I became vegan simply because I felt it would be the healthiest diet I could follow. Ethical and environmental reasons for eating plants didn't enter my head until much later. It turns out that the health benefits were real and I never felt the desire to go back to my meat eating ways, but I did go through a few bumps in relating to others. I still do.
When you eventually out yourself as a vegan to friends and family you are bound to get a huge variety of reactions. Most people will be suddenly cautious around you like what you are contagious. Their reaction is most likely from years of experience dealing with vegans that are judgemental preachy types. They will be preparing themselves for your lectures on animal murdering and meat based carbon footprint.
You'll also likely lose weight as a vegan and while that is nice you'll face a whole new set of reactions to this change. My mom was considering an intervention thinking I had an eating disorder. Even my wife, who was on the journey with me at a more conservative pace, started wondering if I was losing too much weight. At work the rumour was circulating that I had cancer which explained my weight loss! Turns out my body was just finding a new balance or set point where it was happy. My weight loss settled down as did my health issues and the people around me relaxed a bit.
Restaurants and social situations with food are all of a sudden a huge learning curve. While most restaurants are helpful and accommodating I've experienced reactions from disinterest to outright hostility about my dietary requests. Dinner invitations will drop off with friends and family as they simply don't know what to do with you, like they've never made a salad before.
In fact, the longer you persist at this the more you'll find your whole social network will change. You have to be OK with that.
But what brings this all on? Why is there a stigma to being called a vegan? I've had people challenge me openly, in private and on social media. I can't count how many bacon related posts were put up on my Facebook page. I've been told I was malnourishing my child, was starving myself and could never perform as an athlete on plants alone. We even had a random parent call our home one day to say that they too fed their kid healthy foods, as if we were doing some sort of survey.
When I'm at races I have some vegan related clothing I wear on occasion. Sometimes it's fun and people cheer and make fun in a good way of what I'm wearing. Other times people look at me, look at my shirt, and give me a wide berth. You have to consider if race day is the time to make a statement or the time to blend in. For me it's about whether I'm there to have fun or to concentrate and race hard.
I do think this is all fixable. For a while I tried saying I ate a plant based diet, but nobody knew what that meant. And I have come around to the ethical and environmental reasons for being vegan as time has gone on, but I am acutely aware that my opinion isn't popular or welcome in most social circles. So here is the thing, the solution is to shut up. For the most part.
If we can live our lives as a quiet example of health and happiness others will get naturally curious. If we stand up on a pulpit and scream about animal blood this world is hardened and smart enough to declare us lunatics. I've had my share of run ins with vegans after being one myself. The ones that give me the sniff test to see if I qualify for the highest levels of vegan righteousness. I often fail and it's made me realize that change doesn't come from hate, but from love and patience. I'm originally from a prairie farming town. Red meat and beer were staples in my life and no plant eater was going to change my mind before I was ready. But if I can change, others can too. And why are we so hung up on everyone being perfect? If people choose meatless Monday's or Vegan before 6 they are still helping themselves, animals and the environment. They've helped the problem so lets give them credit.
I don't believe that vegans should hide in the closet. In fact we can't. Eventually we'll have to out ourselves when we order food or go to someones home for dinner unless we want to appear rude for repeatedly refusing food. It's ok, and even a great idea to let people know you're vegan, but after you've made your confession, drop it. If they want to know more, they'll ask. Otherwise just eat, live, be happy and healthy and let yourself be the best advertisement for eating plants that has ever existed.
Part of my journey has been to overhaul my opinion of others as much as I've done to myself and my health. It isn't our place to live in judgement of others. In fact, we may actually have some things wrong. It could be that (gasp) everything we say might not be 100% true. I think it is, but I'm willing to recognize that nutrition, ethics and environmental issues have been hotly debated by many people smarter than I am. And very few of them agree on anything. I've chosen who I believe and I'm sure you have too. The proof will be in the living. It's the best advertising we have.