Any time you’re vegan and are about to meet lots of non-vegans, prepare for their thoughts and feelings – and what they lack in prior consideration, they’ll make up for in conviction that you Need to Hear This Right Now. You’d think it would occur to people that something they thought of thirty seconds after meeting you is probably something you’ve also thought of over the course of your months/years of veganism. You’d be wrong.
This is amplified at times like Freshers’ Week when everyone is so utterly sick of the where-are-you-from-what’s-
First comes the caveat: “I’m sure you hear this all the time, but”. Are they actually sure you hear it all the time? If they are, then why are they saying something you’re certain to find redundant? If they’re not sure, are they hoping you’ll interrupt to be like, “No, that’s actually a really new and interesting consideration”? For me, the verdict is arrived at by asking myself whether a) I’ve had a coffee in the past three hours and b) I like the person – and because it’s me, the answer is almost invariably a) yes, and b) no. This levels out to a neutral response. You can make your own criteria, I’m sure.
The part of the sentence following from “but” is where you can start grouping them into Good Conversationalists or Annoying Conversationalists. You’ll know if they’re a Good Conversationalist because this guide will start to feel superfluous, i.e. they’ll be good at conversation to the extent that you can just freestyle it. Proceed as normal. Conversely, you can tell they’re an Annoying Conversationalist if they start to become really, really annoying. Here are some common variations you’re likely to bump into this Awkward Mingling Week.
The Concern Troll
‘Aren’t vegans really deficient in Vitamin Whatever? You know, the one that only comes from animals?’ Don’t bother engaging. Your fidelity to the facts of human nutrition will only disadvantage you when you’re up against this jargon-conjuring, malnutrition-mongering pedant. They will make up minerals mid-argument, then accuse you of being deficient in same. They totally spend just as much time nagging their omnivorous friends about all the things they’re unlikely to be getting enough of. That’s them – just trying to help. The idea that you might be better-informed than they are about your own nutrition won’t have crossed their mind. They’re too busy checking you for signs of anaemia.
The Special Snowflake
This person thinks you’re great, but they could never be vegan themselves. Depending on how honest they are, this will either be because they lack the willpower or because they just need meat/dairy/whatever. No, they haven’t heard this personally from a qualified dietician – they just feel it somehow. And they just want you to know that if they could possibly be like you, they would, so you’re not allowed to regard their diet as less ethical than yours.
This one has trouble identifying moral versus culinary distinctions. For them, the question of whether you should eat dairy belongs in exactly the same category as the question of whether that means milk chocolate is okay, or bread made with milk is okay, or milk made with milk is okay. To truly understand your veganism, they need to go through every single animal-product-containing food item they can think of and ask you ‘What about x?’, just to be sure. Tip: do not let this person cook for you, and hope for their sake that they’re not doing a language or any other course that rewards the ability to identify patterns.
The more sophisticated ones will point to other forms of animal cruelty that you endorse with your consumer behaviours. The bog-standard edition, and the one you’re more likely to bump into, will be happy with pointing out that you’re still living within the capitalist system, ergo your clothes/books/laptop were probably unethically produced somewhere along the supply chain, ergo you are a worse person than they are because you engage in fewer unethical practices but are unable to opt out of the entire spectrum of commercial exploitation. Go figure.
The Weirdly Defensive Meat-Zealot
Your lifestyle is an attack on theirs. Only one of you is leaving this conversation alive, and it won’t be you, you puny tofu-munching disrupter-of-the-natural-way-
Two theories on this person (and they’re not mutually exclusive):
The first is that they’re self-centred and cannot imagine people making choices for reasons not to do with them. Clearly, the primary reason you’re vegan is to make them feel attacked, so fighting back against you is the only way to remain consistent with their hunt-or-be-hunted conception of how humans should operate. (Nine times out of 10, them actually trying kill their own dinner would result in them becoming something else’s, but they don’t like to dwell on that.)
The second (and they won’t like this one at all, not one bit) is that people react with hostility when others have done something they want to but can’t bring themselves to. You are the change they want to see in themselves. Deep down, they know veganism is the healthiest, most ethical lifestyle, but it’s difficult at first and they’re too lazy to attempt it. Is this true of all Weirdly Defensive Meat-Zealots? I have no idea, but I do know it’s loads of fun acting like it is. “There, there, dear. Let it all out. I’m not a bit offended – I know deep down, it’s yourself you’re calling a Tree-Hugging Quinoa Wanker.”