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5 Cultural Challenges for Vegans and Vegetarians

by Jon Sasmor

Last Updated July 12, 2018

Vegans and vegetarians face a number of cultural challenges. When I first considered veganism, I thought mostly about food and nutrition. I came later to think more about how plant-based lifestyle relates to family, friends, and mainstream culture. To be happy and healthy, vegans may need to take action to address the cultural challenges.

Here are 5 cultural challenges, together with tips to address them:

  1. Prejudice and Judgments. Many people have inaccurate and prejudiced views of herbivores. Meat is so abundant throughout the culture that prejudice seems to exist across the spectra of political, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Harsh judgments, expressed or implicit, can be especially painful if they come from close friends and family members, especially those who are trying hard to be open-minded. Prejudice won't defeat prejudice. We can share our thoughts and feelings patiently and with compassion. Nonviolent communication may help. It also definitely helps a lot to connect with others who are sympathetic and experienced with plant-based lifestyle.
  2. Your Consciousness of Food Makes Others Feel Threatened. Many people just don't think about what they eat. You do. They feel threatened. When you say you're vegan or vegetarian or that you'd rather not eat wheat or sugar, their unthought choices come into play. People can become quite defensive or critical. They may be themselves unhealthy in some ways. They know what you're doing might be better, or that they might like it better to do something else different, but they're afraid to engage with the choices. It takes time and work and a journey of personal change to engage with the food choices. When others cook dinner for you, order take-out, go shopping, or meet you at a restaurant, they may reasonably be puzzled, confused, or unsure about your food choices. Try for compassion.
  3. Junk Food and Processed Food. Junk food is everywhere, and much of it is vegan. Most supermarket foods contain processed wheat flour, processed sugars, cheap vegetable oils, and processed table salt. In a crowd, you will stand out more by eating unprocessed foods or by refusing wheat or sugar or canola oil than you do by being vegan. A decision to eat whole, unprocessed foods may turn out to be much more difficult to implement than the decision to eat plant foods. This was the case for me. I also believe that much of the initial benefit of my change to vegan diet was due to sticking to whole, unprocessed foods. It was by eating mainly fruits and vegetables that I lost 45 pounds in a year while simultaneously eating 3000-4000 calories a day. Note: occasionally, certain minimally processed foods, such as white rice, peanut butter, tofu, and protein powder, may be helpful in modest amounts to some vegans, especially those with impaired digestion or difficulty with eating too much fiber.
  4. Need for Increased Assertiveness. The more you restrict your diet, the more you will need to seek and request accommodations to what you can eat. Please do so with confidence. Others often would like to feed you something that will fill you with joy. If this would be a plate of steamed vegetables or rice or tofu, a plain avocado, a bean taco on a corn tortilla, or a vegetable sushi roll, please say so. Some people tire of making special requests and eating differently from their friends or family. You might consider a "vegan-ish" diet or a diet which is restricted to whole foods at home but looser when eating out. You could try having certain times of the week (say, weekends) when you eat a more relaxed diet. A few occasional exceptions give opportunities to observe the effects the excluded foods have on your body. These kinds of observations might well be all the encouragement you need to return to and stick with a plant-based diet emphasizing unprocessed, organic foods.
  5. Poor Treatment of Animals and Plants. If you haven't already seen some of the gruesome videos, I think it's well worth it to know what makes the meat, fish, dairy, and eggs sold in the supermarket. For example, here is a 2011 Mercy for Animals undercover video of animal farming. As I discuss in the article Missing Minerals, Mistreated Plants, and an Analysis of Concentrace, many farmed plants are treated as badly as farmed animals. Both plants and animals are grown needing life support, because their soils and food are mineral-depleted, their habitat is sterilized of symbiotic lifeforms, and toxic chemicals and pathogens are present. Current agriculture, especially animals, produces tremendous pollution too. Many of us who choose plant-based diets are trying to make a contribution in our personal lives to make the world better. Whatever the course of your diet experiments, please give yourself lots of credit for your caring and good intentions!