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Mom, Dad, I'm Vegan!
Explaining Veganism to the Family
I want to make the transition to become a vegan, but I have a dilemma. For
the past two years I have been following an ovolacto vegetarian diet at
college. However, when my parents are around or I go home to visit them, I
don't seem to have the guts to tell them how I really feel, so I eat meat in
their presence without complaining.
Now that I'm determined to become vegan, I want to share this decision with
my family so I can maintain my lifestyle while I'm at home. Although I know
my family would be very supportive, I think my mother would feel as though
I'm rejecting her and her home-cooking. It troubles me to have to look her
in the eye and tell her I won't be eating the meat dishes she painstakingly
prepares--ones that used to be my favorites. In addition, my family is very
traditional about meat-centered holidays, and I know they will be hurt as
well. How do I keep my mother and my family from feeling this way, while
still being able to assert my values?
The fact that you are so concerned about your family's feelings of rejection
demonstrates that you are a sensitive and caring person, and that is the key
ingredient in finding a workable solution. Defensiveness and hurt are common
and understandable reactions when nonvegetarian parents first hear that one
of their children has chosen to be vegetarian. It often is difficult for
parents to accept that their maturing offspring may make life-altering
choices that counter their own beliefs and practices. They may feel
confused, cross, or think it is "just a phase" that will soon pass. When
they discover that it isn't, they may become frustrated and self-protective,
and these emotions could emerge in various forms.
Sometimes parents try to blame their vegan and vegetarian children for any
feelings of hurt or betrayal they may experience. The reality is that
parents who react harshly toward a child's choice to be vegan generally are
taken by surprise and overwhelmed by how this decision will affect them.
Depending on how the matter is broached, they also might feel as though
their own dietary habits are being challenged and scrutinized and placed
At holiday times, some nonvegetarian families urge the vegetarian members to
"let it go, just this once," or to "take a bite, for Mom's sake" or "just a
little won't kill you." These kinds of manipulative comments can make
vegetarian children feel at fault and accountable for their family's
feelings about their diet. Nevertheless, the hard truth is that the
nonvegetarian family members are responsible for their own emotions and how
they are expressed--not the vegetarian.
Because your love for your family is evident, you are bound to imbue your
dialogue with gentleness and sensitivity. Communicating your honest concern
for their feelings is one way to temper the situation from the outset. When
you allow yourself to be vulnerable, loved ones are less likely to criticize
or retreat. Let your family know that your beliefs are very important to you
and not something with which you are merely experimenting. Offer to prepare
alternative dishes for yourself or the whole group, if they are open to the
idea, and suggest vegan options and substitutions for conventional
animal-based ingredients in your mother's traditional dishes.
Avoid going into a tirade about your rationale for becoming vegan, unless
you are up for an inquisition or an ongoing debate. Most likely your family
will have additional questions once the initial jolt is over; not everything
needs to be delved into immediately. Give them time to adjust and let the
news sink in gradually, at their own pace.
Many meat-eating families know very little about vegetarianism, let alone
veganism, so they may be worried about your health and the soundness of an
animal-free diet. If it seems appropriate, purchase a book or two for them
to read about vegan nutrition. This will help ease their minds about any
imagined pitfalls regarding your diet and also will provide information from
unbiased experts who will appear more credible.
Follow your heart without fear. If your family loved and respected you
before you chose to become vegan, they will continue to love and respect you
now. It may take a short while for them to adjust, but the relief you will
have from revealing your beliefs openly and the closeness you will share
afterward will make the jitters you feel at the moment seem inconsequential
in the long run.
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