4 Takeaways from My Vacation with My Nonvegan Family
Posted in: Vegan Living
As a vegan who typically is surrounded by and interacts with fellow vegans, I take for granted how difficult it can be to manage interactions with nonvegans. I became acutely aware of this challenge on a recent trip to the middle-of-nowhere in Maine with my omnivore family. Throughout the week-long vacation, I experienced many ups and downs that gave me hope for the future and pause for concern. I took away 4 main lessons from the experience.
4. Being vegan on vacation is not too hard if you keep it simple and aren’t picky
I am sure I am not the only vegan who stresses about things like “What will I eat or do when everyone else is chomping away at animal products?” or “What will I do while everyone else is fishing, going to the zoo, visiting an aquarium, etc.?” As I mentioned in a previous piece, being vegan does not have to be fancy.
Basically, any gas station, corner store, or small-town grocer carries cereal, oatmeal, bread, peanut butter, jelly, rice, beans, and fruit (albeit sometimes canned/frozen). I am not a registered dietitian, but that looks like a pretty balanced diet to me that can, at least, keep a vegan alive for a week.
When it comes to activities and attractions that exploit animals, it is equally possible to find alternative options! Everyone else is fishing? Walk along the shore to collect shells. Family decides to visit the zoo? Go bird watching instead! If worse comes to worse, bring a book or two and read those by yourself. I believe it’s okay to be a loner sometimes if the alternative is compromising your values.
Finding a jackfruit crab cake with cashew cream tartar sauce after visiting the local organic farm co-op in rural Maine? Unlikely. Eating an awesome peanut butter and banana sandwich after a hike through the woods? Extremely likely.
3. Not coming across as a confrontational jerk is hard
All vegans reflexively roll their eyes when they get the “Where do you get your protein?” question. (Side note: We get no protein and are all slowly withering away. For the animals. Just kidding!) We also may have our go-to responses to everyday acts that we find deplorable, such as throwing away animal flesh when people are too full to finish their burgers or when someone says they would never eat meat if they went to slaughterhouse, which is the kind of willful ignorance that leads to genocide, but I digress.
These challenging and sometimes confrontational responses are not too big an issue when it is a 5-minute conversation with a curious person you may never see again, but, when you are stuck with the same group of people who are creating these situations multiple times a day, you quickly become “that vegan who is ruining everyone else’s fun,” if you’re not careful.
I found that, instead of continually bringing veganism to the forefront and pushing it on people, simply asking my family to respect my values and call them out when they are being excessively rude, e.g. talking about their favorite way to cook cows in front of me or calling me a wuss for not fishing, made things at least bearable. I made my views known, but not in a way that led to awkward situations and confrontations, which do not help the movement nor the animals.
It was hard, but subtly putting forward my values while showing respect towards my family members led to positive discussions about veganism, rather than closed-off defensive attitudes.
2. You need to be awesome because you suddenly represent an entire movement
My favorite dinner? Bourbon. My favorite dinner that keeps me functioning? Rice and beans. I eat rice and beans every night and love it. However, my family is accustomed to much more flavorful and extravagant meals. When they hear about what I eat, they often say they would never go vegan if they had to eat like that. Therefore, when it was my turn to cook dinner for everyone, I knew the normal Joe-fare would not suffice.
Enter my favorite chili recipe. It is simple, fast, and easy and pleased everyone in my family. While it was more work than my regular meals, it showed my family that being vegan can be easy, delicious, and fortifying.
I also found that I needed to be educated on all things vegan. I would get all types of questions, ranging from “how does not eating animals help the environment?” to “why no honey?” If I didn’t have responses ready for these questions, I would be unable to reflect veganism in an educated and logical way, leading people to think there are not many reasons to give up their animal products. This is why I encourage all vegans to educate themselves on as many aspects of veganism as they can so that, when trapped in a cabin with a bunch of nonvegans for a week, they can fill them with accurate and compelling knowledge of all the great things about veganism.
1. People will surprise you
My family has traditionally loved meat and dairy. Ice cream, buffalo wings, steak, and milk were staples of my diet growing up, which is why I was shocked by the food my family brought to the table! My brother out-veganed me by making a meal of buffalo cauliflower with vegan bleu cheese, beet salad, and tomato soup made creamy with potatoes, not dairy. He followed his meal with a beer-infused rant about how wasteful animal agriculture is. It was awesome.
People made an effort to save leftovers and not throw dead animals in the garbage. They brought plenty of vegan snacks, which everyone enjoyed. They checked out menus at restaurants beforehand to make sure there was something I could eat. Cooks made sure my food did not touch the part of the grill where meat was cooked. We had frank discussions about animal welfare. In short, my family was more open to and understanding of veganism than I thought they would be. I firmly believe that, if it becomes easier to live a vegan lifestyle, there is a good chance they will become vegans.
There were infuriating moments. My 11-year-old nephew refused to eat a vegan protein bar because he does not like vegetables. My other 2-year-old nephew had to eat meat at the table during my all-vegan meal. My family shared pictures of them holding dead fish. However, in general, everyone was receptive to veganism.
Being vegan is hard when you just have to worry about yourself. When you have to worry about your entire family and are stuck in close proximity to them for a week, being a vegan is even harder! In the end, the values that drew me to the Animal Advocates of South Central PA are the same ones that got me through my vacation.
Do veganism your way.
Don’t be a jerk.
Put your best foot forward because it’s for the animals.
Be open to new ideas and experiences.
So, go on vacation with nonvegans. It will be a challenge, but, if done right, can be an effective form of advocacy, ultimately saving the lives of countless animals!