Sunday, December 28, 2008

Social Aspects of Veganism

Laci posted a couple of very good questions a couple of days ago, and I thought I'd address them here.

(By the way, Laci, your link isn't working. If you comment with your blog address or email it to lhrowley AT gmail DOT com, I'll update this post with the link.)

Anyway, here are her questions:

Thanks for the family story! I understand what you mean about being a model, not a punishment. People listen when they are inspired,not when they feel forced. Another question; if Aria (sorry about Samantha) went vegan, would in interfere with her socially as she got older? Also, what do you do when it comes to family dinners and they say "this is what you can bring" but it's kinda light for a main for your self, and you don't want to insult the chef by only eating what you bring? Thanks! =]

If Aria went vegan:

This is definitely one of the touchier aspects of veganism. As a person who had a tough time "fitting in" as a child (hell, I still don't fit in as an adult, but that's another story), I'm quite sympathetic to how veganism could affect her socially.

At least here in the midwest, being vegan is about as "different" as you can get. We live in a city that is nicknamed "Cowtown", so you can imagine that veganism is less than wholeheartedly embraced here. Can you imagine how a kid would feel going to a birthday party and not being able to eat cake or ice cream? I certainly think that it would be a significant social challenge for her. We all know how cruel kids can be...

Here's another aspect of that: If she does make that decision, she's going to have to understand that some kids (and parents) aren't going to get it. I'm anticipating at least a few calls from concerned parents and school staff who think we're forcing that lifestyle on her.

Most of us have read at least one news story about a parent who was charged with child endangerment for forcing the child to adopt a vegan diet. These stories typically paint a horrific picture of a child suffering from severe malnutrition - in some cases, the children have even died as a result of the parents' actions.

These kinds of stories set the stage for people to want to step in and set the child/parents straight. These people are well intentioned, of course, but they mistakenly confuse healthy veganism with the kinds of diets adopted by the crazies you read about in the news.

The challenge here will be for her to be able to explain how a balanced vegan diet offers all of the protein, nutrients, and vitamins needed for proper growth and health. She's also going to have to be prepared for the fact that some people just aren't going to listen, no matter what the facts say.

So there are definitely some troubling social aspects to consider. It's a lot easier for an adult to shrug off mean/stupid comments than it is for a child, who has an innate need to be accepted.

I'd never discourage her from becoming vegan, but I would definitely want to educate her about the types of social issues she's going to have to deal with if and when she makes that decision.

On family dinners:

I've found that if you explain to the host beforehand that you're vegan, they usually won't expect you just to eat a side dish. It's pretty important that you make sure they understand what vegan means, though - many omnis don't know the difference between vegetarians and vegans. (Of course, even if you're vegetarian, there are still those who will ask if you eat fish - they're not being stupid, just misinformed.)

One of the most useful things for me in this situation is to simply point them to my blog for recipe ideas. I've never had a host say outright, "No, I won't try to make a vegan dish." In fact, they usually appreciate the challenge. And it almost always turns out decently.

It can be a little uncomfortable asking a host to cater to your dietary needs as a vegan - in fact, it can feel downright imposing. But think about this - let's say you're hosting a dinner, and one of your guests adheres to a strict kosher diet. Would you tell that person, "Hell no, we're having bacon cheeseburgers and you're going to like it"? I wouldn't. But I would greatly appreciate that person taking the time to educate me, so I could prepare something acceptable.

So I would take the time to educate, offer to bring a dish or two... and then if the host is offended, it's not your fault.

Laci, thanks for your thoughtful questions. It's nice to do more than just post recipes and complain about the Ohio weather. Any of you can feel free to post more questions, and I'll be happy to blog about them. Think of me as your own personal Dear Abby... only bald, grumpy, and vegan.


Anonymous said...

Thanks a ton for this post. I recently avoided going to a party because I knew that the host wanted to serve pizza and cake and I didn't want to be rude and ruin that for everyone. It is nice to hear how you would handle it, as well as encouraging to be reminded that I am not alone in this.

Ricki said...

Amazingly informative post. I can't tell you how many people I've met who think that "vegetarian" means you eat fish and chicken! It sounds as if you're handling your situation really well, too--lucky Aria!

laci said...

No, thank you for such thoughtful information.
I know what you mean about the social troubles of veganism and children. I've certianly heard of kids who were/are vegan sucesfully and mantained a happy life, but it's very difficult, because alot of time spent with freinds will incorporate food and most AMerican kids aren't accostomed to dairy/egg free vegetarian food.
I believe some parents choose to raise their kids in certian ways, like veganism, and sometimes their kids will follow in their footsteps, while some may rebel as they get older. It's probably a really smart idea to let the children have some say or choice and not alianate them in a way that makes them resist. Smart thinking. =)

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