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BEING VEGAN: Five ways going vegan could change your social life, not just your health

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Despite the social challenges, most vegans are satisfied with their decision. People are willing to negotiate their relationships as part of their commitment to veganism.

CATHERINE OLIVER: Beyond the well-documented health and environmental benefits, going vegan can also affect our social relationships… According to recently published research of 16 vegans interviewed in Britain about how veganism changed their lives, vegans are constantly finding that their new lifestyle choices can clash with their life before veganism – especially in social interactions. Here are five ways this manifests:

1. Your veganism might be dismissed as a ‘fad’. Veganism challenges the commonly held idea that a healthy diet requires animal proteins. When people go vegan, their families and friends often worry about the impact of this “extreme” diet – this is a kind of surveillance that vegans felt was never directed at the healthiness of their diets when they ate animals. Despite these concerns, a vegan diet is considered healthy for people at every life stage, and has been found to reduce risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer…

2. Veganism is a time commitment. People rarely become vegan overnight. Learning about the ethical, emotional and practical implications – researching where and what you can eat, finding out about “hidden” animal ingredients in common foods – can be a long adjustment. Veganism can also have time-consuming emotional impacts. I found that vegans feel guilty for having eaten animals in the past, or helpless that they can’t help more animals in the present…

3. Compromise is key. Vegans are hyper-conscious of the way they are perceived by society, media, family and friends. Sociologists Kelly Markowski and Susan Roxburgh have called this phenomenon “vegan stigma”. To maintain your social network, you may have to make tough decisions about how you interact socially… vegans feel they don’t just represent themselves, but also the public image of veganism…

4. Food isn’t just food. Eating is connected to the shaping of social identities. This is certainly true for veganism, where eating is a public performance of changing beliefs… Despite trying to fit in, vegans ultimately felt left out and disconnected from their previous life… Dealing with the social consequences of veganism is part of this lifelong commitment to animals. Vegans often attend social events where they aren’t catered for, and smile and try to fit in…

5. Meat replacements ease friction. Some try to blend their veganism in with a meat-eating world. This has been made easier by the proliferation of readily available meat and dairy substitutions… This development may also reduce the potential for advocacy at the table. As vegan food becomes mainstream, some have raised concerns that its popularity will dilute the impact of its ethical argument…

Despite these social challenges, most vegans are satisfied with their decision. People are willing to negotiate their relationships as part of their commitment to veganism… Becoming vegan allows people to feel good – not just in their health, but in choices that align with their ethics and make them feel they have a positive impact on the world. SOURCE…

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