While it may seem like having different dietary restrictions only affects your diet, in reality, it affects so much more than that. Unfortunately, something not often discussed when it comes to the topic of different people's diets is the social aspect. If you look back to a pre-pandemic time when everyone freely gathered, many, if not most, of those social events, whether it be with one person or a large family, centered around food.
This emphasis on food can be frustrating when it comes to social gatherings, which can be so culturally important. Social gatherings are clearly a big deal for many, but they are even more momentous for those who have recently made changes in their diet since family and friends can make either hurtful or helpful comments about such changes.
There are several reasons I became vegan. Some of the reasons are human rights and animal rights issues, especially when it comes to factory farming. Factory farming also plays a large role in environmental issues. While those may seem like three separate issues, they are actually all interconnected.
According to the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, "Industrial livestock operations produce 1 billion tons of phosphorous and nitrogen-rich waste annually in the U.S. alone." Such factory farming operations produce a chain-reaction of effects as this waste results in water pollution to millions of miles of bodies of water in the U.S. and threatens local communities' clean water supply.
Other more personal reasons I decided to go vegan were health-related. While talking to my doctor in addressing issues, changing my diet was part of it. My doctor knew I was vegetarian at the time, so we decided I would be able to take it a step further. It is incredibly important to note a person's diet is their choice. Being vegan works for me but does not necessarily work for everyone. People should understand, since our bodies and lives are all different, our diets are going to be very individual as well.
While some people are very understanding about the variety of reasons people may have different diets than what is considered the norm, others are not as considerate. BBC published an article by Zaria Gorett detailing the psychology of why some may be ridiculously offended by veganism.
"Hank Rothgerber, a social psychologist at Bellarmine University, Kentucky, thinks it all comes down to answering the question: how do we continue to eat meat?" Rothberger suggests meat-eaters dissociate from the violent realities behind an animal-based meal, but vegans' dietary habits tend to remind them of those realities. Thus, this results in a tension which causes a general dislike for vegans.
As the only vegan person in my family, I tend to just bring my own food to family events. For a while, I tried to be accommodating and eat some of the food because I did not want to offend them. Being understanding of someone bringing their own food and not making a big deal about it is important. Typically, at celebratory events like birthdays or major achievements, the person being celebrated is often the one who chooses the meal. While my non-vegan brother and cousins easily have a variety of options to choose from, I have many things to consider and end up having conversations with family I did not have before. In the short-term, this is not a big deal, but it does influence the way my family sees my lifestyle.
Phrasing questions in a respectful way and not treating restrictions as a burden is important to gain an open mindset for a person's different lifestyle. For those who want to take their understanding a step further, maybe have at least one dish your vegan friend or family member can eat. For example, if you have a salad, then maybe have some of the toppings on the side. Drastically changing your diet might be easy for you like it was for me. When it comes to your family and other loved ones, this change may take more time for them to process. Normalizing your diet is part of this process, so making family aware of foods they may already be eating which are vegan can help. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals provides a list of foods and snacks which are already vegan such as Jolly Rancher Hard Candy, Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch, LaCroix Sparkling Water and Starbucks Unsweetened Black Iced Coffee, among others.
Dietary restrictions can also affect romantic relationships. As a single person who is vegan, I have no need to learn how to cook non-vegan foods. If someone is not open-minded about food, it can lead to odd conversations. I have been in relationships in which my diet was criticized or where I was expected to change to a "normal" diet if the relationship continued. This is clearly not OK and further proves the significance of having an open mindset and willingness to understand.
Overall, when it comes to dietary restrictions, it is important to approach the topic not from an offended or defensive place but one of understanding. There is still unfortunately a stigma around dietary choices people make, so there needs to be more respect from the important people in our lives when it comes to this topic. It should not be the goal to make someone change their diet because it is not normal to you. Instead, we should respect others and not try to make them feel like outcasts.