02 February 2012

TDIV Q&A: It makes me sick to be around people who eat meat. What can I do so I don't alienate all my friends?

Q: It makes me sick to be around people who eat meat. What can I do so I don't alienate all my friends?

A: Imagine a time or place in your life where you are not in the vicinity of meat.

You go to the grocery store. Unless you have the luxury of only shopping at completely vegan health food stores, you will most likely have to at some point walk past the deli meat, eggs and frozen fish sticks nestled near the quinoa and almond milk. As the cashier rings up your Daiya vegan cheese and Dr. Praeger's veggie burgers, the lady behind you is crowding her items onto the runway. You see her bologna is touching your Tofurky. What do you do?

Obviously, you smile and get over it. Like it or not, we live in an omnivore’s world. Vegetarians and vegans alike should approach the topic of an animal-free diet to meat-eaters in a respectful, encouraging manner. What’s the point of making a fuss? Go firm but polite.

There are some times when I would argue it is acceptable to expect your nearest and dearest to give in and forgo meat, if it’s only for a little while. It can take some practice to learn how to deal with your disgust over people eating meat. It’s a balancing act between having your friends accept your views towards meat, and you accepting your friends for having opinions different from your own. Just like every other controversial issue in life.

Here are some tips to help you feel comfortable around your meat-eating friends, and subtly inspire their transition to an animal-free diet:

1. You are invited to a potluck luncheon. Out of the people you know attending, none are vegetarian. What do you do?

This is one of the best opportunities to talk about vegetarian and vegan food choices… and have something delicious to back you up! Bring a large main dish or a couple smaller sides so you have tons to share. Present your meat-free recipes as a fun, refreshing addition to the standard chicken salad or crab dip.

According to a 2008 poll conducted by the Vegetarian Resource Group, about 33% of Americans are eating vegetarian meals most of the time, based on how often the participants ate meat, fish, seafood or poultry, and included vegetarian food into their daily meals. Another study published by Vegetarian Times on vegetarianism in America that same year found that while 7.3 million Americans were vegetarians, an additional 22.8 million followed a vegetarian-inclined diet.

This is hopeful news. At least a large number of people are interested in vegetarian food, even if they are still eating meat. Try to focus on the positive inclusion of meat-free food into your friends’ diets, instead of the negative presence of meat still on the luncheon table.

Watching your friends pile delectable vegetarian food onto their plates, even though it is alongside meat, is an encouraging sight. If everyone is enjoying him or herself, and chowing down on your veggie masterpiece, that will make you feel a whole lot better about being around meat.

2. You are hanging out at a friend’s house. Said friend fixes a ham and cheese sandwich as a snack. What do you do?

Instead of harping on your friend about eating meat in front of you or rolling your eyes in disgust while saying how much better your carrot sticks and hummus are, you can again take the high road. Politely tell your friend that you find it difficult to be right next to someone eating meat, because of your convictions about eating animals.

You can still be passionate about what you believe in, while tolerant of your friend’s disparate views. You aren’t going to alienate your friends by having an intellectual discussion about your moral and health reasons for an animal-free diet.

Maybe the conversation leads to a heated debate. Maybe your friend throws her sandwich in the trash and swears she will never touch a piece of meat again. Or she simply brushes off your slaughterhouse horror stories and jokingly waves a piece of ham in front of your face (if you thought this amusement ended in middle school, you are mistaken).

Bottom line: As her friend, you have already had to accept some unfavorable qualities about her. If meat is something she just won’t give up, still be her friend. You are allowed to express your opinion. Just expect some obligatory teasing before any changes in your friend’s behavior can be made.

3. It’s your birthday. Your friends are treating you to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Ben and Jenna order the prosciutto starter to share. But today is all about you. What do you do?

“But it’s my birthday! Do you have to eat that. Gross.”

Ok, there are better ways to get your point across. But you get the idea. This is one instance when, as annoying as it may be to your birthday party-goers, you have the right to feel comfortable around the food served in front of you. I am in no way encouraging a “Toddlers & Tiaras” response to your special night. But certain events such as your birthday, your promotion celebration, or your wedding do deserve some special treatment.

Your friends wouldn’t expect you to put lamb on your wedding reception menu, would they? Exactly. If your friends are thoughtful enough to celebrate your special occasion, they should also be thoughtful enough to give up eating meat just for that one evening.

In conclusion, it’s normal to feel grossed out by people eating meat around you. And it’s also normal to be completely nonchalant about people eating meat next to you.

What isn’t appropriate is to expect everyone else to abide by your own standards of what to eat, and what not to eat. Be tolerant of your friends’ behavior. Encourage them to think about the animals they are eating, but don’t force your beliefs down their throats.

Be a model of compassion for your friends. That’s the message behind a meat-free diet in the first place.

Rachel Fryer
Maryland A lifelong vegetarian and animal lover, Rachel Fryer enjoys writing, traveling, eating spicy food, drinking coconut water, reading historical fiction and sweating (she is also a Bikram yoga teacher). Rachel is excited to attend grad school for her Masters in English in Fall 2012 and to adopt a shelter dog in the near future.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/opensourceway