When I went vegetarian, no one in my family could understand it. They were (and 99% still are) huge meat eaters and all they seemed to know was that meat was the healthiest thing to eat. Every day at the dinner table, someone would joke around about vegetarianism or pick on me till the point that I saw it as bullying and I actually dreaded eating with family. I did not find one bit of what they had to say funny or appropriate. I did not and still do not like when people in my family try to convince me to eat meat and most of all, I do not like it when they try to coerce me into eating a dairy product or they slip dairy into things they give to me. All I want is for everyone in my family to accept how I choose to eat, especially as I am in my 20s (and stopped eating meat as a preteen).
Most vegans and vegetarians, unfortunately, have to go through this – the disapproval of their family, the scrutiny when eating around family (not when they cook for themselves), et cetera. It is rather heartbreaking, although those on the outside can’t seem to tell.
I can’t give you any advice that will suddenly make everything okay, sadly. However, I will advise you to be true to who you are, to try to enlighten your family and help them understand your decision. Sometimes, that does not help in any way, but it is still good to do. Just remember that being a militant vegan and vocally judging everything your family eats is only going to push them further away from you and make it harder for them to accept your decision.
Why did you go vegetarian/vegan?
I initially went vegetarian because I hate the taste of meat as mentioned on the About page. I moved towards a vegan lifestyle after I developed a dairy allergy and it got worse and more painful the older I got. This is a different reason from that of most plant-based eaters. Most people give up animal products due to a yearning to make a change, not just for their health, but for that of animals and the planet. I find that compassion to be such a beautiful reason to give up animal products. However, sadly, many people don’t see it that way.
It is important to let your family know why you made such a drastic change, whether they believe it or not. If you chose to change your lifestyle for one of the common reasons, you are at an advantage as there are resources out there to help you with explaining your decision to your family. You can show them movies such as What the Health, Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Food Matters, Hungry for Change and Cowspiracy. You can ask them to read books such as The China Study, and The China Study Expanded. These resources can help you get your points across better and can help your family form an emotional connection with your decision. However, unfortunately, this does not always help.
What can you say to support your new lifestyle?
Many people consider vegetarianism/veganism to be unhealthy or to be a fad diet. They are right, to an extent. Being vegetarian or vegan does not automatically make you healthy. I was a sickly meat eater and I added another ailment to the list when I vegetarian (anaemia). Fortunately, for me, I got rid of all of those with the way I moved towards veganism – education.
You need to educate yourself before you can educate your family. You need to do your research and base your research on scientific evidence and peer reviewed articles. Pseudoscience surrounds the vegan “community” like ants surround sugary foods. Pseudoscience can easily be disproved and pseudoscience, frankly, sounds rather ridiculous at times. Most importantly, it can put you in a whole lot of risk and for that reason, you need to educate yourself. A good resource is the National Centre for Biotechnology Information/PubMed. There is a lot to read, but you need to remember that there is also a lot to learn. By properly educating yourself, you’re not only bettering yourself, but you are building up an archive of proof/evidence to back up what you have to say.
From educating myself, delving further into the plant-based lifestyle did not result in me getting sicker, but in me becoming the healthiest version of myself. I remember the excitement I felt during my first year not needing to go to a hospital or medical centre. I remember the joy I felt during my first year of not having a headache and this is coming from a past of chronic headaches. I remember when it finally hit me that I did not need to worry when someone coughed or sneezed around me because I realised that the chances of me getting sick had become extremely thin.
Your visible health is the greatest evidence you can present to your family and one of the best things you can use to convince them that this change is well thought out and that you are okay because let’s face it, most people are just worried about you and their disapproval is out of love and not spite.
What do you eat?
Unfortunately, I have been accused of not eating the food I upload onto my Instagram page (or throwing them out after taking the picture) by a member of my family. I guess this is due to weight loss although I eat as much as 3-4 people and I am a high-carb person. From this, you can tell that showing what you eat doesn’t always help. However, it is still worth a try (whether or not you eat very differently when you are with family and not doing your own grocery shopping).
An Instagram page is an effective way of not just inspiring others who are interested in your lifestyle, but also documenting what you eat in a chronological order and in a way you can show your family so they can see that you do eat food and they can see that vegetarians and vegans do not eat only salads.
Can you cook?
If you can’t cook, trust me, you need to learn to cook. Being able to cook is an awesome skill for anyone. However, it is a rather essential skill for vegetarians and vegans as it is harder for them to find foods suitable for their chosen lifestyle (and a variation of foods). Being able to cook is also a way of connecting with family and showing them that you are okay. Offer to cook for your family. Make an amazing curry, make some empanadas, make a soup, a pasta dish or an apple-berry fool and surprise your family with how amazing and nutrient-filled vegetarian/vegan foods can be.
If you can’t cook. There are free resources out there for you to learn such as the LickYourPlate Recipe Page, YouTube videos and other websites and blogs. I learnt to cook through experimentation as I have mentioned before. It is an awesome, but expensive way to learn, however, it works and it helps you learn how to effectively combine ingredients, be creative and know what you like and do not like. It’s a skill not just to impress the family, but to give you some freedom, independence and charge over your health.
Sadly, all your efforts can end up being in vain but do not lose hope, you are not alone in this. Do the best you can and put yourself and your health, physically and mentally, first. With time (and it might take many years), your family will come to respect and accept your decision.