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Eating Vegan: Haters Gonna Hate

eating veganvegan hater

How do you handle it when someone attacks your veganism?

The other day, I shared an article about vegan food on Facebook, and one of the comments I got was “God, I hate vegans.” Even after seven years of eating vegan, this attitude always gives me pause. What horrible thing did a vegan do to this person? Hate is a powerful emotion, so clearly a vegan must have destroyed his family or run over his dog, right?

Chances are, though, that this was just a flip comment. There are lots of reasons that omnivores can feel threatened by vegans:

  • Food is a very personal thing for a lot of people, and when you’re opting out of certain types of food, people assume that you’re judging them for not doing that.
  • Maybe he met a vegan that was rude and judgmental and decided that all vegans are this way. This is not fair, but it’s a scenario I have run into many times.
  • Maybe he thinks that he is hilarious.

Or, the motivation for that remark could have been something else entirely. He could have had a terrible day and is being mean to everyone. You just happen to be in the line of fire at the moment, and your veganism seems like an easy target.

I think that the most common motivation for this kind of comment – and the one most harmful to the vegan movement – is the idea that vegans are preachy, judgmental jerks. Sure, there are vegans that are judgmental jerks, but assuming that all vegans are jerks because of one experience with one vegan is just as judgmental.

I promise you that there are omnivores that are jerks, too. I had an omnivore “friend” once attack me when we were out to dinner because I asked the server if I could get my pizza without cheese. Does that mean that all omnivores are jerks? Of course not! It means that that guy is a jerk.

What you eat doesn’t define what kind of person you are.

So, what do you do when you run into a vegan hater? I think you have two good options:

  1. Ignore it. Just change the subject and move on. There are lots of less touchy things you can talk about. You know, like politics.
  2. Kill them with kindness. At its heart, veganism is about empathy and compassion. Like it or not, when faced with this kind of situation, you’re kind of a vegan ambassador. This person thinks vegans are all jerks? Show him that we aren’t! You don’t have to argue. Just keep calm. Maybe make a joke. You can even say something like, “I’m so sorry that you met a vegan that was mean to you. We aren’t all that way, I promise!”

Whichever you choose, I think keeping your cool is key. Meeting his anger with more anger just helps him justify his prejudice. Of course, this isn’t always easy, so don’t beat yourself up if you have a less than stellar reaction.

How do you guys handle these types of situations? I feel like I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but I’m always up for new ideas in this department!

Image Credit: Hater photo via Shutterstock

14 comments
  1. Michele

    I think another reason why vegans don’t get so much “love” is that many of them are also animals rights activitists who believe no one on the planet should be eating meat. This type of vegan, when they work hard to campaign against eating meat, is going to get a lot of negative feedback. And unfortunately, most people put this type of vegan in the same category with vegans who believe veganism is what is best for themselves but doesn’t need to convert everyone else to this way of eating.

    Just a thought.

    1. Becky Striepe

      I see what you’re saying, Michele, but I still think making that generalization is pretty unfair. How is that different from me assuming that all omnivores are mean because one or two omnivores were nasty to me about my diet, you know what I mean?

      You can be an animal rights activist and be polite – I know plenty of folks who are both. Unfortunately, we don’t tend to notice when people don’t make us feel uncomfortable.

  2. Nisi

    I have been vegan for 10 years. I’d love everyone to be vegan. If someone asks me about why I chose to be vegan I’ll tell them. I don’t proselytize and therefore I don’t get much static these days.

    The difference between me and this vegan guy I work with is I don’t make every interaction with someone who isn’t vegan an opportunity to convert them. It’s annoying like it’s annoying when a Jehovah’s Witness wants to talk to me. And yes, I believe all Jehovah’s Witness people are annoying. No, not all Jehovah’s Witness people have annoyed me, but all my interactions with them come down to them trying to change my mind about something. It’s that lack of respect for a person’s decisions that people find annoying and sadly, I find that many vegans I meet (and being vegan, I meet many of them) behave this way. It turns people off or makes them defensive.

    But back to being picked on ;o)

    What I hate is when people try to find inconsistencies. I’ll say I’m vegan and perhaps they’ll point out that I’m wearing leather shoes. Well, I need orthopedic shoes… and as much as it hurts my conscience to wear leather shoes, it hurts my feet to wear non-orthopaedic shoes. Should I just stay home and not move? What are my choices here? So, when they point something like that out I’ll tell them I need orthopaedic shoes or if it’s something else I’ll just say, “I am doing what I can. I’m not expecting you to do things that you don’t feel like you can do. Just because I can’t do everything, does that absolve me from doing the things I am able and willing to do?” If they keep it up I ask them “so, what kind of lifestyle should I be leading? Should I buy a farm where I grow all my own food and hemp to make my own clothes and then just stay there and never go further than where I can walk? Will I be permitted to buy a shovel, even though some part of getting the metal blade to me might involve animal suffering?” It gets pretty ridiculous sometimes.

    The other thing that shuts them up pretty quickly if they’re hostile is suggesting that the only reason they are so upset is because my behaviour is making them feel guilty, like a homophobe for vegans – a vegaphobe!

    I found people enjoy telling me that Hitler was a vegetarian. I like to reply that Ghandi was too, so they cancel each other out, right? Or I bring up that there are a lot of serial killers that are meat eaters… it’s easy to poke a hole in a strawman argument.

    1. Becky Striepe

      I definitely agree that sometimes it’s the guilt that drives those attacks, and I love the term vegaphobe! Hilarious.

      Great point about doing what you can. That’s one of the reasons I started this Eating Vegan series. Living a 100% vegan lifestyle can be overwhelming for folks who are new to it, and I wanted to encourage people to do what they can, do what they’re comfortable with, and not worry so much about what they’re not doing.

      Thank you so much for sharing some responses that work for you! Those are some solid ones!

  3. Scott Cooney

    I usually like to try directness. Look the person in the eye (or email them directly through FB), and just ask, “Why does it upset you that I eat this way?” Their response is either a) more villification and blustery nonsense, or b) you might actually get something you can work with…such as an explanation that they tried it once and didn’t like it, or that they were dumped by a vegan, or that a vegan once accused them of something. If a), then, well, you can’t win. If b), though, you have an opportunity and an open door to say, “it’s cool…I prefer it this way and totally respect your choices as well.” hard to argue with that.

    And then your best vegan joke…just to show your sense of humor. I personally like the Far Side “Vegetarians Returning from the Hunt”. Usually takes people off their guard and then they tend to open up.

  4. Heather Rose

    I don’t have much that is constructive to add I just needed a place to mention that I find Veganism very lonely. People like to talk about and pick apart the food I bring for lunch. I try vey hard to not focus on the deprivation on my food choices but any experience of eating out, which I use to enjoy, tends to bum me out. I think because of this I get frustrated when strangers or friends with attitude analyze what I am eating and and weigh in on how they feel about it or how awful they think it may taste. I don’t do that with their food. Can I just wear a sign around my neck that tells people my food is not up for discussion?

    1. Becky Striepe

      I think this thread is the perfect place to talk about that, and I think it’s fair to tell your friends and family that they’re making you uncomfortable, especially if it feels like their questions are mean-spirited. When you’re the only vegan among your friends, it can definitely be harder.

      Eating out when you’re vegan can be tough, but there are places where it’s easier! Mexican and Asian food both have lots of vegan options, though for Mexican it’s a good idea to call ahead and check that their beans and rice are vegan – sometimes there’s pork or chicken broth in there. There are a few other Eating Vegan articles that you might find helpful, too:

      http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2010/05/17/eating-vegan-dealing-with-social-situations/
      http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2012/04/17/eating-vegan-at-national-restaurant-chains/
      http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2012/04/16/vegan-fast-food/

      Good luck, Heather! I know it can be tough at times, and we’re always here to help out. You can drop a comment or send an email through the site contact page any time.

    2. Tanya Sitton

      I think it’s really important to have a community to vent to, whether online or IRL… I’m sorry to hear your ‘friends’ are so snotty about it! My first impulse is to say, wow, those are some rude people, don’t hang out with them… but I know it’s not always that simple. Have you looked on meetup.com to see if there’s a vegan/ vegetarian group near you? Or I can add you to an excellent Facebook veggie group called The Veg Life, if you like; there’s also vegantalk.com, which is like FB for veg-heads, just getting off the ground… vegweb.com has community forums too, which used to be excellent but have seen many users self-deport to the FB veg life group, due to site trouble over the past year… if the real-life people around you are so unsupportive, please seek out other peer options! It makes it SOOOO much easier to keep your internal compass, and enjoy the vegan path! There ARE tons of us out there — in the modern digital age, there’s no need to be lonely!

      There are some really good podcasts that can provide a sense of community also, as well as offer strategies for responding to stupid or hurtful things non-veg people fling into your day; my favorites are Vegetarian Food for Thought (excellent!) and The Vegan Option, both free on iTunes; if you’re also political and left of center, Citizen Radio (free also) is run by a coupla rowdy vegans who are emphatically NOT sorry for a damn thing, and who are good company if you need virtual community backup — word of warning tho, that one does get an ‘explicit’ rating for language, so no complaints please if your ears get burned. ;-)

      That said, I think it’s important to understand that none of that is about YOU, or YOUR food: it’s defensiveness because you’re challenging the cognitive dissonance your peers feel about THEIR food! By being (as the fab Colleen Patrick-Goudreau would say) ‘the vegan in the room,’ you’re openly living your own truth in a way that they aren’t (i’m assuming here that these people DON’T openly condone animal torture, puppy mills, cockfighting, dogfighting, etc while they chomp on factory-farmed animal corpses)… So don’t be afraid to call ’em on it! Say, wow, why are you so hostile about this? Do you feel bad when someone else doesn’t eat animals? Isn’t that kinda strange? Why do you think that is? I mean, why should it matter to you what I eat? … Then really listen, and follow through, and point out calmly when they are being unnecessarily hostile — say, I don’t mind that you think that — it doesn’t matter, since I love how I eat — but it surely seems inappropriate, don’t you think? What are you scared of? Why is it so important to you to run down my vegan food? What’s at (pardon the pun) stake?!

      If you stay calm and sure and joyful about what you’re doing, and don’t let them rattle you — celebrate veganism! apologize for nothing! f**k ’em!!! — they will eventually stop. If they don’t, get new friends. :-P

      Don’t let them fake you out: it’s about their own discomfort, and nothing to do with you…

      And whether they agree with you or not, you’re within your rights to say, ‘you know, that’s really wearing thin. I don’t care what you think about it, stfu, you’re making it way not fun here… if we’re friends, knock it off; if not that’s cool, piss off then.’

      That’s my 2 cents. I love eating vegan, and have never felt lonely in it. I live in the rural south, where the produce aisle consists of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and bacon. Seriously: that’s for real, that’s my local grocery store’s idea of produce. My spouse is omni; I have one real-life vegetarian friend and 2 that are vegan-leaning, but everyone else is omni. Here’s the deal, tho: they all love me, or at least respect me enough to know that this makes me feckin happy so it’s cool. Demand that! And find a vegan community for backup, however you can — it really does make a huge difference! :)

        1. Tanya Sitton

          He’s vegan at home, ’cause I don’t cook or buy animal crap! And he’s kitchen impaired, so happily scarfs whatever I cook up… but at restaurants or other folks’ houses, he’s a food slut. (shrug!) Whatcha gonna do? Bless their hearts, maybe they’ll wake up some day! If not, it’s surely not b/c of lack of knowledge about the issue, right?! ;-)

          1. Heather Rose

            Thanks ladies!! That is so much great info I will be sifting through it for sure!! Luckily most of my friends are supportive in their distant omni sort of way. And because I made the switch due to a cancer diagnosis. But my life right now has me in school and in a new job eating with all sorts of “acquaintances”. I love the idea of the meet up group I put an invite out there to start something like that but maybe I could see if one already exists. I really am grateful for your encouraging words and remembered to check back! Thanks Tanya and Becky!!

  5. Not a nugget

    I encounter this with my family, ridicule and inside jokes, etc when I was veggie but clearly going vegan was jumping off the deep end. So much so, that I simply clicked ‘like’ on a photo on FB (related to the misery of farmed animals, but admittedly was peta-esque) and was accused of posting it to my page (I liked it, I would never post that stuff) and preaching veganism. Which also will result in my losing respectability for using extreme means to express my ’cause’. Wow … thanks mom. Delete.

    1. Becky Striepe

      That us such a bummer, I am so sorry! It’s much harder to let it roll off when it’s family. Would they be open to hearing how those jibes and criticisms make you feel? I know it can be trickier with family members than friends sometimes.

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