I often reflect on my own vegan journey during Veganuary month. This began with my personal commitment to go vegan for a month. Nearly 37 years later I’m still vegan and consider it the best decision I ever made. I had many doubts when I started – what would I eat and would I miss cheese or my favourite sweet treats? But once my eyes were open to the horrors of the dairy and egg industries, these items didn’t seem like food anymore. Plus, I found rather than limiting myself, a new world of food options opened up to me.
By far the biggest challenge I faced was being vegan in a non vegan world. Having supported many other people in their transition to veganism, through vegan pledges, I realised this is a common experience. Before the pledge most participants thought their biggest challenge would be missing cheese. At the end of the vegan month they reported that it was eating out or dealing with social situations.
Fortunately, much has changed in recent years. Vegan options are widely available in restaurants, and food items are more clearly labelled. Furthermore, most people now understand the term vegan, and have more respect for the ethics behind it.
That said, there are still times when we need to be assertive and set boundaries to get our needs met, to live by our values and ultimately help animals. So developing skills in setting boundaries can help your vegan journey run more smoothly. This can be tricky for some of us – so here are some tips!
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are the limits we set within our relationships. Having healthy boundaries means being able to express our opinion and say no when we want, but also to feel comfortable being close to others. Our boundaries reflect our values, and help us to uphold these. As vegans, our values are different from others around us, which can mean having to set more boundaries.
How to set boundaries as a vegan
Some of us find it difficult to say no, but this is something vegans need to do more often. This could be at work, with family, in social situations or when eating out.
Express yourself clearly when setting boundaries so there is no doubt about what you want. Use confident body language, and if you can face the other person and make eye contact. Try to use a steady tone of voice with volume that is not too loud or too quiet.
So someone offers you non vegan food. You could simply decline without reason. However, with people you interact with on a regular basis, you will find this happening over and over again. Explaining that you are vegan means they will understand why you are refusing. This won’t necessarily stop them from ever offering you animal products again, but they will soon realise their error with a quick reminder from you.
Most people will be respectful of your choice. They might even be considering vegan themselves, and be interested to find out more. However, at times you may experience some resistance – vegans often get “accused” of telling people we are vegan constantly. Ever heard the “joke”: how can you spot a vegan? Answer, they will tell you. But of course, we need to let people know because otherwise we would constantly be offered non-vegan items. This “accusation” can be frustrating but remember it is because non-vegans are living in a state of cognitive dissonance. Encountering a vegan reminds them of their discomfort about the harm they are causing to animals.
Spread the message
Practicalities aside, telling people we are vegan helps spread the message. It also shows others that there are lots of us around and there is a demand for vegan products. It gives you the opportunity to open others eyes to the reality of where their “food” comes from by answering their questions. Or you may choose to share why you are vegan,even if they don’t ask, taking it as an opportunity for activism.
Avoid saying that you can’t eat something – instead say that you don’t -because it is a choice you are making not to consume animals and their secretions, not something you are unable to do. You could choose to refuse the offering in the way the late, great Benjamin Zephaniah did and simply say “I don’t eat animals.”
Dealing with challenges
The most challenging time can be at the start of your vegan journey when your friends and family are adapting to your choice. However, given time, they usually accept it and may even join you.. There can be people in your life who continue to challenge you or even mock your ethics. In this case you might wish to have a conversation about why they do this. Listen to what they say and then use “I” language to describe how their behaviour makes you feel.
Think about what you want to say and how you will say it. You will often get the same questions or comments from non vegans. Therefore, it can be useful to have some set answers to these types of questions ready. This could include some facts about animal exploitation, the environment and benefits to human health. As well as some answers to the nonsensical questions, like what would you eat if you were stranded on a desert island.
Planning ahead is also useful when eating out or in social situations: to let your hosts or the venue know you are vegan and to find out what options are available.
You may encounter some situations at work where setting boundaries is necessary. For example you may be asked to buy non vegan items such as dairy milk. Veganism is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act in the UK so you can assert your boundaries with the knowledge that you are protected in law.
Setting boundaries can improve your well-being, as buying the dairy milk can conflict with your values, making you feel uncomfortable. Having done this once you could be expected to do it again, and this makes setting the boundary more difficult. That said, try not to be too hard on yourself if you do find yourself doing something that conflicts with your values – we are all adapting to living in a non-vegan world and it is not always easy.
If you find yourself struggling to communicate assertively and set boundaries, or that these are not being respected by people in your life, you might find it helpful to talk to a vegan counsellor. Find out more about my services or book a free 20 minute consultation. I would love to hear from you.