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Vegans are often in a position where we have to explain veganism to non-vegans. It usually comes up when we mention that we don’t eat certain ingredients. When non-vegans ask us the big question “Why are you vegan?” it’s always a difficult moment where we are not sure if we should simply be truthful or avoid confrontation.
Sometimes we want to be honest and describe the artificial insemination process female cows have to go through. We want to clarify that humans take their calves away at birth in order to sell the milk to humans. That this is their entire life. We would like non-vegans to know this because we know that most of them are not aware of these practices.
It’s difficult to see people we like or love contribute to the exploitation of animals for food and clothes. And we often think that if we tell people the truth it will open their eyes and they will immediately go vegan.
But as I mentioned in my recent post on whether vegans should accept the opinions of non-vegans, such candid explanations can often be misinterpreted as judgmental. At the same time, avoiding the question can make it look like we don’t even have a good reason to be vegan.
So how can we explain veganism to non-vegans sincerely but without being preachy? Because making non-vegans feel like they’re bad people isn’t a good strategy.
1. Only Explain Yourself When People Ask
Randomly telling people about the benefits of veganism might be tempting, but they probably won’t react positively. The best thing is to wait for people to directly ask you why you are vegan. This way, you can be sure they actually want to know at least the basics about veganism.
2. Be Concise but Honest
So somebody asks you why you’re vegan. How do you answer this question? The first thing to keep in mind is to be brief while at the same time being frank. I often only say “for many reasons, from animal exploitation to the environment, social justice, and health.” Whatever your reason is, name it. If people really want to know they will ask more questions at which point you can go into more detail.
3. Be Polite and Patient
Unless you’re really not interested in having this conversation (in which case you should say so) it’s important to remain polite and patient. Even when people ask you questions that seem ridiculous to you. Remember that at one point you may not have known the answer either. And while it’s pretty easy for people to look up the information online you may be the first vegan they meet. That’s why they now ask you all these things.
4. Consider People’s Interests
If somebody is lactose-intolerant, maybe explain to them that most humans are and that cow’s milk is for calves. If your friend donates money to end world hunger explain that grains are fed to animals instead of humans.
Most people are probably interested in at least one of the many factors that make people go vegan. But if somebody focuses mainly on the environment there’s no need to rant about the health benefits of a whole-food vegan diet.
5. Cite Non-Vegan Sources
In order to prevent people from thinking that you are presenting one-sided information, look for non-vegan sources that you can cite. For example, researchers at the University of Oxford have concluded that a vegan diet is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint.
This type of information is much more useful than studies by vegan organizations. Nobody wants to feel like the information you provide them with might be biased.
6. Stress the Intersectional Approach
This goes back to point 4. If your friend is a feminist, explain to her that it’s precisely because you’re a feminist that you remain a vegan. And if your friend is a human rights activist tell them that human rights matter to you exactly as much as animal rights and that they are intertwined.
If you agree on other matters it will be much easier for the other person to understand that you’re not simply following a trend for no reason. They will see that the same type of thinking that makes you stand beside them against other forms of oppression makes you a vegan as well.
If you don’t follow the above points properly you might offend the other person. Apologize as soon as you realize this or if they make you aware of it. Accidentally offending another person is one thing, not apologizing another.
8. Mention Vegan Options
Many people think that vegans only eat salad. It will help them understand veganism if you clarify that there are more and more vegan options these days. Practically everything that non-vegans eat exists in a vegan version.
It’s also important for non-vegans to be able to relate to you. I used to love milk and cheese. These were the things that stopped me from going vegan sooner. But guess what, I am fine without them and have even tried excellent vegan cheeses and delicious vegan chocolate milks.
Showing that we do very well without animal products even if we never thought we would helps non-vegans understand that veganism is actually easier than ever.
9. Combine Rational Thinking and Empathy
Not everyone can go vegan. Make sure the person you are talking to knows that you understand this. There are regions in the world where it’s extremely difficult and/or expensive to go vegan. Other people don’t have enough information on how to cook healthy vegan meals. And there are people whose health might be negatively affected by a vegan diet. Show some empathy by acknowledging that not everyone can go vegan. But make clear that many middle-class people in the Western world can afford veganism and will actually lessen the burden placed on other people by doing so.
Honestly, arguing that everyone should go vegan right now is not only irrational but also shows a lack of compassion for other people.
10. Acknowledge the Lack of Information Surrounding the Subject
Again, be polite, and don’t make the other person feel guilty. Acknowledge the efforts of the animal industry to mislead people. Instead of telling them that “humane slaughter doesn’t exist” you can tell them that you appreciate that they care about the animals’ wellbeing but that the industry sadly doesn’t.
It can be difficult to explain veganism to non-vegans, but these ten tips should make it easier for you. Do you have any additional tips for explaining veganism to non-vegans?