We all have those moments in which we see veganism being represented in a completely cringe-worthy way and it makes us want to crawl out of our skin. I had such a moment a few weeks ago when reading a post in a local Facebook group about a woman’s visits to a restaurant which offers a separate vegan menu. She had twice experienced the unfortunate ordeal of being served Parmesan cheese-sprinkled fries and described promptly running to the bathroom to throw up. The account even details how the woman’s boyfriend complained to the waitress that she and her guest were “vomiting in the bathroom.” Cringe, cringe, cringe.
Now, I’ve had my share of heart-sinking moments realizing my food was served with animal products — it can make any vegan feel sad, angry, and disgusted. Yet, this reaction seems like a bridge too far. As vegans, we are ambassadors of the lifestyle wherever we go – and especially wherever food is being shared. Being the “angry vegan” or the “dramatic vegan” only serves to reinforce unsavory stereotypes in the minds of potential vegans.
I am also reminded of witnessing other incarnations of these stereotypes in action and wondering “What happened to our compassion?” Firstly, histrionics and anger-tantrums will do nothing for helping the plight of animals — in fact, they will likely be more harmful. And secondly, failing to see an opportunity to practice compassion toward other humans is a problem. This isn’t to say we aren’t entitled to feel whatever emotions come up when faced with the horrors animals endure, yet finding an appropriate outlet and representing our heartfelt ethics in ways that won’t send people screaming is a must.
So, what can be done when facing an unexpected Parmesan fries situation? I’ve heard all sorts of responses from vegans from eating around the offending product to sending it back and informing the manager — politely and engagingly — as to why this is an issue. Each situation depends on our comfort level, but the same thread of compassion toward those serving us should always be present.
It’s an unfortunate reality that vegans must be extra mindful of how we handle these confrontations. Yet, every interaction potential vegans have with one of us who talks to them like a fellow human being, behaves like a civilized grown-up, and has a smile on his or her face is one more interaction that can chip away at stereotypes. This approach is what opens others up to the possibility of considering a cruelty-free lifestyle for themselves. We want people to look at us and see the empathy that drives us. It’s the only way to be ambassadors, instead of elitists.
Katie Medlock, LPCC, VLCE, writes The Offbeat Herbivore, a vegan lifestyle blog all about delicious food, health and wellness, quirky news, travel, and being a badass. Find Katie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.