A lot of people think that the hardest part of going vegan is figuring out what to eat. For us, that was the easiest part - it turns out that pretty much every food tastes good, even without the cheese and meat. (Still working on the eggplant thing, though.) As an anti-social anxiety-ridden person, figuring out how to communicate with people has been the most challenging part of being vegan. However, it hasn't just been this big scary downward spiral of becoming a hermit (something we'd suggest avoiding.) Over the past several years being vegan has only strengthened my communication skills and has made me way more confident to talk to people - openly, frankly, deeply, and most importantly, without sacrificing relationships or my values.
One of the biggest reasons I didn't want to call myself vegan, or even vegetarian, for many years was the fear that I would alienate my friends and family and come off as some kind of weirdo. The thought of having to have conversations about something as touchy as not eating animals around my family of hunters terrified me. But as I got deeper and deeper into researching veganism and especially the arguments for it, I realized I couldn't be sheepish around the people who loved me. If they did really love me, they could also love (or at least, try to understand and accept) what I felt so incredibly passionate about.
It has never been perfectly easy to do this. I've had my share of excruciating experiences with family members who think they know best. Here is what I learned after going through these kind of situations.
Don't take it personally.
So here's the thing - when people get concerned about your health, or ask a million questions, they're not necessarily doing it because they're offended or close-minded to what you're saying. Most people are just not familiar with this lifestyle, and they're naturally wary of it. People who love you actually care about your well being, and they express it in a variety of negative ways. They may also be scared of a major change in who you are, or that you'll try to change them. For me, I've tried to show the people I love that I'm still me, no matter how I live - and that I'll state my piece without necessarily judging them.
BE PREPARED FOR DISCUSSION.
Read up on common arguments and counter-arguments. My favorite places for this are vegan bingo and the Food For Thought podcast. I used to be terrified of arguments because I wouldn't know how to respond, and I would make myself look defeated. Once I learned more about veganism and these arguments, I became way more confident in responding to questions.
TALK TO PEOPLE IN A WAY THAT THEY'LL UNDERSTAND BEST.
Tailor your approach and discussion style to fit the person you're talking to. I know certain people in my life are more open minded, so I can be more free in the things I say. Some people are more logical and some people are more sentimental. Don't expect to get through to a logical person using an emotional argument, no matter how compelling it might be.
LEARN TO BE PATIENT.
Give people time and space. Just as I didn't go vegan overnight, or learn everything I know now in a few months, I don't expect people to understand or accept everything I say immediately.
SHOW, DON'T TELL.
Instead of getting frustrated with people and arguing and feeling defeated, SHOW them that you're serious about this. Live an amazing life. Bring over vegan muffins and even if they don't try them, you can eat them. Eat tasty food and one day those people will notice that your food is not so weird, and it might look even better than what they made. For me, slow and steady has always worked more than angry fights, and I think that makes people respect me more in the long run.
Be kind, thoughtful, and positive in your interactions.
Listen to others' concerns and problems, because understanding comes from knowledge and compassion. Learn how to pick your battles and, as I'd suggest, don't always go for the argument, especially when it comes to a friend or relative that you see all the time. Some people don't even really give their arguments much thought, so a huge fight over a few thoughts can be overkill - sometimes letting people think on it is helpful. I usually go for a couple of succinct sentences and let it sink in. It's not always about pushing your view - it's a relationship, not a soapbox. We had a great article in our recent spring issue about running a mixed vegan & omnivore household, if you want to read more on that difficult path. We also did a review of (and interview with) The Lusty Vegan in our recent winter issue, and think it's great for navigating complex vegan/non-vegan relationships.