Your friend has finally gotten it! Fred has finally decided to give up meat and/or animal products. Great! You are brimming with excitement, and you can’t wait to introduce him to the joys of tempeh, seitan, and tofu. However, he is struggling with a continuous hankering for bacon or artery-clogging cheese. You don’t want to come on too strong and send him running for the beef-laden hills, but you still want to provide him with that extra boost during weak moments. How do you achieve that balance?
Remember that some people will have a slower transition than others.
Some people go vegetarian overnight, while others make the transition over time. It’s important to emphasize long-term goals. For example, your friend may decide to try to eat vegetarian two or three days out of the week. Integrating vegetarian suggestions occasionally like this may help that omnivore who is really struggling to change from a diet heavy in meat to a plant-based diet.
Suggest nonperishable snacks to battle an empty stomach.
There’s nothing that will sink a vegetarian resolution faster than a famished, growling stomach. These are vulnerable moments, especially for a person who is giving up flesh foods. It’s very important that your buddy be fully prepared for traffic jams, delayed trains, and late meetings. New vegetarians may feel quite pleased with the new diet until they are so hungry that they will eat anything in sight, including burgers at the McDonald’s down the street. Suggest packing nonperishable snacks such as nuts and crackers to keep in the work desk, car, pantry, etc.
Invite your friend over for a product tasting.
Remember that first time you spooned soy yogurt into your mouth? Did you know what to expect? Were you apprehensive that you would hate it? Your aspiring vegetarian or vegan friend is now entering a whole new world of food. This world can be unfamiliar, and your pal Susan may feel like she doesn’t know where to start. Extend an invitation for dinner and some snacks. Serve appetizers that include veggie meatballs, veggie cocktail sausage, and vegan cheese. Offer a taste of Vegenaise on a spoon and suggest trying Earth Balance spread on a piece of toast. She may feel reluctant to buy a huge bag of groceries without trying the products first, especially if she has mainly subsisted on animal products. Your invitation will show her that vegetarian products taste good and can help her find a few tasty options.
Invite your friend over for a cooking lesson.
Remember the first time you cooked a meal? Did your recipes always turn out as planned? Probably not. Know that George’s first attempt at baking tofu may not turn out so well and that this may prove discouraging to him. Invite him over for dinner and cook the meal together. And show him the numerous, delicious recipes at PETA.org.
Act as a quick-reference guide.
Ever try to count the number of types of veggie burgers out there? Ever stand in front of a shelf of vegan cheese and feel perplexed? The vegetarian market is exploding, which means more product choices. Your pal may feel a bit lost in this new world, and your knowledge can make it a lot easier. Offer to go shopping together at the grocery store. Point out a couple of common products that can be found anywhere, not just health-food stores. Web sites such as PETA.org and vegetarian magazines and cookbooks are great resources to recommend.
Remember—not all brands are the same.
Let your friend budding vegetarian friend Sarah know that faux meats vary greatly by brand. If she tried her first veggie hot dog and hated it, suggest another brand. Better yet, act as her personal chef and suggest some of your own favorites. This can save time and money and will enable her to build up a supply of staples in the kitchen. (This is also important for when she begins cooking experiments on her own. When something goes awry, it’s always helpful to have a Tofurky sausage in the freezer to turn to.)
Be human and confess what you struggle with.
Many aspiring vegetarians will feel guilty about their cravings for flesh foods and animal products. They will question their ability to stay away from them. Some will even think that perhaps giving up these products is much harder for them than for everyone else and that maybe they just don’t have the ability to do it. While this view is sometimes used as an excuse, it can also be the result of frustration and discouragement. If you were once an omnivore, let your vegan wannabe pal Jim know what your challenges were. Say something like, “When I went vegan, I missed cheese terribly. I thought I’d never get over wanting it all the time. But eventually, I stopped craving it and found other foods that satisfy me. And I feel great knowing that no animals were harmed in the production of my food.” Jim needs to know that many vegetarians were once avid steak lovers and that those “perfect” vegans out there are also human beings with frailties.
Kimberly Eaton is an animal rights activist and aspiring foster mom for cats.