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Dealing with unsupportive parents/guardians is a very common source of distress for young people interested in transitioning to a vegan diet. It can be especially hard if you are the only vegan in a non-vegan household. You might feel angry because your parent doesn’t understand or respect why eating plant-based is important to you. Or you might feel sad because your parent is uninterested in changing their eating habits with you. You might even feel directly challenged by a parent who is misinformed about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Whatever you are dealing with, it is likely that their reactions have less to do with you and are more about their own discomfort with veganism as a strange and new concept to them. Change is hard for everyone, but it is also important to stay firm in what you believe is right. That is why I have outlined some tips below to help make these difficult conversations that may arise out of your transition into veganism easier for you and your family.
It is probable that your parent’s criticism of your new diet may come out of a place of genuine concern for your health and wellbeing. They may have bought into many of the myths out there about veganism, like that eating plant-based makes it impossible to get all of your required daily nutrients. Backing your plant-based choices with credible, fact-based research can help calm some of their fears, and it may also show that you are really serious about committing to this lifestyle. It might also be fun to get them involved in the learning process too, like by inviting them to watch a vegan documentary with you. Some of my favorites that are readily available to stream include Cowspiracy, Food, Inc., and What the Health.
Always approach these conversations with compassion. It can be hard if someone insults or criticizes something you value or believe in. But be patient, you probably had a long journey to get to where you are now in your plant-based eating lifestyle, so be mindful that not everyone might be at that spot yet. This is why rather than accusing, it might work better to take an informative stance and share the facts about veganism. You probably won’t change their mind all at once so it can help to manage your expectations, but the idea is that you are planting seeds of knowledge in their mind. Gradually over time, your persistence will hopefully pay off and open your parents up to understanding the benefits of a plant-based diet.
For most people, food is a very personal topic that can be difficult to talk about. Your parent may interpret you trying to show them the merits of veganism as an attack on their own eating habits, which can lead to unpleasant arguments. In situations like this, setting a good example of how a person can thrive under a vegan diet may yield you better results than being confrontational or trying to convince them with words. Leading by example can look like cooking delicious plant-based meals around your family and encouraging them to try some. This way, you will get them to see how tasty vegan food can be and that eating plant-based is in no way restrictive. The more time goes on and they see how well you are doing, they may even be interested in changing their own eating habits!
Sometimes no matter how hard you push, certain people will be less willing to embrace change than others. Do not feel discouraged if that is the case with your parent/guardian. Be kind to yourself, take things slow, and do the best that you can. You caring about these issues enough to want to make a difference with your personal eating habits is already such an accomplishment. So remember to set some space aside to be proud of yourself for that.
Cassandra Zimon is an FFAC fellow and an undergraduate sociology student at Reed College.