“Are there people who can’t go vegan?”

The question of people who cannot go vegan is usually raised in one of two contexts. It is either asked by vegans as a genuine question as to what sort of circumstances might prevent a person from going vegan, or it is raised as a “gotcha” by those who consume animals as a criticism of veganism as a movement. In either case, the answer is a little more complex than you might expect.

It is first necessary to define what it actually means to be vegan. Veganism is defined by The Vegan Society as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” It should be obvious that under this definition, anyone can be vegan. Anyone can seek to avoid animal exploitation as far as is possible or practicable for them, regardless of their living situation, finances or disabilities.

Built into the very definition of what it means to be vegan is the acknowledgement that it is not we cannot expect perfection, all that can be expected of vegans is the honest effort to do their very best to avoid all animal exploitation as far as they are able to. So long as you are doing that then according to The Vegan Society’s own definition, you are vegan.

However, this is not usually what people mean when they say the word vegan. A word’s founding definition and it’s common usage are often different things entirely, and that is very much the case with the word vegan. Both vegans and carnists use the word interchangeably with being completely animal product free, and particularly with consuming a 100% plant based diet.

This definition prescribes not only a philosophy or the striving for an ideal, but something we actually achieve, in that we need to be 100% plant based to be able to use it. Under this limited definition of veganism, it has to be acknowledged that while there is no vitamin, nutrient or mineral which cannot be obtained on a vegan diet, there are some people for whom it is not possible at this stage in their lives to live a completely vegan lifestyle.

The reasons for this are diverse, and summing them all up here would be impractical, but so I will instead choose a few select examples. While no one has ever been able to name me a physical health issue which makes going vegan impossible, there are a myriad of other health problems which can present significant and sometimes insurmountable barriers to going vegan.

The most common of these is probably those in recovery from or currently suffering from eating disorders. While many people find veganism hugely helpful for recovery in that it redefines food as a positive thing, others find the restriction, ingredient checking and general conscious focus on food, which is such an inherent part of especially early veganism, to be highly triggering.

Many people worry, quite understandably, that this will cause them to relapse back into unhealthy eating or purging behaviours. It would be inadvisable for some of these people to attempt a transition to eating 100% plant based, and instead it would be better for them to focus on recovery until they are in a better position to make the decision to go vegan a little later in life.

Similarly, there are certain food sensitivity issues which can make veganism very difficult if not completely inaccessible. This is not usually the case with ordinary allergies, but some people do have extreme aversions to certain food types and will consistently eat the exact same food over and over.

This can be the result of being autistic, of extreme intolerance and allergies, and while it is far from healthy to live this way, pressuring these people to further restrict their options would be irresponsible, again this may change later in life, but it a genuine issue which can prevent someone from eating entirely plant based. Plant based options come in a very wide variety of textures and most vegetables score very low on the allergen scale, so there issues may be rare, but they are legitimate and should be taken into account when advocating.

A different but related reason why someone may claim they cannot go vegan is that they rely on medication which contains animal products or is tested on animals. This is the case for most prescribed medicines due to drug safety laws in most countries, so it is pretty much unavoidable. These people usually fail to appreciate that there is a general consensus among vegans that nothing you don’t have a choice about makes you any less vegan, especially when it is required for your health. No good vegan will ever shame someone for the medicine they have to take in order to look after their physical or mental health, plenty of vegans take non-vegan medications so this is a non-issue.

Claims are often made about physical health issues preventing people from going vegan, people often reference “certain diseases” but almost no one ever wants to be specific. Taking these claims on good faith, it is likely that many people are told by their doctor that their disorder or condition means they cannot go vegan, when this may not quite be the case. General practitioners receive startlingly little training on nutrition, something medical students frequently raise as a concern.

This means that a doctor is not much more likely than the general population to know anything about nutrition, this won’t come as a surprise for many vegans, since most of us can recall occasions of doctors blaming completely unrelated health issues on veganism, even when they actually pre-date our adoption of the diet. Some conditions commonly named are the likes of anaemia and diabetes, but neither of these in any way require the consumption of animal products, in fact many report an improvement of their symptoms after going vegan. It is important to realise however, that just because a physical health issue doesn’t make going vegan impossible it can still make it more difficult, so these concerns should always be treated seriously and help offered to work around it.

In others cases, someone can be physically and mentally capable of living a vegan lifestyle, but is unable to due to their living situation. If someone is living with a parent, guardian or carer who they are financially dependent on, it is likely this person controls what foods are available in the household, and if they are not supportive of veganism it just may not be an option. The compromise in this situation is usually to eat vegan whenever there is an option to do so, especially when eating out or buying your own food. Similarly, in areas of food deserts or indigenous sustenance hunting communities, the availability of plant based options at reasonable prices can be extremely poor, making a fully vegan diet unobtainable for some.

None of this means that we shouldn’t be advocating veganism widely and consistently, or that we need to put disclaimers on the bottom of every post about going vegan that we aren’t talking to people who can’t. But developing an understanding of some of these situations is important for effective activism, since offering to find ways to help someone be as vegan as they can be is far more likely to encourage someone to try than calling them a liar or asking them to prove their disability to you.

I find it is always best to give people the benefit of the doubt, and work with the existing limitations they have given you. No one should be required to prove a disability or health issue to you, take people at their word and work with the limitations they have given you, it is seldom the case that there isn’t something which can be done to help someone move closer to a vegan lifestyle, even if they can’t avoid all animal products just yet.

The key is to challenge this all or nothing mentality which people tend to have when it comes to veganism, that if you can’t do it 100% then there is no point in trying. We need to emphasise the fact that none of us are perfect, that veganism is about doing your best, and that no one will shame you for falling short if you are genuinely doing all that you possibly can. Being inclusive in our activism means that these people will feel much more able to come to us for support on how to approach veganism within their means, rather than simply dismissing the lifestyle as unobtainable.

“What if I can’t go vegan?”

Veganism is generally very accessible, affordable and healthy, and the wide range of plant based options make it an option for the vast majority of people. However, there does exist some significant barriers to eating and living 100% plant based, ranging from those in recovery from eating disorders, to lack of food availability and extreme food sensitivity.

It is important to acknowledge however, that veganism is not about perfection, it is about doing the most you can to reduce the harm you cause., given your situation. The definition of veganism is  a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. This definition contains an acknowledgement of the fact that it is not always possible or practicable to avoid all animal products all of the time, it asks only that we do our absolute best at all times, and anyone can do that. No vegan is perfect, and there are things which are just not possible to completely avoid, such as animal tested medication, but no good vegan will ever criticise you for falling short if it is essential and no reasonable vegan alternative exists.

In terms of food, I find that most of the time when someone says they cannot go vegan, they usually can. It is not that they are lying, it is often just that people are not aware of the wide variety of plant based options, or alternatives for food they are allergic to or intolerant of. Sometimes it is also the case that they have been advised by a doctor that they cannot go vegan, but keep in mind that doctors are generally very poorly informed on nutrition as do not receive much training on it, and don’t tend be any better informed about veganism than the general population is.

A qualified nutritionist with a knowledge of plant based nutrition will be better placed to advise, but even then, find out specifically what it is you need, and you will almost definitely be able to find a viable plant based source for it. There is no know physical health issue that absolutely necessities the consumption of animal products, and there is no vitamin, mineral or nutrient which cannot be obtained on a vegan diet.

In cases where a 100% plant based diet is not achievable, people often assume that it is an “all or nothing” kind of lifestyle, and that if you can’t do it all you shouldn’t do any of it. The best thing to do in this situation however, is to try to eat as plant based as you are able to and follow vegan principles as much as your condition or situation allows. This means eating vegan whenever it is in your power to do so, whether that is ordering out, or just replacing meats and animal products with good plant based foods whenever possible.

There is no health reason why someone would not be able to stop using animal fabrics, for example, or to boycott animal tested cosmetics and cleaning products. By doing these things, you would be doing everything you can to avoid cruelty to and exploitation of animals as far as is practicable for you, which is what veganism is all about. I would suggest having a look at my guide to going vegan and just seeing which of these things you can do and which you don’t feel able to attempt yet, and using one of the incremental methods to take it slowly.

We are in a situation where animal agriculture is destroying our planet, is driving species extinction, is using an unconscionable amount of resources, is exploiting humans and killing trillions of animals per year. In that context, we all need to do everything we can to oppose it, even if what we can do isn’t a complete boycott. Veganism is not about moral puritanism, no good vegan will ever judge you if you are doing all you physically can.

Besides, any money you can take away from animal agriculture industries is a good thing, and if everyone couldn’t eat completely plant based did this it would have real impact. Just do what you can, no one can ask more than that. If you need any help and support doing this, whether it’s general advice or personalised meal plans, then feel free to send me an ask or a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

“How can I get my parents to support me?”

If you’re living with your parents or are otherwise financially dependent on them, getting their approval and support can be a significant barrier to going vegan, especially if they are paying for your food. I find that most of the time when parents object to their child going vegan, they do so for practical reasons more than anything else. Objections usually centre around finances, health, convenience, though in some case ethics enters into the conversation too.

When it comes to health, keep in mind that your parents were very likely raised on The Food Pyramid, which was an education initiative sponsored by the meat and dairy industries. The result of this is that they, like most of us, have grown up believing wholeheartedly that a balanced diet must include meat and dairy. You probably already know that this is false, but it will allay a lot of their fears if you can prove that fact to them.

To help you do that, I have a bunch of facts, statistics and health reports on my references page. If your parents are willing to read them then they may prove helpful. It may be more likely that they’ll watch a documentary with you, in which case What The Health on Netflix is a good option, as is Forks Over Knives. Even something as simple as pointing out how many vegan athletes there are can go a long way in persuading them that you can be very healthy while following a vegan diet.

In terms of cost, it’s a really common myth that being vegan costs more. Your parents will have likely walked through a supermarket and seen the faux meats and such, which while comparable in price to mid-range meat, they can be quite expensive for what they are, as unlike meat and dairy they are not subsidised by taxpayer money. It’d be easy to see these products and assume that veganism as a diet is expensive, but you don’t need to buy any of these products to be vegan. Real vegan staples are things like pastas, rice, noodles, beans, lentils, chickpeas, breads, nut butters, frozen fruits and canned vegetables; these represent some of the cheapest and most nutritious food in any supermarket and they’re widely available. If your parents really got a chance to see what a poor vegan eats in a day, it would calm a lot of their fears. You may find my budgeting page useful for this.

I’d say that convenience is probably the most common objection, it isn’t often said outright that convenience is the issue, but a lot of the time what it comes down to is that your parents are worried that it’ll involve a lot of extra effort to accommodate you. It is up to you then, to make your transition to veganism as smooth and effortless for them as you possibly can. You could volunteer to cook your own meals if you don’t already, you could shop for/pay for your own food if that’s a possibility, you could accompany them to the supermarket to point out good vegan options, or you could make a list if that would be easier for them.

Just showing them the kind of meals you can make and how simple the food can be can sometimes be enough, because many people just can’t conceive of what a meal without animal products even looks like, and they object because they are picturing themselves having to buy expensive ingredients and cook from scratch because none of the meals they cook for you now are vegan. This isn’t the case of course, but it will take some time for them to realise how simple and straightforward cooking and eating vegan can be.

If the discussion moves on to the ethics of veganism, how it isn’t natural, how it isn’t making a difference or similar conversations, then you need to be prepared to defend your beliefs on the ethics of animal rights, for that I have a page devoted to debunking these arguments, and it may be worth reading through the education section more generally.

This research is necessary mostly to prevent yourself getting frustrated rather than trying to win a debate, because it’s important to go into these discussions having already accepted that it is unlikely you will ever get them to change their minds. Parents are unfortunately seldom willing to admit they are wrong when their child believes differently than they do, so it may just be necessary to affirm, clearly but politely, that this is what you believe in, it is very important to you and you hope that they can supportive.

The early days of your veganism may be difficult with them, but even if they are never supportive of it, they usually learn to adapt and accept it. The really important thing in the first few weeks and months is to be patient with them, be polite but firm with your boundaries. If you are willing to compromise and eat non-vegan things because they have bought them or served them to you, then they will take that to mean that you will bend on these things in future, too. When it comes to your veganism, people will generally continue to push your limits if you show them that you will bend. It makes it more difficult, but being firm and uncompromising in the early days will pay off in the long run, when they realise that this is something that you just won’t budget on regardless of the context.

If none of this proves effective, if you have the option to do so you can still insist on it, and simply refuse to eat anything which isn’t vegan. It may take a few days, but they will likely get the message that this isn’t a fad, and most won’t let you go hungry. If they have refused and you are unconvinced they will ever relent or it is unsafe for you to disobey them, then you may just have to be as vegan as you can be under the circumstances.

This means eating vegan whenever what you eat is your choice, and buying vegan items whenever you are able to. This isn’t your fault, and you can still make some difference for animals and keep your parents happy until you are able to move out. If your parents ask you anything you can’t answer, or you run into any specific issues or need further support, please feel free to get in touch by sending me a message or an ask; it may take a couple of days to reply to you due to the volume I receive, but I’ll be more than happy to help you.

“How do I stay vegan?”

There are a great deal of resources around for how to go vegan, but not so when it comes to staying vegan. Veganism can often be represented as easier than it is, and that can leave many people feeling like they are failing to meet the grade when they do end up struggling. But finding veganism difficult doesn’t make you a bad vegan, veganism is about doing your best to avoid animal exploitation as far as is possible; so long as you’re doing your best then no one can ask more of you than that. There are a few things you can do however, to make things a little easier for yourself if you are finding things too difficult to handle, whether you’re a new vegan or an experienced one who has just lost their way.

Firstly and most importantly, recognise the fact that most of what is required to stay vegan is the motivation to do so. If you’re losing your passion for it or you have forgotten why you got into it in the first place then you are always going to struggle, so try to remind yourself of what you made this commitment and why should continue with your veganism. How to do this will be different for everyone, but try to remember what inspired you.

Was it a documentary? A book? A visit to a particular place or a conversation with a particular person? Try to repeat it as best you are able to. Watch new documentaries you haven’t seen before, read books on animal rights, if you’re aware of the treatment of farmed animals then look into the philosophy of animal rights, the history of animal liberation- there is so much more to explore, you’ll find plenty in my education and resources sections. The key is to re-inspire yourself, if you can get that passion back then there are very few obstacles to your veganism that you won’t be able to overcome.

Being vegan can be really isolating and that doesn’t help with your morale, so getting more involved with the vegan community can be a really good thing. Follow active vegan accounts on social media, get involved in discussions about animal rights, respond to posts from people considering veganism and offer them help, you’ll inspire and be inspired by others, and it may help you get back some of your passion. You may find that there are others struggling with your same issues, and besides that, immersing yourself in vegan conversations and seeing vegan posts can help you feel much less alone; it will remind you that you’re not the only person who thinks this way.

Find a vegan account whose advice you trust and send them a private or an anonymous message, explain your situation and the difficulties you’re experiencing, sometimes just talking to someone who understands can be enough to get you on the right track, even if they can’t offer any useful advice. I myself am always willing to talk to people who are struggling with veganism, I won’t publish private messages unless specifically given permission and I won’t judge you. You can get in touch with me anonymously on tumblr, or through the contact page above.

If you’re already involved with the vegan community, then try getting more active and taking part in protests and activism. I’ve found this a great way to keep myself inspired, it helps me feel like I’m having an impact so I don’t get overwhelmed by all the cruelty taking place, and how futile it can all sometimes feel. Having a real impact that you can see and talk to someone about is incredibly motivating. Whether it’s a vigil outside of a slaughterhouse or making a vegan blog to try to spread the message, any involvement is a good thing.

If you’re nervous  and don’t feel like activism would be a good move for you, then volunteering at a rescue or a sanctuary, or even just visiting one for a day, can help remind you of the animals we do this for. It can be so easy to focus on ourselves and forget that veganism isn’t really about us, they’re the ones who are really important and re-focusing on that fact may really help you out.

For many people, a big part of the struggle is with food, but if this doesn’t apply to you then feel frees to just skip this section. If you are finding eating vegan difficult, a great thing to do is to try to immerse yourself in more cooking and recipes. Buy yourself a couple of recipe books or check out my food section, and commit to trying at least one new recipe and one new food per week, which you don’t normally cook or eat. This will add to your list of dishes you can make and enjoy, and it’ll help break up the monotony for you a little bit if you are finding it boring.

If there is a specific product you miss or are experiencing cravings for, then your one food that week could be a vegan version of that food, whether ready-made or one you incorporate into your cooking, like a vegan cheese or plant milk. I also have a separate post on dealing with in my FAQs. You could also try buying your food from somewhere you wouldn’t usually, a Chinese market, an international foods store or a farmer’s market, try new ingredients and new sauces you’ve never had before. Go to a vegetarian/vegan restaurant you’ve never been to, even if it’s far away from you, travel and make it a day out. This will show you how good vegan food can be if you can stick with it and get more practice.

Sometimes the problem is less to do with practical issues or even motivation, but it’s more about struggling with being vegan in a non-vegan world. It’s not just isolation that can be difficult, but people often respond to vegans with a shocking level of aggression, outright mockery or just fail to show any sensitivity to how we feel about animals being harmed. On top of that, there is living with the knowledge of how bad things really are for animals, and how many are suffering all over the world. There is no easy fix for this problem, but I have some advice that may be helpful to you in my FAQs.

Just try to remember too, that going vegan and staying vegan do have a real, measurable impact, on everything from animal lives to the environment and resource use. When you consider the fact that you are part of a larger collective too, you start to feel a lot less helpless. As a vegan you are a visible example of the fact that we don’t have to eat animals, and even if you don’t realise it, you are making others think twice about their own consumption.

You never know how many seeds you have planted and how many you will inspire to go vegan, but you can only do that and have that impact if you stick with it. At the very least, you are not directly taking part in the exploitation and death of another sentient being, and that really does matter.

Vegans don’t talk about the difficulties they have with their vegansim nearly often enough, for fear of being called selfish or a “bad vegan.” But there is nothing wrong with struggling, and far more vegans will be struggling with the same issues as you are than will ever talk about it openly. Veganism isn’t always easy, but it absolutely is worth it, you are making a real difference in the lives of other beings and our planet, you will never know quit how much impact you’ve already had, and you never will if you give up.

There is no shame in struggling; veganism is about doing your best, and so long as you’re doing that then you’re as vegan as anyone is. If there is anything at all you need help with or you just want to vent, please feel free to get in touch with me, I am always happy to listen and offer what advice I can.

“How do I deal with all the cruelty?”

Out of all the frequently asked questions in this series, this is probably the one I get most often. Being vegan in an overwhelmingly anti-vegan world can be a profoundly isolating experience, and having to live in a society which is built on animal suffering can have a real impact on mental health. As any vegan will tell you, the most difficult part of the lifestyle isn’t the food, it’s coping with constant exposure to animal cruelty and dealing with other people.

The sense of sadness and anger that comes from knowing the things we know will be familiar to every vegan, where you used to see sausages and bacon you now see dismembered bodies, and what used to be innocuous adverts make you angry and disgusted, as cartoon caricatures of animals are used to advertise the sale of their own dead bodies.

This knowledge can be hard to cope with, especially when people dismiss these facts as propaganda, call you a “preachy vegan” for even talking about it, or just make bacon jokes at your expense when you try to share the things you have learned. Knowing about the horrific atrocities being committed can be a burden, and can create a sense of powerlessness, especially when others just don’t seem to care about it.

This knowledge can be hard to cope with, especially when people dismiss these facts as propaganda, call you a “preachy vegan” for even talking about it, or just make bacon jokes at your expense when you try to share the things you have learned. Knowing about the horrific atrocities being committed can be a burden, and can create a sense of powerlessness, especially when others just don’t seem to care about it.

One of the issues is that vegans don’t feel able to really talk about this in public spaces, for fear of being mocked, which has the effect of isolating people and discouraging them from airing these feelings openly. Vegans are very far from being an oppressed group, but there is a very real stigma surrounding veganism, and several unhelpful stereotypes which are the topics of frequent criticism and public ridicule.

Every vegan is expected to be able to “take a joke” when the content of that joke is making light of animal suffering, and we are all expected to want to, and be able to, defend ourselves against almost constant questions, criticisms of veganism and imaginary scenarios. Vegans are one of the few groups who it is considered socially acceptable to bully and insult, even among social justice advocates, since vegans are unfortunately still widely disliked. All of this can lead to some real difficulties, especially if you are shy or socially anxious.

There is nothing I can really say that will solve any of these problems for you, I can only advise based on what I think are good ways of coping. Firstly, though you may feel isolated with few or no vegan friends, know that there is an active and welcoming community of vegans on every social media platform, finding them and getting involved with them can be a great way of transcending those feelings of isolation.

Being among like-minded people can be a really healing experience, and it helps remind you that you’re not extreme, you’re not alone in thinking this way and that so many other people are dealing with the same issues and struggles that you are. This can also help you become a better advocate for animals, we can make contacts and we can earn from each other’s arguments, as well as finding healthier ways of coping with the struggles which being vegan can bring.

My chief recommendation would be to channel that anger and sadness into something positive, whether it’s through an outlet like writing or art, or through actively engaging in activism on the streets or online. This can be a really positive and healthy outlet, not to mention the difference it can make for animals by encouraging others to go and stay vegan. Activism can be really challenging, but it is incredibly rewarding and it is a good way to counter those feelings of helplessness and isolation.

Even on your worst days, knowing you’re making a difference and helping people to go vegan is a really positive thing. You should be prepared for failure in advocacy too, you will get negative reactions and more often than not people will be unwilling to hear the message, but just the act of being out there and doing something can make you feel much less powerless and much less alone.

Besides that, there are many others positive aspects of veganism which you should immerse yourself in. Reading books, watching documentaries and communicating those messages to others will re-ignite your passion for veganism if you are beginning to find it difficult, and the facts and argument you inevitably learn from doing this can help you deal with the objections and criticisms of non-vegans much easier.

I’d really recommend visiting or even volunteering at a farm sanctuary if you have the opportunity to do so, even if it’s something you can only do once, seeing animals in such a positive setting can do wonders for your mental health, and it’ll remind you of the reason we do all of this, and of the fact that not all animals live miserable lives. That connection to nature is something we need as humans, and it can have a profound impact on your mood and your perspective on veganism going forward.

Just as there are many things you should be doing, there are some things you should avoid. While watching documentaries, reading books and keeping up to date on what is happening in the world of animal rights can be really positive, there is just no need to subject yourself to graphic scenes or descriptions if they are going to upset you. Once you’ve seen Earthlings once you don’t need to see it again, and since you’re already vegan it’s perfectly fine for you to avoid engaging in images of animal abuse, since you aren’t contributing to it yourself.

This sounds so obvious, but I have met so many vegans who watch these videos on a regular basis and find it deeply upsetting, but they continue to do so out of some sense of wanting to bare witness. If you already know what happens to farmed animals then it’s perfectly reasonable for you to protect yourself by avoiding watching the footage unless you are going to make use of it in your advocacy, in which case you should know what you are sharing.

There are several things about being vegan which are not easy, but veganism is a profoundly positive thing, and even those who struggle with these issues will tell you that their only regret is that they didn’t do it sooner. Being vegan is not something to mourn, but something to celebrate. We are a movement with a long history, we have a vibrant and diverse community all across the world, our own inside jokes, our own culture, music, literature, philosophy and art. By being vegan you are doing something unequivocally positive, and though it may not feel like it, you absolutely are making a difference. We are on the right side of history, and when you are being mocked or dismissed, take comfort in the fact that this is the same treatment which activists of all types have been subject to all throughout history. You are most definitely in good company.

“How do I deal with negativity towards my veganism?”

It is often said that the hardest thing about being vegan is not the food, it’s dealing with other people. Despite it’s growing popularity, there is still a noticeable stigma surrounding veganism, and often extraordinary negativity and aggression is levelled at vegans for little more than revealing the fact that they don’t believe in animal exploitation. Even among the socially conscious, mocking and sometimes outright bullying vegans is still seen as socially acceptable, and we remain the butt of many cruel jokes and harmful stereotypes.

Making this even worse is the fact that vegans don’t often feel like they can discuss these issues openly, for fear of people claiming they are “making themselves out to be oppressed.” This can and does have a very real impact on the mental health of vegans, particularly those with existing issues like anxiety and depression. 

The first thing to do is to recognise what you can control and what is out of your hands. You can’t control what people post on the internet about vegans, but you can control which behaviours you accept and which ones you don’t. Setting clear boundaries when it comes to your veganism is incredibly important, though many people mock us intentionally to be hurtful, friends and family often don’t understand quite how hurtful some of these barbs can be, and how important our veganism is to us.

What you are okay with brushing off and what you will stand up against sets a precedent; if you argue against anyone who ever makes a vegan joke you’ll wear yourself out and likely give them the rise they want, but at the same time, just grinning and bearing it sets a precedent that this treatment is something you will allow.

Where you draw your line is entirely up to you. Personally, jokes about protein and vegans being preachy don’t bother me in the slightest, I actually make these jokes about myself all the time, partly because I think they’re relatively harmless and partly because it reclaims those jokes rather than having them be something which could be used against me. Jokes about animal cruelty though I will not accept, because that joke is at the expense of suffering animals, not just me, so I think that’s an important thing to call out.

We can choose to accept jokes aimed at ourselves and even turn them into a friendly way of starting a conversation about veganism, but we should never allow people to turn the oppression of animals into something they can feel okay laughing at in front of us. There are too few of us to remain silent, and it’s rare that anyone who isn’t vegan is going to speak out in defence of animals in these situations, so it is up to us to do so.

Wherever you draw your line, letting people know when they’ve crossed it doesn’t have to be confrontational, in fact I find that showing your anger or hurt over it can often make people worse. The thing I have found most effective is to calmly but firmly say “I don’t think that’s funny.” You don’t have to extrapolate or justify it, in fact, saying this and nothing else often makes the encounter awkward enough for the person making the joke that they will think twice before doing it again, it doesn’t give them the rise they might want and won’t cause unnecessary conflict. If they do ask why, you should either keep your response short, honest and matter-of-fact, or turn it around and ask them to explain why they think animal cruelty is funny.

Asking anyone to explain any joke is usually enough to kill any humour in it, and again it deprives people of the laugh or offence that they wanted to cause when they made the joke. This sounds really simple and commonsense, but you’re not usually thinking rationally when you or what you believe in is under attack, and these things really do work.

If what is happening is not a joke, but a purposeful attempt to criticise veganism or  vegans in general then they key is to be as educated as possible about the issues likely to be discussed. Fortunately enough, the same dozen or so arguments are recycled time and time again in slightly different forms, so you’ll get plenty of practice in responding to them, and I’ve written a bunch of responses to these here. In all the years I’ve been advocating, I can honestly say that I don’t think anyone has ever presented me with a truly original argument, they all rely on the same fallacies, misconceptions or misinformation.

No matter how anxious these conversations are for you, remember that the key advantage you will always have is that you will usually know far more than the person you’re arguing with, since it’s rare that anyone who isn’t vegan will have ever thoroughly researched animal agriculture unless they live or work around it, and even those in the industry are often shockingly ignorant of certain facts about the production line outside of their own specialised area.

Read the books and watch the documentaries; pretty soon there is no point that any of them will raise against you that you won’t be able to disprove. It’ll get to the point where people just won’t raise these issues around you anymore because they know you’ll have an answer for them, and these people are far more often looking for a “gotcha” card than they are a serious conversation about veganism.

Part of the problem is that you are almost always going to be outnumbered in these situations, surrounded by people who don’t feel as you do and have no issue with you being made fun of for being vegan. That’s why connections with other vegans is so important, it’s likely you don’t really meet other vegans in your daily life since there aren’t that many of us, but there are growing and active communities on every social networking site and there are active groups in most cities.

Spending time with other like-minded individuals, even if it’s just in conversation online, can be really therapeutic, whether you’re engaged in activism together or just having a rant about shared problems. Veganism can be a lonely place to be only if you let it, if you reach out online or to groups in your area you’ll find the vegan community can be really supportive, and we all have similar issues to deal with.

Above all of this advice, try to remember that mockery and derision is what just about every activist of every kind throughout history has been subjected to. We are on the right side of a socially accepted wrong, and regardless of whether or not they admit it, a lot of the people mocking us do so because they know that there is a great deal of truth to what we are saying. We make people uncomfortable because we remind them of the fact that, for most of us, eating animals is a choice.

When there are no vegans around there is no distinction between meat eater and vegan, meat eating is the norm and there is no reason to question it, only when someone criticises that status quo are people forced to think about their behaviour, which is rarely a welcome thing. We remind people of the uncomfortable fact that it is possible to live a healthy lifestyle while avoiding harming animals wherever possible, and worse still, that they are complicit in the deaths of so many innocent, sentient beings.

It falls to us to stand up for animals when no one else will, and though that can be a lonely and isolating thing, we should be immensely proud of the difference we are making. Going vegan is an unequivocally positive change and we cannot let the small-mindedness of those who mock and deride us for it to make us think of it as anything less. If there’s a particular issues you’re struggling with or you just need to vent then please feel free to get in touch, I’d be more than happy to support you in any way that I can.

“How do I travel while vegan?”

Travelling while vegan can be a daunting prospect, particularly when it’s your first time attempting to do so. While difficulty will vary depending on where you travelling to, some of the common issues are language barriers, a lack of knowledge of local food and a lack of understanding in the local area about what veganism means. While these issues are always challenging, there are a few ways you can minimise the chances of being stuck without anything to eat.

The best thing you can do to ensure you’ll be able to eat vegan without issue is to plan ahead. Even if you’re going backpacking, you should know which route you’ll take and where you plan to visit, so you should be able to do some research online about food and restaurants in that area. Websites like Happy Cow are updated locally so there usually some information about vegan friendly spots in the area, and it’s often places you’d never think to look if you’re travelling somewhere for the first time. They also have an app so you can take it with you and search for places on the go by using your location, even if you don’t quite know where you are.  Wherever you’re travelling, there are going to be people who are at least vegetarian, so there will be vegan food available locally, it is just a matter of finding it.

Do some research on google before you travel, get recommendations from other travellers and have a good list of vegan friendly places before you go. Keep in mind that a lot of vegetarian items can be made vegan, and if a restaurant is cited as catering to vegans, there will be something you can eat there. You can also try searching on instagram and pinterest, using #vegantravel, or following vegan travel blogs, Will Travel For Vegan Food is a good example.

The language barrier is often the most significant issue, but you don’t need to become fluent in the local language to go some way towards dealing with this. Learning phrases like “do you have any vegetarian food?” and “does this have dairy/eggs in it?” and of course basic words for “yes” and “no” will really help you out, and locals always appreciate it when foreigners make an effort to learn the basics. Be polite and above all patient, remember that this will be an unusual request in many places so don’t expect the waiter or chef to know exactly what you’re talking about, even if you have learned the right words.

Similarly, try to learn local words for animal ingredients so you can navigate menus, and won’t have to ask about every single item. Just the basics like meat, fish, cheese, butter, cream, eggs etc. will really help you out, and you should carry a notepad with these basic words written down. If you’re really struggling to learn, you could always write down a couple of sentences explaining what you don’t eat, and show it to the waiter or chef. Alternatively, The Vegan Passport from the Vegan Society is an excellent resource and will help with the key phrases you need.

Another area to consider is your accommodation. If your hotel is a chain, chances are they will cater for vegans in some capacity, so you should get in touch with them beforehand. An independent hotel or hostel is less likely to offer anything you can eat, but it never hurts to get in touch with them and just ask the question, so that you’re prepared and you know what you’re dealing with before you arrive. The ideal situation, and often one of the cheapest, is to find a place which has a kitchen on Airbnb.

Keep in mind that not everyone will be happy to guests to use their kitchen if you are just renting a room so you will need to ask about that, but if you’re renting a whole place or have a kitchen you have permission to make use of then you can buy produce locally and prepare your own vegan meals without any issue. You should try to get out and eat locally if you can, just so you can take in the experience, but this is a good option if there are a limited number of restaurants around which you know you can eat at. Don’t forget the flight over either, most airlines now offer a vegan option, but you’ll need to tell them in advance by contacting their customer services line.

Keep in mind that wherever you are, you can always rely on raw food and simple vegetables. Even if there is nothing on menu, most places will have dishes that come with vegetables, rice, potatoes or beans, you can always ask for a meal just including these. This might not be the most exciting meal you could have, but if the choice is between that or not eating then it is worth doing, even if it’s just in a particularly difficult area. You’d be surprised how willing local restaurants can be to cook something delicious for you though, even if it’s not an ordinary request, some of the best meals I’ve had travelling have been ones a kind chef has thrown together on the spot because there was nothing else I could eat.

You may think that poor countries in particular are going to be the most difficult, but most people living in poverty subsist on a primarily vegetarian diet, so there will likely be a cheap, basic vegetable option in most places. You should also try to carry your own snacks along the way in case you can’t find any good vendors, things like protein bars, flap-jacks, pretzels, trail mix and cereal bars are really good to always have in your bag just in case you’re hungry somewhere you don’t know and need a quick bite to eat before you can get to somewhere you can have a proper meal. Likewise, packing some basic condiments to make very simple meals a bit more interesting is always a good idea.

In short, it’s all about planning ahead and being willing to put in the work to make sure your journey is as smooth as you can make it. Depending on how long you’ve been vegan and how committed you are to the ethics, it may be tempting to “cheat” or to say that it “doesn’t count” because you’re away in a foreign country. Keep in mind that veganism is not a diet, it is an ethical position and a way of living, we can’t just put it on hold when it becomes inconvenient for us.

It may make life easier to just be vegetarian for a little while, but it certainly won’t make life any easier for the animals whose products you’re consuming. Even if you have to rely on eating rice and vegetables for two weeks, it is better than compromising your ethics for the sake of a holiday. If there is anywhere specific you’re going and are struggling to find ideas, then please feel free to get in touch.

“Should I date someone who isn’t vegan?”

Who you choose to date is a purely personal decision, and no one can really answer this one for you. It’s something I get asked a lot though, so I’ll just try to run through some of the main issues people experience with dating non-vegans and some things to keep in mind.

It’s important to realise that there aren’t that many vegans in the world. While there has been no international polling on vegan numbers, most estimates place it at 1% of the population or less. If you have a particular gender preference as well, that lowers the number of compatible vegans quite considerably, making your chances of finding a suitable vegan partner pretty low.

There is always the chance that you will meet someone who isn’t vegan and becomes one while they’re with you, due to finding out more about animal agriculture from their conversations with you, but you’d have to be willing to date someone who isn’t vegan in the first place for that to have any chance to happen. If you’re willing to settle for vegetarianism that improves your chances considerably, but they too are still in minority in most countries. Despite the lower chances, there are some obvious reasons why you might want to hold out for one, or at least someone open to it.

Firstly, on a purely practical basis it makes life easier, being able to share the same food makes living together a great deal easier (and cheaper), and sitting down to eat a meal you have prepared for the both of you is an intimate thing. If you are vegan you may be uncomfortable with having animal products in your fridge too, so if you’re with a vegan you have the opportunity to have an entirely vegan household.

There is also the issue that you will probably be unhappy for your money to go towards paying for animal products, so your partner may end up having to buy and pay for some of their food separately to you, as well as preparing it separately. You will also enjoy going to the same sorts of restaurants, meaning a more enjoyable experience dining out for the both of you. Finally, there is the disgust factor from watching someone cook and eat animals in front of you, particularly if you are sharing a cooking space.

What will likely be a bigger issue than any of these will be the divide it creates between people when their views on a particular topic are in direct opposition. This is especially prominent with animal rights, because it tends to be something that vegans are extremely passion about, and in contrast, the general public tend to have a very negative view of it. You can explain the principles behind veganism to your partner, and they can understand the logic, but they will never understand how you feel about it, nor will you ever be able to really understand how they could know what you have told them about animal agriculture and still eat animals. These things do create a divide and can limit how close you can get to someone.

As to whether or not you should, my advice would be to have an honest conversation with your potential partner about veganism, make sure they are at the very least open-minded about the concept, and they aren’t going to mock you for it. If you do decide to start dating someone who eats animals, while it is possible they will become vegan while they are with you, you should never enter a relationship with this as the goal you have in mind.

You either need to enter a relationship with them accepting who they are, or stay single, but you shouldn’t start dating someone with the intention of changing them later, even if you think it would be changing them for the better. Nor should you get into a relationship with someone if you suspect you might not be able to handle the fact that they aren’t vegan, or it’ll result in unnecessary pain for the both of you.

If you do decide to date someone who isn’t vegan, it’s important you set some boundaries in place. Help them understand why you’re vegan, ask them to watch documentaries with you, this doesn’t take long and anyone who really cares about you should want to understand you better. This will help make sure they treat your veganism with the seriousness and the respect it deserves, and will make them appreciate why you feel so strongly about the issue. If you don’t want animal products in your house then warn them of that from the outset, equally, you should tell them if you have any other limits, like not kissing them after they’ve eaten meat, or not wanting them to eat it in front of you.

Ultimately this has to be your decision to make. It doesn’t make you any less of a vegan to be dating someone who eats animals, and we don’t all have the luxury of being able to have a partner who shares our values, and we can’t always choose who we develop feelings for. Relationships can work even if you are very different people, but in those cases having absolute honesty from the outset is even more importance, so that both of you know what to expect from the other.

Regardless of what you decide, stick to your values and don’t be willing to bend on them for anyone else, but nor should you expect anyone else to change theirs for you.

“What do I do if I’ve made a mistake?”

Veganism is often presented as something very easy to achieve, and at it’s heart it is, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t make mistakes along the way. This could be something as simple as forgetting to check the ingredients on a cake mix, or more complicated like an ingredient you just didn’t know was vegan. You may struggle with guilt when you trip up like this even if it wasn’t intentional, and feel like you’ve betrayed your ethics and the animals. There are a few things you can do to help you deal with this though, and to try to minimise the chances of making the same mistake again.

Firstly, acknowledge that you made a mistake, and that there is nothing you can do to change it now. This sounds obvious, but it extends to your thinking as well, it’s hard not to think about what you did, how silly it was, what you should have done instead and to beat yourself up about it over and over. But this kind of shame spiral serves no constructive purpose, what’s done is done and turning it over in your mind will only serve to demotivate you.

You messed up, and you know what? It will happen again, probably more than once. We all make mistakes, and any long term vegan who claims they never have either has any doesn’t know, or is lying. But that’s okay, because veganism is about trying your best, it is about avoiding animal exploitation as far as is practicable. It is not practicable to be perfect all the time and to never make mistakes, but so long as you’re trying your best, you are vegan.

The key is to treat these mistakes as learning experiences. This means that not only are you less likely to repeat the mistake, but also that it won’t have been for nothing. Rather than focusing on the guilt, focus on the actual mistake, think about what happened, when you consumed/used, how it happened, and how you can avoid doing that in future. So if you’ve eaten a cookie that turned out not to be vegan, why did you think it was vegan in the first place? Did you not check the ingredients? Should you have?

In this case, the solution wouldn’t be just to not buy that cookie anymore, but to figure out a way of checking each product to make sure the same mistake not only won’t, but can’t happen again. It’s okay to make mistakes, but if you keep making the same one then there is something wrong with how you’re dealing with that mistake. You could use an app like Is It Vegan to scan bar-codes, you could ingredient check everything, or my own method, googling the brand and item every time you buy something you don’t know for sure is vegan.

If your mistake was less to do with not knowing and more to do with just giving in to temptation, the process remains much the same, except you need to consider what lead up to your own behaviour rather than just focusing on the product. Think on what you’ve eaten, why you’ve eaten it and what the process was which lead up to that mistake. If you’ve binged on non-vegan snacks, was it because you had no vegan snacks to hand? Why did you have non-vegan snacks around in the first place?

What you did was obviously wrong, but the best way to minimise the damage is to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and to do that you need to make the changes to your environment that will allow you to change your behaviour. You could make sure you always have vegan snacks accessible, if you had a craving for a particular product like cheese and just gave in, then take a trip to the supermarket and pick up a few vegan cheeses, see which one you like. You may not be happy with yourself if you binge on these products either, but it’s better if it was something vegan rather than an animal product. Just saying “I won’t do it again” is not enough, you need to consider why you did it, and learn to recognise those situations in the future, and make changes so that in the same position you won’t make the same mistake again.

The most important thing is to not give up. Even if you are continuously making mistakes then you are learning, if you are making the same mistakes however, then it is likely to be more of an issue of motivation. If you find yourself not taking your veganism seriously enough, then be honest with yourself about that, and get re-inspired. Watch documentaries, read books about veganism, follow vegan blogs, get involved with activism, visit an animal sanctuary- whatever it takes to remind you of why you wanted to do this in the first place.

Remember, vegans do have an impact, and if that impact is important enough to you then you will work hard to stop making the same mistakes. So long as you are trying your absolute best then no one can ask more of you than that. If you need any support, please feel free to get in touch and I will more than happy to help in any way that I can.

“When we use other individuals, they have not a thing to call their own; not their bodies, not their children, not even their very lives. Nothing. Reduced to commodities and resources, every moment of their existence is governed by human economics of the service that can be taken from them, the cash value of substances such as milk, eggs, and body fibres that can be stripped from their living bodies, and ultimately the value per kilo of their pitiful corpses hacked and sawed to pieces. Our use of them is thorough and utterly pitiless.”

Linda Clarke