By Karen Leibowitz, during her VRG internship
Personal Experience/How my family reacted: When I told my parents I was becoming vegan, I was glad to see that they were supportive of my decision. Telling my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, was an entirely different story though. For them it meant changing the traditional holiday menus at family gatherings, something they were hesitant about, and somewhat offended by. The first time I brought up the subject of being vegan was during a family reunion, when my grandmother noticed I didn’t take any turkey. All of a sudden, the entire family was asking me questions with concerned looks on their faces.
What to make of it: In a situation like this, it is important to consider that hints of disapproval from family members should be taken as a comfort; your family cares about your health and only wants what is best for you. If they are not familiar with a vegan/vegetarian diet, they may raise concerns about your health. It’s important to take your defenses down, and recognize that a vegan/vegetarian diet can have a stigma for non-vegans especially if they aren’t aware of its benefits and they think that people have to eat meat and dairy products. They simply care about you and your health.
What I did: In my experience, what worked best was, first, telling my family exactly why I became vegan, and that there is sound scientific evidence that vegetarian/vegan diets are nutritionally adequate. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” I assured my relatives that I carefully consider daily food choices in order to make sure I receive all the necessary nutrients. This can include buying calcium-fortified food products, and eating a varied diet, including lots of produce. Your family will also be happy to hear that changing your diet has been a great learning experience concerning proper nutrition.
Practical Suggestions: Bringing my own alternative meat dish, like a Tofurky product, made my family feel better because it made me look included at family meals, and it lifted the burden of my grandparents having to cook an additional meal for just one person. Bringing your own mock meat, or another protein-rich plant food like a bean burger, can also make your family proud because you are being proactive about a change you are passionate about. Being vegetarian/vegan can sometimes feel like you are making a situation more difficult for those cooking at family gatherings. Showing your family that you are healthy and satisfied with vegetarianism/veganism can alleviate their insecurities because those are generally their main concerns.