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Although Joanne is not able to respond to additional questions at this time, your concerns may have already been addressed in a previous column. Please check the Ask Joanne! Archive, which contains all the Q&As that have appeared here.

Inappropriate Gifts

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What should I do if someone gives me a nonvegan gift, for instance something that is made of leather, wool, or silk? Even if I tell people several times that I don't eat animal products or wear leather, they somehow manage to forget. Am I justified in alerting them that these gifts are inconsiderate, especially since they are well aware of my ethical stance?

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We all hope that our beliefs will be understood and respected by those with whom we are close, even if they don't personally subscribe to them. Yet frequently this is not the case. Vegan principles are important to vegans, but they often mean little to people who aren't vegan. Sometimes it takes several attempts to expound what being vegan entails, but unless people have a genuine interest in veganism, they may not fully grasp what we tell them.

If you receive inappropriate gifts from close friends or family members, bear in mind that they probably had the best of intentions at heart. They simply may be unclear about what is off limits for you, even though you feel you've clearly explained your beliefs countless times. Another possibility is that they think your veganism is "just a phase" you are going through; thus they don't realize the magnitude of your commitment.

If the gift-givers are people with whom you interact regularly or who give you presents throughout the year, then it is pertinent to talk to them as soon as possible. Be sure to express your gratitude for their thoughtfulness. After all, they may have carefully selected this present with you mind, in spite of it not being vegan. Politely tell them that you don't use items that contain animal products, without going into an explanation of why, and ask if there would be a way for you or them to exchange it for something that is animal-free. Although it is proper to apologize for the inconvenience and hassle, it is unnecessary and unwarranted to apologize for your convictions. Show your sincere gratitude, and let them know that their generosity means a lot to you. If they love and care about you, they will appreciate your honesty. It will also help to prevent another onslaught of unsuitable gifts in the future.

On the other hand, if you receive presents from people you do not know well, have very little contact with, and do not anticipate seeing much, if ever, again, then going through this process is unnecessary. Just send them a thank-you note emphasizing their thoughtfulness rather than lavishing artificial praise for the gift. Then find an appropriate means to dispose of the present such as giving it to a nonvegan family member or friend, a shelter for unhoused people, or a thrift store.

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