Being vegan in the workplace can result in a plethora of outcomes. You may have the pleasure of educating people on animal welfare issues, or you may be subjected to unprompted lectures and ridiculous “what if...” questions. Whatever the case may be here are a few insights to help make the most of it.
Being subjected to bad jokes
Depending on the average age and maturity level of your coworkers you may find that your lifestyle choice becomes the butt of many jokes. Sure all of the constant jokes are annoying and repetitive but don’t take it to heart -- people like to have something to joke around about. Some of the same people that insisted on telling me what they had for dinner last night also found out that I HATE banana peels ( I can smell them from a mile away). Being equal opportunity jokesters, they started throwing their banana peels in my office trash can.
Obviously if the jokes start to become borderline harassment you need to do something about it! Many jokesters need to know what your limit is. After they leave pieces of bacon on your car it's time to set your foot down and let your prankster know that it wasn’t appreciated. A simple conversation can go a long way. “Hey, about the bacon... That went a bit too far; can we tone it down a little bit?”
Of course there are some that just don’t get it. I once had an absolutely clueless manager who would try to tell me about his hunting stories because “we both liked animals.” There really was no help for that man.
Questions, question, and more questions
At my current job I am lucky enough to have a more mature set of coworkers. I frequently get questions like: Where do you get your protein? Do you eat tofu? Where do you get your shoes? What do you eat a Thanksgiving?
Patience is a virtue when being a vegan in the workplace. Remember, some people have never met a vegan before, so take your time when you find that you are fielding some of the same questions over and over again. But, try to keep your answers short. As much as you may love to be heard you are paid to work, not to share your life story. Besides the CEO that just had chicken salad for lunch might get defensive when you speak about how chickens are treated and the CEO feels that their morals are being challenged.
Conflicts of interest
Time to time issues that involve animals will arise in the workplace. Make sure that you pick your battles. A few years ago I was a supervisor at a retail store where, for the month of February, they changed the store uniforms to pink in partnership with Susan G. Komen. Many of my coworkers asked me why I didn't have my “pink” shirt on, I responded with “I don’t support breast cancer” and trotted off to help the next customer. The reality of it was that half of the staff didn't care about why they were wearing a pink shirt, they just wanted wear a different color uniform than the norm, so it wasn't worth it to start a protest about it (as long as they weren't forcing me to participate).
The same retailer frequently organized volunteers for events with charities that tested on animals. So, I started organizing volunteer events with nonprofits that didn't participate in animal testing.
Sometimes conflicts of interest are not optional, that really depends on your job. You may find yourself working on projects that involve fundraising for charities that test on animals or ordering food for an event. If it is an occasional thing don’t jump overboard preaching your views. Instead, use your involvement to order more vegan options for the event or to have your company's donation earmarked to not fund animal testing.
Food in the workplace
Social interactions around food are commonplace in the office. There is no need to hide in your cubicle just because there are no vegan options in the conference room. When it is time to celebrate your boss's birthday with an ice-cream cake be sure to join in the celebration; have a coffee or bring in your own snack. Better yet, if you know about the celebration ahead of time bake some cookies to share.
Whether it's a staff meeting, a company barbecue, or an all-day conference there is no better way to help your workplace become more vegan friendly than by speaking up! When registering for conferences make a note of your diet in the comments section, and send follow up emails. Also, if there is an in house kitchen at the event find who is in charge, early in the day, and let them know your restrictions.
For office meetings or bbqs get in-touch with the person organizing the event, or join the planning committee. I always offer to pick up the veggie burgers. I also get to know who else is vegetarian in the office, and who is lactose intolerant, to help make my case for why I shouldn't have to pack a lunch for the event. For office potlucks I try to find a vegan dish to impress, there is nothing better than showing your omnivore coworkers that being vegan is more than just eating salad.
I prefer to speak up rather than picking through a salad. I feel that the more often employers, caterers, and event planners are questioned about vegan options the more likely they are to start providing one without being asked!
Being vegan in the workplace can sometimes be a challenge, but it should never be a struggle. If you want more insight as to why people act the way they do about veganism check out Living Amongst Meat Eaters by Carol J. Adams.
Photo credit:cc:Wikimedia Commons/ David R. Tribble