By Autumn Burton, Vegetarian Resource Group Intern
Even though the number of vegetarians and vegans in the United States is increasing, vegetarians make up 3 percent of the population and vegans somewhat less. So, when living in a country where about 312 million people, 97% of the population, do not support your ethical views, it may seem as though full accommodation is nearly impossible to find. On the plus side, the amount of public vegan and vegetarian awareness has increased manyfold. A plethora of vegan restaurants are making their way into every city, most supermarkets have a section dedicated to organic and vegetarian diets, and a growing number of school lunch programs offer vegan dining options. So, despite the odds, vegetarians and vegans continue to persevere so much that now that 36% of the U.S. population eats at least one vegetarian meal per week.
If there’s so much information available and so many vegan options to choose from, why don’t more people switch to a 100% vegetarian diet? In a study conducted by Jean Kazez of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 2013, almost half of non-vegans said that they would like to be a vegan or vegetarian if it were easier. For some, being a vegetarian or vegan doesn’t seem easy, as we make up a minority and must be committed to maintain our lifestyles.
So, given perceived obstacles of being a vegan or vegetarian in an omnivorous society, should you accommodate your loved ones who happen to be non-vegetarian? Vegetarian Resource Group intern, Ivy Grob, says she would never serve non-vegan food under any circumstances. “I can’t stand to look at or touch raw meat,” she says. She does, however, believe that her ethical views should not prevent her from spending time with others outside her realm of thinking. “If I’m out with friends or I’m a guest in a house that is serving meat, I’m still going to participate in the event where meat is being served,” she says. “As long as I don’t have to cook it, I care less about it being served around me even though I would rather it not be served at all, of course.”
Ivy, just like many other vegans, does not live in a 100% vegan world. In fact out of the four people in her house, she is the only vegan. This can be difficult especially if you are like her and are worried about cross-contamination, she explains. But she suggests educating her non-vegan loved ones about her “beliefs in a way that is easy to digest and never condescending. I believe that if you show your argument in a constructive manner, people will listen – especially if you feed them good food.”
If you’re like Ivy and very passionate about your beliefs, don’t feel guilty or pressured to compromise if it makes you uncomfortable. Take that passion and show your non-vegan/vegetarian peers why you choose to follow a cruelty-free lifestyle through considerate talks and delicious food. This way, you don’t have to bend your beliefs and your friends are well fed.
However, vegetarians and vegans are typically very concerned with fair treatment of all living things, which doesn’t exclude humans. So, you may be asking yourself, is it unfair to refuse to compromise your beliefs when you expect others to compromise theirs and cook vegan/vegetarian meals that accommodate your needs. “Now, I understand the hypocrisy in this decision because I expect people to compromise and serve me vegan dishes out of sheer respect,” Laura McGuiness, VRG volunteer, says. “[But] vegans and vegetarians cannot eat a certain type of food, but non-vegetarians can eat whatever they choose.” As non-vegetarians are in the majority, their needs will always be accommodated, whereas vegans and vegetarians do not have the same luxury. As in dealing with an allergy, if the cook makes special adjustments, it will not harm anyone, but if it is made without the allergy friendly ingredients the allergic individual will be directly negatively affected. And of course, the cook or host wouldn’t want you to be in any pain, physically or mentally. “Eating dairy will make my throat swell (I have an allergy),” Laura says, “but eating healthy oat bars won’t hurt non-vegetarians in any way despite perhaps poking holes in their negative ideas of vegan food.” Sure, it’s a tough love, but this way no one is hurt.”
In addition to those who think like Ivy and Laura, there are vegetarians and vegans who are a bit more flexible when it comes to serving animal products. “I may be willing to cook some meat,” says Collin Hickey-Schiappa, VRG volunteer, “but I’ll serve mostly vegetarian food and I obviously won’t eat the meat myself.” I consider it payback for all the times nice meat eaters made me something they wouldn’t have had to make otherwise.” He considers it compensation for all the times that non-vegetarians went out their way to serve him vegetarian food. Since it is their choice to eat meat, they should be allowed to do so without him stopping them. “I like to take the philosophy that other people are responsible for their own decisions, that way I have more energy to devote to figuring out what I myself should do.”
VRG volunteer Emily Li says she too is willing to be a bit more flexible. “Sometimes I will have to compromise when serving non-vegetarians, usually my sister because she is still young and cannot make food for herself. For instance, I might make her a banana-milk smoothie or heat up a pop-tart, so small snacks; but I would never make from scratch a non-vegan dish (e.g. scrambled eggs, fried rice, and bacon).” When asked how she is able to prepare food that she is ethically against she explains that she is only able to do so for her sister because she is extremely respectful of her choice. “I’m not going to refuse to help her because of my ethical views. Veganism is not just about showing compassion for animals, but for other human beings as well.” And Emily’s compassion has shown to have fruitful results. “She [my little sister] has reduced her animal intake significantly. She unconsciously leans towards vegetable dishes over meaty dishes and picks out the egg from her fried rice, etc. As her older sister, I believe that being a good role model is the most important thing you can do, and I know that one day she will finally make the decision for herself to cut out all animal products.”
But when it comes to adults who have the capability to make their own meals, Emily believes they should make their own non-vegetarian meals if that is what they want. But she’s found that her friends are usually eager to try her vegan food and are surprised by how good it tastes. Though, there still are others, like her Dad, that are against veganism and believe vegan food is “unhealthy.” To deal with this she emphasizes the importance of not criticizing people who chose non-vegan/vegetarian lifestyles because, the harshness may push them away from vegetarianism before they can give it a try. She suggests taking small steps in influencing your loved ones. “Start by serving them one delicious vegan meal, or showing them a beautiful faux leather jacket. If they show interest, you can introduce them to some information about animal cruelty, “or even have a movie-night with vegan popcorn and a documentary (Earthlings, Cowspiracy, Forks over Knives, etc.).” “Find out what it is that appeals to them about veganism. Are they animal lovers? Do they care about their health? Are they passionate about saving the environment? Educate them on how just by simply changing their diet, they can hugely impact the world. Show them that veganism is a life full of abundance and compassion.”
So, all in all, whatever your view on “compromise,” at the end of the day, the important part is that you are contributing to a greater good by being a vegetarian or vegan. Along the way, you can help inspire others to learn more about the cruelty free lifestyle by being a good role model.