By Alison Leyton Mercer, VO Supporter and Volunteer
“A vegan and a CrossFitter walk into a bar. I only know because they told everyone within two minutes.”
I’ve heard variations of that joke multiple times from colleagues at my job. Since becoming vegan 2 ½ years ago, in my non-vegan work environments I’ve been known as the vegan, our vegan, and, the one that gets me every time, the vay-gun. I feel like I’ve heard every joke, question, and comment. I was recently told in jest by an older gentleman that works in my office suite that the only way he can make sense of me liking tofu is that I’ve been brainwashed. I’ve lost count of the amount of times colleagues have asked me if I’ve visited the local zoo, and when I responded one time by saying I’m not a fan of zoos, the person looked at me baffled and asked if I don’t go because I don’t like animals.
If you see blood trickling from my tongue it’s because I’m biting it so hard to stop myself from saying something rash. I wind up smiling and not saying anything to people that make these types of remarks because I’m looking at my reflection in the mirror from 2 ½ years ago. I used to be a patron of both the zoo and aquarium, and before eating a vegetarian diet I used to eat chicken at most every meal. How can I pass judgment on my coworkers who do the same things I used to do just a few years ago?
I’m a professional fundraiser in the higher education setting and a large part of my job is cultivating relationships with supporters of the university. I always tell people that I’m not only in the business of raising funds, but I’m also an expert apologizer. If someone calls me, upset that they received an unwanted solicitation, I have to put on a face and be cordial for the sake of the organization. This is undeniably parallel to what I have to do when coworkers talk to me about veganism – I have to be irrefutably kind in order to be the best advocate as possible for the animals.
One time at a student event, the organizers served a buffet-style lunch. I had a dry salad with fruit and steamed veggies – not the most appealing meal, but I made it work. One of the students went back for seconds and when he sat down at the table with his plate of food that looked exactly like my lunch, a faculty member from across the table said, “What are you – vegetarian?!” The student responded by saying that he was not, but that he wanted to fuel up on some fruits and veggies. I jumped in and asked politely, “Even if he was, is that such a bad thing?” It got the conversation going and we wound up talking about Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, a documentary that the faculty member watched not long before our conversation, and surprisingly he was interested to know more about me being vegan! I’ve learned that sometimes it’s the most defensive people who crave information on changing their ways with food.
Truthfully, I haven’t always had this kind of demeanor toward people’s unkind, judgmental comments. Confession time: I used to be an angry vegan and even though it was short lived, I will not let myself go down that dark and lonely path again. Dr. Melanie Joy truly changed my life when I saw her presentation on carnism a few years ago. She helped me realize that we can only plant seeds of the truth that will hopefully inspire others to make a change in their own lives.
I’ve applied Dr. Melanie Joy’s philosophies to my everyday work life. I’ve come to realize it’s the small steps of change that are going to make the most positive impact. For instance, the women in my department at a previous job participated in Meatless Mondays and shared photos with me of vegan dishes they cooked for themselves and their families, which led to one of them trying tofu for the first time. That’s not all: I’ve also recently suggested to someone at work to try Field Roast, prompting her to buy it that same day – and she absolutely loves it! She keeps telling me the different dishes she’s making with it and all I keep thinking is that’s an animal’s life that is spared when she opts for Field Roast instead of meat. Not to mention, I’ve made vegan cookies, pumpkin bread, and pasta salad for my office mates before and the food gets gobbled up within a few hours of being in the office kitchen. These are just a few examples, and I encourage you to find your own cases of hope for the animals in your non-vegan workplace – I know they are out there if you just search a little.
I’ve put together a few tips below on how to thrive as a vegan in a non-vegan workplace so we can all continue to plant seeds to grow a beautiful, compassionate world.
- Volunteer: Leafleting for organizations like Vegan Outreach, as well as doing other types of outreach outside of work is a great outlet for vegans, and is one of the most effective methods of advocacy.
- Donate: One of the best things you can possibly do for the animals is donate money to animal protection organizations. Your donations cover the costs of programs and outreach that spare millions of animals a lifetime of suffering.
- Advocate through food: Bring in your favorite vegan dish to share with coworkers to show them how easy and delicious vegan food can be. Be sure to print out the recipes so they can make it themselves!
- Educate: Open up dialogue in a natural, unforced way. Being a resource of information for people when – or even if – they are ready to hear it tends to be the best way to reach out to coworkers.
- Manage stress: Be sure to take care of yourself so you can be the best advocate as possible for the animals. Exercise, eat healthy, and do something fun during your free time to relieve the stress that occurs from the workplace.