Why we are not vegan: the family influence
Although I don’t celebrate Easter as such, the long weekend has been a welcome rest. It definitely allowed me to celebrate the influx of this amazing weather and crisp air, and to get out and about. Ending the hibernation. I love it here in Northern Ireland for how fresh and pleasant the air is, even with the warm weather. You get the sun kissing your skin and the fresh breeze caressing it, filling your lungs with goodness. Fresh sea air is definitely the cherry on the island living cake.
One thing that really became apparent to me this season is, the effect family (and larger society) can have on our experience with our diet choices. In this post I will tell you a bit about my view on this issue and give my advice on how to deal with family interactions both for those of you who are vegan and those of you who aren’t.
Honestly, to me it feels like it really is about time now we started to embrace the- vegan- ethical standpoint of all lives being worth respect and dignity and the plant based diet, which is obviously so good for health. Spring is the best time for it. What about new life, becoming your better version, connecting with nature, what about waking up from your sleep, what about the fresh air bringing a new way of thinking. You have no idea how good you could feel and how much more fun life can be. I can definitely say that I see many signs of it coming, the vegan utopia of a world where all lives are treated with equal dignity, and one of those signs is the amount of positive conversations I am starting to have around my lifestyle. It really is real, people are waking up, wanting to care, wanting to feel good, and it’s amazing. This is a good time to start identifying and moving the road blocks that stop us from growing in Spring, the way we are meant to.
One of the positive/ insightful conversations I had recently was with a friend who had been vegetarian for most of her life and was now trying to cut dairy out of her diet- she noticed it was making her unwell. I loved her openness to having an honest, no- offence- taken dive into our ethical standpoints. She agrees with the vegan ethos but couldn’t see herself being organised enough to be vegan. (personal note: not yet) Our conversation turned to childhood and family influence. My friend had made the decision to be vegetarian as a small child. She told me that her family hadn’t been supportive of her being vegetarian, in fact it was a development battle of sorts for her, battling to uphold her choice with her parents trying to change her mind. She found that she was having to justify herself, to find logic and reason to defend how she felt. I found this very interesting, and that my friend had such a clear recollection of this process. Had she realised how much she grew throughout her childhood by asserting herself through her diet? Did she realise she might be held back from making further decisions for herself because of a fear of backlash from family or society?
Another lady I talked to recently told me that when she told her family she chose to be vegetarian, a long time ago, you could have thought she told them something horrible- as if she had killed someone. Her mother took it as a criticism to the way she was raised, totally unnecessarily. I had a similar experience too. When I first decided to stop eating the flesh of dead animals, I was met with a lot of resistance from my parents. First they tried to make me eat it still, which of course was never going to happen. The change I felt in myself was too profound. Then they tried to talk to me about health. But I had already done enough research to know that I didn’t need it in my diet and I was about to do a lot more research to form my opinion further. Then came the visible disapproval. The pointing it out at every meal. Telling me I was a bad influence. Calling me an animal rights activist as if it was a bad thing. It was definitely a challenge to manage all of this, it didn’t affect me negatively emotionally because I was focused on something a lot bigger. I also understood that making such a big decision would naturally result in some sort of reaction and because the made decision was made, I was just going to power through it.
I was doing a lot of running at the time I stopped eating animal flesh so I was definitely in a place of needing good nutrition. (though really everyone is, always) I still lived in my parents’ house for a year before moving out and had to organise my diet. This was a creative, on-the-side process which definitely had me eating some very simple food sometimes. But again, a made decision was made so I had to eat something. Spoiler alert- I survived! I did feel a little bit lighter, leaner, more agile. Those were all positive things for back- then runner me. I can acknowledge that living in someone’s house and being dependent on them, you definitely have to do some ground work to try to get them on your page. It requires some workarounds of course. The sit down family meals were probably the main awkward area for me, but it was literally just a matter of putting something on the table for myself, or making sure there was something. Sometimes it meant going to the shop and just getting a few things for myself, or taking charge of dinner and making something new for everyone. I knew how to cook at this stage and sometimes I just made quick instead- versions. For example, if we were having rice and a sauce with animal flesh in it, I would just fry up some spiced beans and onion on the side and have that with my rice.
Once your heart feels for the animals that have their lives taken away from them to end up on your plate, you don’t mind about putting in a little bit of effort to make sure you are not eating their bodies.
Actually, very few of the vegans I know had their family’s support in making their choice. Even fewer- close to zero- had the luck of having parents that brought them up vegetarian or vegan. It is true that it takes a bit of personal grit to make a decision and stick to it whenever you experience so much resistance to yourself because of it. To act from your heart despite the world around you being against it. So I will call it a personal development journey, asserting your choice of being vegan. I will call it a journey of learning so many beautiful things about yourself: how strong you are, how you can express yourself, how to be consistent, how to be creative, how to be yourself no matter what the world tells you to be, and how much you can care. How much your body can reward you for taking care of it. How much your life rewards you for acting with love. I won’t tell you that it’s easy, but I can definitely tell you that if you want to be a strong person, with morals, conviction, a person who stands up for yourself, this is definitely work experience you want to have.
It will teach you lessons you will find valuable in all areas of your life. That if you want to make a change, you need to act on it not wait for the environment around you to shift. That you don’t need anyone’s approval for doing the right thing. That sometimes you need to act on what you feel even when it’s difficult. That sometimes you have to feel the bad things in your life, in the world, and respond to them, just because you care. Feel the difficult feelings. Like, feeling that we really are on our way to destroying the Earth, depleting it. This is true for all areas of your life. You need to live your life like you mean it. And you will find that the people that don’t support you, well maybe they aren’t in the same mind- place as you which is fine. Maybe they will come to the same conclusion some day, walking along their own path like you have. Maybe they need you to be the light of change in their life. And maybe if they attack you or bring you down they are not healthy for you and you should save your energy from them. You basically need to be yourself and let other people be.
So, without further ado- advice on handling family situations.
if someone in your family is vegan
- Let them be. Don’t make it about yourself. Don’t take it personally. This is about my internal journey, and I am working on myself as we speak, please don’t take it as a personal attack that I am choosing to eat differently to you or choosing to act on my convictions. Yes, I would love it if you saw things the way I do but I absolutely don’t see you in a different way just because you don’t.
- If you want to have the conversation, have the conversation. Ask. Yes it’s okay to! If you don’t want the conversation, that’s okay too.
- Consideration really goes a long way. I appreciate your effort to accommodate me, whatever it may be. I really do.
if you are vegan
- Be understanding. Not everyone has to be in the same mind- place as you. Even you weren’t until you were- remember this
- Communicate– how you feel and why you feel the way you do. Avoid using accusatory or anticipatory language. Communicate lovingly, without judging. Look for solutions, not problems. Ask questions. Empathise.
- Work with it– make a bit of effort. Bring your own food, share it, show an interest in what’s cooking, make your versions. You can do a lot to facilitate having a good time with everyone without sacrificing your morals. A little bit of pre- planning goes a long way.
- Don’t compromise yourself either. You have just as much right to assert your choice as any other person, and a right to not participate in things that don’t sit with you.
- Be appreciative– appreciate that this is going to be very new to most people and appreciate any efforts towards understanding and accommodating you.
- Do your research– it is so so important to know what you are talking about when you are going to get questioned about it so often. It also forms a strong basis for you feeling confident, and having good nutrition.
- Be yourself. That’s all you can be. At the end of the day. This is just you being you- you don’t need anyone’s support, or to be affected by anyone’s disapproval. You decide what you put into your body, at the end of the day. Try not to take any situations personally. Just separate the logistics from the emotions.
- Treat it like a personal development journey, because that’s what it is. Give yourself credit, time, everything that you need. Appreciate yourself.
- You are a star! This is just a note from me. You know and I know that the Earth needs people to be vegan and the animals need people to be vegan, and, even if they don’t realise it yet, people need to be vegan for their health as well. Everyone and everything needs more people like you. No matter others’ reaction to you living and thriving on a plant based diet, you are doing Something and it is good. Remember this.
- Make it about them– if ever in any doubt, just think back to the animals and remember that it’s not about you above all- it’s about them!