As you go through life, you make friends. You develop deep bonds with relatives. You foster relationships with “friends of circumstance”—your schoolmates, coworkers, neighbors … friends of your environment. Then, there is the kind of friendship that you actively seek—perhaps for a particular reason, like engaging in your hobbies, or to find individuals who share special interests.
As a vegan, I found it was quite difficult to stick with the lifestyle during rough patches (read: graduate school) without vegan compatriots. I was the only vegan I knew…the only vegetarian I knew, even. I felt “othered.”* And when my life became difficult for various reasons, I was quick to waver in my veganism because it wasn’t yet integral to whom I was. I’ll never do that again, of course. Not just because I have vegan friends to support me, but also because my vegan friendships have helped me unlock a deeper sense of myself and embrace my values to the point I could never go back to my pre-vegan ways without completely losing who I am as a person. And since they’ve helped me develop such a self-assured sense of myself, abandoning my morals or values will never happen.
Hello, My Vegan Circle
In late November, the number of vegan friends in my life more than doubled! We were essentially strangers; yet, two months later we were spending an entire weekend together at the beach. We were being ourselves—being complete bums, stuffing our faces with delicious vegan food. We were sharing our personal stories, and wearing our embarrassing pajamas in front of each other without shame (or, was that just me? Oh…).
The point is this: the group of friends I’ve surrounded myself with is something for which I am so incredibly grateful. These friends have been an integral part of my veganism and, thus, my life. I adore them so!
Value of Vegan Friends
Friends are important. Vegan friends are no different. Whether they’re closer than or more distant than your friends of circumstance, they’re important for the same reasons; but they also play specific roles in your life.
Comradery of the Others
Vegan friends make us feel normal. As vegans, we “other” ourselves.* Essentially, we are choosing to become outcasts simply because we’re going against norms. My friends of circumstance are surely supportive of me, but they can’t always relate to my experiences…can’t empathize with my frustrations…can’t share in my excitement. Having other vegans in my life reminds me, first, that it’s okay to be vegan, and also that being vegan is not such a different thing to be after all.
I’m not saying that every vegan needs to be the gung-ho, veganism-is-the-greatest, let’s go veganism type, but it’s certainly helpful to be passionate about something if it’s going to permeate all areas of your life. Seeing other vegans thriving is effective encouragement for continuing on the path. It’s possible to be vegan in a BBQ loving family (maybe not easy, but if Bob is doing it, you bet I can).
Other vegans also help us step outside of our comfort zones. I loathe sauerkraut. What a terrible creation! But my friend recently offered to make me a sandwich with some of her homemade sauerkraut. I was hesitant, but I know that my tastebuds have changed since going vegan and maybe she could actually make it taste edible (unlike my dad—sorry, pops!). And guess what? She did! But more than just trying new foods, I find myself going to far-off places, traveling with strangers, meeting up with strangers while traveling…all of which I wouldn’t be doing without knowing there would be a vegan friend there alongside me.
It comes with the territory: by opening our eyes and hearts to observe the violence towards, and exploitation of animals—both human and non-human—we are making ourselves vulnerable. We become hyper-sensitive to the suffering of others, and this extends to all parts of our lives. We feel more deeply the discrimination others face, the pain that others endure, and the problems with society. We would be traumatized without an opportunity to release our own internal angst, discomfort, and suffering. But share your feelings with the wrong person, and it could be perceived as an attack on that person. Our sadness and anger towards the larger system is interpreted as aggression towards non-vegans. We can’t always dance politely around the issues and speak so carefully so as not to offend, so we need our vegan friends to vent.
It’s equally helpful to have a support system in place when you’re having a tough time—perhaps an issue with someone in particular, or maybe you’re mad that you can’t seem to influence those around you. An outside but empathetic perspective helps us through difficult situations and sometimes even provides us with a much needed reality check!
And So Much More…
There are so many reasons why vegan friends are great. From my perspective, they’re most valuable in helping me keep my sanity. My quality of life drastically improved when I fortified my vegan network—first, by joining with the larger vegan community in Baltimore and beyond, and then by finding a handful of invaluable vegan friends. I’m happier, I feel more connected to the movement, and I find being a vegan much easier.
And not all of my vegan friends are local. I am fortunate enough to live in a community where there are many, many vegans. But even if you live in a small town, you can bond with others through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr…all the usual suspects, and also websites like Happy Cow! I have maybe a dozen close, long-distance vegan friends. I’ve even had a “blind brunch” with one when I was traveling abroad and we happened to both be in the same city!
So get out there and grow your network. Introverts, extroverts, whateverts…I strongly believe that a community of vegan friends is crucial. And count me among your vegan friends, because I will always be here to offer my insight and support!
*I’ve written a bit about the “othering” effect of veganism before in the Surviving Thanksgiving post.
About the Crunchy Vegan Gal
Megan is a vegan, city-slicker hippie living in Baltimore, MD where she is a planning and urban design consultant. When she’s not working to create livable, just, and vibrant communities, she’s spending time with the local vegan community, with friends and family (including her black cat fur-baby), and finding ways to be creative. You can connect with her on Instagram at @crunchyvegangal!
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