Can Vegans and Non-Vegans be friends?
The short answer is, yes, of course they can.
But people choose to handle this difference in different ways.
First, let’s understand this difference. Once a person has seen the truth of how nonhuman animals are treated in our society, she cannot un-see this truth. And once someone has seen this truth, he cannot help seeing that non-vegans are participating in drawing this arbitrary line between lives that matter and lives that don’t.
I am reminded of a quote, one of my favorites, by The Thinking Vegan:
“Both vegans and non-vegans live in a state of disconnect. Non-vegans disconnect from the fact that billions of nonhuman animals are enslaved, tortured, confined and violently murdered for their pleasure, preferences and entertainment. Vegans live in a state of disconnect so that our hearts don’t shatter into a million pieces moment by moment due to the fact that billions of nonhumans are being exploited and the people we love continue to participate. Vegans have to disconnect just to be able to get through the day.”
I sent out a short survey to friends and family and haven’t heard from any non-vegans regarding how they manage this difference, but I have heard from several vegans in response to the survey and in conversations over the years.
Some vegans choose not to be friends with non-vegans. It seems like they decide that they do not want to have to disconnect from their feelings and experience to be connected to someone.
Stephen S. of Rockville, Maryland says, “My thoughts are that since becoming a serious vegan I have gradually shed most of my non-vegan friends and certainly haven’t made any new ones, and the thought of becoming involved with someone who is OK with contributing to such extreme cruelty makes a potential relationship with an omni a non-starter.”
Lisa K. says, “I don’t have many non-vegan friends, and the ones I do have I cannot feel connected with. I have a vegan friend who has a lot of non-vegan friends. If I am with her and her friends, I hate it and wonder how she can possibly be friends with them.”
Others manage this difference in their friendships with non-vegans in different ways. Some make it part of the relationship by having a conversation with their friends. They talk about how a part of them cannot help but see their friend as participating in the exploitation and devaluation of another.
Others manage this difference by asking for respect of how they experience being in this world. Perhaps an analogy is how a recovering alcoholic might ask to not go to a bar or for the friend not to drink in front of him or her. Vegans might ask to go to a vegan restaurant when going out to eat together, or not see any movies that use animals, or for the friend not to talk about non-vegan food or other products.
Even if friends make this a part of the conversation between the two of them, vegans will have to manage the feelings that come up about knowing that someone they care about and like, and may love, is participating in cruelty to others. Some strategies that I’ve heard vegans use in their friendships with non-vegans include:
- They practice extending compassion to all, including non-vegans
- They remind themselves that they weren’t always vegan
- They frame the difference as pre-vegan instead of non-vegan
- They do a lot of compartmentalization
- They want to be a good role model for living a joyful vegan life
- They decide that not being friends with non-vegans leaves them feeling too isolated and angry
- They recognize that each of us has to make concessions to live in this imperfect world and being friends with non-vegans is a concession they are willing to make
- They try to keep situations and conversations away from anything non-vegan
Is one way better than another? I don’t know.
I don’t know that there could be a way that is best. Each of us is dealing with the internal struggle of being vegan in a non-vegan world. How we manage this depends on who we are, our personal history and beliefs and changes depending on how we evolve. I hope we can support each other in this struggle.
Non-vegans will also have to manage their feelings that come up around their choices and this difference. How they manage their feelings can range from defensiveness to not talking about it to acceptance.
I hope this has been helpful and that you will share some of your ideas and/or experiences in the Comments section below.