Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Food Fight! - Overcoming The Social Stigma Of Going Veg

Being different isn't always easy and so goes the life of those who choose to be vegetarian or vegan. The choice of what one eats is very personal. Every single time one of us puts something in our mouth there's something deeply moving about this experience wether we realize it or not. Don't think this is the case? Try imagining going without your favorite foods for a month. Now imagine never being able to eat these foods for the rest of your life. Things just got a little more personal didn't they?

We've all grown up eating certain foods and developing certain tastes which have secretly molded our decision making process come each meal time. In America this may mean lunch served from a drive through window, a night out to your favorite seafood restaurant, or a plate full of meat and potatoes grilled to perfection during a backyard barbecue (this is how I grew up). So it's no wonder that if you decide to give this all up and adopt a diet consisting only of healthy, wholesome, plant-based foods things can quickly become a problem, especially in the social aspect of life.

Family, friends, and strangers alike will probably think you've gone off the deep end by making such drastic changes in your food selections. This happened to me and still happens from time to time even though I took the plunge over 3 years ago to this lifestyle. I'm here to tell you that you're not alone in your feelings of isolation and rejection if this is what's happened or is happening to you in your life. Nor are you destined to live a life of a veggie hermit because the rest of the world sees things differently than you. We all view and experience life differently. After all, it's what makes life so beautiful by providing us with uniquely different perspectives from our woven traditional ways. We can learn from these unique perspectives just as others can learn from us even when our differences are so personal and steadfast (like what we eat). Getting past these "Food Fights" is crucial in fostering loving, nurturing relationships for the rest of your life. My goal in this article is to share with you ways to make this easier so that you can enjoy all the benefits that come with your new food selections without sacrificing the social and loving aspects of your current and future relationships with the people you love most in life.

Tips To Everyone Winning The Veggie Makeover

1) Share Your Concerns - Communicate

This is one of the most important actions you can take in breaking down any barriers that may develop because of your new lifestyle choice. When others "attack" you it's usually not about you but rather about them and their traditions and habits. By choosing to live a plant-based lifestyle you're going against what you and they've grown up knowing all these years so have a heart to heart with them. Whether you switched to a plant-based diet for reasons of better health, the environmental impact, spirituality, or your compassion for animals the chances are your loved ones may not really understand this and why you made these decisions. You don't have to start an argument by bringing this up either. You can actually avoid doing so by making the talk about you and not them.

Do this by starting off the conversation expressing how much you appreciate their love and support as well as their friendship. This makes them feel valued (as it should) for all that they've ever done for you. Then tell them in a genuine manner how much you need their support in making a huge change in your life. Finally, ask (don't tell them) if they would be willing to be supportive for you. If you need to, let them know that you're not expecting them to make any major changes to their lifestyle but that you just really need a loving friend or family member to help you make this transition to a better YOU in life. You may be surprised at how well this goes over with them. True family and friends will accept you exactly the way you are and not just for what you eat or don't eat.

2) Offer To Contribute

One major concern that non-veggie people have with veggie eaters is what to feed us. This can cause a lot of anxiety for them especially when it comes to hosting dinner parties. Are you going to survive their wonderful gathering that they worked so hard to plan? What can they possibly feed you besides salad? Do they need to make a sign for you proclaiming that you're the food nazi? Well, ok so that last one might be a bit harsh but you can now get a feel for what I'm saying. The last thing your host wants to do is make you feel uncomfortable or make other guests feel uncomfortable because of any food differences that may arise between people.

This scenario is no different than if someone came to the party on a "diabetic diet" or was lactose intolerant or gluten sensitive. These individuals aren't impossible to feed and neither are you. The easiest way to help your host (in any of these situations) is to offer to bring something to the party. Make a big dish of your favorite mexican bean casserole or your favorite chocolate raw brownies. I guarantee you that more often than not you'll go home with an empty dish and people asking for the recipe.

You can also offer to help your host plan a party menu in advance. Many times just ideas alone are what a host needs to get started. Many people really do think that iceberg lettuce is the one and only food that vegan people eat so throw them a few ideas to help them plan their menu.

3) Call Ahead Or Review The Menu Before Dining Out

Dining out can pose a challenge especially when surrounded by a culture of rich, western foods. But it doesn't mean you can't eat out with nonveg friends and family members. The key to making this a successful and healthy experience is to think ahead a little.

The best options are obviously veg friendly eateries and restaurants. If your companions are open and willing to try one of these new places then treat them to your favorite veggie cafe. They may just fall in love with the place and want to go back. You can find a list of veg friendly cafes at Happy Cow.

If you know where you're going when eating out then you can always call ahead and speak to the chef. Do this at a convenient time for those in the kitchen (mid-morning or mid-afternoon) so they're not so busy. Ask if they can either alter or make something that's not on the menu that fits your needs. Many places are happy to accommodate special requests if they know about it before hand. Some can also do this on the fly but it's better if you give them a heads up if possible. Just think of how you would want to be treated if you were the chef. Graciousness and respect beget the same in return.

Another great option that your dining companions may appreciate is checking out various ethnic cuisines. Indian, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, and Italian restaurants are all great choices and usually always have something to choose from for the plant-based eater.

When all else fails you can always order side dishes or various appetizers which work with your diet. If there's broccoli and baked sweet potatoes on the menu as part of a steak combo meal then obviously the restaurant can serve the meal without the steak. You may find it helpful to look at the menu online before going to your final destination.

4) Educate Your Critics About Plant-Based Living... But Make It On Their Terms

One helpful thing that I've found to work for me when getting others to accept my plant-based lifestyle is to educate them about all the benefits it can produce. It's really, really important to do this on their terms though! Nobody wants to be preached at when they didn't ask for a preaching in the first place.

Just by living a plant-based lifestyle your actions speak volumes. Pretty soon people will see the changes in you—higher energy levels, a smaller waistline, less trips to the doctor and corner drugstore, etc.—and they'll start asking YOU questions. This is when you need to be ready to share with them the information you've always wanted to share with them. Point out books, dvd's, or websites that you've found helpful in your journey. You may just end up with a new partner in crime when all is said and done. Sharing the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle can be very rewarding and fulfilling especially when you know you had a part in making someone else's life better because of this.

5) Laugh At Yourself

This is a tough one for me and can be tougher for those who usually leave humor for less serious subjects in life, but it can also be a game changer. Using humor to bridge the gap between the burger and fries crowd and the world of fruit smoothie junkies is sometimes the perfect way to go.

I remember a couple of years ago after I started living the veg lifestyle I was about to head out for a visit to see my lifelong college friends up north. Before hopping on a plane and jetting out of Florida I called them to touch base. Just before getting off the phone my good buddy said "I'm just about to head out and mow the lawn, you want me to save you some grass clippings?" I laughed and said, "Please do, I'll throw 'em in my salad to give it more flavor."  Being able to make light of your situation makes life so much more enjoyable. My friend never did save me those grass clippings, but I was able to get him to try a recipe I had for black bean soup :)

Photo credit: Different in a crowd (
Photo credit: Friends communicating (
Photo credit: Funny lime nose (ischerer)

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by Dustin Rudolph, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacist

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1 comment:

  1. great article, but I think you mean social STIGMA, not social DOGMA.


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