Being in the minority during celebrations and gatherings can be, and often is, difficult; at times, you may think it is impossible that your family will accept your choice and not question you at every opportunity that arises. However, there are things each person can do to feel more included without being overly pushy. This doesn’t apply only to vegans; you may not get on with your aunt, have a different career choice to what was expected, or simply support a different football team to everyone else, whatever the cause of tension is, it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome.
Let’s take an example, you leave your house and make your way to a family gathering – there are three scenarios that are most likely to happen:
Scenario 1) You knock, take your shoes off and greet the person at the door, your palms are probably sweaty as you approach the dining room, from which conversations can be heard. Your aunt offers you a slice of cake and cup of tea. You ask for a black tea explaining that you don’t drink milk and that’s enough to set the cannon off; the usual bombarding of questions falls on you including “but why not?” And “it’s only a little splash, you won’t taste it”. That, inevitably, leaves you feeling out of place and as always, a problem.
Scenario 2) the usual welcome happens, you remove your shoes and sit down, but this time your aunt is far more reluctant to ask you if you’d like anything; she collects the list of drinks from all the other guests but, she approaches you with a cautious look, as if you are a ticking bomb. You never receive the tea. It was easier to accidentally forget to ask you than to attempt to understand you.
Yes, yes, we have all experienced something similar with an aunt, a grandma or friend due to opposing opinions on a matter, and I can make a guess that we have all felt left out, different or unaccepted at some point in our lives. These feelings are not strange to each of us, but they can be avoided, or at least experienced less intensely through changing some, what may seem like, insignificant aspects of the gatherings.
First, like with travelling, always bring things that can save you from awkward and uncomfortable situations. If it’s a larger celebration, bake or cook a few meals to take with you, and place them on the table so that you can share a part of your life with the ones you love (and be sure that you won’t be eating dry breadsticks all evening); this is also a discreet and not pushy way of allowing others to try veganism and realise that it’s not all hemp and sandals like they may have initially thought.
Dress in politeness. That’s correct, as hard as it may seem to be polite to someone who is being, directly or not, disrespectful to you, you should understand that the most likely reason of their behaviour is probably their lack of understanding. What is simply normal and everyday life to you, to them may be absurd and strange – a fear of the unknown forces them put up their guards. And, the best way to tackle this predicament is to indeed be kind (not pushy), explain sensitively what your choice is, whether that be veganism, another diet choice, or a hairstyle change, and ease them into it, rather than preaching your heart out (you can save that for a less sticky occasion).
Finally, never forget yourself and your ethics. Stand with what you believe, do this with your head high and be beaming with pride; do not let others, even if they are close to your heart, change your lifestyle or important decision just because it simply doesn’t seem appealing to them. Life isn’t always going to be a straight slipping slide that we can glide down, the challenges, and challenging people, make us stronger as individuals and should be the reason why your beliefs become stronger. Remember, there is power in the minority.
So, if you follow my advice, your experiences of social meetings should be a little bit more as follows:
Scenario 3) you arrive at your aunt’s door, your hands are feeling heavy and sweaty, but this time not due to stress, but because you have been carrying two cakes and three different side dishes for over 40 minutes. You greet your aunt, handing her the food you have prepared, and follow the laughter into the dining room. Your aunt does the usual scan, asking if anyone would like anything to drink, and you ask for a black tea after which a few puzzled looks are thrown your way. The beverages are made, and you slice some cakes and offer them to the guests, this gives no time for the awkward questions that may have come your way otherwise. Everyone is now tucking into your bakes, and flooding you with questions like “delicious, how did you make it?” And “mmm, isn’t that yummy? Can I have the recipe?”.
As you can most likely tell, you are feeling content and calm, happily sharing your views and having conversations, rather than the near World War Three explosion at the table, which you feared. Having a differing view to the rest is not a bad thing, as long as you can maintain the peace and ease your companions into your beliefs, no real issues should arise. Of course, one can fear these scenarios as you can’t always guarantee a happy ending, however, if that fear doesn’t stop you from taking part in your life and being the individual you want to be, then it is more motivating than anything on your path. Take it with appreciation, be yourself, and most importantly don’t change.