Veganism and Relationship Struggles: Keeping the Peace with a Non-Vegan Partner, Friend, Parent or Other Family MembersMar 10, 2023
In today's post we're going to tackle some of the deeper aspects and challenges that people face when going vegan and a big reason why a lot of people struggle in the beginning and it has to do with navigating your relationships with non vegan friends, family or partners after we've made this big change in our habits.
We've talked to and encountered so many students that had the social aspects of being vegan as their main
struggling point and I can totally see why. People have very strange reactions when we tell them
that we've changed the way we've been eating. Whether it's a parent, our children, a grandparent, a romantic partner, a friend, a colleague at work, when we're in any kind of relationship with someone and we've suddenly decided to go vegan, there can sometimes be a bit of a bumpy road.
I've shared many specific tips and suggestions when overcoming practical aspects like shopping, cooking, in-laws, raising kids and more in previous blog posts and videos. I talk about how to make sure to reassure your family members or your partner that you're still you, that you're still the same person, that you're still going be spending time together. There's this feeling that we've created a gap between us and this person that we love and that loves us by making this change, but that doesn't have to be the case.
Sometimes our family members just need a little bit of reassurance on that, a sense that traditions are going to stay even if we're eating something slightly different, that you're still going to spend time together and that you're just making this choice for you. That you are trying it out, that you're seeing how it's going to go and that you need their support. Another thing I've talked about before is making delicious vegan versions of the foods you love and share as a family. It can sometimes feel a little bit easier or more comfortable when those dishes feel familiar for other people, so cook delicious food for them so that they can understand what this really means, because people have all sorts of ideas and visuals in their minds that can really vary when it comes to what a vegan plate of food looks like.
I've talked about the importance of finding community, about finding some friends who are supportive even if they eat in a very different way, and if you're not getting the support from one friend or family member, find it in another. I've talked so much about giving your family members time. You've had time to adjust to the idea, you've had time to read up on the issues, and you've had time to really decide if this is something you want to do, and then we spring this on our loved ones and we expect them to have the perfect reaction right off the bat. We don't give them time to see what this is going to mean. We don't give them time to adjust to a new way cooking some family favorites when they have you over.
There are so many practical and mindset tips I've taught over the years, but today I wanted to focus on what has mostly come up in your comments and that I see very often among new vegans, and it has to do with the meaning we give the resistance from others, and the expectations we often have of others changing their habits too.
The Challenges of Being Vegan: What we Can Experience from Partners or Family Members when we Tell them We're Becoming Vegan
When we're struggling with the social aspects of going vegan, it usually boils down to the fact that we are not feeling supported, that we told family members, friends, relatives, partners, that we made this change
and we didn't get the reaction we were hoping for.
This can come in so many different ways. It can be jokes, it can be comments along the lines of "oh you're never going to be able to pull this off". It can be anger, sometimes sadness, or a little bit of a guilt trip. It can vary so much depending on who you're sharing your life with, on the things you've lived through together, and especially the connection you've had together with food, or even the connection they have with food and with feeding you, especially when it comes to parents and grandparents and people in your family that are there to provide for you, protect you and feed you.
It can be so surprising when you first go vegan because the reactions can be quite strong. If you stop to think about it, what would the reaction be if you told your family members you were gluten free? What would the reaction be if you told them that you had started the current popular weight loss diet. What would the reaction be even if you told them that you had decided to go vegan for health reasons, or because your doctor told you that this was going to be positive for your health, that this was something they recommended for your health? The reactions there would probably be quite different, but when veganism connects with trying to help animals, trying to help the environment too (but more so when it comes to animals), even when it has to do with protecting our fellow humans, these are the lines that we've crossed that somehow
feel so personal to the other person.
If we suddenly told them that we had to be gluten free because our doctor told us that we have celiac disease, they would be adjusting to that idea in a much easier way. If they made a joke it would probably be something along the lines of "in my generation we ate bread all the time and this didn't even exist! That's just something they're making up now". If this were the case, you also probably wouldn't take it personally, so what is it about connecting our food choices with ethical reasons that creates such a rough spot in our relationships?
For the non-vegan people in your life, it can be realizing or feeling that if you made this change due to ethical reasons, you're somehow putting a spotlight on their choices and values. It can feel like you're suddenly bringing them all of this information and so you are secretly expecting them to do this too. They know you've made a different choice and they're feeling their own choices reflected back at them and that's a tricky spot for the person that we're bringing this to.
If you Understand this One Aspect of your Habits and theirs, your Relationships with Non-Vegans will Become so Much Easier
For you, the new vegan in the non vegan family (relationship, friend group, etc) the reasons are so deeply connected to your values now that you know the effects these industries have on the planet and the animals, that it can feel like the other person's decision to not eat vegan has the same central line as it does for you to eat vegan.
Let me say this in a different way, we think that the ethical beliefs and value systems that are tied
to our eating vegan, are in the same way connected for our family member when they choose to eat animal products and that is usually not the case.
For them it might feel like the spotlight's on them, and for us it might feel like their decision to continue
eating animals is as deeply rooted as our new decision not to eat animals because of these
ethical reasons. We get into tricky territory here because we're not even speaking the same language. No wonder this can be a big struggle when we first go vegan.
When we are stuck in this place we can actually feel their actions and their way of eating heightened. Comparable in the reasoning why we've made this choice when in fact they've just continued doing what they've been doing and the reason behind it is usually habituation, and it's also, the way you were probably eating before you made this change.
When we feel that their actions are heightened because of our choice we can get frustrated, we can feel
that our family members have changed, we can feel that there is no point of connection or common
ground anymore, and it can turn this into a challenging situation very quickly.
Here are some of the things I've heard some of our students say, and some of the comments you've left me
when I try to help you keep the peace with your family members who aren't vegan:
- "I can't believe they don't see this, I have explained it to them. I've told them about what goes on
in these industries."
- "How can they not see?"
- "How can they be so cruel?"
- "How can they continue to eat animals if they say they love animals?"
- "How can I continue being with this person if these are their values and I'm so connected
to my values now?"
- "How can this relationship continue, it's such a moral imperative for me now and
how can they not see?"
- "I just have to keep insisting until they see".
I understand that. I understand where you're coming from when you've become so passionate about something, but the truth is that the decision of family members, partners, anybody in your life that's continuing to eat animals even though you've maybe explained all the issues, has nothing to do with you. It very often has nothing to do with their values or their ethics, it has very little to do with their kindness or their morality. It's the product of the culture that we live in, it's a product of habits and how difficult it is to go against the habits that have been ingrained and in place for so many years. It's about people's difficulty
when it comes to going against the grain on something. It's about traditions being passed down. It's about their own history with food. It's about their own history with their loved ones and the traditions
that have been passed down to them. It has so much to do with the firm nature of ingrained habits.
When we are feeling frustrated because others can't see it, we're seeing it as something immediately
connected to their values like our choice was for us. and we're ignoring all of this other side of the equation, that was probably part of your own journey as well.
I have never seen somebody decide to go vegan because a loved one was pushing against their resistance so much that they just caved. Most of the time this doesn't work, and it just keeps adding to that uncomfortable feeling of distance. It keeps us away from finding a peaceful place with our new way of eating and a huge component of eating which is sharing meals with loved ones.
Even when we explain something numerous times, even when we show them the images, sometimes there's no reception there, and pushing and pushing isn't going to get the other person there, it's rarely the case. How often have we heard of someone who we've been talking about these issues to for years,
suddenly deciding to go vegan because they heard about it on a podcast, because they heard it from a friend, because their doctor mentioned something, because they saw a film on their own. It's often from another voice, from another person where they have suddenly become more open and receptive
When being pushy doesn't help, what I have seen happen quite often are 2 things:
- Resistant family members can become more supportive and accepting of your own choices regardless of what they decide to do when you explain that this is a choice that you're making for you. That you do not have expectations on what they are going to do with their diet, but that you need their support, that you need them there with you, that this is something that's important to you. That you know it's something that you've suddenly sprung on them and that they might not be familiar with.
It does happen that even resistant family members, even angry family members, can get a bit more open and supportive with time.
- With time, those resistant family members begin to be more open and supportive as the culture around them changes. It doesn't necessarily come from us, but they start to see the word vegan in many places, they start to hear it mentioned, they start to see it in films, they start to hear about
somebody else who might be vegan, and that opens their mind into realizing that this is
not something that you've just decided to do on a whim, this is something that a lot of people
are now considering and thinking about. This perhaps more than anything can smooth out the road between you.
Let time and the culture do its thing and do your own thing, asking for that support from the people that love you. So many will step up to the plate once they see that you're still you and that you've lessened the expectations when it comes to what they are going to do about their eating, understanding that their choice to eat animals isn't a sign of their cruelty or their lack of kindness or them being bad people.
Remember that you don't have to Go through this Process Alone
Sometimes however, some family members, partners or friends are so resistant, there's a wall there that we cannot cross. If that's the case, remember that we have people around for many different reasons, and some people bring us support in some areas, others in other ways. If you can't find it in the people that are right around you, or in the people you wanted to get that support from, make sure to get it from somewhere.
Make sure to find a bit of a community so that you're not alone in this. Remember that we're here to support you. You can always contact me via email at [email protected]. You can join our courses where you'll find community of other vegans, but you also have many ways of connecting with other vegans online
or through a meetup group in your area. In our city for example, there's a vegan picnic that happens once a month, there are gatherings for vegan bloggers, etc., and you can find some community there.
You can find community through Facebook groups and Instagram, and find people in your area
that you might be able to meet in person and also remember that sometimes it's friends
who are going to give us all of that source of family and support, even friends who haven't made this change
they will be able to understand that you're feeling a little bit alone in this and that you need someone by your side.
What you're doing is important, we need it now more than ever, this planet of ours needs it now
more than ever, and I'm here for you if you need me.
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