Most of our social lives are centered around food. It is often the first consideration when making plans to get together. We prepare potlucks, set up dinner dates, attend lunch meetings, celebrate holiday feasts, etc. Because food is such a considerable part of our daily existence most people who switch to a vegan diet find it difficult to maintain their social comfort zones. Often when the rules change for one, it upsets the cart for the rest. It is similar to what it was like for cigarette smokers not too long ago.
Prior to the last few decades, cigarette smoking in the United States was a socially accepted thing to do. When someone quit, they would often grudgingly be referred to as a “reformed smoker” so the smoking crowd knew that this was someone to be avoided. Those who had recently given up the habit had a reputation for pointing out how disgusting smoking was: that it stinks, is bad for your health, etc. Quitting any highly addictive habit is hard. In those days, there were smokers in all public places including doctor’s offices, hospitals, most homes and businesses. It was common courtesy to offer someone a cigarette upon lighting up. Those who wanted to quit needed smoke-free environments to overcome their addiction. They had to hunt for places where they could be away from cigarette smoke, which wasn’t easy for those who had smokers at home. This still goes on in many parts of the world today. If you are a vegan living in a society where meat and animal products are regularly consumed, this scene sounds very familiar.
It takes courage to make a big change. For those who do, feeling discomfort among friends is unfortunately quite common. This often happens to people who make big transformations such as when they quit drinking alcohol, undergo a major weight loss or become religious. I watched a friend lose many of her pals when her income level increased. Lots of people notice a shift in friends when they get married or have children. Does it have to be that way for vegans?
It depends how accepting and flexible everybody is. Some people are more adaptable over time.(It can be interesting to see who is.)You will find that the people who care the most for you will accept your lifestyle and figure out a comfortable way to spend time with you regardless. And you may come around to doing the same for them. It can be just as hard for vegans to accept that their friends are not willing to change their diet once they know that you have. You may want to avoid being around food that contains animal products, at least for a while. Perhaps you can find things to do with friends that do not involve food.
It takes extra courage to change when you are doing it alone. Even if your friends no longer put out the weird vibe at mealtime, you may still feel different when it comes time to eat. If you’ve been vegan for a while, you may not mind. But if you don’t have the support that you need it is going to be lonely. Every day, there are more and more people who are becoming “reformed meat-eaters.” If you are feeling isolated, reach out to people with whom you will be comfortable. Take the initiative and find others like yourself. They will be glad you contacted them and you will breathe easier. You deserve to feel good and to be supported for choosing a plant-based diet.
© Jill Powers and The Feel Good Vegan 2010.
Photo courtesy of Microsoft
Posted in: Social Situations for Vegan Adults