How do you think most people define vegans?
1) Is it as protein-deficient, tofu-tinged beings who have arrived by
dead of night from the planet Vega to take over the bodies of
earthlings, all the while ranting against consuming meat and dairy
2) Or, is it as earthlings who have given up the joys of burgers,
Buffalo Wings and cheese-topped pizza, and want the rest of the planet
to suffer along with them [and, moreover, to wear weird shoes]?
In truth, a vegan is very likely an ordinary person of any size and
shape who has decided to live with compassion for all life; to walk
gentler on the earth; and to eat health-promoting foods our bodies were
designed to eat. Presenting ourselves in this way is a challenge because
old myths die hard.
Joan Zacharias -- who before she moved to Tampa, Florida, was a staunch
member of MHVS -- inspired me to write about this subject because she
claims that I interact well with meat eaters. While living in Hudson,
Joan and her husband Tom Lyons participated in and organized many MHVS
activities. In Tampa, Joan founded “New Tampa Vegans.” At Joan’s
suggestion, I started thinking about how I communicate my beliefs.
First, I strongly believe that we can’t just “run off at the mouth"“ the
best way to communicate with uninformed people is to give them a taste
of our foods. So whenever I am invited to speak, I always bring food
along for people to try. This might even mean getting up at 2AM to make
hummus or tofu-no-egg salad while still half asleep-- and without taking
Ambien. I also frequently invite people who are not vegan to my house
for meals and snacks. Currently I am testing recipes for a cookbook
containing only vegan foods that I am writing together with Roberta
Kalechofsky, who was our speaker in January of 2006. [Check
also have been traveling and use that opportunity to convey the vegan
message. In November, I visited friends and family in Northern
California; and in December I visited Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City.
During these visits I frequently cooked vegan meals or prepared party
foods, making sure to explain that the dishes have “no cholesterol and
no cruelty.” Rather than pontificating at length, I prefer to deliver
short sound bytes, which often elicit questions that I always answer
If you are in a similar situation, I urge you to keep your answers
factual and interesting -- but short. By all means, don’t preach.
Here's an example:
Q: “Where do you get your protein?”
A: “From many sources. Tofu, tempeh and beans are very good
non-animal sources of concentrated protein. All foods -- except refined
sugars -- contain protein. Plants are composed of cells -- and cells
must contain proteins. Thus grains, vegetables and fruits have protein
too.” You might ask if they know of anyone who has a protein deficiency.
Then -- stop. This simple, but powerful, thought is sufficient to convey
Here’s some more advice: When preparing food for meat-eaters, lean
towards appetizers and desserts. People are much more willing to try new
foods in these formats. When invited to dinner, tell your host that you
are vegan and offer to bring a dish to share. Ask what dishes they will
be serving, and if appropriate you might suggest that they prepare
salads and vegetables without butter or cheese. Say this in advance to
save the host the embarrassment of preparing something he or she thinks
you may not enjoy -- without knowing that dairy is not used in vegan
cooking. You can be fairly certain that the main course will be off
limits, so leave that issue alone. You might also bring a quart of Soy
Delicious ice “cream” to share. When people ask questions about your
food choices at dinner, defer your answers until after the meal.
When dining out, taking your companions to vegetarian or
vegetarian-friendly restaurants both ensures there is something you can
order, but also introduces your dinner guest to some new foods. A cousin
was ready to take me to a steak house until I asked if there was a Thai
restaurant nearby. We choose one she liked and she realized for the
first time that they had a vegetarian section on their menu.
Many people are still uninformed about the connection between diet and
disease. The books on this subject that I recommend include “The China
Study” and “The Cancer Prevention Diet.” MHVS has both books and can get
any relevant book in print at a good discount, which we resell for about
75% of the cover price. You might also want to carry fliers for our
events to distribute to friends and acquaintances as well as copies of
“101 Reasons Why I am a Vegetarian,” by Pamela Rice (our speaker in July
of 2006) and the pamphlet “Why Vegan?” from Vegan Outreach. Need some
copies? Call the office.
recently bought the book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Living,”
which I find to be well-written and comprehensive. Another unintended
advantage -- the book’s title on the cover is very readable from a
distance. One day on the subway I had the book with me and a young woman
stopped me, told me she is studying to become a registered dietitian,
and asked me about the book. Again, on a bus, someone asked me about the
book who said her sister was a vegan and she was also making some
Perhaps the most important advice for those of us who are articulate and
knowledgeable is to write Letters to the Editor. You might write in
response to articles about global warming, hunting, fishing, foie gras
-- or the lack of vegan recipes in the food sections of newspapers. If
the New York Times doesn’t print your letters, most assuredly the
Poughkeepsie Journal, Daily Freeman or other local papers usually will.
Finally, when you are out and about, smile and be an example of a happy,
healthy person who enjoys living the vegan lifestyle.
Check the calendar of events on page 3 and join us for upcoming events,
bringing friends, neighbors, or family members. If you are a member,
offer to help people who are ready to make changes. Don’t hesitate to
call the office and ask for our help. If you are a paid member, you may
also attend board meeting. When being vegan is an important part of whom
you are, it will influence others.
-- Roberta Schiff, President