Negotiating a plant-based diet with friends and family can be one of the biggest challenges of becoming vegan (even more than that initial difficulty of figuring out what to eat!). I imagine this will be a recurring theme on this site because there are surprising ways this issue comes up when it’s least expected. Luckily, Eric was very supportive initially when I first started thinking about vegetarianism/veganism. In the beginning, we spent a lot of time negotiating our boundaries: What kind of food would we cook for dinners together? What kinds of food would we keep in the house for him to eat on his own (e.g., cheese for snacking, milk for tea)? What would we order when we went out to eat? How did we feel about people bringing meat into our home? How did we negotiate going over to the homes of friends and family for dinner?
For us, it was important to talk candidly about what we were both comfortable with, what causes discomfort in the kitchen/home, and what compromises we were both willing to make. Without these conversations happening out in the open, I think there would have been great potential for feelings of resentment on both sides, or some other negative emotional reaction. Food, in particular, is such an emotional topic and eating, an emotional activity. When a drastic change, like going vegan, occurs there will inevitably be some wild emotions flying around.
I’ve encountered quite a few people (interestingly, mostly women, and mostly in the blogsphere) who have gone vegan for whatever reason and have families or partners who are still avid meat eaters. This can be a real challenge, particularly in the practical meal-planning sense, if the family or partner wants to continue eating meat-based meals at home. While I have not had this trouble in my own house (Eric’s been willing to eat vegan meals at home from the start and now he’s fully committed to eating vegan even outside the home), I have definitely encountered this in dinners with extended family and friends and talked to people who struggle with this in their own homes. The way I see it there are a few ways to handle it:
1. Cook two different meals-one with meat, one without. This can be a real pain in the neck, particularly for those of who have enough trouble getting motivated to cook one meal. Not the most advisable option in my (somewhat lazy) opinion.
2. Cook a meal that is flexible. One of the best meals for this scenario is burritos, fajitas or tacos. It’s easy to cook up a pan of meat, a pan of beans, and then have lots of different toppings. Each person can make exactly the kind of plate they want, and this is a perfectly balanced meal for a vegan (plenty of protein, veggies, fiber, etc). My MIL frequently goes this route when we come to dinner.
3. Try out some of the fake-meat options. My mom has used this tactic a number of times and it seems to help, especially with newly vegan/vegetarians who are missing meat. Adding Field Roast sausages to spaghetti sauce, for instance.
4. My favorite option- make meals that are naturally vegan or easily veganized and do not pretend to be meat. These are meals which don’t require any weird or processed ingredients and are just good hearty whole foods. A nice hearty stew, some vegan cornbread, and a salad would satisfy just about anyone!
5. Experiment with new recipes, veganize old favorites and play around in the kitchen to establish some really satisfying and comforting vegan meals that the whole family will like. Try to shoot for having 5-7 go-to meals that are easy to make, healthy, comfort food. Jot down these meal ideas on a scrap of paper and put it on the fridge. When you’re hungry, panicked about what to make for dinner, need some comfort food, and have no ideas, make one of these ‘save the day’ meal options!
6. Find some restaurants where everyone in the family can find something to eat that they’ll enjoy. Find some everyday, quick places to eat and also make sure to find one or two places where everyone can eat for a special occasion. Look at menus online and/make some phone calls first to make sure they’ll meet your needs when trying a new place. Plus, many nice restaurants will make a vegan meal for you if you let them know ahead of time (even if there’s not a vegan meal on the menu).
7. Other ideas?
The most important thing I think is to talk about your transition to veganism with your loved ones (not over a meal!) and be firm but gentle about what you’re comfortable with, and what makes you uncomfortable. Explain your reasons for making the change (e.g., ethics, health, environments, etc) and make sure they understand that your choice is coming from a place of love and compassion (for animals, for your body, for the planet) and listen to their concerns. Everyone comes to veganism on their own terms and at their own pace. Be patient!
Carol J. Adams has a whole book dedicated to these sticky situations and negotiating the choice to abstain from meat consumption: Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook . If you’re struggling with any difficulties relating to negotiating veganism with family, friends, or co-workers, I’d recommend this book for you. [If you’re in Seattle and would like to borrow my copy, just email me!]
Are there specific difficulties any of you are struggling with/ have struggled with related to this topic?
Off to pick blackberries and make blackberry jam today with my dad! Stay tuned for a blackberry jam recipe!