If you are the odd vegan out at your company, it can be difficult. And if you happen to work in a fairly conservative profession, it might be really difficult. But it’s not impossible. I was a vegetarian for more than 20 years before I went vegan almost three years ago, so I had plenty of experience in being an outlier. Here are my five suggestions for those of you who are learning to navigate the sometimes choppy world of working with nonvegans.
1. Be prepared: You know not to go anywhere without a Larabar or some fruit – just in case you get hungry and your options are limited. Work is no different. Keep a stash of food in your desk (some of my favorites are dried fruit, oatmeal and nut butter). For working lunches, you may or may not have a say in the selections. After many years of being disappointed, I’ve learned it’s easier to bring my own food, or simply eat before or after the meeting. If you are going out, any salad can be adjusted to meet your preferences.
2. Send a (subtle) message: Office politics being what they are – and the job market being tough – it’s simply never good form to rock the boat. And as much as you’d like everyone to live a compassionate life, shun wool and leather, and delight in plant-based meals, the world has some distance to travel before that happens. That doesn’t mean you have to keep everything bottled up inside. Wear your vegan Tom’s and be sure to brag about them when someone compliments you (and someone will). Decorate your cube or office with magazine clippings or stickers.
Or wear a piece of jewelry that makes a small statement.
Depending on where you work, that might be the most you can do, but if it sways one person, it’s worth the effort.
3. Connect: Speaking of swaying, connect where you can. If people know you are vegan, they will look at your food and ask questions. I usually have an American Flatbread Vegan Harvest Pizza in the freezer at work. Whenever I make it, I hear a favorable comment and I’m always sure to point out that it’s vegan. If people are talking about smoothies, bring up milk alternatives. If people are talking about running, bring up Rich Roll. Figure out a way to help others make the connection and understand that not all vegans are crazy-eyed hippies wearing bulky sandals (but they can be pretty cool, too!).
4. Escape: It’s tough to always be the one “different” person. And it can be really hard being the odd one out for 40 or 50 hours a week. It’s OK to escape from that stress and continue your journey alone. I listen to podcasts and read books during my lunch hour. You can also catch up on your favorite social media sites and blogs. Or go to the local grocery store and wander around the natural foods section. Or hit the yoga mat. Whatever works for you and helps you regroup.
5. Let It Go: I once had to sit through a crab feast, watching my usually peaceful co-workers slam piles of crabs with big wooden mallets. I wanted to cry. It was truly one of the most uncomfortable situations I’ve ever endured. But endure it I did. Next time (and unfortunately, there’s always a next time), I will simply show up after the crab smashing and mingle with everyone as if I didn’t have a care in the world. I could be upset that no one considered my feelings, but that would cause me more stress than them, so why bother? I love my job and my co-workers and I am the one who decided to follow this route. I think it’s the right route and I’m staying the course. So, if others want to follow their course, they can. In the meantime, I will let it go. That doesn’t mean I won’t stop hoping!
Robin Patalon, VLCE spent most of her adult life as a vegetarian, but she found true peace when she went vegan three years ago. Since that time, she’s read more books, blogs and articles about compassionate living than she can count, and she continues to immerse herself in learning everything she can about nutrition, animal welfare, and anything else that will help make her a better advocate for veganism.