Background: My parents have recently changed to a vegan diet. They've discovered a lot of books, websites, and videos providing scientifically-backed reasons to eat only plant-based foods, and cut out animal products entirely. Since becoming vegans, both my parents feel great.

A family we are best friends with is heavily into nutrition. They have a huge focus on removing toxins from their diet, which can be traced back to causing a lot of health problems. They are very knowledgeable about this field.

I'm excited about eating better. The trouble is that the friends I mentioned above don't believe in vegan-ism. They think the idea that foods like milk, eggs, and organic grass-fed meat are bad for you, is laughable.

I really respect the knowledge these people have in the field of nutrition. They know a lot of stuff, and they've applied it to their own lives. But they disagree with the idea of going vegan.

Goal: I would like to reconcile the discrepancies between the science-backed pro- and anti-vegan information I've discovered. On one side there are doctors and nutritional experts saying all animal products are bad for you for a host of reasons. On the other side are my best friends - who, though not professionally, really are nutritional experts all the same - saying that not eating animal products is a bunch of baloney.

The simplest way I see to reconcile these differences is to show my friends the evidence we've found, and have them explain to me why it is faulty or correct. I'm not trying to convert them. I'm just trying to understand for myself.

Problem: My dad doesn't want me to do this. I've brought up my desire to show our friends the evidence and have them explain it to us, and his reply is always the same:

"They don't want to hear it; I don't want to force it on them. I don't want you to bring it up."

There is no transition in the conversation. Whenever I mention it, he shuts me down with more or less that exact line. The problem here is that I don't think he understands what I want to do. I'm not trying to convince anyone, I'm just trying to understand myself.

If they really didn't want to hear about it, that would be one thing, but I've seen nothing to suggest that. In fact, they bring it up themselves from time to time. However, trying to explain this and/or what I really want to do gets me nowhere with my dad.

My dad isn't really the kind of person you can have a logical debate with. You can try, but once you run into something he disagrees with, he starts getting invested in it. If you keep pushing, he starts jumping to conclusions about what you are saying ("So you want to do __?!?"), which normally isn't what I'm saying at all. If I keep pushing, he just shuts me down, saying he doesn't want to hear it, or acting like I'm being stubborn and talking won't solve anything. This makes trying to explain something to him - something which he disagrees with - nearly impossible. Unless there's another method.

So that's really what I'm asking: How can I explain something to someone who assumes I mean something else, and just shuts me down?

Note that this question is about my dad, and not the friends. The friends don't believe in veganism, but they aren't trying to stop us either, and there's no pressure to convert them. Rather, this question is about how I can talk to my dad so he'll understand what I'm saying, and what I want to do.

Please note that this is not a question about veganism, but a question about how to explain something to someone who doesn't want to hear it.

  • 2
    When you show someone evidence, you are starting a debate. You can't do this with the goal of helping yourself understand your own side. Your intention simply doesn't match the actions you want to take. I'm not sure we can help with that on IPS. (and for the record, many professionals, including nutritionists and doctors heavily back a fair amount of animal-based products, so your narrative of professionals vs. friends is inaccurate). So let me ask, why would anyone assume you're not trying to force it on them?
    – Clay07g
    May 15, 2018 at 19:57
  • The IPS question is basically overcoming resistance to your point of view. I submit that's a poor IPS; a stronger IPS would be to want to engage with opposing points of view and discuss with them and learn from them. May 15, 2018 at 20:01
  • And another topic, why do you need your father's approval to talk about a subject with your friends?
    – Clay07g
    May 15, 2018 at 20:05
  • I'm a little confused about your actual goal as understanding the science of veganism is not IPS (which you correctly note at the bottom, but is what your "goal" section talks about). Are you asking about how to talk to your dad, or the family friends?
    – Em C
    May 15, 2018 at 21:06
  • @Clay07g I would explain to my friends what I'm trying to do: understand. I'm assuming that would be enough to prevent at least any initial assumption that I'm trying to convert them or something. On the other topic, my dad expressly said he doesn't want me talking about it with them, and I would prefer not to do the exact opposite of what he said. He's still my dad. I'd like to solve this logically if I can. May 15, 2018 at 21:41

2 Answers 2


The question as asked:

There are a variety of techniques I learned as a high school debater that might help, but these are things for you to do. Your goal is to communicate effectively, which involves you appreciating and accounting for your father's idiosyncrasies and preferences. You want the conversation to happen, so it's on you to keep things focused, on-track, and framed in a way your father will accept. When someone really doesn't want to have a conversation with you, they can pounce on any misstep, real or imagined, you make to derail and end the conversation. That is, after all, their preferred outcome anyhow.

That said, the key is focus. If you know in advance what you want to express (or learn) you can examine comments, evidence, and points of discussion and assess if they are: on topic (does this tie directly back to what you want to express or learn?), precisely expressed (you express what you want to express, not more, not less, even by implication), and logically consistent with other standing comments (inconsistencies tend to prompt arguments and distract from your main points).

In cases where you are invariably shut down without conversation (as you describe in the question), you can ask why your father is assuming the things he assumes. You can't make him answer, but a question like "Why are you so certain they would be upset to talk about this?" refocuses away from your goals and towards the reason your father doesn't want to discuss the matter. It's an extra step, but figuring out why he doesn't want to hear it would be a huge help in figuring out how, specifically, to engage him. I can't speculate much on that score because I don't know him.

If you want to summarize and compare the evidence for and against veganism, then mentioning your friends is already off-topic. Even if the friends are very knowledgeable and convenient for discussion they are hardly the only source for information on the non-pro-vegan stance. If you bring them up every time you try to have this discussion with your father, it suggests that you are more interested in talking to them than in your stated goal of improving your own understanding.

If you want specifically to talk to your friends, you'll need a clear reason why they need to be involved to improve your understanding and a persuasive way to demonstrate that you won't be evangelical about veganism (intentionally or otherwise). These are your stated goals, and it will help if you have a plan for how the things you want to do will support those goals.

Extra Comment

This is not exactly an answer to the question, so I've separated it out from the rest. From what you've written, I am skeptical of your intentions and approach. A comment like:

I would like to reconcile the discrepancies between the science-backed pro- and anti-vegan information I've discovered. On one side there are doctors and nutritional experts saying all animal products are bad for you for a host of reasons. On the other side are my best friends - who, though not professionally, really are nutritional experts all the same - saying that not eating animal products is a bunch of baloney.

This presentation implies an agenda on your part, whether you intended it or not. Saying that the pro-vegan side has doctors and nutritionists with a clear conclusion on all animal products and the non-pro-vegan side has "your friends" who are informally knowledgeable is pretty lopsided. Plus you apparently already have the information (you've discovered it, per your description), so it's not clear to me what more you expect your friends to add.

It's also not hard for me to see why the whole approach you've outlined might raise some red flags. If you want to "reconcile the differences" in the arguments you've heard, that suggests a debate, however casual, with a clear "winner" (the side with points still standing after the reconciliation).

I think that you'll have a hard time convincing people that this is really only about your personal curiosity no matter what, as a lot of people have dealt with at least one pushy vegan-evangelist at some point in their lives. This adds extra difficulty to getting someone to have a discussion with you on this topic even beyond any general difficult-to-engage characteristics they may have. It means extra work, some probably unfair to you, for you to address their presumptions. But if you want to talk when they don't, you'll have to accommodate them.

  • Thanks for your answer. In reply to your third-to-last-paragraph, I wouldn't say it's so much about them adding info, as it is reconciling the two opinions. I believe my friends know what they are talking about and I trust them. I also believe that the pro-vegan evidence I'm looking at is irrefutable. These two stances are in direct opposition. The only way I see to figure out which is right is to put the two stances in the same room and see what happens. In a matter of speaking. May 15, 2018 at 23:59
  • 1
    @Thomas In that case I share your father's concern even more. The situation as you're describing it is essentially a conversion attempt-- either your friends acknowledge your "irrefutable" evidence, or they refute it and you no longer have much basis for veganism. Since you seem to place the greater weight on the pro-vegan side, this really at least seems like a conversion effort, if a sort of passive one. That positioning may make it harder to sustain a conversation with your father about this, assuming you can get one started.
    – Upper_Case
    May 16, 2018 at 10:51
  • 2
    @ThomasMyron Putting a cat and dog in the same cage won't tell you anything about which is a better pet.
    – Clay07g
    May 16, 2018 at 16:45

The best outcome you can hope for is to get them to agree to disagree, Or at least respect the choices being made. Some people need to eat vegan due to health issues like gout, others chose it for a more social justice aspect. You can find just as many journals that support veganism as there are for journals that support organic meats and animal products.

With that being said, the conversations you have with friends is yours to choose. Maybe your father is afraid that you will say something wrong and your family loses good friends. He feels it's better to just not talk about it than to have open discussion (which is a growing cultural issue... but I digress).

They say asking for forgiveness is easier than asking for permission. I don't know the situation, but if you feel like you can reach out to your friend and have a civil open conversation where you guys can come to a mutual agreement about your life choices then, go for it!

I suspect based on your portrayal of your dad, that he has tried but due to his nature, failed at talking about it and feels like if he can't talk to them then you can't.

So again, if you feel like you can bridge the gap, then Show your dad that you were able to get through to them so that they can at least understand your family choices. Maybe your dad will be upset, maybe he will admit it worked, but nothing happens when dialogue is cut off.

Of course, the other side is, if they don't want to hear it, no words of gold can get them to. This is why I think actions will speak louder than words. The person has to be able to accept the words you are saying if you want them to understand what you are saying. Otherwise, you are just talking in the wind.

EDIT: Some ways you can get your dad to maybe ease up is to spend a day with them if this is something you regularly do. Go have a beer, go fishing, go hiking, go to an arcade or play cards. Whatever it is you guys enjoy together, and then maybe throw in something like:

Hey Dad, I think it's really cool you guys made the choice to be healthier. It has made me really curious about eating right as well. Would you mind if I did some of my own research? I don't quite fully understand what these findings imply and I would love to be able to have someone to discuss nutrition with. Since the XXXX are really smart with nutrition, I really would like the chance to talk to them so that we can discuss my curiosity in food science. I am not asking them to approve our lifestyle choice, and nor am I looking to debate them. I simply wish to get a deeper understanding from someone I accept as being knowledgeable and I hope that's okay.

  • 1
    The problem isn't that the friends aren't vegans. They don't agree with it, but they don't have a problem with my parents' ideas. The problem is that I don't understand the science behind everything being said about diets, and would like them to clarify it by showing them the evidence for veganism and hearing their thoughts. My dad doesn't want me to do that - I suspect he thinks they don't want to hear about it, and therefore simply wishes to avoid conflict. May 15, 2018 at 21:47
  • Maybe he is afraid that they will provide evidence to talk him out of it and he is happy with his choices and the way he feels. He may feel that regardless of what may actually be said, he is content with his current life and doesn't wish to be swayed. If you are curious, I don't see why you can't talk to them. Dieting and eating healthy is a culmination of knowledge. No one method is correct, just like martial arts. Every art has it's usage in a situation, as does particular diets and foods.
    – ggiaquin16
    May 15, 2018 at 21:52
  • I doubt he feels that way. His reasoning doesn't really have much to do with the question. The question is how I can talk to him so that he'll understand where I'm coming from. May 15, 2018 at 22:14
  • If he is in complete shut off mode, there really is nothing you can do as i stated in the reply. it's like asking how to force a donkey to walk when it's pulling back. Maybe wait for the whole situation to calm down, he has had time to process things mentally. I still don't understand though why you need to validate you talking to your friends from curiousity with your dad. Maybe I am missing something, but if you want to ask your friends more about dieting and the science behind it, I don't know why you need him to approve.
    – ggiaquin16
    May 15, 2018 at 22:29
  • Because I don't want to just go around him like that. I would rather be able to discuss all my options with everyone than having to do so behind his back in secret. He's my dad, and he told me not to bring it up with them. I won't just ignore him unless I have a really good reason to. May 15, 2018 at 22:35

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