How To Be a Vegan or Non-Vegan Without Being a Jackass

I am trying out veganism again. On the internet and in what is quaintly referred to as “real life,” vegans and non-vegans can be horrible at talking to one another. I want to help. Let’s start with advice for vegans!

OK, so you feel very strongly about animal suffering, and/or environmental sustainability, and/or the health benefits you ascribe to a vegan diet. Great! Just remember that you’re unlikely to persuade others to take up your habits, you don’t need to try, and and you’ll never succeed by scolding them.

If you walk by someone on a street corner and he yells at you, “Repent, you sinner,” do you think, “Hey, I better learn more”? No. If you lecture someone out of the blue about factory farming, you will teach her that vegans are judgmental jerks and no one in her right mind would ever join them. Nice work! If you’re posting aggressive anti-meat cartoons and graphics on Facebook or tumblr, you’re having the same effect.

You can’t really judge, anyway. Almost all consumer purchases are fraught with ethical dilemmas, namely in the areas of worker rights. We can try to make more moral choices, but we’re all part of some very bad systems.

It’s fine to make delicious vegan food for people, pin vegan recipes on Pinterest, and respectfully answer questions about why you’re a vegan. If you encounter an attack on veganism, sure, go ahead and counter politely with your personal reasons for being vegan. That’s enough proselytizing.

Whatever you do, don’t talk about how vegans are slimmer and healthier. First of all, plenty of vegans are chubby, and with good reason: have you tried some of those vegan cupcakes? Unf. Making fun of people’s bodies is always terrible, and lots of people have health problems you may not even know about, ones that quinoa and agave juice are not going to fix.

Finally, don’t get all aggravated if you go to a company picnic or a family gathering and nobody’s fixed vegan food. You can’t expect everyone to remember and accommodate your weirdo diet. If you’re still hungry afterwards, you can always go home and have a big bowl of popcorn or Coconut Bliss.

And now, advice for non-vegans!

If a vegan is being rude, absolutely call them on it, but don’t assume in advance that all vegans are judgmental. Plenty of us are nice and don’t think we’re better than you are. Don’t presuppose we care more about animals than people: it’s not an either/or. I think a few people categorize all vegans as irritating or hypocritical as a way to ignore or discredit some of the issues we care about, but it’s not fair.

Trying to talk us out of our veganism is usually pointless. Chances are we’ve heard the counter-arguments already, and we’ve read up on how to get our calcium and complete proteins. Even we haven’t, we’re not asking for your permission. Oh, and avoid posting allegedly hilarious cartoons and graphics about how being a vegan is stupid. Unless you run, say, a cattle ranch or a fried chicken joint, what do you even care?

Honestly, there are so many idiotic arguments for and against veganism out there. “Hitler was a vegetarian!” In point of fact, he was not, but how would that be relevant? “You wouldn’t eat your puppy, so why would you eat a pig?” Because it’s our culture, nitwit. People can have smart debates about the wisdom or foolishness of a vegan lifestyle without resorting to these embarrassing tactics, and not debating is always an option, too!

I hope this helps a little. Peace on earth, y’all!

By Bryn Donovan

Romance writer, poet, quilter, and dog cuddler.

40 replies on “How To Be a Vegan or Non-Vegan Without Being a Jackass”

I have literally never encountered, in real life, a judgemental veg*n straight out the hatch. I wish I could say the same about omnivores.

Between the talk of how the Bible tells us to eat animal flesh, arguments about vegetables having feelings too, references to how animals eat meat, and how they knew a veggie who was fat/unhealthy or lacking in iron/protein (so being veggie is unhealthy, yo), I do start to get pretty rude. Crickey, people. All I said was “No thanks,” to the roast beef. Could you please just shut up while I enjoy my dill-roasted potatoes?

To be honest, I haven’t encountered a judgey vegan in real life. Online, I’ve seen a lot of stupid graphics and slogans that aren’t helping the cause.

I’ve heard some meat-eaters testify to the existence of sanctimonious vegans, so I assume they must exist. I do think their numbers are wildly exaggerated. It’s easier and more fun to say “ugh, judgey vegans” than to consider why veganism makes one uncomfortable.


I’ll throw my lot in which whomever it was downstream who said that sanctimonious veg*ns are judgey about everything. There seem to be so few of them that it seems silly one jerk who happens to be veg*n means that most omnivores get to be (at best) snarky about our eating habits.

I work at an amazing company with an amazing cafeteria, and they always have a veggie entree and a veggie grill item. Today I was standing in line for grilled tofu and spinach-green bean salad with peanut sauce, and the people behind me said “Oh man, can’t wait for this chicken!”

I told them they were in the tofu line and they starting making gagging sounds and talking about how gross tofu was before switching lines. Were I to say similar things about meat, I’d be considered a judgemental veg*n. Gross.

Lunch was utterly delicious, though, so that made up for it.

I’m a meat-eater who is trying to cut down on meat; I’ve most only seen judgey vegans online as well, even ones who are judgmental toward people who are “merely” vegetarians or pescetarians. A lot of that rhetoric annoys me, as I’m trying to cut down on meat for sustainability reasons and I honestly think that we need to accept that complete veganism or vegetarianism is never going to be that popular and that just getting most people to eat less meat is better than having some tiny fraction of the population give it up entirely while the other 95% or whatever eats as much meat as they always did. These ideas just make people feel afraid to even dip their toes into the pond, for fear of being castigated for even just trying and coming up short. (But I also think that kind of thinking is a problem across lots of left-wing movements; a lot of people on the left are willing to sacrifice getting actual results for the sake of ideological purity, and that’s a huge problem that allows right-wingers to continue to disenfranchise us despite our superior numbers, but I digress…)

That being said, what I’ve seen from asshole meat-eaters both online and offline is generally way, way worse, and much more embarrassing to all of us who eat meat, than what veg*ns are saying. Like, if I have to see one more idiot who thinks that “omg bacon so yummy” is going to dissuade someone from being a veg*n I’m going to punch that person in the face. I think the worst anti-vegetarian graphic I saw was one that had a deer pooping on grass and it said “Hey vegetarians, I’m shitting on your food!” I love the person who told this guy (a conservative Republican asshole in general) “Yeah, because we eat grass? Seriously?” I mean, how does someone not get how stupid a comment like that is?

I think meat-eaters are more vicious because obviously, as the majority in the society we do have privilege; it’s not as bad as the deeper, more systemic forms of privilege based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, etc. but I would argue it’s there, as there are certain considerations I don’t have to make as a meat-eater that I suddenly have to make when considering taking a veg*n friend out for food. And people get mad when they have their privilege challenged like that. I also think because most meat-eaters know, deep down, that the veg*ns do have the moral high ground on us on this, and I think some people are scared to admit that, and lash out in immature ways because they can’t handle that dissonance.

I love Screaming Capsicum. Great article.

What advice would you have about restaurants? My BF’s brother and his girlfriend are vegan, and made it their task to choose a vegan restaurant to have their mother’s birthday dinner at. She’s not a vegan and they didn’t want to have to risk limited options on a menu to eat. I have my doubts about this sort of behaviour. One one side, sure it would be frustrating to be left out, only have  a few things to pick from, but  many restaurants, especially Asian and Middle Eastern often have  alot of vegan and non-vegan options, after all they’ve gone there themselves. On the other, since they weren’t shouting and it wasn’t their birthday, it seems really selfish decision to make.


if my family wants to spend time with me and wants me to join them at a restaurant, then we have to eat somewhere that has food for me.  it’s not being selfish – HAVING SOMETHING TO EAT is the purpose of going out to eat after all – why would anyone want to eat somewhere that doesn’t have anything for them?  that being said, it is possible to find things to eat (sometimes with a little modification) at a lot of restaurants whether they are vegan or not, it just takes a little research.

the other side to this that bothers me, though, is meat and animal products-eaters’ assumption that vegan restaurants or vegan meals “have nothing for them.”  technically, in your situation, the vegan restaurant is the option that definitely has something everyone can eat and enjoy.  it’s not like meat-eaters can’t eat a vegan meal!  that assumption always underlies discussions like this, whether you realize it or not.  vegans aren’t being selfish by wanting to share their food or take their family to a place that is strictly vegan – meat and animal product eaters are being selfish by assuming they shouldn’t have to eat vegan (or go to  a strictly vegan restaurant or whatever).  i got a lot of crap from my (and my boyfriend’s) family when we decided to go vegan/vegetarian, but now i can take my very carnivorous father to an exclusively vegan restaurant, and he loves it (he gets the tofu rancheros burrito…so proud! :) ).

 it’s not like meat-eaters can’t eat a vegan meal!

This. I get it on a much smaller scale with my selective non-meat eating days for religious reasons, but those not on my limited diet will not die from eating how I eat for one meal. I am not denying anyone access to good food by asking to go to a vegetarian restaurant. They won’t even suffer. Vegetable based meals are not by default unpalatable to those who normally eat meat.

Eh, I don’t know. If it were my mom’s birthday and her absolute favorite restaurant was a BBQ joint (not the case, but just for argument’s sake), I’d take her to the BBQ joint and have an order of French fries and eat something else later. Most of us can enjoy a variety of foods, though, and many restaurants serve both meat and at least a couple of vegan choices.

Some meat eaters may assume they don’t like vegan meals until they’ve tried them. Just this week, I had to make this pasta with olive oil, garlic, kidney beans, sauteed zucchini, and marinara sauce for Mr. Donovan twice in a row because he liked it so much. Well, I didn’t have to, but I was happy to when he requested it.

I do the same. If it’s a special occasion that’s not my special occasion I just roll with the punches and eat someplace not very veg*n friendly.

If the day is about me, I make everyone eat somewhere that’s good for me. I’ve mostly convinced them that meatless meals can be delicious, but it took some time. I had to practically bully my step-mother into trying refried beans. Now it’s her favorite food.

To me it depends. If she had an absolute favorite restaurant that she really wanted to go to and they refused because it wasn’t 100% vegan, that might be kind of rude. But if she just said “find me a place” so they are picking somewhere vegan, then it’s not. Because vegan/vegetarian restaurants have some amazing things on the menu (often more creative things) and it won’t hurt anyone to have a meatless or completely vegan meal.

What a lovely article!

I’m a vegetarian who is trying to cut down on dairy, but I’m worried. I’ve been a vegetarian since age five, and I’ve barely been able to put up with that much judgement. Becoming a vegan would be a big step. While cutting down on dairy, I’ve already gotten eye rolls and “you’re not going to become a vegan now, are you?”

I’ve never understood the point in caring about whether other people are veg*. As long as I don’t have to eat it, I don’t care! The only time I’ve cared is if I’m in a long-term relationship with somebody, but that’s for practical purposes. My line of thinking was that if we ever lived together (which we are now) I would feel icky about having meat in the house. And I was lucky enough that my SO was already interested in eating fewer animal products, so it worked out! He still eats meat on occasion when we go out to eat, and I don’t have to have it in our refrigerator!

I’m all for civility. :) In the spirit of Mean Girls, “I wish I could bake a [vegan] cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy!”

Huh. I’ve had a few friends who were vegan (for differing reasons), and none ever seemed preachy. Your advice seems like it could go towards all of life.

I’m not veg*, but I sometimes get responses like what they get (about the special food) because I don’t eat pork or shellfish. If it’s at a party, and I don’t know what’s in the dip and it looks like crab, I’m going to ask you what is in it. (I try to make it sound like I’m interested in making it and want to know the recipe if it’s someone I don’t know well). But I get a lot of “You haven’t had bacon?! It’s so good! How have you never had bacon?!” which can get annoying after awhile.

I feel like this is just all around good life advice.  Don’t be an asshole and don’t assume others are assholes (until they prove otherwise).

I do emphasize with vegetarians and vegans getting shit from carnivores though. My coworkers only ASSUME I’m a vegetarian and I get shit from them.  Apparently I don’t eat enough meat??? I don’t like eating meat every meal or even every day.  It’s like a three times a week thing for me…but my coworkers think this means I’m a vegetarian…? It still baffles me.

I think I’ve actually heard the “Hitler was a vegetarian” thing in some dark corner of the internet, where luckily I could just roll my eyes and leave the page. Veg* vs non-veg* is similar to religion in that I think everyone will be better off if we all stop trying to convert each other.

i don’t know about the rest of you, but i don’t know many vegans or vegetarians that get confrontational about our diets or anyone else’s.  when i talk about being vegan at all, it’s because someone has asked me about it or they regurgitate the old stand-by to show you won’t legitimize another’s values but you are afraid to offend: “i just couldn’t be vegan/vegetarian!” (you CAN, you just choose not to).  or they are pushing their meat and animal product-eating beliefs on me, usually via jokes about how tasty hamburgers allegedly are.  however, when a veggie retorts or starts simply explaining their reasoning for their diet, we are being obnoxious and judgmental!  really, it’s ridiculous.  i always urge meat-eaters to think long and hard about why my diet (when i am merely sitting there trying to eat my quinoa in peace) is obnoxious to them: perhaps it’s because they feel some sort of guilt for the way they eat and the fact that they won’t change?  it’s not me that’s judging them, they’re doing it themselves.

as for the veggies that DO post stuff online about their diets/lifestyles, talk to people about it, etc., they are animal rights activists (usually).  just because other people do not agree with them does not mean that they are being preachy and judgmental.  and it most certainly does not mean that they are being a jackass.

Outside of PETA atrociousness I don’t see a lot of smug jerk Veg* folks. I personally knew one, but she was one person in a sea of normal non meat eaters. I do see a lot of normal eating or talking about food behavior being projected as smug though (a la my post below). I think a lot of people are just massively uncomfortable with the idea that there could be a moral component in eating behaviors.

Usually when I post things online that are veggie-related, I’m putting up recipes or pictures of what I’m cooking. I’ll mention if I’m baking a vegan treat, at least in part because I know I have several vegan friends and I want to include them. Occasionally I’ll post news articles, like the one that was on NPR yesterday about carbon footprints, but not often. Though that’s because I tend to find problematic things in a lot of diet-related articles.

Sometimes I’ll get annoying comments from meat eaters, which is really irritating because I never make annoying comments on their posts, unless they post a recipe and I say something like “this looks good, I may try to adapt it.”

I’m used to the raised eyebrows, stares, comments, and questions I get from being a Vegetarian In The South (or Vegetarian In The Country).  Some days I’m more tired of the questions than others.  A few months ago a non-scientist/non-medical professional fellow argued me down that it was impossible to get the protein that a body needs without eating meat.  I acquiesced, as life is too short to fight with strangers who don’t know any better anyway, but wow.  D-bag for real.

I often tell people that it’s not that I don’t like chicken.  I LOVE chicken.  I just don’t eat it anymore.

But one day I may fall off the wagon.  And I will eat ALL OF THE CHICKEN.

And I will only feel guilty if I split my pants. (Note to self – wear sweatpants that day.)

Vegans, vegetarians or carnivores, religion or sports or life style ..I don’t care whatever fundamentalist behaviour it is, it scares and annoys the seven hells out of me. Your freedom ends at my boundaries, pressuring me into things won’t make me like them and yes I know about horrible vegans/carnivores.

Oh and as a ‘flexitarian’, somehow members of both groups (carni/vegan) think I’m the worst because I can’t decide. If you think that’s what it’s about, I need to revoke your Reading and Understanding card.

This article is excellent! I’ve been both vegan and carnivore, although I was only vegan for a couple of months before being vegetarian for a couple of years after that. I particularly dislike the conflation of vegan and skinny. I was a fat vegan and a fat carnivore; didn’t really change my weight at all. That’s why I really hate PETA, because they put out all those fat-shaming ads. Making someone feel bad about their body isn’t going to get them to support you or your cause.

Lordy lordy. I think the final bit of advice should be don’t assume that just because someone is talking about their dietary needs that they are preaching about the awesomeness of their diet. I’m omnivorous myself, but I am also Catholic, which means that my diet changes in Lent. I have gotten my fair share of smarmy comments on how I was being ‘holier than thou” for asking questions about a restaurant’s menu before we go there, or similar conversations aimed specifically at determining if I can eat something. I don’t do this to shame you about your food choices. I do this so I can eat on my own terms. And I only have to put up with it for 40 days a year. Veg* people you have my sympathies.

It definitely was frustrating when I was a vegetarian. What boggles my mind is that it can be frustrating even now, because I have a taste/want preference for things with lots of vegetables. For instance, I prefer veggie pizza. So, the automatic question is: “are you a vegetarian?”

What vexes me about it is the assumption that I have to eat meat whenever possible, or else I’m not a  meat eater. It’s amazing how hard it is for some people to wrap their mind around the idea that an omnivore just genuinely would like to have some veggies, please. I find it evidence of dichotomous thinking, and it’s the sort of thinking that lent itself to very frustrating conversations when I was a vegetarian.

THIS! I have a love affair with vegetables so much that I always want them with my meal which leads to me often choosing the veg option, not because I don’t like meat (which I do, excepting beef) but because I love veggies. Doesn’t mean I’m not a good and proper omnivore.

The worst of it comes on Fridays, when I can’t eat any meat except for fish. And the people that feel this deep need to point out to me that that is a very arbitrary dietary distinction.

“But fish is meat. This is stupid.”

“Why thank you I didn’t know that fish was meat. Good Lord, what misguided pretenses have I been living under? I shall cast off my religious dietary needs because they confuse you and make your life ever so slightly less convenient.”

I can explain why fish is allowed, but if I do that, then I’m lecturing on religion. It boils down to they don’t want to hear about my food choices at all, ever, because they are motivated by something other than what I think tastes good.

And I have seen those observing Ramadan get grief for that too. Or my favorite, the behind the back talk about how bitchy they get during Ramadan.

Geez, how does one even respond to that? Would it help to point out, “I don’t make fun of your eating habits/beliefs”?  Or maybe, “I don’t feel like explaining it to you”? That’s just so frustrating.

Hmm, it sounds like it’s some of the non-Muslims who get bitchy at Ramadan.

Yes! Saying “I’ll pass on the baked beans because they have pork in them” is not preaching. Asking “What’s in that” is not preaching. Saying “Do you mind if we go to X restaurant instead of Outback so I can have something more than a side salad?” is not rude. It’s all self-preservation, and 99.99999% of the time it’s not rudely asked, so people need to stop taking it as some kind of threat. Jesus, just be a little accommodating of your friends.

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