Coping strategies for the only vegan at home or in the workplace, by the Veganuary team.
It’s not always easy being a plant-based trailblazer. Not only are you finding your own way in a vegan world, but you have to deal with questions from those around you and help them to understand your choices too. Here is our advice to all those wonderful vanguard vegans.
Breaking the news
Can you imagine how lovely it would be if the usual response to someone saying “I’ve decided to go vegan” was: “How marvellous. Good for you!”? Back in the real world, a wannabe vegan is more likely to be offered dire warnings about their imminent physical decline and ultimate – but inevitable – death.
Our loved ones worry about us, and we are blessed that they do, but when it comes to veganism, they are worrying unnecessarily. They don’t yet know the huge benefits of eating plant-based, and why would they?
Do your research and, when the time is right, explain calmly your reasons and reassure them that vegans can get every nutrient they need. It will help if you can give them something to read or if you can watch a movie together – perhaps Vegucated, The Game Changers or Forks Over Knives. That way, they are not just taking your word for it!
And your specialist subject is… nutrition
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when faced with a vegan everyone in the world immediately becomes a nutrition expert. Those who chow down daily on burgers and chips and don’t see a vegetable from week to week will happily deliver a spontaneous TED Talk about intakes of calcium, iron, protein, choline, omega-3 and B12, much of which they gleaned from tabloid headlines.
And, if we’re honest, they do have a point. We should all consider our diets carefully and make sure there is no nutrient we are falling short of. But the proof of the vegan plum pudding is very much in the eating, and vegans suffer less from heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, which is quite an endorsement of how healthy a vegan diet is! And just look at all those world-class athletes who have chosen to eat plant-based. It is clear that vegans who eat a balanced diet do not lack anything – and that includes strength, endurance and muscle mass.
But what will you eat?!
If you are not the main cook in your home, and someone else has the responsibility of feeding you, they are bound to have concerns. Similarly, friends will wonder what to serve when you go for dinner or where you will take them when you go out for a meal. They sure as heck don’t want to eat a plate of lettuce, and they don’t know what else a vegan might eat. Forgive them. They know no better. But this is why you need to show them how wonderful and varied a plant-based diet can be.
If you are the main cook in your home and your family members don’t wish to eat vegan alongside you, you will have to decide whether you feel comfortable cooking non-vegan meals for them. A good compromise might be to ‘veganise’ everyday meals, such as spaghetti Bolognese or pizza, and they can add their own cheese or non-vegan toppings if they choose. By sticking to recognisable and what is viewed as ‘normal’ meals, you will help everyone adjust to this change.
If someone else is the chef, you may need to break out some bartering skills. Perhaps you could offer to cook two delicious vegan meals a week for the whole family if they can make some vegan-friendly options three days a week. For the remaining two days, perhaps you agree to cater just for yourself. There are now plenty of vegan ready-meals, so you can heat your dinner in the microwave and get out of the kitchen quickly and let someone else use it.
If you are invited to someone else’s house for dinner, including at Christmas, Easter or Hanukkah, open up discussions early on, and offer to take your own centrepiece. You can match it as closely as possible to your host’s, so you do not stand out, and just check that the side dishes will be suitable for you to eat. Or perhaps you could offer to make dessert for everyone if the host can create a main for you.
Try to understand that catering for a new vegan can feel daunting, so unless you are prepared to fake delight at a pepper stuffed with plain rice followed by a fruit salad, you will probably need to step up.
As for eating in restaurants, almost every high street chain has vegan options or a full vegan menu and, increasingly, independent restaurants are catering well for plant-based eaters, too.
This means you can eat out with your omni friends at a wide variety of eateries and everyone is happy. And there is more good news. Your Saturday night takeaway shouldn’t be an issue – most Indian, Chinese and Thai restaurants have plenty of vegan options (though you do need to ask about ghee, fish sauce and egg) and the major pizza chains have vegan cheese.
Vegan in the workplace
Things may be simpler to resolve at work, though the endless list of questions will undoubtedly still keep on coming! Put your soya or oat milk in the refrigerator and make sure there are vegan biscuits in the communal tin. If it is the custom to take in treats on a Friday or for a colleague’s birthday, don’t make things hard for yourself.
Leave the kale cake at home and instead make something ‘normal’! There are great recipes for brownies, cookies, cakes and even the miraculous aquafaba-based meringues, so blow their minds with baked goods, and veganism won’t seem so strange.
If you educate yourself about nutrition, learn some new recipes, enjoy a bowl of popcorn with friends while watching Cowspiracy, answer all questions with good humour and good grace, bake some extraordinary treats for your loved ones, and thrive as a happy, healthy vegan, we will happily bet that you won’t be the only vegan you know for much longer.