Relating with Non-Vegans
As we have evolved in our thinking and come to commit to being vegans, we have also wanted to remain thoughtful and gracious to our friends, peers, and strangers who may not be like-minded in their food choices. (Keep in mind, of course, that we’ve only been formally, explicitly, capital-letter Vegan since January 2012 – and I know that we have, and will continue to occasionally slip-up, despite our best efforts.) The more I engage in discussions with others about our eating choices, the more I realize that people are remiss in thinking that the two most difficult topics to discuss for most people are religion and politics. I think food and it’s consumption should be an additional category! (Just consider the whole debate about and passionate responses to Paula Deen’s eating habits and her recent Type II diabetes diagnosis, for example!)
It’s interesting to note people’s reactions to our choice to become vegan. Some are surprising negative, and others are quite accepting. Sometimes, it turns out that they’re vegan as well! Some people respond by immediately explaining why they “could never do that”; or telling us that they just really love meat or cheese (it’s usually one or the other) and couldn’t live without it; or making disparaging and illogical statements against vegans (such as saying that vegans “must be bored and just want to make their lives more complicated”). Some have a very different reaction, responding with genuine curiosity and fascination; applauding our dedication to what we feel is best for us; or most surprisingly, simply accepting it much like any other decision a person would make. Our decision isn’t an act of judgement against your own decision if it happens to be different from ours. I like these five humorous and true tips on “How to Date a Vegan“, though it’s certainly applicable to just being friends with anyone vegan!
A Little Anecdote
In fact, the other day a mama friend of mine came over who is a big fan of animal products. We’ve had a few discussions about food recently, and I’ve appreciated her ability to hear my current thoughts on food and past experiences which have led me to being vegan with a listening and open ear while also sharing her love for meat and cheese, and the fact that her dinners are generally meat-centric. I didn’t feel any judgement from her as to my decision, and I hope she didn’t feel any judgement from me. Yes, I have reasons for choosing to eat as I do and I feel I’m growing ever more informed on the topic. But she surely has an equal number of reasons for eating the way she does, and I respect her choices – and must say, that I adore her and certainly thank God for her friendship.
One day when she came over with her kids to play, she was immediately handed a fake, plastic cheese sandwich by my daughter. (It came in a toy picnic basket that was given to us) My friend thanked her, took the pretend sandwich, and said “Is this a cheese sandwich?” and before I blink, she said something to affect of “No! Surely it’s a vegan sandwich. This must be a hummus sandwich. Or a soy cheese sandwich?” I wouldn’t have cared if she had referred to it as a cheese sandwich and left it at that, but I thought it was darling that she would be so cognizant and thoughtful, knowing that my daughter doesn’t consume dairy cheeses. I was quite touched, and reminded once again of how meat and dairy are everywhere – in the books I read to my toddler, in magazines and on billboards, in kids songs… It’s pretty astounding to start to notice the prevalence of animal products in what is presented to little children.
We Are The Minority
So, knowing that we live in a culture which is quite focused on animal product consumption (after all, the USDA in the 50’s had four recommended food groups: meat, dairy, vegetables & fruits, and refined grains; which remained unchanged for decades), we expect to have to eat a little before we go to social activities and to come prepared. We also realized that we wanted to be gracious, hospitable and polite despite having a very different way of eating from the norm. We decided we needed some kind of guideline or policy to follow to allow us to remain dedicated to our way of eating while hopefully not offending others.
There is a term for allowing some exceptions to one’s vegan diet, and there is some controversy around it within Veganism. The term we have learned to describe this is the “Paris exemption”, which accepts flexibility on “special occasions”…
We decided to go with what we’re calling the “Romans 14 Clause“, a sort of hospitality clause if you will. We, my husband and I, are Christians and felt that it spoke most clearly and eloquently to our desires and of course stems from something we very much believe in. In case you aren’t familiar with the Bible, Romans is a “book” within it – which is actually a letter (or more fancily referred to as an “epistle”) written to the Romans. I’ll share with you some of the pertinent elements that we found compelling and which we felt provided helpful and adequate direction for us in relating with the primarily-animal-product-consuming world outside of our home.
Summary of our Romans 14 Clause
“Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.”
When people welcome us into their home, we will do our best to be flexible and strive to simply eat as a vegetarian, avoiding any unnecessary and obvious use of meats/poultry… Since we were both vegetarian for years prior to being vegan, this should hopefully be easier to do – for us (without having to rudely ask about ingredients and whatnot), as well as for those who are offering us food (most people feel at least relatively comfortable avoiding meat or we can simply move it to the side). Our concern in that situation remains with the welfare of animals and our own health, but primarily with wanting to be respectful to and grateful for our hosts. We are happy to discuss our thoughts on food and the reasons for our decision, but we mean no judgement on those who eat differently.
“Those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God;
while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God”