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T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
5 Tips to Overcome Social Challenges

It’s funny because now I’m SO, SO proud and bold about being plant-based that you can hardly shut me up! I love being in on the early side of social change, and knowing that I overcame personal obstacles to get there makes me all the more excited about my food choices. But when I first began eating this way, I often felt like I was, ahem, a fish out of water… But here’s how I dealt with 5 of the most common social challenges that came my way:

  1. I didn’t know what to say when people quoted “scientific” articles that concluded the opposite (Paleo anyone?) of what I’d come to learn about the health benefits of avoiding animal foods. They sounded like they knew what they were talking about, and sometimes I didn’t have the studies off the top of my head to argue intelligently. So what I did was I memorized a few very basic, well-respected quotes and cited them regularly as a response. My regular retort was something to the effect of, “Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that a well-rounded vegan diet is healthy and that vegetarians and vegans of any age and at any stage of life do better insofar as preventing obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart disease. And they require rigorous scientific data before they come out and say anything!” And of course I would recommend that they read The China Study if they were interested in food as a function in cancer prevention and treatment. (The C word is powerful!).
  2. When someone said (and it was more than just once, believe me), “This diet of yours is such a BORE.” I would feel like a drag, like I was being a goody-two-shoes for not eating burgers with the crowd. It was like being a teenager again and feeling peer pressure to be cool and do drugs. My response back in the beginning of my plant-based days was to be tongue-tied (I can’t help it… I’ll always be a nerd wanting to be cool!), but now I just say, “Hey you guys enjoy yourselves; meat is not my thing.” Then inevitably I’d hear, “Why not?” And I would say, “Well, if you really want to know, there’s so much cancer in my family and the science is so strong re the link between cancer and meat and dairy that it’s just not worth it to me to play with fire.” Suddenly I was the one with the interesting diet!
  3. I go to a lot of dinner parties and I didn’t know how to not offend the host when I didn’t want to eat his or her offerings. So I would always email ahead and say, “Hey I just want to let you know that I’m vegan, but please don’t worry about having anything for me; I will bring something so you don’t have to think about it!” Nine times out of ten the host will say, “Oh we’ll have something for you, so don’t bother bringing anything!” Otherwise I’d just bring a big hearty salad, or some veggie alternatives to throw on the grill so that I’m not sitting there without anything to eat. And again, it usually sparks and interesting conversation … as long as I’m chill about it, the hosts are, too.
  4. On ethics, I remember being at a restaurant with friends and answering one gal’s questions about why I’m vegan, and I was talking about how moved I was to see what happens to animals as they become food and it no longer felt right for me to eat them. She started smirking at me and then pointed to my shoes and said, “Oh yeah, then why are you wearing their skin on your feet?”. Gulp. I felt guilty and defensive and speechless. But then I recalled my motto: Progress, not perfection. I said I’m “leaning in” and doing the best that I can, but I hope one day that I will not be wearing leather. (I did indeed give up leather about six months after that.)
  5. I am always very appreciative of people’s kindnesses, and it was really awkward if someone gave me food with animal product in it as a gift. Like when I moved in to my house and some really lovely neighbors came over to welcome me with a cheese basket… I didn’t want to be ungracious, but I also didn’t think it was right to quietly accept it. So I enthusiastically said, “Oh thank you so very much for your kindness; that’s unbelievably sweet of you! I’m afraid this will be wasted on me, though, as I’m vegan. How about you come in for a glass of wine, though, because I’d love to reciprocate the generosity!?”.

To me, it’s all a matter of tone and delivery. If you avoid being dogmatic or self-righteous, the great majority of people will respect your choices. And better still, they will lean in to hear more about why you eat and live the way you do….

Image Credit: Chris Ford / Flickr

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