Vegans are often in the minority at work and have unique challenges to face. These include:
- Being excluded. This happens accidentally, such as when a person ordering food for an event does not think to include vegan options. It also happens purposely when non-vegan co-workers consciously exclude vegans.
- Being questioned Sometimes this is done innocently and with curiosity while other times it is intended to be offensive. In either case, it can be exhausting to constantly explain oneself.
- Being ridiculed. This occurs verbally through jokes, teasing, name calling, and insults. It occurs physically at times, too, and can thus feel even more intrusive (e.g. when a non-vegan coworker gestures with a piece of meat towards a vegan while being insulting).
- Being traumatized. In addition to the aforementioned traumas, there are others that are less obvious. For example, many vegans are constantly disgusted by the smell of meat and other animal products consumed in the workplace. To many vegans, these smells are reminders of death and cruelty. Another example is pest control. Since vegans try to do the least harm possible to all beings, seeing glue traps and other common pest control items that are known to be painful for animals can be very traumatizing.
The following suggestions are meant to help vegans cope with these challenges.
Be a positive role model
- Role model compassion. Remember that veganism is about compassion towards all living beings. Coworkers are less likely to be exclusive or insulting if they see you as a kind, approachable person. If a coworker asks about your veganism or food in a way that is not meant to be insulting, respond with compassion. Remember that most vegans have not been so since birth and required education to become so.
- Role model healthy living. Lead by example by showing that a vegan lifestyle can include physical, emotional, social, and spiritual health.
Advocate for vegan food
- Offer to share a sample of your food if a coworker expresses interest in it.
- Cook, bake, or bring in store bought food that will help coworkers become familiar with vegan food.
- Offer recipes or resources to coworkers who express an interest in vegan food. Offer to give them your favorite recipes or cooking blogs. Let them know that many libraries have vegan cookbooks. Inform them about local vegan festivals where they can try a variety of food.
- Be proactive about food served at events. Offer to help plan events so that you can ensure there are vegan options. If not able or interested in doing so, ask the person in charge of food if you can view the menu and let them know what to order you.
- Be proactive about other food served at work. If your job has a cafeteria, for example, suggest some vegan items to carry.
- Be proactive about work outings. Suggest vegan-friendly restaurants. If you know in advance where an event will be and are not familiar with the restaurant, call ahead of time to be prepared with options.
- Keep food at your desk. This way not only will you never be left hungry at events, but you can also socialize at events without feeling like you are the only one not eating. You can also share it with interested coworkers to familiarize them with vegan food.
Educate non-vegan coworkers
- Share why you are vegan. Keep in mind that most people do not know about the cruelty that is involved with animal products and do not intend to be part of such a harmful system. You might inspire them with compassionate education. This also helps people understand that your veganism is about ethics as opposed to just a diet choice.
- Share vegan resources. Share websites, brochures, etc. with interested coworkers.
- Educate people in charge about vegan options for pest control, hand soap, cleaning products, and other non-food related issues.
Advocate for yourself
- Stay calm. It does not serve you or anyone else, including the vegan cause, if you become frantic or aggressive. Be firm while remaining kind towards others.
- Use humor. It helps people see you as approachable and helps you cope with stress.
- Practice responses to common questions and comments so that you feel prepared to deal with them.
- Seek help for harassment. Seek assistance from a supervisor or human resources. If your job does not handle the situation sufficiently, you might wish to consider pursuing a legal case.
- Practice self-care at work. If smells from non-vegan food upset you, do what you can to minimize exposure to this: close your office door, open windows, take a walk or eat somewhere else during common times this occurs, or use natural products to deal with the smells (e.g. essential oils).
- Practice various forms of self-care daily: healthy eating, healthy sleeping, regular exercise, etc. Being vegan in a non-vegan world is traumatizing on a regular basis, so take extra care to manage stress.
- Spend time with your social support system, especially other vegans. If you would like to meet other vegans, the internet (e.g. local Facebook and Meetup groups) and local vegan festivals are a good place to start.
- Spend time with animals. Not only do studies show that spending time with animals lowers anxiety and depression, but spending time with them can also remind you why your commitment and advocacy as a vegan is so important.
- Focus on what is within your control. Know that you are doing the best you can.