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How to PACE Yourself in Social Situations
I’ve been vegan for so long that, I kid you not, in the early days,
people would ask me if things like bananas and avocados were vegan.
Seriously, people. Even though so much has improved in terms of
awareness and education, vegans are a still a tiny minority, and as
such, some sticky social predicaments can present themselves. These
situations can make for awkwardness at best and the dissolution of
relationships at worst. They can also help to foster good relationships
and encourage thoughtful consideration. If we are genuine about wanting
to help people consider veganism as an accessible option to them, we
need to take our social interactions seriously. Office parties, family
gatherings and meals out with friends will come up and they can be
positive or negative. As vegans, how can we manage these experiences
with grace, confidence and composure? To create the best opportunities
for positive social interactions, I’ve come up with a mnemonic to
remember: PACE yourself, which means to be Polite, Affable, Candid and
Encouraging. Polite because no one wants to be treated rudely. Affable
because a little friendliness, humor and warmth will make a big
difference in how people think of you and treat you. Candid because you
owe it to yourself and those you are interacting with to be honest.
Encouraging because people will try more if their efforts are
acknowledged. PACE yourself.
Whether we embrace the role or not, I believe that we need to be good
ambassadors to the public so we should do our best to communicate that
veganism is joyous and accessible whenever we can. Clearly it is no
benefit to the animals if we present to the world that being a vegan is
a difficult and annoying chore or that we are cranky and impossible to
please. If we want to put forward our best example, we can take some
simple yet very effective steps to improve the chances that we will be
presenting living as vegans in the best possible light. Don’t be a
dumped on victim, a passive spectator or the grouch everyone wants to
avoid: PACE yourself instead. In the example of social engagements
around food, here are my suggestions:
Plan in advance.
Planning in advance may likely involve speaking or emailing directly to
a restaurant manager, caterers, a party planner or a host. Politely
explain what your dietary needs are and ask if you can be accommodated.
These days, many restaurants, even very unlikely ones, have experience
preparing vegan meals, though individuals out of the food service
industry, such as party hosts or planners, may not have this
experience. If it is a restaurant, look at the menu and ask what can be
done: can cheese be removed, can something be cooked with oil or
vegetable broth instead of butter? If they haven’t prepared vegan meals
before and seem stymied, make suggestions based on what they have, such
as a stir-fry with rice or veggie fajitas. If you are talking to the
host of a party, assuming that the person doesn’t know that you’re
vegan, try a calm, straightforward approach. Would the host like you to
bring a dish to share? Would the host prefer a recipe that is a good
complement to the other food being served? This is a time to use
your people skills to know when to be involved and when to trust that
things are in good hands. You don’t want to convey that you are fine
with anything but you don’t want to be too controlling either. In my
experience, the main way to get this kind of nuance comfortable is with
practice. Stay calm and get ‘er done.
As an ancillary to above point about planning in advance, make sure
that your needs are truly being met. You know how you are supposed to
fake, um, certain other things? Why pretend to be content with
lackluster consideration, then? If everyone else you are with is going
to receive a big, opulent meal, are you going to be fine with a plain
baked potato? Nothing against baked potatoes - potatoes are some of my
best friends - but while everyone else is chowing down, is sitting
there with your plain potato really going to present the best
impression of what it means to be vegan? Beyond just the impression,
are you okay with it? If not, give voice to your needs. Ask questions:
Could I have some steamed veggies with it? Do you have salsa? And so
on. Similarly, if you are invited somewhere that will not accommodate
your dietary needs, you owe it to yourself to let the person inviting
you know why you cannot go there for a meal. It may be a situation
where you can present alternatives (such as with a group of friends)
and it may not be (such as the annual holiday meal at your boss’s
favorite steakhouse), but if suggesting alternatives is an option, do
so. Remember that being polite is a cornerstone of PACE-ing yourself,
and so is being candid. They do not need to cancel each other out.
Bring your A-game.
If this is a social situation where food is being brought by
party-goers, such as a potluck, bring the best dish you can. (Bring
dessert, too!) If you’re not a good cook or you don’t enjoy cooking,
bring something delicious from your favorite restaurant or consider
paying a friend who is a great cook to prepare something. Sorry:
bringing a bag of tortilla chips will not cut it, my friend. It is also
my experience that vegan dishes, full of alluring, pretty colors and
unusual ingredients, create a lot of buzz and interest so be sure that
you bring plenty of it and are open to lots of questions.
Stand up for yourself.
Playful teasing is one thing, but if people start making fun of your
decision to be vegan or are insensitive about the animals, you not put
up with it. If you are uncomfortable, you shouldn’t play along. If
you’re one of those quick-thinking types who can redirect it, this is
also an option. As with a lot of these points, there are no hard and
fast rules and you have to use your feelings as the barometer.
Lighthearted joking is one thing but making fun, deriding, ridiculing
or disrespecting is never okay. Admittedly, it can be hard to know the
difference, especially if you don’t know the person well. If you do
know the person and he or she has crossed the line, I’ve found that
direct eye contact while saying nothing (no nodding, no smiling) makes
a strong statement without requiring any words. The person usually ends
up feeling uncomfortable and apologizing. You don’t need to say “It’s
okay” if it wasn’t. You also don’t need to storm out in a huff. Keep
perspective. Onward and upward!
Express genuine gratitude for accommodation.
When someone has sincerely attempted to accommodated you, express your
genuine gratitude. Even if the broccoli was over-cooked, even if the
hummus was a cliché, even if the pasta was a little “been there, done
that,” say thank you. Be kind and gracious.
Proselytize or lecture.
As novelist Margaret Atwood wrote, “The truth is seldom welcome, especially at dinner.”
There will be other, better opportunities to educate others. Talking to
people about animal agriculture when they are about to eat a burger is
probably not a recipe for success.
Even if asked, while people are eating, it is not the best time to have
a conversation about why you don’t eat animals and animal products. In
the case of someone asking me, I usually say, “I would love to talk to
you about this. Can we talk after dinner?” This is not to avoid the
subject but to maximize the likelihood of your message being received
Bend over backwards.
Similar to the second point above, don’t say that
everything is okay, for example, eating around cheese, if it’s not
okay. I can tell you from experience that when you try to be an
accommodating, “nice” vegan and you agree to things that bother you,
people will a) always expect for you to continue and b) keep pushing
the boundaries of what is acceptable. One year it’s “I ordered you the
baked potato for the office Christmas dinner” and the next, it’s “Maybe
you can just meet us for drinks later because we’ll be at an oyster
house.” No. Don’t be treated like this.
Have a chip on your shoulder.
In a social situation like this, most likely, some people are already
feeling nervous and judged. Try your best to set a positive tone by
being relaxed, happy and peaceful. Even if you have unresolved old
issues - well, especially if you do - try your best to simply be your
When it comes to our social interactions, a lot our success hinges on
not being a passive spectator, hoping that things will fall into place
or cynically expecting that they won’t. By PACE-ing yourself, you are
being progress-oriented and considerate of others while taking care of
yourself. Ultimately, when we PACE ourselves, we also set the stage for
people getting a positive impression of veganism and make vegans seem
less intimidating and more relatable, which is so essential to people
being able to consider our message.
2013, 2014, Vegan Street