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How To Talk To Non-Vegans Without Being An A-Hole

I’d argue that perhaps the most difficult aspect of going vegan is the question of how to relate to friends, family, and other people who are non-vegan.  As brand new vegans, your eyes are wide- open to cruelties you've never considered before and you can’t quite understand why everyone isn’t having the same earth-shattering revelation.  So communication, especially grounded communication, can become difficult, and what often comes out is either unbridled over-zealousness, militant anger, incomprehensible sadness and crying fits, or some other bizarre attempt at expressing astounding new realities you awakened to. 

I've showed you how NOT to talk to non-vegans, more than once, actually.   But today we’re going to talk about how TO talk to non-vegans. (I promise I won’t hit this time).  I’m asked all the time about how to effectively talk to non-vegans, or even pure “health” vegans to help them make the connection or a deeper connection. [tweet this]

While I do have some videos that touch on this matter and the social and familial challenges [also twice] of veganism, I haven’t yet made a direct video response.  Well, it just so happens that in the Q&A session for a speech I gave recently, these very questions were once again posed.

I kept these answers out of the official Q&A video for that speech since these answers are more geared toward those of you who are already vegan and are now trying to navigate the difficult landscape of talking about veganism with others.  So I thought I’d share with you my on-the-spot answers from that session, and I hope that they are helpful. For my full answers, be sure to watch the video, but here are some nuggets (responses have been edited for clarity and brevity):

Q: In your experience, what is the best way to help people get a connection on a deep ethical level?

Yeah. Smack ‘em in the face. [tweet this]  No…not really, though I have a video where do I run around and I punch people.  But seriously, with non-vegans again it's going to depend so much on the person and where they're at.  If you're walking down the street you see someone eating a hamburger it's not going to be the time say, “hey you know…”

But if you're talking to family, friends, loved ones or even at work … some of the most powerful activism happens one-on-one with just even the smallest of exchanges. [tweet this]  It can be something as simple as if you have a friend who is really into rescuing dogs and cats you know maybe there's someone who is into that, you can share maybe a story you heard about like you know at a farm sanctuary where sometimes pigs will jump off slaughterhouse trucks and in the end you know they're found and people take them in and so it can even be like, “you know, I know that you're really in the animal rescue I heard about this you know pig that got rescued you know here's this cute You Tube video of them.”  Even these really subtle ways of introducing the fact that there's no difference between this animal and this animal.  …

I find the most effective manner is meeting people where they are at, finding that common ground, like finding what their interests are and where there is an entry point because for each person that's going to be different. [tweet this] Maybe there are super health nut and they're really wanting to like cleanse or something you can kind of start bringing in some information about what animal products do to your body.  If they are a really huge environmentalist and they recycle, and they bike everywhere, you can drop some of the facts that are just astounding you know because that that can really hit someone.  But I think in general it's kind of meeting them where they are at and trying to make it as approachable as possible and as non-confrontational as possible.

Now there's a balance there.  I try to be really approachable with my activism but I will never compromise on the actual facts and on their actual morals I'll never say oh it's OK to do X, Y, or Z because you're trying your best and there's a way to walk that line and it's difficult at first, but kind of doing that of like being approachable honoring where their at while not excusing away behavior. …

When you go vegan you become so distant from when you weren't vegan that it's like, “how do I even talk to these people?”  It's very much like how the older we get the more we forget what it was like to be a kid and we even get awkward around children, which is strange because we were children.  A lot of it is trying to remember where you were at before  you were vegan.  And you are going to get people who are just aggressive and rude and not open, but you'll also get a lot of people who just don't know any better and I think it's also important to be mindful of that fact.

I get asked the same questions millions of times like “where do I get my protein?” and it's really easy for me to brush that off, but I try to think of the fact is this might be the two hundred millionth time I've heard this question this might be the first time this person is finally asking this.  It may be coming from a very genuine places like they really want to know and maybe they've never asked before and they are finally deciding to look into this and I don't want to be the person that’s just flippant and brushes them off, so I just try to always give people the benefit of the doubt.

I hope this video was helpful. I’d love to hear what you thought of my approach and what approach you use.  What works for you?  If you’re non-vegan, have you experienced conversations and communication methods that were effective or not effective with vegans?  Let me know in the comments!

See ya next nugget!






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The Q&A Video of the Speech

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  1. sally anne hubbard on September 11, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    I think that bringing issues of animal welfare to people is a good start. It gets them thinking and paying attention to animal suffering.
    I think a lot of people go vegan or vegetarian when they face the facts of where their meat comes from.

  2. Michaelb on September 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    Live the life with joy and no complaints. That attracts people to ask real questions. Who wants to talk to an angry person. I am no longer surprised to find out that people have been watching a while before getting the courage or curiosity to ask. Everyone is on a journey. Don’t judge because they are not at the same point you are now……neither were you.

  3. ivonne on September 12, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    I think I like the hit them over the head method. Seriously, I like how you said to see where there are at but not to excuse the behavior or compromise your ethics.


  4. Louise on September 15, 2015 at 7:42 am

    I find that useful option as a new vegan is to tell people that you are new to it and be honest about the process that you are going through and then they know that if your response isn’t perfect its not because your logic and ideas aren’t sound! I pretty much always refer people to yourself and Gary Yourofsky too.

    I wonder if anyone else has the problem that they start off talking calmly and then get more and more agitated? Just yesterday what started out as a conversation with a friend about yogurt substitutes ended up with me almost yelling about veal calf!! :)

  5. Josey on August 22, 2017 at 1:38 am

    I just got into my first vegan attack! Yey! I posted on my facebook, “I think people should think about how much vegans save our environment.” Wow! People can be really ignorant and mean.

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