If you’re vegan you’ve probably noticed a certain reaction when trying to explain veganism to your meat and dairy eating friends. So welcome to the world of How to Talk to Meat Eaters as a Vegan.
From being told that you’re being judgemental to full blown fall outs, it can be hard to have a conversation.
Why non-vegans can Seem Immediately Angry
This is when vegans in discussions often find themselves on the end of an ear bashing in some way or another.
It’s understandable. Put yourself in your friend’s position. However you word it, you’re asking them to change their mind, which suggests that what their currently doing is wrong.
And when people are told they are doing something wrong, our natural reaction isn’t to say ‘oh yes, actually that’s a good point’. It is to defend our existing actions.
This is when most vegans fail to get across their point – as friends reel off reasons why their choices are justifiable in an attempt to rationalise their actions.
It’s a natural human defence mechanism to defend existing behaviour. The anger towards logical and rational conversation is well explained in this ‘do gooder derogation’ study too.
So take heart – people don’t eat animals because they strongly believe animal cruelty is wonderful. Most people will deplore animal cruelty – which is half of the battle. The other half is carefully navigating through conversation to help your meat eating friends rationalise their actions.
If you can engage your friends in a conversation, you may just plant a seed (excuse the pun) in their minds.
A Guide: How to Talk to Meat Eaters as a Vegan
This article is written by myself – Aron Hughes – a long term vegan and the guy behind Sun & Sage | Ethical Vegan Tshirts. I can’t claim every conversation I have goes perfectly, but I have picked up a few tips over my years of talking to meat eaters. I hope these tips can help you too.
So here’s a guide based on my experience of how best to engage meat and dairy eaters in non-disastrous conversations.
1. Choose Your Timing
Timing is critical and a big key to unlocking openness in conversation.
If possible, try not to be the one who instigates the discussion on veganism. That can be difficult as I myself feel a burning desire to blurt out logical things like ‘If you love animals, just go vegan’.
It could be after you ask about vegan options at a restaurant and your friend’s ears prick up. Or when saying ‘Sorry, but I don’t eat milk chocolate’ when offered it.
Letting someone start – or feel like they’ve started the conversation is important as people react better when they are the one who has brought up the subject. They’ll be more open to answering and asking questions once ‘voluntarily’ engaging in the conversation.
But waiting until the time is right will help.
2. Be Positive
It’s difficult on the best of days to comprehend how everyone can be ok with millions of animals being killed. But beware, do not bog yourself down with negativity.
Negative or aggressive points are exactly what they suggest – negative and aggressive. If meat and dairy consumer’s natural response is to defend their actions, they sure as hell won’t like it when greeted with aggression.
Instead of focusing on the negative, try and put a positive spin on every statement you make. Positive messages tend to get more positive responses.
For example, if asked ‘where do you get your protein?’ try to avoid saying ‘don’t you know protein is everywhere?’ (negative) and instead opt for positive statements like ‘there’s loads of great protein rich vegan foods like mushrooms, tempe, nuts and even things like rice have protein in – I can send you some information if you like’.
This also goes a long way to stopping the feeling of being judged by others.
3. Judge your Audience
By judge, I don’t mean be judgemental, although even after best efforts, some people may call you judgemental.
Judge the audience you are talking to. If you’re at a table of meat and dairy eaters, you probably will find difficulty in convincing others who are the majority. One on one discussions and small groups work way better.
You may also want to pick your individual audience.
Have they got any specific interests? Do they minimise using plastic bottles? Have they been to the same place you have? Whatever it is, try and get on their good side by finding a commonality.
If already friends, try and establish whether they are more likely to be open to conversation than others. Discussing with those who are a little more open to discussion makes a conversation so much more pleasurable.
4. Have some Facts Ready
Whether it is facts about common practices, environmental issues or health issues, make sure you can offer evidence if need be.
That’s not to say shoot from the hip with every fact going. Nobody wants to talk to a know-it-all, especially if it’s a barrage of unrelated facts. Keep it short and if you’ve captured interest, you can say ‘I can send you some interesting studies on that…’
When open to facts, aim for topical evidence based on the conversation. For example, when talking to a friend about health, bring up the growing studies that show heart disease links to meat and even that it can be reversed through a ‘whole plant based diet’.
Make sure you have studies that you know could impact the person you are talking to, like the recent Oxford University Study showing what the world would actually look like if it went vegan.
Environmental and health facts are easy to come by, but you may struggle with ethics as everyone has their own brand. You can research farming practices, such as ‘chick grinding’ though.
5. Stay on Topic
This is super difficult to do. Mainly because reactions from others are often to go off topic, almost immediately.
Instead of discussing your point, don’t get trapped into discussing the ins and outs of why you would teach the pig to help you hunt for truffles on that mythical desert island you’ll never be stuck on.
Similarly, you may go off track when people say ‘yeah, but you use mobile phones that have been mined unethically’ or ‘but you feed meat to your rescued dog!’. It’s another defence people unwittingly use to subconsciously avoid discussing the original topic.
You can’t ignore some questions, but once you give an answer, bring it back to the discussion you are supposed to be having.
6. Sometimes, Actions Speak Louder than Words
Even with all the above in mind, it’s still easy to get wound up when told ‘I just like bacon too much’ or worse ‘get off your high horse’.
Sometimes despite our best efforts, responses don’t significantly improve. Don’t let this affect your attitude. Stick with positivity and show every day how a vegan lifestyle is working for you, through your attitude.
Most of your friends will associate vegans with you (as you’re likely one of the few they know). Even without a full on discussion, you are forming an opinion of vegans through your everyday actions.
How great would it be for your friend to have a preconceived positive perception of vegans for their next conversation?
7. Associate and Agree
Don’t come from the opposite ends of the spectrum. Try to find a view that you both have in common. This is plain good old fashioned science as The Small Big points out.
If you’ve met another vegan in everyday life, you’ve probably experienced an unspoken bond and an instant willingness to open up to them based on your shared values.
The commonality doesn’t even have to be diet/animal related either. You may have the same interests in football or hobbies. Discussing these things first are a great way to show that you are similar to them, and not just a wacko vegan.
You can also associate if already discussing veganism. For example you may agree that you both love pizza or that many animal videos on the web only show the ‘extreme’ cruelty, and not the everyday stuff. Even saying you used to love hamburgers will go some way to achieving commonality.
If you can associate your point of view with theirs, your friend will find it easier to associate with yours. You (and your ideas) won’t be so alien when you both like the same things.
8. Deal with Hostile Responses Calmly
Even with all of the above you may receive hostile responses telling you ‘it’s none of your business what I eat’, ‘here we go, the vegan preaching again’, ‘It’s my personal choice so stop meddling in it’ and so on.
These are often last ditch attempts to gain approval to others or to themselves. Try calmly dealing with them with positivity. For example when someone tells you ‘this is why I hate vegans, you’re just preaching at me’, hit them back with something like ‘I’m sorry, it truly wasn’t my intention and I hope i’ve just explained my reasons and not been preachy’. This will come across a lot better if you’ve employed the other tips in conversation.
You can’t win every time and it’s likely that once somebody has got hostile, you’re probably past the point of no return with regards to a sensible discussion.
When things get hostile, don’t get argumentative. Stay calm, logical and to the point. If the worst thing that happens is somebody reacting angrily to someone who is calm, you’ll still come out better for it.
Thank you for reading How Vegans can Talk to Meat Eaters as a Vegan. I’d love to hear about your experiences…