How to Explain Veganism to Non-Vegans

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.

7. Apologize

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?

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2 Comments

  1. Ioannis

    Hi Nina. I’m very happy that you are touching this subject with this post.

    I am not vegan and would like to give you my point of view of what I think about this awkward moment of “breaking the ice” when with non-vegans. I will start with a point I definitely disagree on: apologize if you offend. Why? Do homosexuals apologize when they offend heterosexuales with their presence? My opinion may have to do with my Mediterranean character but if someone was to be offended because with what I believe, it’s goodbye to him/her. After all, you don’t have to sell yourself to me but I certainly may not be looking to have veganism sold to me, either!

    Which brings me to my second point. I may be able to find information on veganism but in order to do so, I would have to search for it, something that may have never occurred to me because I have never heard of it (fat chance) or simply I have never cared about it but now that I see that you follow it, would like to know more. Besides, I may think it a good conversational topic since you are the “different” one and not I, in which case I could probably be offending you!

    Moving along. I am conscious of the animal’s suffering but I am also conscious of human suffering in Lybia, Syria, Haiti, the list is endless. My point is that suffering has to be presented and even so, it may not have much affect. How many years has Lybia been left at its mercy? If our feelings are not hurt so much by the occasional images of slaves being sold in said country, they are much less likely to be hurt by the slaughtering of cows. I personally, would love to see more on the subject on this blog. I understand that it may be a bit off subject but if I don’t know or care about veganism yet am reading this article here, I may never look to find this information elsewhere. If you think it’s off subject, I would love to be able to follow a link or two.

    You mention that it isn’t very expensive to actually eat vegan in most countries in the western world but as with all eating-out options, it may be a little harder to keep the budget going if it is something constant. Personally, I cook little and most certainly, do not have a clue where to begin to cook vegan. The same goes here as in my previous statement. If it’s off subject, please point me in the right direction.

    Nina, I realize that I may sound critical but I certainly don’t mean to. The very fact that I, as a non vegan am reading your blog, should say something. I think you are doing a great job and love it that you are lately touching more sensitive issues, which I think is what would attract us, non-vegans. Please keep up the good work and thank you for taking us into account when writing. We are what we were taught to be!

    1. Nina | Lemons and Luggage

      Hi Ioanni,

      thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate it.

      With regard to my statement that you should apologize if they offend anyone, I didn’t mean to apologize for simply being vegan. I was thinking the very common situation that a vegan might respond in a rude manner. For example, if a non-vegan asks the typical question of “but where do you get your protein?” many vegans are already so annoyed by this question that they may respond in a harsh way. My point was that it would be best to apologize if we slip up and are less than kind to a person who asks a question.

      As for the suffering of humans, as I mentioned in this post, these things are often connected. If grain is fed to animals instead of humans, this leads to suffering for both animals and humans. Vegans who follow an intersectional approach also consider the exploitation of farmworkers, for example. Veganism is only one aspect of the many problems in this world that are caused by capitalism and colonialism.

      Concerning the last point you made, it definitely depends on the country. Here in Greece, most restaurants are not very vegan-friendly, so if you don’t cook at home you will generally have to pay more than if you just got a meat souvlaki. But there are countries that have more vegan options at restaurants. But we’re moving into questions of health here as well. It’s generally healthier to cook your own meals rather than eating out all the time.

      Thanks again for your comment, Ioanni! I will see which of your points I can address in future posts without going too far off the topic of travel and veganism.

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