09 December 2011

What are the top questions you are asked as a vegetarian or vegan?

Oh no—here it comes.

After switching to a vegetarian diet over a year ago, I still sometimes find myself grasping at straws in an effort to explain my lifestyle choice to others. Some days, I find myself possessed with a certain measure of eloquence, and I’m able to field questions like a pro—feeling afterward like a worthy representative of vegans and vegetarians everywhere.

However, there are just as many days where I still find myself caught off guard by inquisitive minds. There is a tight line to tread between being informative and being preachy, and I can often find it tricky to navigate. However, whether you’ve been meatless all your life or are just beginning to discover the way of the veg’, I’ve compiled a list of questions you can expect—and how to handle them with grace!

Why did you decide to give up meat?

Of course, this question is highly personal to each individual—perhaps more personal than the asker may expect. For me, it was a combination of self-education (in the form of the documentary Food Inc. and the book “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer) and my lifelong aversion to most meat (ok, bacon was hard to say goodbye to, but the rest followed easily).

However, for just as many it could be an experience they had as a child (“Wait…is that Bessie on my plate?”) or something completely unrelated to animal welfare, such as a personal health concern. Either way, it’s best to have a concise response readily available, to be drawn forth on command.

I try to keep it short and sweet: “I learned more about the factory farming system and the way animals are treated within it, and I found that I really disagree with the way it currently operates.” For many people, this will suffice, and they may have no interest in hearing more. This is something I have learned to respect, and by keeping my answer short but impactful I can communicate my opinion without alienating them.

Don’t you miss meat?

This is usually asked between long, gnawing bites of a Reuben sandwich or the hot, wet slurp of ground-beef chili. Do I miss that? Yeah, sometimes. Would I partake in a sneaky bite if it was offered to me? No, thanks.

This, again, is a personal question that can only be left to the individual. For me, the great thing about living in the 21st century in a metropolitan city is that I don’t have to miss meat—meat substitutes are available at every turn, and I’m hard-pressed to find a restaurant without at least one vegetarian option.

However, I realize that for many, veggie options are scarcer. So be honest—if you miss meat, admit it—but avoid sounding deprived. Sure, the smell of a burger on a barbecue still sends my senses into a tizzy, but I’m able to say with conviction: “Yes, I miss it sometimes, but I’m also really satisfied with the way I eat now.”

What do you eat?

Well, just about anything I can get my hands on! The common misconception that we’re all familiar with is that vegetarians and vegans eat salad for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I once had a friend tell me, “I don’t know what to feed vegans. Crackers?” The thing is, just about any dish in the entire world can be modified to fit a vegan diet.

For a long time, I resisted my impulse to switch to vegetarianism not for personal reasons, but out of fear that I would inconvenience others at dinner parties or other social events. I didn’t want to be that person, the one who needs their own special dish to be prepared just so they can have something to eat. I pictured myself foraging for carrots in the fridge while everyone else tore into meaty goodness.

But I surprised myself with my discovery that this scenario is far from the truth. Bring your own dish to contribute to a party, and if you’re concerned about sticking out, make it something commonly vegetarian: lasagna, couscous, or soup, for example. And when faced with this question, feel free to respond with some of your favorite dishes. “Tofu stir-fry, veggie burgers, cinnamon-apple pie, grilled tempeh, black bean burritos, curried lentils...” Be sure to offer to cook for them sometime!

These three questions only graze the tip of the iceberg of potential questions you might be asked as a vegan or vegetarian—let’s face it, we are a bit of an oddity (in the best of ways!) and it’s natural for others to be curious about lifestyles that are different than their own. So rather than becoming exasperated or haughty, think of these moments as opportunities to show others how happy and excited you are with your diet. That’s what being vegan/vegetarian should be all about, after all!

Danielle Snow | Facebook
Danielle is an avid eater who, after switching to vegetarianism, discovered a renewed passion for food in all its fascinating varieties. Currently living and studying in Chicago, she hopes to devote her life to travel, learning, and having haphazard adventures that she can write about afterward. Find Danielle on her blog.

Photo credit: svilen001