Here at Our Hen House, one of the things that we pride ourselves on is providing a supportive community base for vegans to strengthen their commitment to changing the world for animals. Today’s #ThrowbackThursday post from Nicole Feuerstein highlights the importance of building just such community, and provides tips for how to do it.
This article’s originally appeared on Our Hen House on March 12, 2014. If you’d like to see a certain OHH article resurrected, email us at info [at] ourhenhouse [dot] org.
We’re excited to welcome Nicole Feuerstein to OHH today, to talk a little bit about why “Making Vegan Friends” can be a key ingredient into the longevity of one’s veganism. (Plus, it can be fun. Because you’ve gotta have friends.)
Making Vegan Friends
by Nicole Feuerstein
I decided to go vegan for ethical reasons in 2012, shortly after reading Eating Animals. I felt such despair over the amount of suffering in the world, and I immediately wanted to share my newfound knowledge with my family, friends, and spouse. Like many vegans before me, I assumed that when they learned about animal suffering, they would say, “Oh wow, that’s awful! I’d like to transition towards being vegan, too!” Unfortunately, as you probably know all too well, that wasn’t the reaction I got from most people. Sound familiar?
It can be devastating to feel like the people you love don’t care that their daily choices are causing animals to suffer and die (not to mention the negative effects on their health and the environment). For me, dining with those people turned into a great source of anxiety. Picking restaurants with good, vegan-friendly options made me feel like I was being a nuisance, while at the same time dining at places with bad vegan options made me feel annoyed – eating vegan is so much better than this crappy plain iceberg lettuce salad, guys, I swear! And, of course, watching friends continue to blissfully eat the products that were a result of so much suffering was depressing as hell. (Sound familiar, too?)
I was having a hard time being the “joyful vegan” that Colleen Patrick-Goudreau was telling me to be on her podcast because I was so angry at the world. I remember even searching online for the term “vegan town” because I wanted to escape the meat-eating ignorance-is-bliss world around me. (I found a “veggie forum” discussing the fantasy of a vegan-only town, but soon realized that this might not be such a perfect idea after all. We’ll never change the world if we’re not living in it. Sigh!) So, back at the drawing board.
Then it dawned on me. There was a simpler solution to continuing to live in the real, if deeply flawed world, while feeling a bit happier: I needed some vegan friends!
Here are some tips on how to connect with others who share your values so that you, too, can keep your sanity and be reminded that there is hope for the animals – and for the world:
1. Volunteer. You know how passionate you’re feeling right now about veganism? Well, volunteering with a local, animal rights organization is a great way to meet others who aren’t just vegan but, like you, are ready to shout it from the rooftops in order to help make the world a better place. Once you’ve become friendly with other activists, make plans to volunteer together at upcoming outreach events. And make sure to meet for lunch beforehand, or dinner afterwards (at a restaurant that you’ll all be excited to dine in, no doubt!), to give yourselves some time to chat – since you’ll likely be spending much of the event talking to the public about how awesome being vegan is!
2. Go to MeetUp events. Check online to see if any vegan MeetUp groups exist in your area. (If not, maybe it’s time for you to start one!) You may end up sitting with people from outside of your normal social circle from time to time, but at least you’ll meet some kind, thoughtful people – even if they don’t become your new BFFs. At some point, you’re bound to find someone – or hopefully multiple someones – with whom you click. And that’s when you put tip number three into action…
3. Make fun plans with those cool vegan peeps! Don’t rely on special events organized by others just to hang out with your new acquaintances. Your aim isn’t to just meet people who are vegan so that you can talk about gestation crates, but to form true, multi-dimensional friendships. So go to the movies together, have a game night at someone’s house, go snow tubing or skiing or bike riding or hiking – whatever your compassionate hearts enjoy doing most! These friendly, casual outings will help to deepen your friendships into more than just talking vegan shop, as I like to call it – although that’s always a coup, too!
4. Don’t forget about your not-yet-vegan friends. How’s that Girl Scout song go? Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold. While it can indeed be frustrating to watch your friends keep eating meat, milk, and eggs, remember that we, too (or at least the vast majority of us), used to consume those same things. If you asked me just three years ago if I ever would become vegan, my answer would have been “No – it seems extreme!” But once I finally fully understood the reasons behind it, I realized veganism isn’t extreme – in fact, it’s the most logical thing in the world. (What’s extreme is the horrific way we’re treating animals.) We can politely provide friends with the information that turned the light on for us, and ask that they consider it, but no one will ever make the change until they’re ready to. Think about it: If we’re off living in our vegan-only town, who would be around as an example to others of how to be vegan in the real world? If we hang around to plant seeds of compassion, then hopefully one day we’ll be around see that compassion blossom!
And if you’re still obsessed with the idea of living in a vegan-only community? Apparently, some do exist! Or, you can bide your time and hope to be one of the first citizens of the vegan-only colony on Mars. I, however, plan to keep living amongst the rest of the population in the hopes that I can help empower others to live more compassionate and healthier lives, so that we can indeed change the world for animals.
Nicole Feuerstein lives in Falls Church, VA and works for the federal government. In her spare time, she runs VegFallsChurch.org, and she recently launched HealthyCrystalCity.com to support the weekly Healthy Eating Club that she started at work. Nicole enjoys volunteering with local animal rights organizations, organizing outreach events, visiting farmed animal sanctuaries, reading, singing, cooking, gardening, interior decorating projects, playing Cards Against Humanity, and walking with her rescued dog, Tater.