I Want To Go Vegan - But How Do I Deal With The Rest Of The World? And Parties?

I've been asked about this topic so frequently - and by some of my closest family members and friends - that I've decided to do a blog post on it. Many people tell me that they're in love with the recipes in my books, they're fired up after watching "Forks Over Knives" (and/or the heartbreaking "Earthlings") and really want to make a change. They know that they can completely satisfy their taste buds with delicious vegan foods when they're in their own kitchens (or at fabulous vegetarian restaurants), but when they're out, they lose momentum.

And for those of you reading this who are all like "This blog post is lame! I came here for chocolate!" you might want to consider checking out all of what a plant-based (vegan) diet could do for you. As someone who has been vegan for 20 years now, I absolutely love it! The health benefits are amazing, the food is top-notch, and I don't have to worry about so many of the crippling health problems that are running rampant in our society. Win!

You may notice that this is an unusual blog post for me - in length and topic. I toyed with the idea of making it shorter, etc., but decided to give my readers the benefit of the doubt. I hope you will find it useful. And please let me know what you think!

So...here are a few of the questions I'm frequently asked, along with my responses.

"How do I refuse foods with animal products when I'm at someone's house? I don't want to seem rude!"

Trust me, I understand! I hate to seem rude myself and make every effort to be considerate and easygoing. So, here is generally what I would recommend: Ask your host(ess) in advance if there is a dish you can bring to contribute to the gathering. Say "Since I'm eating vegan these days, I'd love to bring a dish to share." That way, you are offering a contribution, letting your host(ess) know you're vegan, and not asking for special favors (though they're implied! ;-)) all at once.

Once you're actually at someone's house, you can just gently ask about the ingredients. You can even say "Sorry to be a pain, but I'm not eating anything with animal products in it. Can you please tell me which foods are vegan?" If you're polite and gentle with your words, you will help eliminate the stigma that vegans are demanding and/or rude. Because most of us aren't! :-)

And last of all, do not feel bad about saying no to many of the foods that are offered. I think we underestimate so many of the people around us! We think they'll be crestfallen if we don't eat all of the foods that are offered. But in truth, you never know where someone is at. Perhaps seeing our example will inspire them to try a healthier diet themselves. Perhaps it will make them use less of the unnecessary animal products in their own meals when they see us making different choices. Don't assume someone is going to be offended by the food choices you make, because perhaps they'll be inspired instead!

And hey, even if they are offended, the truth is that we cannot please people all of the time. If we are generally kind, thoughtful, easygoing, and polite, a few non-mainstream food choices will be no big deal. And again, as a 20-year vegan myself, I can say with confidence that this gets way, way easier with time!

I love the vegan foods from yummy vegetarian restaurants and your books...so I know that you don't need the animal stuff to make food taste amazing! BUT...when I go to parties, events, or restaurants where there isn't exactly a four-star vegan caterer, the choices are insanely boring. Help!

Yeah, I hear you! The thing that immediately comes to mind for me was my 20-year reunion a few years ago. The vegan selections were abysmal. I think I ended up with a salad (even the raspberry dressing tasted like toxic metal - what's up with that??) and some overcooked vegetables. YUM. Oh, and I think I paid like $25 for the privilege of eating that meal, too. Uh, yeah. This, my friends, is why some people think we vegans live on boring food and have a difficult lot in life. Which we don't under any other circumstances!

But yeah, back to the point at hand...what to do? First of all, you usually know when you're going to end up somewhere with crappy food choices. And I'm probably not going to tell you anything here that you haven't heard before. There's no magic solution here. But I will tell you what works every time for me. Here's what I do: First of all, I eat beforehand. Then, I don't really care what they have there for me to eat. Sometimes l also bring a few snacks, just in case. While I'm there, I focus on the non-food aspects, namely the people that I'm there to see! And if it's an event where it's appropriate to bring a dish to share, I always do.

And for those of you who might feel bummed about not indulging in the standard American fare that is being offered, all I can say is that it WILL get easier! If you associate non-vegan food with something that is totally off limits (say, toxic chemicals or garbage), you won't be tempted. I know it sounds like an extreme way to put it, and I hope I'm not offending anyone here. But really, this is how I look at food. It's either FOOD (something that will nourish me) or NON-FOOD (something that will feel like garbage in my body).

In fact, I think that's what helped me so many years ago. I struggled most of all with giving up chicken. Those who knew me back then may even remember me saying "I can give up red meat, but I will NEVER give up chicken!" It was my favorite "food" growing up. Well, once I hit my sophomore year of college and began watching videos on the incredible suffering that goes into producing my beloved fried chicken - and once I began to see how much healthier I was without it - I began to view chicken in a whole different light. I would see a piece of chicken and instantly an image of a sick and suffering chicken would pop into my mind. No thanks!

So, simply put - work on your associations. If there are foods you want OUT of your diet, then begin to change the way you think about them. Associate new images and feelings with those foods. Make it a conscious effort. I can guarantee you, it really does work!

My family is giving me a hard time about being vegan. They say I'm being extreme and also that it's not as healthy as I think. What me do??

Yes, I am also familiar with this one!! Back when I became vegan, most of my family was against the idea. In fact, many of them really gave me sh*t about it! But I stuck with it. And here's what reaaaaally made a difference: I got very good at making delicious vegan foods and invited them over for dinners! It got to the point where they stopped saying things like "What can you even eat as a vegan??" and started saying things like "WOW, I can't believe this is vegan! This is the best thing I ever ate!"

My sweet grandma (lover of chicken pot pie and ham and cheese sandwiches) once said "If you cooked for me, I would go vegan!" So, yeah, get good at cooking. It will do more for gaining support than anything else I could possibly tell you! And for those of you who need some seriously omnivore-converting recipes, be sure to check out my books and this blog for ideas!

Another idea is to watch Forks Over Knives with them. I watched this recently with my mom and she texted me several days later to say she was going vegan!! GO MOM!

My final suggestion is to just be patient and give them time. Not everyone is like my daughter Alethea, who has been a happy vegan all her life. Most of us were also meat-eaters at one point, so let us not forget to be compassionate with others! We win more team members with compassion, understanding, and love than we do with pressure and pushing.

And remember too that people often do not have a complete understanding of nutrition, no matter how many dairy ads they saw as a child! ;-) They really are worried about how you're going to get your protein! But in my case, I just continued to answer their questions with patience. I kept a sense of humor when they teased me (a good sense of humor goes a long way!!). I cooked them insanely delicious food. And now, most of the ones teasing me are now vegetarians or vegans themselves! Patience. Love. Humor. Joy. Deliciousness. Yes, they work wonders! :-)

And last but not least, it's as Einstein (also a vegetarian) once said: "Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means." Just BE that example of great health, joyful living, and compassion, and you will create more positive change than you could ever know.

I hope I answered many of your questions...and if not, let me know! I'm happy to address this subject, as I feel it is really important. Much love and thanks so much for stopping by! xoxo


  1. Great post Tess! I went back and forth on the vegetarian/omnivore train for years until one day I read a quote by Rita Mae Brown. "The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself." I realized that the most important thing is that *I* like my decisions about food and animals.

    I was raised to believe that turning down non-vegan food at other people's houses was rude so that was a tough one. Once I realized that all my omnivore friends had absolutely no problem turning down any vegan food I purchased or cooked, I realized I could do the same. Politely of course! :)

  2. Thanks, Nanette! Excellent comment. xoxo

  3. This is a great post, Tess. I realized that I have to take control of my own health and diet. If I want to eat vegan, then I am responsible for making sure I can find something to eat. Like you said, I usually bring a dish I can eat, but also to share. However, I find that some people find it really frustrating they have a hard time cooking for me, because they would love to show their love in that way. In that case, I direct them to your cookbook. :)

  4. Great post, great comments. I think what you said is totally true--once the doubters taste how good vegan food can be, they have to change their misconceptions. That's been my own experience on this journey: When I'm eating vegan, I'm eating much more interesting, tasty, varied food. Before that, it was the same thing, over and over again--boring, bland food.

    I don't feel deprived, unless I go out with friends. And then the old ways creep back in, as does the voice that says, "This is ridiculous and unsustainable. Who cares??" So perhaps it's time to start making those toxic associations. I think they have already started naturally, certainly with meat.

    And perhaps I need to just keep reminding myself that if I can get over the initial hump, it really will get easier--because the payoff will far outweigh the cost. I believe that for sure.

  5. As usual a funny, sensitive and on target post!

    I find that others usually worry more about what I'll eat and where we eat than I ever would. I figure there will always be something that I can find. And over the years there always has been.

    Well, except for that one time we attended a wedding in Tiny Town, MO. There was really, truely nothing I could eat. Imagine mayo and bacon in everything. A You're-Vegan?-oh-Have-Some-Chicken kind of place. I left the reception literally wimpering, "I just want a little spinach. Please. Something green." That was terrible and hilarious.

    If only I'd followed your suggestion to take snacks!

  6. Great post, Tess! Yes, I have learned to always keep a Lara bar in my purse for "emergencies". My mom and sister both said they could be vegan if I would cook for them, lol! I bring your dishes to work to share with my co-workers and they are always a bit hit and the "I can't believe this is Vegan - it is so GOOD!" lol! I do have to plan more, for example when we go to football games and on trips I take my own food, but I feel so much better without all that junk in my body!

  7. Starting the 1st of January, I decided to try a Vegan lifestyle for one entire season (3 months) I'm one month in and feeling incredible! I love experimenting with 'Earthfood' cooking at home, but it can be tricky when socializing. Thanks so much for all of these great tips!

  8. That is SO great!!! Keep up the fab work! : )