Changing any aspect of our current lifestyle is exciting, scary, stressful and challenging. Having a strong support system is very important when going through any new process. Often times though, society does not respond positively to our new change. Co-workers, friends, family usually have their own opinion of your decision, and sometimes it can be disheartening. However, it's important to remember that in most case, this resistance comes from a place of love. Generally, the people in our lives want us to be happy and healthy. New vegetarians often receive a lot of resistance, and negative feedback when first making the dietary change. Remember, it's not you with the issue, it's them. Getting defensive or putting others on the defense will only make the situation worse. Here are some tips for dealing and creating a positive relationship with your non-vegetarian peers.
1. It's Not You, It's Them. Meaning, you are are not responsible for how others respond to your lifestyle choice. Be confident in your decision, but don't get defensive or snide when criticized. In most cases people either simply do not understand your choice, are concerned about you getting all the proper nutrients, are concerned about how difficult it will make life for you, and more important how difficult your decision will make life for THEM. Also, sometimes people feel like they are being judged, like they are the bad guy for continuing to consume meat products. Be understanding, don't take it personally, and communicate with them. Share that you made this choice for weight loss, health reasons, ethics, etc.
2. Let Them Come To You. It's easy in the beginning to be so excited about your new venture, and how it makes you feel, to become a pusher. A lot of new vegetarians want to share all the new amazing benefits, talk about the ill treatment of animals ad naseum, lecture people on what's "really" in the food, etc. While it's tempting to do this, and while all this information may be true, people do not like to be pushed. The more you push, the more they will resist and the more difficult things will be in your relationship. Let them come to you. Once they see that your skin is clearing up, you are loosing weight, your veggie risotto looks fab compared to what they ordered, people will come to you and ask "What is it that you've been doing, you look fantastic!" This gives you the opening to share your new vegan ideals in an open and friendly manner, where the person will be more receptive to what you have to say.
3. Volunteer to Bring a Dish to Family Gatherings. One of the reasons people resist your change to vegetarianism is that they have no clue what to feed you when you come over. Help them out, bring a dish, and for goodness sake, not a simple salad. Bring a nut loaf, risotto, vegetarian casserole, etc. Show them there is more to being a vegetarian as lettuce, and at the same time you will relieve their stress over what to feed you.
4. Throw a Smoothie Party. Instead of a wine and cheese affair, have a smoothie party!! I had a friend who did this a few years ago and it was a great deal of fun. We had martini glasses, and she made 5-6 different green and superfood smoothies throughout the night. It was a great way to sample different smoothie flavors and gossip and have some girly time. She also invited someone who sold Superfood products who talked for a little bit and promoted their products. It was kind of like going to a product party in that respect as well. Have fun with it, be creative! Check out this site for some incredible recipe ideas: Green Smoothies
5. Join a Local Meetup Group. The best way to feel comfortable in your new lifestyle is to find other vegetarians to share with. Meetup is a great place to find local vegetarian, vegan, healthy living and raw food groups. Just put in your zip code and it will show you a list of active groups in your area. Making vegetarian friends is very helpful in feeling good about your path and sticking to it.
6. Have a Vegan Potluck. Invite your friends over for a potluck and game night. Ask everyone to bring a vegan dish and encourage them to get creative and have fun with it! Veg Web is a great site where users post their own recipes, people can comment and rate them, and usually there are pictures. Send out an evite, include this link, and make it a fun experience. Potlucks are a great way to try new things and people usually feel pretty good about the success of their dish.
7. Bring Vegan Treats to the Workplace. Make some fun cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls, etc. Pass them out at work (don't tell people they are vegan), let them oooh and awww over your creation, then let them in on the secret. Desserts are a great way to win people over and get them to appreciate your lifestyle.
8. Communicate With Your Waiter. Chances are, you will still be expected to go to restaurants that may not be too veg friendly in social situations. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. In this day and age, restaurants have to be accommodating. Think about all the people with food allergies, celiac's disease, lactose intolerant, etc. Restaurants are used to receiving special requests. I've read a few vegetarian and raw food books where the author suggested creating food cards, listing every ingredient you will eat. It sounds silly, but sometimes it is easier than attempting to explain your diet to someone not trained to understand veganism. Simply hand the card to the waiter, and ask the chef to create something for you based on your list. You could also ask for a salad, and have them put every single vegetable at their disposal in it. Most of the time restaurants have very basic salads, and often times chicken is the main ingredient. However, if you peruse the menu, you will find that many of the meals will contain vegetables not found in the salad. You can get a pretty amazing salad this way. One time, on vacation, my Dad and I went to a chain restaurant, and we explained to the waiter that I had cancer and was on a very special diet with vegetables (raw or steamed) and some grains. The chef made me an amazing veggie risotto dish, and ladies and gentlemen, that restaurant did not have anything like that on the menu.
9. Take a Cooking Class with a Family Member. Who's the cook in your family? Ask them if they would be willing to attend a vegetarian cooking class with you. Again, a lot of the resistance you may find from family is their fear that they won't be able to accommodate you. This is a fun way to help ease their fear and will give you two something to do together.
10. Make Dinner for Your Family. Holiday's are tricky times for vegetarians. How about inviting your family over for a pre-holiday meal? Make them a fabulous dinner that will show them that you are being responsible and properly balancing your meal, that what you are eating is tasty and healthy. This will bring them into your new world and ease some of the fears they may have about your new lifestyle.
11. Take Your Family/Friends to a Vegetarian Restaurant. There are a lot of fantastic vegetarian restaurants out there, and usually they create creative meals that also appeal to meat eaters. My favorite restaurant in Kansas City is Eden Alley, a wonderful cozy little place that offers a variety of vegetarian meals. I've been taking my friends and family there for years and everyone always loves it.
12. Start a Blog. Blog about your journey. Share with people why you made the decision, the challenges you have faced, the benefits you've seen, the facts and figures, recipes, etc. Bring people into your world.
As you start to blossom, look and feel better and gain confidence in your decision, people will be more open and supportive. Follow some or all of these tips and I guarantee you will win your friends and family over in no time. Don't expect them to follow in your footsteps, that is not the goal. The goal is to be supported and surrounded by positive influences. Good luck on your vegetarian journey!