33

I work at an office where I'm the only vegan in the company and a I choose to eat a lot healthier than most people in the company. People find it necessary to make comments about my lifestyle choice. Every time someone brings in food to the office or the boss buys a company lunch there are comments made on how the food is not vegan so I can't have it and stuff like that.

This morning we had a meeting and the boss made a comment on bringing a beef stew for lunch followed up by "sorry, [my name] it's not vegan" and everyone laughed. I talked back and jokingly said that I don't understand why they are always picking on my diet because I never criticize everyone else's diet. I even often bring my own food to the company lunches because thy company doesn't always accommodate my needs, which is fine but can make me feel left out at times. The boss's wife is vegan and he's not allowed to eat those other foods at home so I would think that he would be more understanding.

I am also a certified chef & baker and I have a cooking business on the side so I often bring dessert samples to the office, which they happily eat and praise despite the fact that my food is vegan.

It is getting irritating and frustrating and I don't want to come across as rude and argue back every time a comment is being made. I don't think it's a huge deal but I don't think anyone is aware of how they are offending me.

How can I best deal with the constant commenting or make people know that I don't appreciate it and it's upsetting me?

  • 2
    @Paparazzi I just said, I don't make comments on your food all the time so why do you have to pick on my food? – sillygilz Feb 1 '18 at 19:21
  • 2
    Good answer. You should quote that in the question. – paparazzo Feb 1 '18 at 19:29
  • 26
    A small question: Do you also make comments about their food? I wondered because of this sentence: "I choose to eat a lot healthier than most people in the company" which could come across as a judgement if you would be telling them that. – Mixxiphoid Feb 1 '18 at 20:01
  • 9
    @Mixxiphoid No, I never comment on anyone's food choice. It's just a personal observation since often people bring in sodas, donuts and cookies to the office etc, which I find to be unhealthy but I never voice my opinion or make them feel guilty for it. Somehow they think it's necessary to make comment on the stuff I bring in or things they bring that I can't have – sillygilz Feb 1 '18 at 20:23
  • 2
    Opposite, but related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/1556/… – kem Feb 1 '18 at 23:52
24

This is sort of funny, because I literally just replied with more or less the same thing not ten minutes ago on this question.

The reason they joke around with you is because:

  • They may be feeling a little guilty about their own, unhealthier, choices, and resent you for it.
  • Your choices simply mark you as "different", which people are psychologically wired to mistrust at a very instinctual level.
  • They like to rile you up because you react to it.

You need to learn to roll with the punches, such that it's no longer fun for them to comment on your food.

For example:

Them: Sorry, my soup is not vegan!
You: No worries, can't expect everyone to know what's good! (and laugh it up)

Or when you bring delicious baked goods in, and the guy grabbing one is one of the people who teased you, say:

You: Careful, it's vegan! It might be good for ya!
OR
You: Careful, the main ingredient is dirt.

As soon as people realize that you take it all in stride, you don't act as if your choices make you better than them, and more importantly, you're not an easy target, they'll move on.

  • 5
    don't get me wrong, 99% of the time I don't even react to it at all and I always crack up jokes with everyone but it just gets too old every once in a while like the tall guy in the office always being joked on how tall he is etc. – sillygilz Feb 1 '18 at 15:49
  • 9
    @sillygilz - it's human nature to poke and prod each other, looking for a reaction. It's our way of determining social hierarchies. The ones who squirm, can't handle it, are "beneath you". The ones who dish it back, are "above" you, and you shouldn't screw with them. It happens literally all the time, but most people don't consciously realize it. If you put on a show of force, and demonstrate that you are not bothered by the subject, they'll (mostly) drop it. – AndreiROM Feb 1 '18 at 15:53
  • 18
    @sillygilz - A story: I'm a developer, & work in a fairly crowded office. The dress style is business casual. I'm the only one in the office who hunts, and people teased me about it quite a bit. I got pulled into some meetings for a project with a bad rep, and my boss joked that if I were wearing camo maybe they wouldn't have "found me". So come Monday I showed up wearing camo pants, shirt, sweater, hat, jacket - the works. Everyone was joking about how they "can't see Andrei". Some people asked to take pictures. I laughed it up with all of them. I have not heard a single camo joke since. – AndreiROM Feb 1 '18 at 15:59
  • 12
    I'm not saying whether it's right or wrong, but this strategy will perpetuate or escalate the teasing, not end it. The difference is that you'll feel like you're fighting back. – 200_success Feb 1 '18 at 18:19
  • 8
    I like this answer as it illustrates one of the many available communication strategies. I would be careful about the vegan=healthy implication though. It is not proven that veganism/vegetarianism is per se healthier, most of the time it rather boils down to concious vs. careless consumption. It's a mechanism that poisons the communication on that topic: the vegan actually feeling superior because of the allegedly "better" (healthier) choice on one side and assuming that the vegan feels superior on the other. Or both parties accusing the others of having one of those stances. – Randolph Carter Feb 2 '18 at 1:32
19

Background

I've been in a very similar situation for most of my life. I am on the autism spectrum, and because of that I have sensory issues that cause me to only eat a very limited number of foods. For most of my life I've gotten jokes and comments about my diet, and I've gotten pretty good at stopping them.

How I do it

The thing that I've found the most helpful, particularly in a group setting such as an office, is to have another person "on your side". I worked on one team where there was a manager who made several comments about my diet. I talked with one of my team leads and told her about how the manager's comments made me uncomfortable. Having her understand and be able to back me up made it much easier for me to speak up when the comments were made. Additionally, with her knowing how the comments affected me, she was able to speak up when the comments were made while I wasn't there. Ultimately, the comments stopped.

You need to find someone that you can explain yourself to and get them on the same page as you. Since your boss's wife is vegan, and he is supposed to set the example in the office, I would recommend him. A good model to follow is the model for constructive feedback of "when you..., i feel..., because...".

You start by pointing out an action that someone takes

When you make jokes about how the food isn't vegan

Then you explain how that action causes you to feel

I feel unnecessarily singled out

And finish with an explanation of why you feel that way

Because you call out my dietary restrictions, despite the fact that I'm willing to provide my own food

It is quite likely, as you mentioned, that they don't realize that what they are saying bothers you. If you can convince one person to stop joking about your diet, then others might notice this and stop on their own. If the others don't then you can begin talking to them individually and having similar conversations.

Don't laugh it off

I would recommend that you stop going along with their jokes because in my experience, laughing along has been counter productive. When others made comments and jokes about my diet, I used to laugh it off even though it bothered me. When I laughed with them, they would feel empowered to continue joking about it. I finally got them to stop when I took the time to explain why I eat what I do, and why I didn't like all of the jokes about it. After my explanation, the jokes stopped coming and several people apologized and told me they never realized how much what they had said bothered me.

  • 3
    Your advice is solid, however, I would not say something along the lines of When you do X ... I feel excluded from the group. OPs extreme dietary preference is also a form of self chosen exclusion and people might focus on that in their (initial) reaction: well *you* are the one excluding yourself by not eating "proper" food. I'd try something along the lines of I feel unneccessarily singled out/ridiculed for something that does not concern you [as I bring my own food] – Randolph Carter Feb 2 '18 at 1:14
  • @RandolphCarter That's a good point, I've edited the answer. – Rainbacon Feb 2 '18 at 1:19
  • +1 Incidentally the answer that was accepted on the question AndreiRom linked to was similar to this and the OP confirmed that confrontation worked in their case. Also I find from experience that for some reason many people don't realise what they're saying causes people pain or they somehow feel justified because there's a subconscious belief that "all vegans are millitant, therefore it's ok to attack vegans" despite evidence to the contrary. Bringing the inconsistency to their attention makes it harder for them to ignore it and carry on behaving unfairly. – Pharap Feb 2 '18 at 13:05
  • (+1) I agree with this style of working out issues, but I would possibly also add the "I want..." step. i.e. the step where you tell them the action you want taken that will prevent you feeling like this in future. "When you...I feel...Because...[To remedy this] I want you to avoid isolating me with jokes about my diet in future.". – Bilkokuya Feb 2 '18 at 14:54
8

It might not be a huge deal now but it will be in the future if their behavior continues like that.

My understanding is that since your initial response was relatively joking, they understood that as you joking. They did not see how much of an issue it really was for you.

Talk to the boss and relevant people one on one. It helps them take you more seriously and prevents the issues that come up when dealing with people in a group. There may definitely be a fear on sensitivity, but if coworkers and bosses are smart, they will factor in a co-worker's well being as a means for good work culture. As for hearing about bad responses in the past, unless you were there you have no idea about the context of the rest of the discussion, unless of course you were there. Thus you don't know until you try.

But if he does this repeatedly, then as @Kendra said it legally turns into Harassment, the legal definition of which is here:

S 240.25 Harassment in the first degree.

A person is guilty of harassment in the first degree when he or she intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following such person in or about a public place or places or by engaging in a course of conduct or by repeatedly committing acts which places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury. This section shall not apply to activities regulated by the national labor relations act, as amended, the railway labor act, as amended, or the federal employment labor management act, as amended.

Harassment in the first degree is a class B misdemeanor.

Of course, this is contingent on which state within the United States you work in, since harassment laws differ from state to state

Another comment you mentioned seemed like there is a toxic culture problem permeating the company, which is an issue to address entirely different from the question posed.

  • how to I bring up the topic without coming across as overly sensitive? I know that in the past a coworker told the boss and the manager that he was being bullied and their reply was "you're not a child, suck it up" – sillygilz Feb 1 '18 at 15:42
  • 1
    @sillygilz - indeed, people who go and "tell the teacher", as it were, are seen as weak, and no one likes a weakling. It's ingrained in our nature. – AndreiROM Feb 1 '18 at 15:43
  • 4
    @sillygilz That sounds like an HR nightmare just waiting to happen. =/ Does your company have HR? If the response you get to bringing this up is "suck it up" and this behavior continues, that begins to turn it to harassment... – Kendra Feb 1 '18 at 15:50
  • 1
    @ Kendra we have an HR lady that is not in-house and no one hardly ever contacts her. We had people in the company bullying, talking mean behind people's back etc. I assume that there are a few people like that at many businesses and our boss just doesn't see it so he doesn't believe that it exists or thinks that people should just deal with it. I personally had very mean stuff said about me but I got used to ignoring it. I just wish they would take it easy on this one topic – sillygilz Feb 1 '18 at 15:56
  • 2
    Surely your mention of the crime of harassment doesn't apply here, as it's very jurisdiction dependent and anyway I doubt the behavior described "places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury". – Deolater Feb 2 '18 at 15:05
4

Why they're doing it is explained in your answer:

This morning we had a meeting and the boss made a comment on bringing a beef stew for lunch followed up by "sorry, [my name] it's not vegan" and everyone laughed. I talked back and jokingly said that I don't understand why they are always picking on my diet because I never criticize everyone else's diet.

They're going to have a field day with this - you're defensive about your choices. Even one of the answers suggests being snarky, which is only going to make this worse, as you've painted yourself as defensive about a healthy choice (see the irony?).

Twenty years ago, I used to eat a grain that was incredibly unpopular and people always asked about it. It annoyed me, but the more I showed annoyance, the more people asked. Finally, I started playing along with it:

Them: Eating birdseed again [it was not actual birdseed, but it did look like it]?

Me: Yep, stole it from the bird house outside. Be careful going out there - the birds are pissed.

Once they realized I didn't care, they stopped teasing and in hindsight, it was no big deal. Some people tease others they like or they're comfortable with. I would NEVER TEASE someone I hated, disliked, or felt uncomfortable with, so maybe it's a compliment.

But if you're really annoyed, showing annoyance is going to make it worse. Rather than get defensive or make a snarky remark, be humble - it removes any further joke:

Them: Sorry, [your name] it's not vegan

You: Oh man, I'm really starting to re-think this whole thing (with a smile)

You've stolen their thunder and rather than get defensive or snarky (which is passive-aggressive defense), you've proven that you're okay with being the end of the joke. How hard is being joked about in the larger context of life? It really is just a perception thing once you realize they're comfortable enough with you to have some fun.

2

In a perfect world you could just get a job somewhere else where a bunch of cool people work, and that you get along with great. I say this because life is short and you have to ask yourself how much time you want to spend with people who are, let's say "not great."

You could just barely respond. Say something deadpan like "far out" or "right on" and just smile at them if they keep going.

You could ask them if they think the jokes are getting old. "How many miles do you all think you can get out of this your a vegan thing?" "Do you usually tell the same joke to the same people over and over again?"

Or you could tell them you eat meat now. All the time. I'm just not hungry right now.

It's a pain in the ass, I get it, I've been there. They will think you're a jerk if you take it to anyone in administration. None of them have had to deal with constantly being referred to by a single characteristic of their personality and how distracting and annoying it is, but they'll think you should just get over it. So make them feel dumb and they'll stop.

2

I am lacto-vegetarian have always faced the same issue. The fact is, the lifestyle choice does sometimes lead you to being left-out. Sadly the right thing to do is just smile and ignore. Also please...please...please do not try to make any smart alec comments...ever. All this super smart sounding come-backs will be career suicide unless you are way up the ladder. Just smile and ignore.

2

I'm also vegan and the only vegan in my office. I found the best way is to be harsh sometimes. The idea is to make them think twice before saying another comment again, and like I said it's a little harsh but it's in my experience that if you don't say anything it will continue to happen. It's a bit like bullying in my opinion. And the best way to beat a bully is to bite back.

Imagine this situation

Colleague: "Sorry, [name], this [food] isn't vegan!"

Me: "Why would I want to eat your food? I have my own food you know"

or perhaps..

Colleague: "Oh - you can't have milk can you" Me: "Not can't. Won't. It's a personal choice, not a religion."

Or

Colleague: "Is that leather on your belt"

Me: "No"

While it may seem rude to be this way, they will soon learn that that topic is not for discussion. Maybe it could be if people weren't so judgmental or say things in an accusatory tone. But it works. However to not get the reputation of the office bitch I try to be nice to everyone, start happy conversations. Despite the comments above I'm still well liked in my office and have good rapport with everyone. But my overall point is you gotta defend yourself.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.