When Someone in the Family Goes Vegan
Maintaining Good Relationships when Someone Becomes Vegan
Well, there's nothing like going vegan to shake up family dynamics! Okay, there are other things, but going vegan certainly qualifies as a dramatic experience!
There are nearly as many ways for families to adapt to one or more members becoming vegan as there are families.
Each individual comes to the table - so to speak - with their own personality, history, goals, and willingness or ability to compromise. And each family has its own dynamic, made from the blending of its component individuals.
Sometimes an entire family transitions to veganism together. This can be a very relationship-affirming experience, and the people involved have a built-in support system to help get through the challenges of this transition.
More often, though, it is one member of the family - a spouse, parent, or child - who chooses to explore veganism, and the rest of the family may have varying degrees of enthusiasm for this change.
Respectful Conversation Encourages Understanding
It is important for the person who is becoming vegan to be patient and understanding rather than forceful or arrogant.
Remember, the other members of your family may not have the benefit of learning about veganism over time, so they may feel like things are changing very suddenly. Change is scary for many people, and they may feel anxious as they try to sort out what it all means.
Explain in a calm, caring manner why being vegan matters to you. Provide information about how you plan to be healthy as you change your diet.
Let members of your family know that you are not rejecting them. This is important because it may feel like a personal rejection or attack to them, since you are, in fact, rejecting a significant aspect of their lifestyle.
Make sure that you are not trying to "bully" others into adapting your new lifestyle, and tell them this is a decision you are making for yourself. No one likes a pushy vegan!
Offer ideas about how you can live together respectfully without being divisive over this issue.
Being vegan is important,
but so is family.
What is your experience?
If you've adopted a vegan lifestyle, how did you experience the transition in terms of family dynamics?
Being unwilling to work together will only serve to increase the level of frustration and the feelings of loneliness or rejection.
With time and patience, the non-vegan family members often soften and realize that they enjoy at least occasional vegan meals. They may even decide to become vegan themselves someday. But they probably won't choose that path if they feel they are being berated, punished, or looked down upon by the vegan member of the family.
There are a variety of compromises that may be agreed to if only one spouse (or other family member) is choosing to become vegan. In some families, the vegan spouse has absolutely no problem continuing to prepare dishes with meat for the omnivorous spouse. Others won't prepare the meat themselves but accept that the spouse may have meat on their plate. In some families, animal products are not allowed in the house, though the omnivorous partner is free to choose meat dishes when they are outside the house (at work, a family function, a restaurant, etc.).
What works for one family may not work for another, and individual families may find they have to tweak their rules from time to time to make sure that everyone feels valued and respected within the arrangement.
Resources for Learning About Being Vegan
This is an excellent video that captures the importance of the vegan lifestyle, especially as it relates to human health.
Eating Meals Together
Vegans and Omnivores Dining Together
One thing that worked really well for my family when I became vegan while living with my parents was developing a few meals that could easily be made into vegan and non-vegan versions. We frequently made stir-fry meals, for example. I would stir-fry veggies in one pan and tofu in another.
Then one of my parents would use another pan (or reuse the tofu pan) to stir-fry pieces of chicken. Those who wanted chicken could add it to their bowls while I happily ate my tofu stir-fry. There was a peaceful sense of sitting down to a meal as a family while also respectfully addressing each other's needs to eat the way they wanted.
Other meals that worked well for us were make-your-own wraps, tacos, or pita pockets. Various ingredients for making the meal go on the table, so each person can select what they want: lettuce, carrots, fake or real meat, tomatoes, tofu salad, tuna or egg salad, etc. Making individual pizzas or subs/hoagies would also do the trick. It's pretty easy to make a pot of pasta and have two different sauces for toppings, especially if the sauces don't require more work than opening a jar!
Tacos or Wraps: Fun meals for everyone!
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Transitioning to a Vegan Diet with Children
If it is the parents in the family who are becoming vegan, they most likely want the children to be vegan as well.
The children may have a different idea!
Even if the children are too young to be aware of dinnerplate politics, they may have developed a taste for dairy or meat products and may need more time to adapt to some of the new foods being placed in front of them.
Carefully and gently explain, in age-appropriate terms, why the family is becoming vegan. (A simple discussion about not wanting to hurt animals is usually beneficial, since almost all kids share the desire to not hurt animals.)
Transition kids by adding some soymilk to their cow's milk, then increasing the percentage of soymilk in each cup until it tastes good to the kids. You might even want to re-use the container from the cow's milk to hold the soymilk so that it "looks right" to the kids.
Experiment with different recipes that are kid-friendly and that match your children's tastes. Keep making the point that vegan meals are kind for animals, that no animals were killed for their meals. Older kids will learn by observing and reflecting upon your actions and dinner discussions about veganism.
(You may also be interested in reading my article about Vegan Parenting.)
What's for dinner?
There are LOTS of vegan cookbooks available to suit your style!
Here's one for folks who may not have much experience with vegan cooking.
Veganism within Families
It can be a tumultuous and stressful time when family members transition to a vegan lifestyle.
But caring and respectful conversations go a long way in helping individuals move through the transition in a relationship-affirming manner.
Being willing to compromise and respecting each other's choices enables family members to live together peacefully, despite a marked difference in lifestyle.