some eat most of the meals vegan but not all, most are 100% omnivores, they love it when I make them vegan food, but most of them love their meat and although they’re aware of many more issues now than before they met us, they still consume animal products.
Through the years, both in our own experiences and when helping our students, readers and listeners, I’ve come to think of this particular process in terms of steps. Not steps that they have to take, steps that we have to take to make peace with this imperfect part of our lives and still maintain the health of our relationships:
Step 1: Accepting that this is the reality right now
It is a part of life, that just as we can share homes, spaces, friendships and romantic relationships with people who have different political inclinations than we do, different religions, different value systems, different priorities, different tastes in books and music and films, we also find differences in the way we eat.
Even when we’ve become the best activists, the most “soap-boxy” vegans, the most wonderful cooks, the most convincing environmentalists, the most knowledgeable when it comes to animal rights and human rights (remember that veganism isn’t only about improving conditions for animals), we might still find that we’re at the supermarket reaching for a package of dairy based cheese or a carton of eggs or whatever food our family members eat that isn’t vegan. For some it’s the shopping of these that is difficult, as it’s the precise moment when we’re handing over our hard earned money to support systems that we don’t want to support. For others it’s harder to handle and cook non-vegan foods if they’re the main cooks in the family. For me, the first step to making sure my life stays sane and positive, even when the “perfect or ideal” scenario would be another, is to accept that this is where we are. It is what it is.
Step 2: Find the straightest road to empathy
We often feel worried or wonder, why, if we’ve shared all we now know, our loved ones still won’t budge. What does that mean in terms of their value systems? Their sense of right and wrong?
Remember where you yourself were before you went vegan, it is in my opinion the straightest path to feeling empathy and finding common ground. I’m pretty sure you had the same value systems you have now, you were simply not awakened to these issues yet, you didn’t know, you weren’t ready, you were aware but were scared to look closely because change is hard and difficult, especially when it slightly creates a shift in our social interactions. When you feel yourself getting worried or upset, try to remember what it was like for you before going vegan. I remember saying 500 million times as a child, teen and well into adulthood, probably days before I decided to go vegan that I would NEVER give up steak, don’t even get me started on sushi made with fish. Things changed a lot for me as you can tell, but even if they hadn’t, our loved ones’ choice of eating animal products has a lot less to do with their deepest values, and much more to do with habit, attachments, belonging, and fear. It can be so helpful to remember this. Sometimes even when we know, even when we’re aware, the choice can be hard.
Step 3: Try to find the middle ground and enlist some help
It can be very helpful to share in the tasks so that you don’t feel alone when shopping and cooking. I completely understand the tough process of being the main cook or the person in the family who does most of the shopping, but this can start to change, slowly, until you find a middle ground that works for everyone involved. Just the symbolic gesture of shopping together can help, same goes for beginning to do some of the prepping or cooking together.
It’s okay to decide to eat differently from your family members. It’s also okay if this change means some of the dynamics and tasks in the kitchen need to change slightly too. Ease yourself and others into this, and be kind to yourself even when you feel you’re being imperfect by still having to buy some of these products for your home.
If this help and support from those who are eating these products doesn’t come, something that might ease the burden and that has helped many of our students navigate this, is ordering some or all of those animal products online and have them delivered. It’s technically the same, you’re still purchasing these products, but if there’s no way around it, and your family members can’t or are unwilling to help, try to make any adjustments to the routine that help you make peace with this. Online shopping often helps, it means that when you’re walking through the store and deciding what to make, you can focus on all the delicious produce and foods that everyone at home CAN eat, and you’ll feel less of that separation, less of the focus on the negative, and more on the positive and the parts of the meal that are shared together.
Step 4: Don’t carry their choices on your shoulders
I know it can be hard not to feel this as a heavy burden, or as it meaning something about you or your way of being vegan. This is part of what it means to be a vegan in a world that isn’t. Rather than being unkind to yourself by asking why you haven’t been able to reach them and have them join you, wondering whether you’re a “bad vegan” a “bad advocate” a “bad activist”, “not doing enough” “not being perfect enough”, “not trying enough”, take the weight of their choices off your shoulders.
Their choice isn’t about you.
Their choice also doesn’t make them bad people. These are complicated deep-rooted habits that are very hard to change for some people, and the truth is you can’t walk through the path on anyone else’s behalf. Everyone has to find their own motivation, and you can definitely inspire and plant seeds, but then carry on focusing on all the great changes YOU’VE made, all the progress YOU’VE made, all the positive impact YOU’VE made.
Step 5: Remember that in finding peace at home, you can also find one of THE most important things to help animals, YOU, staying vegan for many years to come
Nothing is as true as this and I’ve seen it time and time again in practice. So many of our students are in our program or courses after a few failed attempts at trying to be vegan years ago. I can’t tell you how many times what derailed them was that they couldn’t keep the peace at home. Shopping, cooking and eating became such a battleground that they eventually got tired of arguing and they decided to go back to eating animal products again. Ironic isn’t it, how our deep desire to help animals can take us to being the food or vegan police at home, trying to be perfect by pushing this lifestyle on our loved ones, and then, when we fail, when we start feeling like we aren’t perfect advocates for animals because there are still steaks in the freezer, we decide to step away.
The best thing you can do for animals is start with you. Live a happy, loved and supported life (and we need our loved ones for that regardless of how they eat), forget about perfection and carry on in spite of the imperfections.
If there’s one thought I want to leave you with for now in this series it’s this:
This journey that you’re on, no matter how imperfect, is changing the lives and wellbeing of animals, it’s changing policy, it’s changing the products that are available, it’s making more and more options appear in menus everywhere, it’s lowering the prices of vegan products as more and more options become available, it’s helping companies get extremely creative and make products that are of outstanding quality, it’s helping the environment, it’s helping your fellow human beings, it’s helping others go vegan for many of these facts alone, even if the people around you aren’t joining you, it can help your health and even improve your relationship with food, as well as your understanding of consumer habits and having a safer and more ethical world. If you can keep this up, even in the face of imperfection, the ripples of kindness and change will be remarkable, and it all started with you.
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