As someone who enjoys socializing over food, I often get unsolicited questions about my choice to be a vegetarian. Be it dining at someone’s home where there are no meatless options present, attending a holiday dinner at a distant relative’s home, or dining out and having to inquire about meatless options not listed on the menu, it’s hard to conceal that I’m a vegetarian when it’s time to eat. Sometimes I want to hide it because I know that I’ll be peppered with questions regarding my diet once people find out or are reminded. However, I’m there to enjoy my friends and family, not start a debate about animal welfare, the food industry, or the health benefits of a meatless diet.
While other vegans and vegetarians may take different approaches when asked questions about their diets, I don’t wish to discuss my reasoning, and I like to make that known from the start. I treat my diet like I treat my political opinions – neither are something I’ll willingly discuss at any time. While I don’t want to counter with, “Why do you care? It’s not like I ask why you eat meat?” when questioned about my diet, there are a few responses I use that are polite and understanding but still firm. Try one of these non-confrontational phrases to shut down comments you may not wish to engage:
- “I’d like us to have the chance to enjoy our meal without going into detail about our dietary choices, but maybe we can talk about them later.”
- “While I’d be happy to discuss my reasoning for choosing a vegetarian/vegan diet at another occasion, it’s not something I wish to do right now. Let’s set up a separate time.”
- “I appreciate your interest in my lifestyle choices, but my reasons for choosing a vegetarian/vegan diet are personal, so I typically don’t discuss them OR I’d rather not discuss them right now.”
Perhaps the person isn’t so polite and understanding. When attending an Easter dinner at the home of my fiancé’s grandparents, his grandfather loudly proclaimed in the middle of dinner that a vegetarian diet was stupid. If caught in a similarly uncomfortable situation, try responding with, “I respect your choice to eat meat, and I hope that you could respect my choice not to.” As the saying goes, kill them with kindness. Responding with an equally brash comment will get you nowhere; I would’ve only solidified the opinion that a vegetarian diet was stupid!
If you’re willing to discuss your reasoning, consider the setting and company before deciding how detailed a response to give. For example, if sitting at a restaurant with a group of friends, it’s probably not appropriate to give detailed horrors about the meat industry with the insights from the latest PETA videos you saw. A better response may be, “I’ve learned some sad details about how animals at most factory farms are treated, so I decided to stop eating animal products.” If asked for details, consider saying no until people are done eating or ensure that everyone at the table wants to hear the details.
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to avoid questions about your diet as a vegetarian or vegan, but there are ways to manage the questions and put yourself in control of the conversations. Maybe you have all the information you need and would love to start a debate, but if you’re just trying to eat your dinner in peace, approach the questions by considering the setting, company, and a respectful yet resolute response. You don’t have to stay silent, but you also don’t have to respond defensively. Take a minute to step back and think before responding, and you’ll create a positive image for vegetarians and vegans everywhere!