One of the key findings in my research into campaigns promoting meat reduction & veganism is the enormous difficulty social barriers can present, especially to new vegans.

One way this manifests is annoying vegan questions. Any vegan out there probably knows what I’m talking about. You’re at work, sitting down to lunch, and suddenly someone’s asking you about backyard hens. You’re out to eat with some colleagues and the conversation suddenly turns to why do vegans want to eat things that taste like meat? How weird of them.

Ugh, you think, not this again. I just wanted to eat my lunch in peace without getting to the ethical implications of wool production!!

Well, there a few things that I want to get out of the way that I think can help all of us in our vegan transitions and lives. First, and (full disclosure!) this has been particularly hard for me: you don’t have to be a vegan encyclopedia. In fact, it can make veganism feel more exhausting and lead to feelings of social isolation if you live your life thinking every second you need to be promoting veganism. That means, you don’t have to know the answer or feel obliged to answer these questions.

Second, take a breath. I know how frustrating or angry these questions can make me. Protein again??? Sometimes I’m just too annoyed to answer in a way that won’t perpetuate the angry vegan stereotype. Or, by taking a step back I am able to better reflect on this person’s motive and perspective. This can help recognize when they may be responding from a place of defensiveness — a phenomena Richard Twine refers to as an omnivore’s defensiveness. Is explaining to them that it is almost impossible to not get enough protein if you get enough calories going to result in a productive conversation? Is it going to perhaps make people annoyed with you, the vegan, for ruining Aunt Jasmine’s 65th birthday extravaganza?

I find that sometimes waiting and not saying anything can lead to more productive conversations later, when people may actually be more open to the information you are hearing and it may be more likely to sink in.

Third, be kind to yourself. How many times have I walked away from one of these encounters to immediately have the “perfect” answer pop into my head? Or to realize I may have sounded a bit more annoyed than I wanted. We are all learning and growing. None of us are perfect vegan advocates all the time. And that is okay.

And, finally, sometimes it IS nice to know the answer to these questions. Or, at least, to know some key facts that can be useful in these… delicate and uncomfortable situations.

I’ll be featuring some of my “favorite” annoying vegan questions over the next couple weeks, and please feel free to get in touch with some you have encountered or that you would love to have a better answer to!

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