Making vegan look nice and easy

Yesterday I was at a vegan potluck with about fifteen people. Just in case you don’t know: a potluck is a meal where every guests brings their own dish, prepared at home. Now, the exceptional thing about this one potluck was that none of the guests (except for me and my girlfriend) were vegan and hardly even knew what vegan was. From the host, who wanted to give them a challenge, they got the assignment to bring a vegan dish, described as a dish without animal products. Nothing more.

From a vegan activist point of view, I thought this was a really interesting experiment: to have non-vegans prepare vegan dishes kind of forces them to look into it a bit deeper and hopefully gives them a “can do” attitude about it. Of course there’s a risk too: not only might they experience a sense of failure, but also dishes made by unexperienced people might not be tasty and be a turn off. Fortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case here.

When you attend as a vegan, a potluck where every dish is prepared by non-vegans is of course a bit of a tricky situation, because you’re not sure if the others have fully understood the concept. Now, I have repeatedly written (and I’ve been criticized, even attacked for it) that it’s good if we don’t act like food safety inspectors when we’re around other people who still need to be warmed up to veganism.


I prefer not to have anything non vegan in my mouth (even though the worst that can happen is a little disgust), but I think it’s more important to give people a good impression of vegans and veganism. I’m sure some other vegans would have done more due diligence work than I have, and be more selective in what they put on their plate. I did not. I was still a bit careful when sampling, but basically I went with the flow, and trusted what the other people had made.

It was not, I have to repeat, that I didn’t want to make people feel bad by questioning them or refusing their dish. It’s that I want to make veganism and vegans look good. And accessible. And doable. Let me illustrate what I mean with an example that I heard that very evening. Across me was a guy who said he hardly ate any meat. He appeared to really dig vegetarianism, but about veganism, he said that from having vegan friends, he knew how difficult it all was, as he saw them constantly check labels, inquire about everything etc… so he felt veganism was too difficult and he couldn’t do it himself.

Going vegan (not being vegan) can be difficult enough as it is, and we should do our best by not making it seem more difficult. Make being vegan look like the joy that it is. Of course I’m talking about social situations. I always  check my labels when I do grocery shopping. But when there are other people around, especially people who made food for you, it’s different. Even if you don’t mind being inquisitive, even if you manage to ask questions in a very polite and friendly way, and even if you think you are “educating others” about veganism that way, I’m pretty sure other people will see all this as a very undesireable aspect of being vegan.

19 thoughts on “Making vegan look nice and easy

  1. In line with this one (I think); I had the same thoughts when I went through a mentally difficult period. I felt so sad (and angry) that I wondered how I could wish for others to become like me; vegan and feel the same as I did (assuming that other people would feel the same, which isn’t always the case of course). So even though I had this insight myself; for other non-vegans around me it could definitely be a warning or turn-off to not become a vegan at all. “If I would become a vegan I will be just as angry and sad as you are, no thanks!”. So instead of faking me being a happy vegan I am now actually working on becoming a happy vegan so it’s less frightening to become one for others.

    Take care and have a lovely day Tobias!
    – Mittch

  2. This makes me think of a twist on this quote by Groucho Marx:
    “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

    When we’re around non-vegans, it’s important to remember that we are in effect asking others to join our club. If we make people feel bad, intentionally or not, and even if what we speak is the truth, we will have the real possibility of making them think “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept YOU as one of its members.”

    As you wrote Tobias, we “want to make veganism and vegans look good. And accessible. And doable.”
    This doesn’t mean we can’t speak the truth, but if we want to be effective and not turn people off, we need to do it in a way and at a place and time where our message will have the best chance of non-vegans being receptive.

    We need to speak the truth, but the idea that “it’s not what you say, but how you say it” is the key to everything. This applies to almost any change we wish to see in people, not just veganism. It applies to anything, from trying to get your husband to take out the trash to getting out of a speeding ticket. 🙂

    Another wonderful post with a lot of great points, thanks Tobias!

  3. Again, it goes back to your motivation is for being vegan: is it from an animal rights perspective, in which case you want other people to also adopt a vegan lifestyle and, like you say, want them to view such as accessible and definitely not an exclusive club.

    If it’s for religious reasons, I guess you may wish to be more thorough as the perceived repercussions for inadvertently consuming some animal produce may be more severe.

    I think the key word here is ‘trust’. To believe, as I know you do, that veganism will one day be the majority choice, then you have to have faith in other people to be capable of understanding how to research and prepare vegan food. You have to trust that they understand the importance of getting it right in terms of serving it to potential vegans. And you have to be appreciative of them preparing the food for you, perhaps even telling them it’s more tasty than you actually find it to be.

    For me, it’s about good manners as well as being encouraging and being a good ambassador for veganism.

    1. the point about religious reasons is interesting. i seems to imply that freaking out over ingesting a wrong ingredient is kind of irrational 🙂 (at least for non religious vegans 🙂 )

  4. Well, for non-religious vegans (and, personally, I’m an atheist), pretty much.

    I mean, we probably all agree that it’s practically impossible to 100% avoid animal products in modern life as, unfortunately, use of such is just so intrinsic to our societal structures. Take a bus into town and you’re likely to be travelling on a vehicle that has tyres containing animal derivatives. Call a taxi instead and you might actually end up sitting in a leather seat. And the list goes on and on.

    I guess my point is that even with the best will in the world, at least in Western society, it’s impossible to 100% purge ourselves of animal exploitation. There are always going to be choices made for us that are difficult for us to reject. So in that sense, to get all wound up about a possible non-vegan e-number that might be in a dish someone has made for you at an event like you describe, Tobias, would seem irrational, yes.

    1. so if you name sitting in a leather seat as in the same vein, that would imply that the worry is not about ingesting something, but about doing something that we consider immoral? the worry about that in itself seems a bit irrational, because you could point to aaaaaaall the many other, much worse things going on.
      Not sure if i’m being clear (not sure if i understand what i’m saying myself. new thoughts are forming 🙂 )

  5. That’s a very interesting point, actually! The act of ingestion could be seen as a much more intimate act and therefore much more repulsive to some vegans than, say, sitting in a leather seat.

    In that sense, I could understand why, even though it might be seen as no different in terms of quantifying the amount of harm caused to animals, some vegans may genuinely feel moved to examine the dishes at the pot luck more closely, even it is seen as exclusive or unappealing behaviour to the non-vegans there. And even if they really don’t want to exclude.


  6. But… then it goes back to the personal sense of purity vs the most effective outreach to non-vegans.

    If avoiding potential ingestion of that e-number is more important than attracting someone to the vegan lifestyle, then you have to question why it is that you are vegan.

    Is it for your own sense of morality?

    Or is it for the animals.

    Note: I’ve no problem at all with it being about both those things. But, in the situation you’ve described, one has to take precedence over the other.

  7. great post Tobias. I’ve sent it to JL Fields of the Easy Vegan radio show. Sounds like you should be a guest. 🙂 projecting easy, joyful, effective (in the health and happiness sense) veganism is one of the most powerful forms of activism around. and acting negatively or obnoxiously is doing the opposition’s work for them.

    1. That’s a good & concise way of putting it, Hillary… “acting negatively or obnoxiously is doing the opposition’s work for them.” BTW, I’m a big fan of yours and I bought “The Lifelong Activist” several years ago. I think that kind of info is really lacking out there, focusing how to maintain being, well… a lifelong activist. 🙂

      If I could ask and if you don’t mind sharing, do you have any suggestion or ideas on what is the best way in your opinion to:
      1) Counteract negative impressions left by vegans “acting negatively or obnoxiously”? Do you think we should even attempt to do this? I don’t mean to imply at all that the ones who are acting negatively or obnoxiously aren’t 100% justified in their feelings, but what, if anything, is the best way to approach this when we see it and run across it? I mean in terms of staying effective for creating a more humane world for the animals.

      I’ve tried just ignoring it and moving on with the idea that there isn’t much you can do after the fact, and thinking I might just make it worse, because at this point the non-vegan left with the negative impression is most likely feeling attacked. They will have probably have their guard up and won’t really be open to anything else that could be said by another vegan or animal rights activist, and my effort would be better spent working towards the future than attempting to repair damage done by others.

      But then I think that maybe the offended person might still be reachable and maybe something I could say or do might help as keeping them open towards things. I’ve tried reaching out to the person who’s feeling attacked in a personal email or message saying something along the lines that “I just wanted to say I’m sorry that you were treated that way, and to please ask that they know that not all vegans and/or animal rights activists are that way. It can be very stressful and hard to be one of those people and sometimes they can channel this in negative ways.”

      2) Do you have any advice or ideas on how an activist like myself who feels frustrated at seeing these negative attacks can cope with the frustration that comes up with seeing this over and over again, and each time feeling that the “opposition’s work” is being done by the very people you think would be making sacrifices to do what it takes to help the animals, even if that entails presenting your philosophy is a more positive & receptive way. It’s really not about what you say, but how you say it. I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated at seeing negative & attacking behavior over and over again and the results of it, and feeling hopeless at seeing vegans doing the opposition’s work. I’ve noticed this is becoming more and more frustrating for me…do you have any advice on how to look at this scenario in a more positive light?

      Sorry this is so long, and if it’s too much to address, I understand. 🙂

      Thank you & thank you for all that you!

      1. Hi again, Hillary,
        If it would be better for addressing my questions, I saw on your website that you offer coaching. If you would be able to address of any of it here, that would be great, too, because I’m sure there are other activists running into the same issues.
        Thanks again!

      2. Hi Christine –

        Short answer:

        1) Accept the obnoxiously-behaved ones – they’re frustrating, but every movement has them.

        2) Do your best to counteract their message by being your own best self and best activist, and work only with good, effective people. Focus on your work rather than theirs, and don’t try to “cancel out” what they do.

        3) Remember what we all have in common – all cages empty, etc. The obnoxiously-behaving people are part of the activist ecosystem, and one good thing they often do is define what we hope will be tomorrow’s “new normal.”

        4) Finally, keep your eye on the big picture. We’re winning. (Do a google trend for “vegan.”) Despite all the ineptness and in-fighting, we’re winning.

        Hope this helps.

  8. Being vegan just sounds natural after it was a little beat distressing at the very first time, just this moment before to decide to go. The hardest, for us, is to be understood by others (family, friends, and even by collegues), and respected, but to see them absolutly not to make any change in their life, and continue to live in cognitive dissonance “even when knowing they’re in”. How patients must we be. K&M

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