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I am a vegan, only for ethical reasons. It is something I'm very willing to discuss. I have deliberated about it very carefully, for a long time, and have read papers and text books on the philosophy of ethics on my spare time in order to help me get my bearing on this issue. So, I'm very happy to discuss the reasoning process that has led me to where I am, as long as the person is willing to engage in a careful one-on-one discussion that isn't emotionally charged or defensive, with the intent of truly hearing me out, and vice versa. I'm also happy to debate it in the same kind of manner. But I don't go around looking for that debate; I only have it if it's clear that the other person is willing and eager to do so.

Of course, that is not often the environment in which I'm asked about my eating habit. It's usually in a casual conversation, with others present, wherein typically a quick one sentence answer is desired. My answer is usually "ethical reasons".

I notice, often, people get defensive when I say this. They will try to justify their eating habits. Or they will make tongue-in-cheek comments like "you must think I'm awful for eating this burger, haha." Some of them (in the case of family members) hold on to their opinions, but lash out at me at a later time. (This leads me to believe that others, who are not in my family but are saying nothing, also must resent me but just don't want to be confrontational.) From experience I have found that simply expressing that I'm vegan for ethical reasons prompts lashing out, resentment, and passive aggression, without me ever explicitly judging them. It gets exhausting, and it erodes my relationships. It makes it so that I now fear this question, and am now intentionally discreet about what I order at restaurants.

I understand why the person asking the question might perceive that I'm implicitly judging them. After all, we can say, of things like a diet or artistic preference, that something is "just my preference, and it's okay if you think differently". But that's not usually true of moral claims. If one firmly believes that something is a moral obligation, they believe it of a person regardless of whether or not that person believes it themselves. For example, we wouldn't accept it if a psychopath says "you feel it's wrong to kill, and I don't. That's just my preference." Nor does anybody today think it was okay for people to own slaves in the past, simply because society treated it as an acceptable practice back then. (Note, I am not saying that these things are morally equivalent to eating meat. I'm simply using examples to illustrate the point that difference in moral code, unlike difference in taste in art, is not something that can be dismissed as "just a personal preference that we must accept".)

So I might want to fall back on "I didn't judge you in any way". However, given the above paragraph, I can't escape the fact that there's a perceived intrinsic judgement I am making simply by justifying my eating preference.

I understand that my position is very much in the minority. I still want to have a real social life, though. I have longstanding friends, and a family that I love. I don't want to alienate everybody because they think that I'm a sanctimonious asshole. But, at the same time, I don't want to compromise my ethics, or be dishonest about them.

I have considered being dishonest, in response to the question, and saying something like "well, it's just something I'm trying", or "I think this is the healthiest option". (I actually don't think that being vegan is the healthiest option.) It is a compromise. I hate being dishonest, but I also hate eroding my relationships. However, if possible, I want to avoid being dishonest.

How do I answer the question "why are you vegan?" honestly, without making people resent me?

Clarifications:

  • I'm a Canadian, from Toronto.
  • I'm usually asked about my veganism during mealtimes, or when jointly ordering food.
  • I've never given a more thorough answer, but I do clarify when asked a question.

Further clarifications:

Let me answer a couple of popular questions that seem to be coming up in answers and comments.

"Why are you vegan, more specifically?"

I could write a lot on this, though I don't think my exact reasoning process is very relevant for this question. So I'll just say that it's primarily related to animal welfare, and secondarily related to the environment. Both of these fit under the umbrella of "ethical reasons", which is a response that's simply meant to contrast it from the other popular reasons for being vegan. (Namely, health reasons, personal taste in food, or physical revulsion. None of these three apply to me.)

"Are you judging them?"

Another way of asking this is, "do you think that they are worthy of moral judgement?" Well... to be perfectly honest, yes. I hate that this is the answer, because everybody I love does it. But I cannot find another answer that's consistent with my beliefs, no matter how much I want to do so. I usually don't express this. And, as a caveat, I think that those who understand the situation are more worthy of judgement than those who don't. Most people don't. I spent a long time eating meat while believing what I currently believe which, I think, makes me worse than most meat eaters. I don't mean for that to be condescending. It's not a matter of stupidity, but simply of what you happen to know and be exposed to. It's very likely that I am funding other immoral practices of which I'm ignorant, and for which I'm worthy of moral judgement. Nor do I expect anybody (including myself) to be perfect paragons of moral virtue. I understand that it's very hard to do so when it comes to a practice that might be morally wrong, but is considered by society to be entirely acceptable.

Now, while I don't want to be dishonest about my reason for being vegan, the question of whether they are worthy of moral judgement is something that I am willing to, and have been dishonest about (on the rare occasion that this actually comes up). Only because I know how socially volatile it could be to tell the truth in this case. (And I don't want to live up to my namesake on this site.)

24 Answers 24

148

When you say "ethical reasons" you are implying that you have made the right choice (morally correct choice). This has an inherent implication that every one else has made the wrong choice.

The problem is that you do believe you have made the right choice. You're not trying to force that on other people. In fact, it appears that you are much more careful about that then most of us are on a day to day basis. So how do you communicate the truth as you understand it, without making everyone else feel that you are implying that they have made the "wrong" decision?

Answer:

  1. Use humor. Be careful: you don't want to make the meat eater the butt of the joke, but rather make yourself the butt of the joke. Full disclaimer: I could not think of any jokes that fit this criteria. (But then, I'm not that funny of a guy.)

  2. Be more specific. Focus your explanation on you, and keep it as short as you can. For example:

    • Eating another animal's body parts feels gross to me.

    • I don't like the idea of an animal being killed for me to eat.

    These two examples focus on disgust and guilt which you feel. While most people don't agree with your choice, they will be able to empathize with those feelings of disgust or guilt, which should (cross your fingers) help them connect with you rather than feel resentful toward you.

Good luck.

  • 3
    Hey, folks. There have been a number of comments expressing agreement and disagreement with Dan's suggestions. Please keep comments for making specific suggestions as to how he can improve his answer. If you agree with him, great; you can upvote and move on. If you disagree with him, then you can downvote and, if you want, write your own answer. On a different note: Dan, you noted that you preferred the second reason. I'd suggest maybe reordering and noting that that's your preferred one (that said, I think your answer's also fine as is). – HDE 226868 Mar 18 '18 at 2:07
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    With respect for a good answer (I upvoted it), I think the examples should be tailored to reflect @Bridgeburners question. I know it was a textwall, but in the middle s/he explicitly brought up and rejected lying about mouthfeel, health, or grossness. This would be a better answer if the examples were things that reflect OP's actual beliefs, which apparently have to do with global warming. – lly Jun 18 '18 at 8:34
110

This seems to be a common problem that vegans and vegetarians experience, so it is worth thinking about why people ask.

Is it because:

  • they actually care very much about your diet? Unlikely
  • they think you are weird and it will be fun to bait you? Sadly, more likely
  • they have an economic interest, through employment, background or investment in non-plant based foods? not impossible
  • it somehow came up in conversation and people are conditioned to respond by expressing interest in the distinctive and defining things we learn about other people, so they asked without ever really caring? possibly the most likely
  • They assume you want to tell them? trying to be polite
  • They are considering making the same choice? actively wanting to know and share views

Not all of those might merit the same response and it is not a comprehensive list of every possibility. I shan’t try and address every one of them, but consider these as examples to demonstrate how it can be worth thinking about the motive force behind the question and how that affects your response.

You have already identified that people don’t react will to your current stock reply and people have explained in other answers how it can be viewed as a criticism of the person asking, but also it is a very conversationally ‘closed’ response. What sort of response can someone make to that? They feel they’ve been shut down, rebuffed and rebuked, what do they say next…

So, perhaps a response which is more conversationally open and inviting of a response would be helpful. Have you ever tried asking why they’re asking?

Well, there’s different ways I could answer that, which might depend on why you are curious. What makes you ask?

That gives the other person something they can more safely react to which doesn’t necessarily feel like as much of a challenge, and eases you both into a two-way conversation. If you really aren’t so keen to get into a conversation about your food choices in casual situations, then you may want to look for responses which are less likely to be read as confrontational, but that still don’t make it sound as if the subject is up for debate. Conversationally closed, but not confrontational. Perhaps something like:

Peace of mind mainly. After all who needs to lose sleep over their dinner, right?

That presents your choice as being about your comfort, while ending on a question which could go off in different conversational directions to diminish the closed nature of the first sentence.

84
  • "Why are you vegan?"
  • "I like it."

(Good alternative: LightnessRacesinOrbit proposed "Because I want to").

Rationale:

Attempting to justify and explain yourself implies you are seeking the approval of your interlocutor, and this invites them to pass judgement/evaluation on you. Even if you are enthusiastic about your reasons for being vegan, it still frames the discussion as them questioning you, and you attempting to prove yourself. This creates a hierarchy.

Using the phrase "ethical reasons" also introduces morals into the discussion, sounds judgmental, and sort of invites conflict in a passive-aggressive way, as the other will feel compelled to prove they're just as ethical as you are.

"I like it" on the other hand, moves the discussion towards the domain of subjective tastes, and defuses conflict. This also traps the other a bit, as seriously criticizing other people's tastes is generally considered rude.

If the conversation goes on, consider lines like this (well, only if you would actually do that, of course):

"I'd eat eggs if they came from chicken I'd raise myself, so I could make sure they're happy. Thinking about battery cages ruins the taste for me."

This is an I-sentence (you're expressing your tastes, and not attaching a moral value to them), and it also contains a concession to your interlocutor (you'd eat eggs if).

Now, I've raised chicken in my backyard, so I know that turning a "live chicken" into a "delicious roasted chicken" involves a bit of gruesomeness, which the average person who buys chicken at the supermarket is very much eager to not know anything about. Not to mention what agribusiness is like.

If you bring the conversation to moral grounds by saying "ethical reasons" then you will force them to consider where the chicken fillet at the supermarket actually comes from, and you're actually calling them out on their hypocrisy. They will react badly to this.

Which is why "I like it..." sounds pretty good.

39

The safest way is to relate your reasons to you directly, instead of making them so-called "global truths".

For example, saying

The treatment of animals in slaughterhouses is disgusting.

can be taken to non-vegans as

Anyone who supports slaughterhouses by eating meat is disgusting.

Frankly, saying "ethical reasons" could potentially also imply to others that they are unethical for not following a similar lifestyle (which is where you might be getting the justification responses).

Instead, focus on making your point by keeping it scoped in on yourself:

It's just a personal preference. I like the idea of eating whole-foods more than the idea of harvesting animals or their byproducts.

This dials it down to being just about you. "I like A more than B" is a structure that doesn't imply that anyone is wrong for still liking B, because you're just saying you prefer A so much more that you've chosen it as a lifestyle.

30

I also minimize my consumption of animal products (though due to chronic health reasons, I am not 100% vegan), purely for ethical reasons, and live in an area where this is not common; so this is based off of my experience with the situation.

Instead of saying

"I'm vegan for ethical reasons."

which can get people defensive, I find the slightly modified statement

"I'm vegan because it aligns with my values." / "Eating animal products doesn't align with my values."

gets better responses. I think this is a good answer because it expresses that veganism is important to you and not just, for example, a preference for the taste of vegan food, but since values are taken as more personal than ethics it doesn't cause as much friction.

Many people will leave it at that, because they're not really interested; they're just being polite. The people who do ask follow-up questions tend to be those who are actually interested, and less likely to be offended if you go into specifics.

Of course, some people will manage to become offended no matter what you say. I would focus more attention on relationships with the people who take it in stride - they tend to be a lot more mature. The vast majority of my friends eat meat and though they don't plan on stopping, they will be sure to warn me if food they prepared has animal products, check for veg options when choosing a restaurant, etc. The people who look out for you, even if they don't have a personal stake in the matter, are your true friends. The ones who will give you grief about it tend to not be worth the trouble.

(Sorry if it's too similar to other answers - but I could not find the same wording, specifically "values", and I feel that that has been the most important, yet simple, part of how I shifted the way I spoke about my veganism without minimizing it's importance to me.)

14

The truth is most people try to do the right thing in some aspects of their life. Some put more effort into this than others, but nobody gets everything right all the time.

Also people are not ideal autonomous agents. Instead they are influenced by people around them and media they consume. You might not have become a vegan if you hadn't watched those documentaries.

Maybe you have done something else, not related to meat or animals, that could be considered morally wrong. Maybe you contributed to climate change by using a plane. Or you have let people down when they relied on you.

Maybe the person you are talking to is not a vegan, but has other areas where they make an effort, like being really good parents, responsible car drivers, helping out in the neighborhood etc.

In this spirit, you can say something like this:

I watched too many icky documentaries about meat production, this destroyed my appetite for animal products.

or

From what I learned over time about how animals are kept and treated these days, I decided I don't want to do it anymore. I wanted to prove to myself that I can live without animal products. Now I don't even remember how it tastes like.

Answers like this do not imply that you are a better person, just that you went through a process which led to a decision, and ended with you being who you are today.

13

I used to go with something like:

[I did] too much research.


You don't want people to get defensive and this does a good job because:

  • it's slightly self-deprecating

With emphasis on the too much, you're not communicating that your ethical reasons make you superior, i.e.: I'm better than you, (because I'm moral and you're not), but instead you're saying that you went out of your way to do something that normal people probably wouldn't do and it wasn't necessarily a good thing.

  • it's not preachy

People, generally, don't like being preached at or preached to. When you start getting into heavy topics like ethics and morals people are already going to be on edge. This type of answer though puts the emphasis on you and your choices instead of the people asking and what they need to do or change.

  • it's open ended

If anyone is interested they might ask more. You might strike up an interesting conversation that would be mutually beneficial. On the other hand if people are just asking in passing they have an acceptable answer that they don't need to pry into.


I've used this in the past many a time and I've never had a bad reaction or experience from it. YMMV, but I think it meets the goal you're trying to reach.

13

This question often arises when people who are not very closely acquainted sit together to eat, and the reasons for it may vary.

You could give a specific but brief 'teaser' such as :

I was convinced by the arguments of Animal Right Activists/ Studies on the negative impact of the Meat Industry on the environment / any other option.

If you eat in company in a setting when each person is responsible for bringing or ordering their food (for example in a workplace cafeteria) then the reason for the inquiry may be that the person is interested is your opinion on people who do eat meat or dairy products. The 'tongue-in-check' comment:

"you must think I'm awful for eating this burger, haha."

even if not expressed politely is actually a valid concern of a person eating a meat burger in front of a vegan. I would start with setting them at ease and letting them know that you're not there to sit judgement over them for their dietary choices, for example by answering with some cliche, saying:

"No, not at all. Each for his own, it would be terribly boring world if we all had the same opinions."

If that closes the subject, then the asker was probably not terribly curious about your motivations as for why you chose to be a vegan in the first place, merely was seeking reassurance that the person with whom they share a table is not repulsed by their meal of choice or silently judging them from their moral high ground.

If the person persists in their inquiry you should expand on the subject if you wish, but only if they seem to be genuinely curious and open to a productive discussion. If the tone of the conversation becomes passive agressive, defensive or teasing, it's time to cut the conversation on the topic short repeating that opinions may differ and any approach is legitimate, and that you find it not constructive to judge someone on based on dietary choices whether they eat meat or not.

Keep in mind that while you researched the subject at length and engrossed by it, your company may not be equally invested. Watch for signs of interest or lack of. Your company may not necessarily be ready to listen to lengthy discussions on the impact of meat production on the environment or the exact statistic of yearly factory livestock farming in your county.

If the person's attention seems to falter after a few minutes then probably a change in the conversation topic is warranted. The person may return to the discussion at a later date.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Mar 16 '18 at 22:56
12

As a lifelong vegetarian I find giving a humorous answer, rather than a serious one is the first line of defense. My favorite is "I'm not a vegetarian because I like animals, it's because I hate vegetables." This usually gets a chuckle, and conversation can move on to other things, as most of the time people are asking to be polite.

The beauty of this is that if they really are interested, they have the opportunity to ask the "real" reason I'm a vegetarian at a later point, but if they're not (which is the case most of the time) I've effectively answered their question without answering it.

If they do inquire further, how you frame your response can affect how it's received. Saying "I'm vegan for ethical reasons" and saying "I feel like a vegan diet is more ethical" both convey essentially the same message, but one is MUCH more confrontational.

8

As an only vegan in a company and often in a group I learned that there is no right answer and there is no reason to be dishonest. If someone resents you for your answer or choice of lifestyle, you are just not meant to agree or please everyone in every situation. I also posted a question here about being constantly teased about food at my workplace. My advice would be to answer their question without judgement as well as you can and just accept that some people may have different views. I learned to avoid conflict by not getting too vocal about it or defending my view in this topic because it never gets resolved. Some people are generally just curious and want to learn what lead you to your decision to be vegan.

If you are looking to meet like minded people who you can relate with, I ended up starting a local vegan meetup group and made a lot of great vegan friends and we often discuss this topic among us. I would also suggest finding yourself a social outlet or even join social media groups for people who can support your choice and not judge you for it.

7

As a vegetarian, my experience is that many people just won't be satisfied by any possible response. So it's alright to say "for ethical reasons" and, if they get defensive, say at most "but you don't need to change your diet, I only care about mine" and that's it. I recommend that you don't engage any more with people who react defensively because it is likely to be useless. Remember, you are eating what you want and not dictating others what to eat so, if they still have a problem with it, the problem is on them.

PS: I truly hope you won't encounter people who try to sneak meat in your food (I've seen it a few times with coworkers/relatives).

5

As Dan Anderson points out, saying "ethical reasons" puts people on the defensive, implying that you've made the correct choice and they haven't. If you could sit down and have a longer conversation with them, as you point out in your post, you could explain things more thoroughly and have a less off-putting answer than "ethical reasons", but as you also point out, most situations where this question is asked are not conducive to a detailed conversation on the subject.

As such, you should find an alternative short answer that doesn't put people on the defensive.

Ideas:

  • It's something I've decided I want to do
  • It aligns with my values/ it's something I decided is right for me (others have included this in their answers)
  • I thought about it a lot and came to this conclusion for me
  • I used to eat meat, but after putting some thought into it realized I'm more comfortable/happy/fulfilled/satisfied with a vegan diet
3

I have been vegetarian since before I was one year old, so I have answered similar questions my entire life.

The trick is to be honest, but without trying to belittle anyone for what they eat. You are vegan for ethical reasons... great. That is all you need to say. If they want more information or are interested in your point of view they will ask.

I have no desire to ever try eating meat, but by the same token, everyone else can eat whatever they want. Maybe I am healthier than the average carnivore, but that is beside the point... if I start making comparisons, then it comes across as arrogant and problems start happening.

There are IMHO some fairly compelling reasons for not being a carnivore, but it is not my business to tell anyone else what they should do.

If you are happy and convinced you are doing the right thing, then even if others have a problem with you being vegan, it oughtn't concern you.

In my experience, those most likely to defend their position (being a carnivore as it were) vehemently, are the ones who really aren't convinced they are doing the right thing :)

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Mar 16 '18 at 22:59
3

It is good that you distinguish a careful one-on-one discussion and a casual conversation, because your audience will be far less willing to engage in the casual conversation. Also, you are less likely to determine what makes the person ask the question in the casual conversation. I will therefore stick to the casual conversation.

Generally:

  • Use words that relate to you, not to others.
  • Use words that are specific and do not imply judgement. Unfortunately ethical does not belong to those.
  • Use words that are detailed. Again, ethical fails here because it very broad - it encompasses a lot, giving the other person not much space to not be unethical.

Since you do not specify the exact reasons why you are vegan, I cannot be more specific at the moment.

Update your question and I will update my answer.

3

Sometimes being dismissive is the best way to handle this if you think the person is just trying to make smalltalk and doesn't want the full explanation.

For example answers like "Does it matter?" or "Because I am." can sometimes work.
If a person is genuinely interested they'll press for a full answer in which case you can give your reasons.

When you're giving your reasons make sure to mention that you generally don't like discussing it because other people seem to judge your decision to not eat meat despite the fact that you aren't judging them.

Unfortunately a lot of non-vegans/vegitarians are predisposed to assuming that vegans/vegitarians are judging them or think they are better than non-vegans/vegitarians despite that rarely being the case, so if you make it clear that you aren't then it shoots down their preconceptions before they have chance to get riled up for no good reason.

If someone does get angry or annoyed for some reason you just calmly ask "I'm sorry, is there a problem?", which invites them to explain their annoyance. Once they have explained you can address their issues.

Most likely it will be something along the lines of "you think you're better than us" or "you're trying to impose your veganness on everyone else", in which case the best way to shoot down those fallacies is to prompt the person for evidence, which they most likely won't be able to provide. If it's the first time they've found out that you're vegan, stress how long they've known you for without realising.

On the other side of the coin, if they start trying to make jokes simply say "I've heard that one before" or "That one wore thin by the time I was 12" or something, preferably with a blank look on your face so they realise that such jokes aren't amusing.


Disclaimer:
I am a lifelong vegitarian for various different reasons, so I've run into this situation quite a lot.

3

You are looking for ways to prevent eroding relationships; sometimes that happens when two people each believe the other is wrong.

Maybe you should consider ‘apologetics’: looking for ways which explain why you think your ethical assessment is better but which don't condemn or insult the other person. I.e. challenging other people, not necessarily to agree with you, but to take their own ethical studies as seriously as you do.

It all depends on your own evaluation of how much the other people care about ethics. Understand that, for some people, that sort of thing is too difficult — but, maybe, they would rather that it wasn't. Do they don't resent you, or do they resent ethics? Maybe they'd rather you be part of the gang and do what they do — you describe your problem as others who are confronting you, and not vice versa.
Other answers provide various other similar motivations or interpretations which could produce the situations you encounter.

The trick in all this is to remember that you probably aren't claiming to be a prophet who has seen the One Truth: you simply think that you have a way of interacting with the world–at–large which results in a yield of more good than of evil.
You aren't trying to convert anybody else: you are simply willing to discuss the reasons why you have decided upon your own lifestyle.

Of course, if you really think that your lifestyle does good, then you do believe that there are those lifestyles which do bad. However, though that could motivate you to speak out a little, it shouldn't drive you to be reckless. Oftentimes perception can be fooled by illusion; things which seem dire can be trivialized: one's lifestyle can do bad unbeknownst to them as much as others' lifestyles can do good which is similarly unnoticed.

2

As explained in other answers, the answer "ethical reasons" implies that you believe people which are not vegan are unethical. This naturally prompts bad reactions.

I would opt for something neutral and not so vague, although not in much detail:

I (just) don't think eating meat is worth it.

Following the same reasoning as before, this implies that you believe people which are not vegan think it is worth it. It is neutral, and they would probably agree with this assessment. If the conversation is just a small chat, this is sufficient. If someone wants a more thorough explanation, you can give it to them.

2

No idea if this will even be seen by the OP in the massive volume of answers, but I thought I'd add a personal viewpoint of my own.

I am speaking as someone who has never eaten meat (not the same thing as being Vegan, but my experiences are nonetheless similar). I mean ever. I will be 45 soon, and from what I've been told by family members I simply wouldn't touch meat as a baby or young child, period. I have no memory of this, but meat has simply never been food to me. I know it is to other people, but not me. I am also a total animal lover and will generally choose animal company over most humans, though I don't pass judgment on those who choose to eat meat. It's their choice, I just happen to make a different one.

All that being said, I have been given endless grief of varying degrees about my choice not to eat meat (and many other things but that's outside this scope) my entire life. My family was not vegetarian and constantly worried about me, harassed me, bribed and blackmailed me... same with "friends", teachers, co-workers, you name it. I literally couldn't (and still can't) go out to eat with anyone who didn't already know me extremely well, without my food choices becoming the focus of conversation. The problem appears to be that people want a "why" to explain me, and there isn't one. Unlike the OP I don't have "ethical reasons". Nor do I have religious, political, health, or any other specific reason. Meat is simply inedible to me, period. It doesn't smell good, doesn't look good, nothing about it holds the slightest appeal to me whatsoever. But there is no singular "why" and people just can't deal with that.

Finally I'm getting to my point for the OP. In my experience there is no way to accomplish what you want. Meat-eaters (making a huge generalization obviously but hey...) will never, ever, be able to get their head around it or see you as anything but weird. Basically there will be two camps of people in life - those who have some kind of problem with it, are uncomfortable with it, threatened by it, whatever... and those who simply do not care.

I've been fortunate in that nearly all of my relationships have just happened to be with people in that latter camp (not intentional on my part, I just got incredibly lucky) so I have not had to deal with this crap from my significant others. But people outside of that, even some that I still talk to who have known me for many, many years, just don't get it and think of me as "just weird" or "I don't eat" etc. Kinda sucks but for me, I just choose to have very few people in my life and I really like it that way. Quality over quantity.

1

If your goal, as you stated, is to put others at ease while being honest, (which I find wholly admirable, BTW) your best course, as others have suggested is to express it as a personal preference.

There's a way to do it while being honest, expressing your values, and still not offending anyone but the easily-offended.

Your best strategy is to craft a sentence that begins "I just don't want to eat..."

My first suggestion is "I just don't want to eat anything that probably came from an animal suffering." I imagine you can do better, but it's a decent starting point.

As someone who does eat meat, that's a response I could respect, and understand easily that it does not carry an accusation with it (unless of course I worked for Perdue or Tyson). I'd probably respond with something beginning with a sincere "good for you..."

The simple truth is that there's no way to be honest without making some people think uncomfortable thoughts, and that's okay. It's just how the world works.

It would be the same if you were an activist working to increase ethnic and economic diversity in housing, for example: almost every neighborhood has a dominant ethnicity (or else a narrow economic demographic), and most people like their neighborhood without thinking about its lack of diversity. Being made to think about something that's right in front of your nose and you never think about is uncomfortable, and that's OK.

1

The answer depends strongly on what you want to deliver and what you want learn about the asker.

If you want to just answer politely without any other intention, follow peufeu's answer. It is neutral to say "I like [it]" or "I don't like [it]".

If you want to answer politely and check if the asker is picky or tolerant, you can answer "It makes me feel better". There is a neutral meaning of your answer and offensive meaning as well. The response to this answer shows you what the asker thinks you have meant (usually what the asker wanted you to say) and how they react. Thanks to @Belle to bring this answer in the comments.

If you want to reduce the tension and bounce the topic off, you can answer in joking and ridiculous way as suggested in aslum's answer.

1

Remind them of the fact that it is a perfectly healthy attitude for anyone to decide for themselves what they put into (and in case of food, allow to become part of!) their own body or not. The ambiguity is almost intentional here - you can actually use it to strengthen the seriousness of your position. When it comes to eating, the hands are the last part of your body involved in the process that others should expect to be allowed to touch (eg as a handshake) without a clear invitation.

While others can expect that you tolerate (you don't need to "respect", yo!) their choices in that regard - neither are your choices subject to anyone's judgement.

To close the arc to the ethical reasons: You are probably at some level disgusted about food "produced" via practices that you do not consider ethical. Not putting inside yourself what you are disgusted about is perfectly your right.

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A lot of other answers have tried to tackle conveying your whole worldview in a nutshell that works for everyone. That just won't fly.

I'm a nondrinker, nonsmoker. This is pretty rare, and gets similar looks as vegans. When people ask why I don't drink, it's usually not a "genuine" question (in the sense that they want to know more about me), but rather an idly curious question.

My answer is usually "I never got into it, don't really like the taste or the effect. I know I could learn to like it, and there's a whole world of alcohol [in your case, meat] out there, but I just don't really feel like it. Maybe later."

No question of ethics, morals, judgement of lifestyles, just personal preference. Maybe our dietary decisions did come about from thoughtful inspection of how best to live one's life. But unless the asker is genuinely trying to learn more about your outlook as a person, that's really not relevant. What's relevant is you don't really want to do it, even though you know you could.

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There are a lot of answers already, and they might work. Allow me to introduce an alternative though, that I haven't seen.

Express uncertainty of your ethical decision.

Ethics are difficult, seriously difficult, and as others and yourself has said, if you're right, then they're wrong.

I would go with something similar to:

  • As far as I can tell, it is the ethical choice

  • I think it is the ethical choice

I am admittedly, and obviously, not a wordsmith, but here's why a variation of this might work.

It allows the listener an out, where he/she can still be ethical, by his/her own standards. What is ethical is objective, but what you think is ethical is subjective. Furthermore, it opens the discussion up to inquiry.

  • How so?

  • How did you get to that conclusion?

If I understand you correctly, you wouldn't mind a deeper discussion of the ethics involved, and in all likelihood, you end up all learning something.


As a sidenote, it is possible that no answer will help to some people. The resentment does not come from you judging them, but from them putting you into the Liberal hippie potsmoker activist camp with all the other hippie vegans. The only cure to that is to let them get to know you. When you say For ethical reasons they will think you are doing it to look ethical to your peers, and not to be it. - Of course, don't be as prejudice as these people, so assume the former, not the latter.

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I say that it's "for all the reasons". They've probably heard the reasons before and don't need to hear them again from me. This answer is especially appropriate if the question is phrased as "either/or", e.g. "Is it for health reasons, or etc.?"

FYI, various possible reasons include compassion, health, enjoyment, economics. ecology.

Another answer is, "Because I can be."

Another answer (possibly the least pushy) is, "Because my girlfriend decided to be."


For what it's worth, my reasoning is:

  • "For all the reasons" ... I guess the subtitle is, "I know you weren't born yesterday and I suppose you've already heard about this. Especially when the question you asked was ...

    Why are you vegan? Is it for health reasons, ethics, the environment? Taste, aesthetics?

    ... then you know the reasons: and I can reply, 'for all the reasons (these reasons and more)'. It's a win-win IMO, i.e. doing it for any one reason incurs the benefits of the other reasons too.

    Maybe people have lectured you on this topic in the past, and you don't need to hear it again from me. I decided there are good and sufficient reasons, by the way, but I don't need to lecture you (which I'd fear you might "resent"), and you don't need to pigeon-hole me (as a "health nut" or whatever). Being vegetarian or vegan is normal these days -- is it remarkable?

    If you want to know something specific (about the reasoning) then you can ask (because I might know something about all the reasons -- I too have heard the arguments before).

    Also the question as phrased (i.e. "why are you vegan") is all about me, and I'm not sure I'm quite comfortable with that (maybe I don't want a conversation with you that's all about me). If you wanted to reply with any question about being vegan, you could. I'm not even personally very interested any more in my being vegan: it's just what I eat, to live, like everyone else.

    Also I don't want to hear the tired counter-arguments for not being vegan, so I don't want to prompt that with pro-vegan talking points."

  • "Because I can be" ... is subtitled, "If I were living in another time and place, then maybe I couldn't afford to be vegan, maybe I'd be unable to live that way -- if I were living in the Middle Ages, for example, or in the Arctic. So I realise I'm fortunate, that I'm able to be, here. I don't want to count myself as "holier than thou" for doing this, just luck that I have the opportunity (e.g. an environment where the foodstuffs are available) and the know-how." ... and, this goes without saying, "You could be vegan too if you wanted be."

  • "Because my girlfriend decided to be" ... subtitled, "Big joke: I'm not a militant or anything (or at least, I'm not any more), just trying to please her -- like who wouldn't in my situation? One of those jokes in the internet is ...

    My wife wanted a kitten: but I'm the man in this house. So, we got a kitten.

    ... perhaps you understand. Of course we can be vegan if she wants us to be, we simply have to shop accordingly. My sweetheart says she likes animals. Love, eh? It changes you (more specifically, it changes me -- I'm not saying it changes you), who can argue with it?"


Note that the latter two are more-or-less I-messages ...

I-messages are often used with the intent to be assertive without putting the listener on the defensive

... which have been recommended for "conflict resolution", and which may be appropriate since the question as phrased is especially asking about "you".

I know that people argue about it, and people have taken this topic personally, I doubt it's worth lecturing people (if you want people to try some vegan meals there may be better ways than lecturing them), so I think you're right to worry that your answer might make people "resent" you.

For that reason the first answer is more-or-less evading the question. Maybe it's inept or could be epter, but I have said exactly/only that in the past and I don't remember its leading to arguments (maybe a lull in the conversation). It's basically replying, "You already know the answer, I'm not trying to attack you, maybe let's not talk about it."

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    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. – Mithical Jul 8 '18 at 9:46
  • Hi @ArwenUndómiel I added to the answer, to try to explain "exactly why I think that this is a good idea, the thought process behind this answer" etc. I hope that's suitable. – ChrisW Jul 8 '18 at 11:04

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