How to Handle Social Situations as Vegans
I chose to be a vegetarian as a child. It was 100% my own decision so it didn't matter that all my friends at school were eating the same thing for lunch and I was the odd man out or that there were hamburgers and hot dogs and all the junk food kids love at birthday parties. I just wasn't interested in eating any meat. It was honestly really easy!
So fast forward to today and our 5 year old is not finding it as easy. Her personality is completely different from mine. I was a shy, reserved child who preferred to quietly observe social situations from the outside. Our little girl is friendly and thrives with people - the more people the better! She loves to be right in the middle of things, part of the action. If the group is doing something that looks fun, she wants in! So I shouldn't be surprised that she is frustrated at the party that all the kids are eating "those long brown things" (hot dogs) and she isn't.
Our philosophy when it comes to handling social situations as vegans might be a bit of a surprise and we respect that every family figures out what works for them.
When we decided to share our vegan journey on social media, one of the things we were most mindful of was not becoming so focused on showing love and compassion for animals that we forget to do the same for other human beings who choose a different lifestyle than us.
Years ago, I heard a vegan say something to the effect of “I used to be so rigid in my veganism that I would reject anything that wasn’t in line with that. Now I’ve come to realize that when a meal is made for me out of love from another human being, the compassionate thing to do is accept it and be grateful for it.”
This has really stuck with me and it is what we have tried to live by in our family. What we’ve found, is that it is much easier said than done because we are passionate about our vegan lifestyle, our bodies don’t digest animal products (particularly dairy) well AT ALL, and we don’t want to confuse our children.
We don’t have a perfect formula for social situations but here is what we have learned:
Whenever possible, prepare your children for what is to come - if you will be going to a party or friend’s home to eat, have a conversation with your child and explain that there will be foods there that come from animals and friends will be eating those foods but we don’t do things just because our friends are doing them. We will make the best choices we can, based on what we know.
Whenever possible, bring food - if you know there will be a birthday cake, try to bring a similar option for your kids to eat while everyone has cake. Even better is to bring food to share! This allows your children to share their favorite foods and have that positive social experience. It is also so fun to help others to see that eating vegan can be satisfying and delicious!
Give your children the freedom to choose - we have some “absolutes” in our family, meaning foods that we will not allow because they are so incredibly harmful, but outside of those we try to give our children the space to make their own choices. We trust that we are educating them at the pace that is right for their age and that with increased understanding over time, they will choose to say no to animal products. However, they don’t have that full understanding yet and forcing their hand and making them feel guilt for their food choices is possibly even more harmful.
Whenever possible, give the host notice - when we are invited to someone’s home to eat, we try to find an opportunity to tell them that we are vegan beforehand for obvious reasons.
If giving the host notice isn’t possible, simply be gracious - this looks different in different situations. First, we always try to quietly eat around the animal products. There are usually several components to the meal and we can just skip the meat or dairy parts. This is almost always a perfect solution and even goes unnoticed. However, there was one time, back when I was just vegetarian and Daniel was still a carnivore, that we were guests in a home. This family was so incredibly kind and gracious. We weren’t planning to eat, just visiting with them, but they wanted to serve us food. They didn’t have much but sacrificed what they had to serve us a plate full of food and it was entirely meat. This was the only situation I’ve been in that I felt the compassionate thing to do was to do my best to eat the meat. Honestly, I didn’t even know how because it was still on the bone and I’d never eaten meat before. I nibbled around the edges and then Daniel stepped in and finished it for me. Read the situation and act out of love. With children, sometimes this means quietly watching your child eat food with animal products because explaining to them that milk is in it would be offensive to the host, etc.
Let go of rigidity and remember that veganism is about compassion. Show compassion to all.
Social situations can be tricky, but with these tips, some practice, and always coming from a place of love, we can navigate them in a way that is kind and shines a positive light on our vegan lifestyle.