The world in general is adapting to the rise of vegetarianism and veganism, with a wide selection of meat-free products on the supermarket shelves and vegan options on the menu at many chain restaurants. However, in social contexts, there is still a stigma around being vegetarian that doesn’t seem to have disappeared with the changing times. When I made the decision to stop eating animal products, I knew that this would involve a lot of cooking separate meals and ordering from a separate menu in restaurants, seeing as almost all of my family and friends are meat-eaters. What I didn’t foresee was the social awkwardness. There is definitely still stigma around veganism, and maybe I contribute to the stigma myself, as generally when people ask about my diet I tell them ‘I’m veggie’ rather than ‘I’m vegan’ as it is more ambiguous and doesn’t explicitly label me as vegan and associate me with the stereotypes that come with it.
Part of the problem definitely comes from the media. From the minute we are born, we are shown adverts, TV shows, and dietary posters in schools which suggest that eating animal products is the normal thing to do and we should not question it. So understandably, when someone begins to reject a message that has been enforced upon the population all our lives, they will be seen as a bit of an outsider. Considering how many companies make money from animal products, it’s not surprising that big companies like the BBC aren’t keen to create material that promotes a veggie lifestyle. For example, if half the population became vegans, what would that do to TV ratings of shows like Masterchef and GBBO, which rely on the normalisation of consuming animal products to attract an audience?
Many people are accepting and open-minded when I opt for a vegan meal when eating with them, and even take an interest in my food, asking what my vegan ice-cream is made from, where I get protein from, or what sort of stuff I tend to eat, which I am happy to explain. However, in some situations, being the only veggie at the table can be an uncomfortable experience, when people around you make vegan jokes, call your meals ‘boring’, ‘restrictive’ or ‘not proper meals’, or tell you that they bet you wished you were eating meat. But heaven forbid, if in return a veggie makes any critical comment about the food on a meat-eater’s plate! This would be met with a barrage of ‘stop preaching’, ‘it’s none of your business what I eat’ and ‘you do you, I’ll do me’. Countless times I have heard people that suggest that vegans in particular are pretentious and ‘force their opinions on people’, yet however many times the average person would claim that their diet has been criticised by a vegan, I can guarantee that it will not be as many as the amount of times veggies have to listen to meat-eaters ridicule or belittle their dietary choices.
It’s even more frustrating when pretty much every reason for being vegan is positive, it’s really environmentally friendly, good for your health, and is compassionate towards animals. With veganism being the fastest growing lifestyle in the UK, perhaps it’s time that we ended this social stigma and let veggies be veggies in peace.
Edited by: Sarah Holmes