How to be Vegan when your Family is Not

by Alena
Apr 8, 2016
brown haired woman with rose shirt walking next to a flowery wallpaper along the hallway
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Sometimes when you get a wake-up call or open your eyes towards the truth, you can get really excited. It feels like you’ve finally come in touch with something really important, authentic, and wonderful. Unfortunately, the world around you doesn’t always immediately change the way you do. But how can you be vegan when your family is not?

Making the decision to make a diet and lifestyle overhaul is brave and doing it on your own can be tough enough.

So what if you are surrounded by people who don’t support your choice at all? When you have to swim against a stream of arguments as to why you’re doing something useless, maybe even harmful?

It seems like the media has done a great job brainwashing people’s minds into thinking we would need:

  • Meat and eggs for protein
  • Dairy for calcium
  • Fish for omega 3 fatty acids

Even most doctors and many nutritionists have joined in, and together they praise the importance of animal foods – even though there are plenty of studies who prove this wrong.

18 Amazing Vegan Doctors

It’s no wonder that your friends and family believe this too – which is why they aren’t particularly positive towards a plant-based. They continuously offer you animal products, comment every single cough with “malnourished/deficient”, or even try to ridicule you for your choices.

Let me tell you this: you are not wrong. And you’re probably not making the wrong decisions here. I know what it feels like to be standing alone against so many people being worried about you, or even insulting you for being weird and crazy.

So, what are the best things to do in this case?

How to Be Vegan When Your Family Is Not

We hope that the following 5 tips will help you feel less alone, frustrated, or even like giving up. Most of us have “been there” and we highly encourage you to join our free community and online eCourse to get support and even more tips or ammunition. 

1. Education

First off, it’s important that you get to know the reasons behind the whole idea of eating plant-based foods and switching to a vegan lifestyle. Your personal emphasis can range from not harming any animals, to protecting the environment, getting healthier, losing weight, or becoming fitter.

There are endless reasons for taking on this path. When you get behind all of this and grow a knowledgebase, you can easily refute their arguments with actual science and proof. You’ll get more confident, motivate yourself, and are prepared for any half-baked statement coming your way.

For beginners, I would suggest you watch the documentaries Forks over Knives, Vegucated, and Cowspiracy. If you’re into reading, then check the books The China Study, How Not to Die and The Starch Solution. Here’s our full article on the best 40 vegan books!

Inspiring Vegan Documentaries The Best Vegan Books 14 Good Reasons To Be Vegan Meeting All Nutrients as a Vegan
educate_vegan

2. Compassion

Whether it’s obvious or not: there’s always a reason as to why people think and react the way they do. Like I wrote above, many believe what the media and doctors tell them without questioning it.

No wonder they think you’re doing something wrong (a.k.a. not behaving like everyone else), harming yourself, or are downright lunatic. Their inner blockade can be a result of honest worry about your health or even jealousy they might not be aware of.

You see, by taking action and changing for the better, you show everyone around you that they are NOT doing it. That they stay kind of unsatisfied and stuck because they are not proactive. Maybe they themselves have failed in the past and don’t think you could actually succeed in changing your diet for good.

Opening their eyes to reality and truth can be painful and come with many consequences – not everyone is there yet, and that is okay. You should allow them to arrive at their own time and pace.

3. Preparation

Invited over to a dinner party or grandma’s house? That’s always a little challenging. Especially when you’re a newbie and not everyone knows about your lifestyle change yet or is accustomed to it.

Let’s face it, many people simply forget about the current dietary preferences of their friends and family members, especially since there often is a lot of changing from one fad diet to the next these days. You can’t blame them here.

But what you can do is taking your own little dish with you! Of course, not every occasion calls for this type of move, but most of the time, people are a lot more confident with you bringing your own food to enjoy – so they don’t accidentally mess something up and you end up eating nothing at all.

A good idea is to prepare a huge batch of your favorite food and bring it along for everyone to take a look at, maybe even try a bite. The experience of it tasting delicious, despite being a vegan dish, can be eye-opening. Talk about convincing people on a whole different level!

Some delicious plant-based recipes to try:

Pizza-Rolls-on-Baking-Dish

4. Flexibility

Being very strict about what you do and don’t eat can not only lead to a lot of awkwardness and discussions with people around you but also make you unhappy or even obsessed. Believe me, I know what it’s like to dive head over heels into the topic of health, animal welfare, and changing yourself for the better.

But what you have to realize is that change does take time. You have a lot of habits to unlearn, taste buds to retrain, and brain wiring to undo. Most people ease into a new way of eating and being, and I would suggest you do the same. And no, we don’t suggest you keep on eating animal products when you’re not at home, but a little bit of oil or sugar won’t hurt you too much.

So when you’re invited for dinner and the host tried to create a great meal for you but forgot to not sprinkle a certain ingredient on top of it – you could consider honoring the gesture, giving them a quick tip for next time, and then just eat some of that food.

It’s not going to mess up your diet, it’s not being weak or out of control. You ate this food a lot of times in the past without thinking of it as being a “bad food”, I am sure of that. So forget about that label, do what feels best for you in that moment – and what won’t make you sick afterward of course.

When going out to restaurants that aren’t completely vegan, you can never be sure whether all people involved in the process of preparing your food succeeded in not adding any unwanted ingredient.

There is a fine line when it comes to obsession and I would love for you to not get caught up into details all of the time. All the healthy food in the world won’t make you feel better if your mind is constantly stressed and preoccupied.

5. Connection

If you’re not lucky enough to have vegans or at least vegetarians in your family or circle of friends, you can always go online and reach out to like-minded people. Back when I chose to become vegan, I didn’t know a single soul who was thinking the same way I did.

But luckily, there were a couple of forums and even a few YouTube channels that made me feel less alone. For the first year or so, these were the only motivators I had to keep me going. When I finally got a Facebook account, the number of people I met who were eating the same way I did increased exponentially.

The Best Vegan YouTubers

Today, there are endless possibilities and platforms where you can find food buddies, meet up in person, organize an event, and so much more. Sharing tips, tricks and even personal struggles can be very beneficial to you as well as the whole community! By learning from each other, inspiring and motivating, you will be a lot more successful and create real friendships.

A great way to start is by following us around on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest

What are your biggest struggles when it comes to non-vegan family and friends? What do you commonly hear from them and how do you stay true to your decision? Feel free to share it with us in the comments below.

woman in grey vegan shirt with her hands on her hips looking to the left and smiling
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.
dark grey spotted bowl with a variety of vegetables next to small bottle of green smoothie isolated on light background

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72 thoughts on “How to be Vegan when your Family is Not”

  1. And I’m still puzzled over a commet an acquaintance made when he saw me watching a vegan cooking video, saying, “if you don’t eat meat your brain will rot”. I thought that was only an argument against watching too much TV as a kid?

    • Quite the opposite, I guess – there is a way better chance of being actual parasites in meat products which will feed on your body ;)

  2. Hello, I love your article. I’m vegan, and have been vegetarian. My family is okay with me choosing not to eat animals, but they refuse to acknowledge the harm their eating habits are causing, and get mad whenever I try to explain to them my point of view on the topic. This bothers me greatly and makes me feel like they don’t care. Any advice?

    • Hi Torri,
      thanks for reaching out. I sympathize so much with you! Somehow, it’s always hardest to convince your own family in this regard. I guess especially parents take it the wrong way, thinking you criticize their upbringing because they used to feed you animal products etc. It’s good that they let you do your thing but I totally get how frustrating it is that they don’t see any wrongdoing in eating animals themselves… it’s such a deeply ingrained part in our society that it takes a lot of questioning and being open to change that and become vegan. Maybe you could show them some awesome speeches? James Aspey’s work is awesome. Check out https://nutriciously.com/best-vegan-documentaries/ for some inspiration :)
      Other than that, be the shining example and stop fighting them – this isn’t how you win people over. Instead, share your delicious vegan meals and be a happy, healthy example. I know you go through phases as a vegan (from anger to acceptance, peacefully fighting dor the animals etc.) – maybe connect with people who understand so you have an outlet?
      Wishing you all the best,
      Alena

  3. …”not everyone is there yet, and that is okay. You should allow them to arrive at their own time and pace”. That’s flat out speciesist! What if we were not talking about other animals than our own species here, but suppose women or little children would be the ones being abused and killed and you found out this was terribly wrong, would you also claim ‘not everyone is there yet, and that is okay. You should allow them to arrive at their own time and pace’ or would you freak out about the fact that they continue the abuse from thesame perspective you hereby falsely allow them “to arrive there in their own time’: the idea that ‘they are only animals’? Falsely, for you and I have no position to grant such ‘understanding’ for we are NOT the ones standing in line to be slaughtered, here, which would be the ONLY position from which you could ever say: ‘It’s almost my turn to be ripped apart, but hey!, not everyone is there yet, and that is okay. I allow you to arrive at your own time and pace’, which you would never claim seeing a bolt being shot into the head of the ones before you. So please re-write the article on how to deal with the real issue here: relatives who do not end abuse that should be ended immediately…

    • Hi there Robert,
      I totally get what you mean. We’re very much in touch with the reality of the animal agriculture industry as we often watch footage as well as the work of vegan activists – the ethical aspect of veganism always comes first for us.
      And this is why we think it’s so important that people make the choice to not consume any animal products anymore themselves. There has to be a foundation, they need to be inspired, educated, passionate. And this won’t happen by shaming anyone, cutting them out from your life or pressuring them. Although I wished for everyone to go vegan right this second, I understand that they need to decide for themselves. Of course it’s a horrible crime what happens to animals but it’s something that’s considered “normal” and people have to work through deep beliefs whilst everyone around them keeps eating/using animals. Not so easy to do!
      Just think of it like this: how would YOU like to be approached? Would you have felt inspired and empowered if someone talked to you like you suggested?
      We used to be like that and talk to people rather aggressively because we felt the hurt in our heart every second. Family is always hardest to change and almost every wise, respected animal rights activist will tell you that you need to approach others kindly and let them make the choice. Nothing else will work long-term. Wished it was different!
      Maybe you’ll change your mind one day, too. There’s no wrong way to spread veganism :)
      Best wishes,
      Alena

  4. So I’m 16 in a non vegan family, meaning that I don’t buy my own food. How do I become vegan in this situation? I’ve seen plenty of things about becoming vegan before, but it wasn’t until today when I saw a video on the animal abuse in the milk/meat process and now I’m seriously considering making the change. I’m feeling disgusted and sick to my stomach at what I saw, But like I said, I’m 16 and I have no idea on how to go about it. HHHHEEEELLLLPPPPP!!!! (also, I’m not sure if it makes a difference but I’m also an athlete and I want to make sure that I get enough protein and etc. and I know my mom will too so any suggestions for that are greatly appreciated)

    • Hey Katia,
      glad you reached out! As you’ll see in the comment section, a lot of people are in a similar situation. Maybe you could ask your mom (or whoever is responsible for buying and making food at your home) which staple foods can easily be made vegan – or already are vegan – like steamed rice, cooked potatoes or pasta, breads and more. You surely already have these at home. Go through your kitchen to see which of the other foods are plant-based as well: all fruits, veggies, salads, legumes, nuts, seeds, and maybe some sauces or condiments. If all else fails, you could just have some raw veggies at mealtime until you can show your mom how to make large stews which you could eat over the course of a few days – based on lentils or beans perhaps, so they are more satiating.
      There are a couple of good YouTube videos on this, too. Go look for this topic over there :)
      Hope this helped a little!
      Best wishes x

  5. Hi Alena,

    I just wanted to write you a quick thank you for writing this article. I turned vegan when living abroad for a year, and having moved back has been the hardest challenge as of yet, not because of the ‘temptations’ but because of watching my family eat meat in front of me. I find it extremely difficult and I can’t help but to grow more quiet and lock myself in my room sometimes after dinner to regain energy. I am on very good terms with my family and they are highly aware of the unethical choice meat is, yet the eating of meat is so rooted in tradition that they seem to be unable to make less hurtful choices.
    I am glad that we can all recognize this is difficult, I just wish it would hurt less, because, even though knowing its the worst thing to do, I can feel myself growing more bitter and disconnected from my family. On most occasions I can be chill and smiley, supportive and compassionate, but there are these little occasions in which I am just done and want to break into tears. It might sound silly to refuse those that have been in your life the longest because of a diet, but for me veganism has become much more than just a food choice, and to see my family so ignorant of how they are hurting the animals, themselves and me, I just wish it would hurt less.

    • Oh yes, these situations can be so painful – especially because you feel you cannot be authentic in front of your loved ones because then you’re “that vegan” :/ You might want to look into mindfulness, Lani Muelrath just wrote a wonderful book for vegans regarding both mindful eating and being a happy & peaceful person in social situations (authentically!)
      Sending lots of healing vibes x

  6. Hi there!

    I really appreciated this article. I have been interested in veganism for quite a while now. I follow a lot of vegan YouTubers and have tried out a couple recipes so far. (I’m also ordering Gaz Oakley’s Vegan 100 cook book which I am so excited about) At one point, I almost committed. I was very excited and ready to jump into it but after talking with my parents, my excitement kind of dulled and I just went back to my meat-eating ways. I made a new friend and just found out today that she is vegan so I decided to look into it and find that excitement again. I’m just worried about eating out with my family. My dream is also to travel all over and I was feeling like I’d miss out on several cultural foods..but I guess there are plenty of vegan restaurants in the ther countries I look for them. Do you have any advice? Sorry this is so long

    • Hey Alaina,
      so happy you’re interested in going vegan! Think about it as taking different steps… replacing one food item at a time, so your parents won’t be as shocked maybe. Start with the easy ones and do your best when eating out to order “no cheese” on the pizza or in the bean burrito. Have your salad as a main dish along with potatoes or fries, go for the pasta marinara, the veggie spring rolls, the coconut curries…
      We’re currently traveling and there are honestly so many delicious choices for us. Traditional foods in many countries are based on plants and you might just have to tweak them a little when eating out!
      We’ll send out an email with travel tips for vegans soon ;)
      Hope this helps!

  7. Thank you for this article!

    I consider myself a pescatarian (6 months) although I don’t eat fish anymore (because I don’t want to be crucified for saying I’m vegetarian even though the fish products I’ve had I have only accidentally eaten). I aspire to be vegan one day. Sometimes a relative cooks our food, and although she knows I don’t eat meat, she puts some teensy bit of ingredients in the food that aren’t vegan, a bit of fish sauce or shrimp paste, for example. These are things I have no control over, and no matter how much I explain, they still think that fish or seafood products aren’t meat. You’re right… although I make vegan choices every time, I’ve since stopped stressing over every bit of what goes into my food. Having fun with my family and creating a moment with them seems more important.

    It doesn’t stop me from explaining myself to those who do not understand my choices, though. And I will continue to do so but with compassion, and an understanding that change doesn’t happen overnight.

    • Hi Chenne,
      thanks for sharing! Glad you liked the article. I think you’re doing a great job of finding your personal balance between wanting to have some control over your food, letting others know that your choices are important to you, and being relaxed. I know it can be so frustrating and relationships sometimes really struggle because of food choices (they can be as controversial as religion sometimes!).
      Keep up the great work and know that when you’re preparing food for yourself, you can make it exactly as you want. Maybe you can do this more often in the future.
      Best wishes,
      Alena

  8. Hi I really like your website, I hope you can give me some advice. I want to go vegan but my family isn’t really interested but I do all the cooking. So how I do juggle cooking for me and them? I.e. my mom and siblings.

    • Hey Megan,
      thanks for reaching out. So, you’re the one doing the cooking? That’s not a bad situation to be in if you want to change your diet :)
      First option would be to just sneak some veggie meals in without telling them about it. A hearty bean chili or falafel, smokey tofu burgers, grain salads, pasta with veggie bolognese… these are filling meals where people usually don’t “miss” anything. Check out findingvegan.com for ideas on how to prepare your usual meals in a vegan version. You don’t necessarily have to use vegan meats or cheeses, either, keeping your costs lower that way. But you totally can if you want!
      Second option would be to cook the main part of the meal for everyone, keeping it plant-based, and letting them add the animal products they want to it. This could be a veggie curry over rice and they add some chicken, or a bean burrito where they add some cheese on top. You could also meal-prep some of these to save some time. Do you feel okay with preparing animal products in general or not so much? This is the first question you need to ask yourself. I totally understand the uncomfortable situation you’re in, but at the end of the day you need to find out what works for you right now.
      Hope this was helpful! Feel free to join our FB group and ask the people there, lots of them are in a similar position.
      Warmly,
      Alena

  9. Thank you so much for these options and writing back! This has really be bothering me but I feel a lot better about making this change. Thanks again!

  10. Had the worst Mother’s Day of my life because my suddenly vegan daughter, whose vegan behavior is now bordering on obsessive to the point of pondering if it has become an eating disorder, won’t sit at the family dinner table. We can’t go to a restaurant together unless no one orders meat. My son has celiac disease and recovered from an eating disorder as a teen, which required 2 months of hospitalization. He is now a weight lifter and protienaholic, and is still extremely rigid about getting his “protein exchanges” on the dietary program he was medically advised to follow. Eating disorders are very genetic in the family, with almost 80% of the extended family still having or having had issues with food. We have been told by counselors to NOT make food an issue. I have coped and recovered only be disengaging with food as much as possible. I was vegetarian for 15 years, but started eating meat again during my 30s as a result of nutritional deficiencies, and to pull my own health together enough to maintain a pregnancy. My son wouldn’t give up meat for one day to honor me on Mother’s Day and my daughter wouldn’t sit next to a meat eater. Instead, they screamed at each other and I left the house. My husband took my son’s side. Both of my kids are adults and it means the world to me to have them over, but it seems I am never going to enjoy that sense of togetherness again. I dread the holidays and want to run away! It has my entire family falling apart, as I can’t stand how my husband is treating my daughter, and yet she is not being reasonable with her expectations from us. What do I do with this picture?

  11. I recently went vegan due to my husband ha ing a stroke. We are both in our 40s so I wanted to change our diet completely so we can live longer and healthier. I would be considered in shape so most people were surprised when they found out I did this. My husband is still struggling some with the change. However I have not made the rest of my kids change. They do have to try what we cook and then they can make a sandwich. They are surprised when they like something.
    I really liked these tips. Especially the one about eating what a family member/friend prepares. My 15yo does do the vegan diet with me. She threw a huge fit at our friends house because she had nothing to eat. My friend mistakenly assumed vegetarian and vegan are the same. I pulled my daughter aside and talked to her and made her apologize.
    Other vegans I know said I should have supported my daughter but I feel like she was very ungrateful for our friends attempt to accommodate our diet.
    Your thoughts?

  12. This was a great read! I recently switched to a vegan diet and I haven’t told very many people in my family yet(I’m still struggling a bit with that) I’ve always been a fairly healthy person and I workout regularly. I have a 2 year old and a one year old and I still breastfeed, so at first I was concerned about not meeting my calories and protein mark. Surprisingly, I’ve found that I can easily meet all my nutritional needs and I actually have more breastmilk supply than before!

  13. I am coming at it from a different standpoint, having one vegan adult child, one teen vegitarian child, and a husband who eats meat. We all make an effort to respect one anothers choices. As the kids made their choices as teens, we did research, found acceptable ratios of macro and mocro nutrients and had each kid learn to cook. I handle family meals by fixing things like tacos with plenty of different fixings and they can build their own choices. Or vegetable curries with a side of shrimp which can be added for those who want it. We do not become judgemental or militant with one another. Im a good cook and can do tasty vegan and vegitarian choices which even the husband likes. But family togetherness and respect for one another is important to me. It has taken a few years but we’ve worked it out so kids don’t refuse to sit next to meat eaters and husband doesn’t fuss about the need for meat. When the kids were learning, we had regular doctor visits to check for anemia and other health issues so the husband had nothing to fuss about, Now, with some practice, kids know how to make healthy choices and everyone is calm with each other.

  14. My son who is 20 yrs old has became vegan a 2nd time. He began again in Jan of this year. After watching the documentary DOMINION he has become more radical in his fews. The reason I am concerned is that I feel he is isolating himself from family functions. It’s seems obsessive to me for him to stay away completely from our family dinners where meat is served. I offered a compromise. I asked him if he could attend after all the food is put away. He at this time has said no. That to attend at all would be condowning the behavior. I have to say I am very hurt by his absence of our gathering and with the holidays around the corner I am looking for advise as I don’t want to push him further away with my reactions.
    Cindy

  15. These are great tips, I have been vegan for a year now and I am not sure how to act around my family when we are all eating together because its so awkward, when they are eating a dead person and I have to sit and watch, it just makes me feel so sick. Near the start my grandma even gave me sausage and said “its made of just plants” but I found out later it wasn’t. I also managed to get my sister to begin to connect with the animals on her plate but my mum stopped me and refused her to eat vegan, even though my blood tests are fine. I also don’t have any vegan friends and some people criticise me for my lifestyle. I also struggle with my education , I know I shouldn’t say this but we were learning about how the nazis indoctrinated the German people to hate the jews and we were given an example of a textbook and it looked awfully similar to today and I just couldn’t help think that we are being indoctronated by the meat and dairy industry. I mean no offence to anyone I am just really concerned with the way animals are treated and am not disrespecting and jew, who I respect greatly.

  16. I have very recently become a vegetarian and even THAT is hard. My family always snares at me when I don’t eat the meat at the table, and when they ask me why I give an explanation: cruelty and the environment. Their answer? “I think your going a little over board.” It’s like no matter what I say I’m crazy. And my mom won’t stop getting mad at me that I won’t eat meat, and begs me to eat at least chicken. Just today her doctor told her SHE wasn’t getting enough protein, so now she’s grinding me about mine. Feel like there is no way out of the constant arguments about my lifestyle choice.

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