One of the more surprising outcomes since becoming vegan is how people I’ve known for years have avoided asking me about my lifestyle change. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” is something I expected from co-workers or casual acquaintances but people I’ve known for decades who obviously know this important to me, seem disinterested.
There may be several reasons for this, one being that I could be misinterpreting their response as disinterest when it might be something else. Most of my friends and family have read the story of how I became vegan and maybe they feel they already know everything they need to know (though most have not even mentioned reading it). Perhaps it is unfair of me to expect that they would ask “how the vegan thing is going” since they can’t be inside my head and shouldn’t be expected to realize the extent that this has changed my life.
Maybe they think I’ll preach to them or they’ll feel judged, which is fair based on some of the stereotypes. But these are people who have known me for years – do they really think I would do that to them? Do they think I am incapable of discussing a major life change without making it about how they’re living? Perhaps I give off a more judgemental vibe than I think, although it would still be nice to be asked at least once about something that has clearly become so important to me.
Another scenario might be that they already know what a vegan is and have no interest in knowing any more about it. I get that as well but only to a point. It’s now a part of who I am and as my friends and family, isn’t the idea that we share journeys and know each other on more meaningful levels? Otherwise, what separates our relationship from the co-workers and the casual acquaintances? To not ask at all because you’re not interested makes the relationship a one-way street.
Maybe they just don’t see it as a big deal. But if it isn’t, all the more reason to inquire. Maybe they’re awkward or uncomfortable to bring it up. That I accept from people who don’t know me; I have much harder time with that from people who do.
When these instances occur, I think back to when I was a meat-eater which was a mere six months ago. I didn’t know a lot of vegans but I certainly knew some and I knew a lot of vegetarians. If someone at work said they were a vegetarian, I’d usually respond with something innocuous and maybe ask how long they had been one. I may even ask them what their reasons were (health, ethics, etc.,) since I knew even then not everyone changes their diet for the same reasons. But that would probably have been the extent of my inquiries.
As for the vegans I knew who I saw on a regular basis, I definitely went through a phase where I was not going to let their food choices interfere with mine even though they never once made me feel bad for eating meat. To be adamant about a belief is one thing when you’re in your own home or on neutral ground like a restaurant but sometimes if I was in their home and we ordered take-out, I would order a dish with meat. I am mortified now to think about how disrespectful that was.
I certainly didn’t always understand vegans and if I did ask questions, it was usually in an accusatory tone like, “Well, don’t cows need to be milked?” not realizing that cows are kept perpetually pregnant (via artificial insemination) in order to keep producing milk and that all their milk goes to humans, and none to their calves.
I would say at the time I was a mix of not wanting to know and writing off vegans as flaky hippies or whatever the hell stereotype they’ve been made into. When I met Julian, my husband, who was a vegan when we met, we had that conversation very early on: he had his food choices and I had mine and we agreed to respect one other (although I confess, I didn’t always hold up my end of that agreement). All that to say is: I get it – I get the apprehension of not wanting to know and not wanting to deal with it. But at least have that conversation.
Now when I’m with my friends and family as a vegan – many who have known me longer than Julian – it’s like the elephant in the room. I’m starting to feel like I’m in Shaun of the Dead, a zombie movie that only says “the ‘Z’ word” once and even pokes fun at the fact that no one is actually saying what it is.
I know people are uncomfortable with me being vegan and I am very careful not to “be different” around them. I will meet a friend at any restaurant because I can always find something to eat on a menu. I try not to make it “a thing” even though were I diabetic, Celiac, Muslim or anyone else with dietary restrictions, I could drop those words no problem. It’s a Catch-22: I don’t bring it up unless someone asks but no one asks.
To compensate for not talking about it but wanting to acknowledge it in some way, being vegan is simply referred to or implied: “Does this agree with you?” “Are you still on your diet?” “I’m sorry I’m about to eat this meatloaf with bacon.” In fact, this past Easter dinner, which was in our home that I cooked and was obviously vegan, the “V” word was not uttered once. How’s that for avoidance?
Most of me understands and accepts it but part of me is hurt and doesn’t want to. Soooo, you only want to know certain parts of my life, not all of it? You’re only interested in how I’m doing so long as it isn’t about something you don’t want to talk about? That’s not friendship. That’s not family. That’s every other person I pass during the day who could give two shits about the real me or what is happening in my life.