Carol M. Coughlin, R.D. -- Vegetarian Journal -- May/June 1997
We are vegetarians. It is not just our diet, but a way of life for us. How can we share our enthusiasm without turning people off? Let everyone know you are a vegetarian. Be specific. Simply state: "We do not eat meat, fish, chicken, milk, eggs, gelatin, gravy, broth." Then tell them what you do eat. This eliminates embarrassing situations.
Have you ever been invited to dinner only to be served fish? Has someone brought a dish of Rice Krispie treats as a snack for your child's playgroup and then not understood why you will not eat any? Most people do not realize that gelatin, chicken broth, and other foods are animal derived.
Focus on what you have in common. Everyone should strive to eat a plant-based diet. Look at the food pyramid. The base of it is grains. The next largest portion is vegetables and fruits. Animal products are supposed to play a minimal role. This is the best place to start. I always do a fruit and vegetable themed talk for pre-school and lower elementary kids. If someone says their child likes macaroni and cheese or pizza, share that you eat those foods too only slightly different. Then invite them over to try some cheeseless pizza or nutritional yeast macaroni and "cheese."
Whenever the neighborhood children come over, feed them vegetarian foods such as soyamilk, tofu hot dogs, veggie burgers, and pasta with veggie sauce, etc. You may find that other parents will purchase these items because their kids started asking for them.
Talk About What You Eat
When you bring a lunch to work, offer to share some. Or put a dish of vegan cookies next to the coffee pot with a stack of recipe cards. If parents enjoy vegetarian dishes, they're more likely to serve them to their own children.
Consider giving gift subscriptions of vegetarian publications to your school's or town's library. Donating vegetarian books helps too. Most libraries have limited budgets. Imagine if every vegetarian family donated one book or journal to their library!
Keep in mind that if someone is on the defensive, his or her mind is closed and he/she will not hear you or learn a thing. Look for the teachable moment. The day after a news story on an E coli outbreak from eating burgers might be a good day for a veggie burger BBQ. But it might not be a good day to approach the subject if a family member was affected by the outbreak. The middle of Thanksgiving dinner is probably not the best time to discuss turkey production, unless you are specifically asked why you do not eat turkey. Use your best judgement.
Some people become vegetarian all at once. Others move toward the goal one recipe at a time. And we have to admit that some will never change their way of eating. I lived in a cooperative housing situation at college with a guy whose philosophy was "If it is warm and not moving, I will eat it." Move on. Use your positive energy where it will do some good.
Be active. Take the scout troop to a health food store, tofu factory, or other veggie food maker for a field trip. Do cooking classes at your child's school.
If you read a review of a restaurant that has some veggie dishes on the menu, write a letter to the editor stating that the review was right on target because the vegetarian chili there is first rate!
Becky Turner edits her family cookbook. She includes vegan versions of some of the meat dishes. It can be as easy as changing a written recipe to "1 cup soy or skim milk." Many people always use the first choice, or would not have thought to try a non-dairy alternative.
Nothing succeeds like success. People will see that you thrive on a vegetarian diet and that you do not have to scrub your kitchen with antibacterial soap to kill the bacteria in the "juice" from the meat thawing on the counter. They will see that you do not have to wash out greasy pans. They may just notice that you are not on a first name basis with the pharmacist. Your healthy and happy family is a living testament to the vegetarian way of living. You share the vegetarian lifestyle just by being an example.