Everyone is different, but I find that there are people I feel more comfortable talking about veganism to than others. For example, talking to close friends and family about veganism is not too difficult, but talking to work colleagues is more difficult, probably because I feel like I am under more scrutiny at work whereas among close family and friends I am accepted for who I am.
It is great for someone to have the courage to defend his vegan beliefs to others, but not everyone is always confident to all people. I will talk in this post about ways that you can explain your vegan diet to others in a way that is unlikely to offend them.
More science, less ethics
Personally, I find that when you’re among people you don’t want to offend much, it is best to not talk about ethics. Talking about ethics (i.e. what is right and what is wrong) is like talking about politics or religion. Talking about politics and religion is a good recipe for tension and offence.
Rather than talk about ethics, it is best to talk about health and science. If you talk about ethics, people will think that you are trying to force your beliefs on them, but if you talk about health and science, people will think you are just trying to be be healthy.
For example, when ordering an almond latte, someone might ask you why you’re ordering an almond latte rather than a latte with dairy milk. You can then explain that one cup of dairy milk contains 9 grams of sugar and about 150 calories compared to one cup of almond milk that contains 2 grams of sugar and about 60 calories. You can then explain how dairy milk has high levels of estrogen. Dairy milk has also been shown to decrease testosterone levels in men.
Suppose you go to a restaurant and ask that any fish be replaced with tofu. Someone then asks you why you did this. You explain that our oceans are polluted and fish contains high levels of mercury, cadmium, flame retardants, PCBs, and other waterborne contaminants.
When most people hear you explain that you want to reduce intake of mercury, estrogen, or cholesterol, they will likely just shrug and move on with their lives. However, this is not always the case. Diet has become almost like a religion, so if you refuse to eat, say, fish, and fish makes up a very important part of someone else’s diet, e.g. because he is following the paleo diet, he or she may be offended and start attacking you.
For example, if you claim that fish contains high levels of mercury, someone following the paleo diet may criticize you for being a vegan or may claim that paleolithic men ate fish.
The solution to this problem is never talk about specific diets (Paleo, vegan, gluten free, etc) but to always talk about specific food.
Never say that the vegan diet is healthier than the paleo diet because a vegan diet can be healthy or unhealthy depending on what you eat. If you are eating french fries and Diet Coke all day, that is classified as a vegan diet, but the acrylamide in french fries will increase your risk of cancer.
Instead, talk about specific food. Don’t criticize the paleo diet or the vegan diet or the vegetarian diet. Criticize specific food such as fish due to the risk of heavy metal contamination or dairy milk for its estrogen levels or eggs for its cholesterol.
What if someone disputes the science?
If you are going to use science to back up why you are eating tofu or beans rather than meat or almond milk rather than dairy milk, you need to do your research. That is obvious. Be prepared to send papers from medical journals to people to back up your arguments. Always be willing to email the studies to them via your smartphone.
Like I said, usually people just accept that you want to be healthy, but this is not always the case. There are many people who will dispute your food decisions and may even provide you with studies of their own.
The way to resolve this is to simply explain that this is based on the research that you have done and that you are willing to hear the other person’s arguments, and you can even request that they send you the papers that they based their arguments on so you can reevaluate the evidence and, if necessary, alter your position or policy. The scientific method involves evaluating the evidence and reaching a conclusion based on the evidence. The conclusion reached will vary depending on the evidence. A good scientist is always willing to change his conclusion as the evidence changes. In the field of nutrition, the evidence is always changing as more and more studies come out, so it is not a black and white field of study.
For example, suppose you are eating tofu rather than fish. You explain that fish has high levels of mercury. Someone then claims that there is no mercury in fish and that our oceans are clean. A paleo person may say, “Our ancestors ate fish! Therefore it is healthy and our oceans are clean and there is no pollution in our oceans.” If this is the case, you can politely say, “That is interesting. I just want to be healthy. Based on my research, fish is heavily polluted with mercury and other heavy metals, but if you don’t think so, then please could you email me the evidence that this is not the case.”
When you get home, you can evaluate the evidence and decide for yourself.
What if there is overwhelming evidence against a vegan diet?
There are many arguments against a vegan diet, but based on my experience, there is no valid scientific argument to prove that a vegan diet is unhealthy and that you must go off a vegan diet in order to be healthy.
There is no chemical or nutrient that we know of that the body needs that we cannot get from non-animal sources or that is already produced from within our own bodies.
I am open to evidence that suggests otherwise, but based on what I a have seen, science supports the vegan diet.
If you know of any scientific argument against the vegan diet, write it in the comments section below.