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5 Stay Strong Against Social Pressure and Gain Resilience as a Vegan.
While this is covered a little in Chapter 2 and a bit more in Chapter 4,
a special section on this topic is called for because, frankly, social
pressure can exert such unique and formidable challenges to new
herbivores that many vegan vows wither in the face of it. In my years
as a vegan advocate, by far, I have heard “social pressure,” in so many
words, as the biggest obstacle to someone’s successful transition to
veganism. By social pressure, I don’t mean a tormentor trying to tempt
you with beef jerky in the hall between math and art class but much
more insidious pressures that can activate our most primitive worries
about isolation and non-conformity.
Let’s talk about the various social pressures one might face as a vegan
first. This pressure could take the form of parents or grandparents who
act like you are rejecting them personally by going vegan. This
pressure could take the form of a partner who is now feeling cut off
from you. This pressure could take the form of longtime friends who
suddenly feel estranged from you. This pressure could take the form of
classmates, coworkers or colleagues who snicker at you or who exclude
you from group outings. This pressure could take the form of being the
only one who gets a meal that looks different from everyone else’s at
the table when dining out, or of feeling self-conscious when you place
your order. This pressure could take the form of it being implied that
you are “difficult,” “neurotic” or “high-maintenance.” This pressure
could take the form of extended family members who think you are now a
killjoy at holiday time. This pressure can come in many, many forms,
and it can be subtle or overt, internal or external in nature. Suffice
it to say, even for those of us who are fairly resolute in our
convictions and don’t mind being rebels, these pressures can be a lot
to withstand, especially during those challenging early months.
Just by virtue of being vegan, we are often perceived as the proverbial fly in the
ointment, the elephant in the room, the prude at the nudist colony or
any other saying that conveys “enemy of fun” to nearly everyone else.
Much of this isn’t necessarily baggage that we’ve accumulated on our
own but that which is pushed on us by those we interact with, people
who are often deeply, but unknowingly, invested in reinforcing the
mentality and practice that says other animals exist for our ends,
people who may very well have their own unacknowledged ambivalence
I believe that it’s that tension between wanting to maintain certain
privileges and the innate discomfort around those very privileges – or
what maintaining them says about the person in question – that creates
much of the defensive pushback that vegans experience from strangers
and loved ones alike. As a new vegan, perhaps you’ve already
experienced having someone react defensively to you once they learn
that you’re vegan even if you haven’t said much of anything. That is
because a vegan gives form to what many people would prefer to not
Compounding this tension is the fact that just by living in the world,
we are going to have some or perhaps many old wounds with our families
of origin and even longtime friends, which can make a decision to be
vegan potentially fraught with lots of opportunities for people to
react to you in defensive, disparaging, angry or hurt ways that may
to do with your veganism. Those who don’t have a background with you
will also have their presumptions, triggers and histories, so as a
vegan, often you will inadvertently press buttons that can have people
reacting around you in ways that are not always fair, rational,
compassionate or welcome.
This is a tricky and sometimes exhausting landscape to try to navigate, especially with all that baggage on your back.
Some of the baggage we carry might be the notion that we are judging
others by simply living in the world as vegans or the presumption that
because we’re vegan, we’re imposing our beliefs upon others. Baggage
can also be much more complicated and insidious, like the baggage you
carry for being a reminder of a non-vegan’s unresolved guilt or mixed
feelings about eating animals as I mentioned earlier. It can also manifest
as people thinking that your mere existence as a vegan is a direct
attack on their character, heritage, upbringing, and so on.
Regardless of what that baggage may be, it can result in a pushback
against you. That pushback can take the form of shaming,
passive-aggression, exclusion, mocking, undermining, defensiveness,
guilt-tripping and having insecurities projected onto you. That’s just
the external baggage, too. The internal baggage you carry may be
exacerbated by your decision to be vegan, for example, the idea that
you don’t deserve to be heard, that you ruin everyone’s fun, that you
are a hassle, that people don’t like you and you don’t deserve
JEEZ. This is intense stuff!
So all that said, I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The bad news
first: the social pressures don’t go away. The good news? They get
much, much easier to navigate with time. Even better news? If you have
felt in the past that you had to suppress your needs or your voice in
order to keep the peace, a vegan practice will help to kick that
self-silencing habit to the curb.
This fear of straying and being different is challenging for us on a
biological level as we are a species with pack instincts; the fear of
being excluded from the tribe is real and the thought of being cast out
exposes our most ancient wiring around vulnerability, seclusion and
mortality. Whether or not the anxiety about being ostracized is
rational, our bodies and brains will often perceive the threat of
exclusion in a primordial way: fearfulness, worry, and an overriding
urge to conform may be the result of getting pushback, or even fear
of pushback, against your veganism. This guttural reaction may have
gotten us out of jams throughout history – I mean, it’s great for when
we’re being chased by saber-toothed tiger – but it leaves us, sadly,
with a tendency to react to emotional vulnerability and actual threats
with the same kind of inflated adrenaline response, which is implanted
right in the amygdala nuclei of our temporal lobes. So, please
understand that if you have a fearful response to conflict or
rejection, it is part of your very physiology and it can feel on some
level like your survival is at stake. This is not to say that this
response can’t be dismantled, but it is to say that you should be
patient with yourself if you are feeling scared or insecure about the
reactions from your “tribe” to your veganism. It doesn’t mean you’re
weak; it means you’re human.
With that said, here are some words of advice that might help.
fall into the trap of apologizing for your veganism. You have nothing
to apologize for, my friend. End of story. Apologizing reinforces a
power dynamic that says that you have something to feel guilty about by
living as a vegan.
default to a more subtle rhetoric of apology. Many people fall back on
this in an attempt to be polite. Saying things like, “I don’t mean to
be a hassle, I can make do with whatever menu,” “Oh, I hope I didn’t
inconvenience you too much by asking to go somewhere with vegan
options,” or “Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to force my beliefs on
you,” reinforce the notion that your veganism is something for which
you should be apologizing. Saying things like this are ways of
minimizing yourself and your voice and claiming the role of human
inconvenience. Become mindful of the ways in which you unintentionally convey that your
decision to be vegan is a nuisance or a threat to others and try to
eradicate them. Old "stuff" can really come into play here.
jump to the conclusion that people who may have some genuine questions
and concerns are necessarily undermining you. This may be very new to
them, they may be misinformed, and they may very well be reacting from
their amygdala and fear of rejection as well.
allow yourself to be pushed into an adversarial role, a scolding role
or any other limiting role. It’s easy to dismiss what we’re saying and
who we are if we’ve become two-dimensional stereotypes.
- Do begin to internalize that you’re at peace with your veganism; how other people react to it is up to them.
visualize: if you have to be around someone you know to be
disrespectful or defensive with regard to your veganism, imagine that
you are covered with a protective gauze or light. Yes, it’s goofy but
keep things in perspective: by going vegan, you didn’t ask anyone to
sacrifice a limb or swim shark-infested waters. Honestly, everyone can
role-play if you are feeling anxious about how someone is going to
react to your veganism. Imagine worst-case social scenarios and
practice what you will do if they happen, knowing that they likely will
not but even if they do, you will survive it intact. You can ask a
vegan friend to practice with you or even just imagine it. Develop a
level of comfort with discussing your veganism.
fight fair: if the person who is challenging your veganism is someone
you have a long history with, keep your discussion to the topic at
hand, don’t lump in other old baggage or longstanding resentments. If
you notice the person doing that to you – dumping old baggage and
resentments onto you – calmly draw their attention to it and redirect
your conversation to the supposed subject.
maintain a sense of humor because, really, this is kind of silly.
Remember, though, having a sense of humor doesn’t mean you have to
laugh at unoriginal “jokes” about bacon or vegans.
your composure, as challenging as it can be. Don’t allow yourself to be
defensive, which again reinforces the notion that you are less than
secure about your veganism.
- Thoughtfully and graciously acknowledge attempts to accommodate your veganism, even if they can fall short of the mark.
- Do find and nurture vegan community.
Remember that in the social realm, we can and should be prepared for
the occasional hiccup but that there is much we cannot anticipate,
including positive responses. You may lose some friends or estrange
some family in your transition to veganism but it doesn’t need to be
permanent. Try to remain nimble and remember that every time you
positively engage with the world as a vegan, you are helping to
normalize it. Your veganism may be met with defensiveness or resistance
but have no doubt that this normalization most certainly is happening, thanks to you.
This chapter wouldn’t exist if living in the world as a vegan wasn’t
met with some pushback, though. Let it roll off you, find a supportive
vegan community, develop your voice and carry on!
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Intro: Welcome new vegan!
1. Mistakes don't mean you failed
2. Find community
3. Don't overload on disturbing videos and content
4. Develop your vegan voice and assertiveness
5. Stay strong against social pressure and gain resilience as a vegan
6. Learn how to cook, even just a little
7. Technology helps you over hurdles
8. Listen to vegan podcasts
9. Take advantage of other resources
10. Don't let yourself get famished
11. Expect that your digestive system might take a little while to get straightened out
12. Untangle and tame food cravings
13. Bring joy to your vegan practice
2013-2017, Vegan Street