Coming out as vegan after my initial experimentation with it though proved much more challenging than I thought it would. I wasn't prepared for some of the reactions I received from being challenged, debated and confronted with outright hostility. It seemed that what I ate (or rather didn't eat) really hit a hot button with some people.
Over time I've gained perspective and compassion for those around me that aren't' vegan and how it is they've come to be overly concerned with my diet. I recently had a good friend begin trying a vegan challenge and he met with surprising resistance from family over a traditional lasagna meal. I think it pays to realize that traditions around food often become very personal. We gather over food and develop a sense of belonging with each other based on shared social mores. When someone steps away from that based on a belief that "the old way" isn't healthy, environmentally sound or ethical it calls to question the very fabric of that social connection. At least for the person that interprets it as being "accused" by your change of lifestyle.
I had various reactions to my adherence to a vegan diet. At work it was mostly curiosity but I found the group of coworkers very supportive. I think it may be easier in a work situation as you aren't a family or close friendship where someone making a monumental shift affects others. There is no expectation to share meals together or share values around food. In a world where there are so many dietary restrictions and cultures work places adapt well to varying approaches. The point of gathering isn't over food choice but productivity.
In my extended and close friendships I had reactions ranging from indifference to polite curiosity and occasionally alarming accusations of poor judgement. The teasing and good natured ribbing from a lot of my friends was very welcome, at least for me it showed that people didn't care and simply enjoyed giving me a hard time. That's love. The quiet notion that what I was doing was somehow misguided or ethically wrong (especially in light of raising a vegan child) from others in my social circle very much hit me hard. I wasn't ready for being challenged to that degree. While some friendships became stronger or remained the same others became more distant or strained. Over time I've healed from those changes and accepted them. I believe that the people we choose to spend time with influence our actions and my life path has changed so dramatically I've learned to let go relationships that don't forward my current lifestyle.
Distant social connections somehow became more intense after the greater world found out our family was vegan. Usually this happened through our daughter who would attend functions and we'd either send food or she'd be open with other children about being vegan. The kids were all great with it, often sharing and trying her food and accepting our daughter despite our fears. We occasionally met with resistance and questions from other parents though, one of which went so far as to tell their child (who told our child) that we were abusive and starving our daughter. The pain of knowing your choices are so objectionable to others in your community is shockingly real. Over time though others seeing us thrive as healthy active vegans has turned most of that initial disapproval into the much more welcome identification as a bunch of "health nuts."
When I went vegan initially my wife and daughter transitioned much more slowly, first continuing to eat fish and holding onto eggs for about a year after I'd gone completely plant based. It didn't affect the internal workings of our home to be honest other than create more cooking and other than my wife occasionally being upset about me not joining her for dinner it was met with nothing but support. Asking my wife in hindsight now though to look back, she does admit to struggling with my transition at times and finding it challenging. I recall the time we were driving and I confessed to her that after not having eaten meat for a long time I was feeling that my reasons for continuing were no longer about strictly health. I had become convinced that my personal ethics around meat consumption had changed and that eating animals was not longer in line with my view of what was right. This was hard as I didn't know how she'd react. It seemed simpler that she could support my quest for improved health, but an ethical change could challenge my relationship with my most loved and trusted partner in life. Thankfully she was awesome about it. At the time she wasn't ready for that transition herself but it never caused the tension I was worried about.
My mom on the other hand was probably one of my most memorable detractors. I recall a visit home where my dad took me into the garage and told me she was planning an intervention as she felt that I had an eating disorder. To make it worse she was terrified we weren't providing properly for our daughter (who at the time was vegetarian). I swallowed hard, gathered myself and went into the house for a marathon conversation with my mom that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I explained my reasons for feeling being vegan was a healthy choice for me. It was one of our better conversations as grownups together and I could sense her relaxing. Her concern was born out of love, not anger. Now my mom herself has gone largely plant based after fighting with cancer and her own health issues. She admits to me now that her initial fears about my weight loss were calmed when she witnessed my relentless pursuit of fitness. She realized I wasn't suffering from an eating disorder but was simply living a life of energetic athleticism.
In the photo at the top of this post you'll see me wearing a vegan singlet at a public race. I very much struggle with openly flagging myself in that way. I believe in "living naked" and not hiding who I am, my values or choices but I'm not terribly comfortable with advertising them so aggressively. I definitely avoid shirts and logos that are accusing in nature such as "meat is murder" which I find distasteful and unnecessary. Part of me though knows that by setting a good example as a healthy vibrant vegan it may influence others. Even a small change of behaviour in those people would benefit their health, the environment and animals.
I'm still finding the right balance for me personally about being an open vegan. I have no intention of hiding it, nor do I think anyone should. But I'm not entirely comfortable in actively promoting the movement either. One thing for certain is that if you are considering going vegan expect some resistance. Understand that most of it comes out of love and concern. Yes you'll meet with ignorance and occasional hostility but know that is usually born out of ignorance about what being vegan is about. Not every vegan throws buckets of blood on fur wearing rich people. Nor do they chain themselves to slaughter houses. Being out as a positive example of a healthy happy vegan brings about so much more change in both behaviour and opinion.