I get criticized for being vegan
I am a sophomore in high school and I have been a vegetarian by choice since I was 6. About 3 months ago I gave up dairy too, and I have been vegan ever since.
My mom is supportive and has also given up dairy after my efforts to 'convert her' to veganism. My friends all think my choice is weird and too off the beaten path for them to accept it. When I go to their houses for dinner, they seem offended when I bring my own food or don't eat the food they make, but I am not willing to compromise my ethics and eat meat/dairy.
I have stopped telling people I am vegan because of the disapproving looks I get. People automatically assume that I am a crazy, fanatic tree-hugging hippie (which I sort of am) but I don't shove my beliefs down people's throats, I rarely even talk about my diet choices in front of friends. Why are people so disapproving?
Many of my friends used to be vegetarian but have since gone back to eating beef and cheese sandwiches. I try to calmly deal with the eating choices of the people close to me without saying anything, but it is hard, because when I see a hamburger I see a tortured and abused cow rather than just a nummy treat. I realize that this entry is sounding like I feel superior to other people which is definitely not true. I have never criticized anyone's diet choices, which is why I am seeking advice.
After this lengthy entry, my question is this: Why do people criticize my eating habits when it in no way affects them, and how can I tastefully educate my friends on the cruelty of the meat industry without seeming critical or rude or like someone who shoves their beliefs down other people's throats?
First of all, congratulations to you on becoming vegan. You are making a huge difference in the life of farm animals, as well as in your own body. And, to do it at such a young age is really impressive. Unfortunately, you're dealing with some of the negative sides of choosing a path that's different than "the norm."
I'd like to tell you that you're getting criticized partially because you're still young and the young tend to feel afraid of people who are different. Unfortunately though, even as we get older people still fear what they don't understand. You might have seen this question sent in by a woman who dealt with a lot of negativity from an adult man: www.vegan-nutritionista.com/dealing-with-criticism-for-being-vegan.html . Make sure to check out the comments to get the full story.
You are entirely correct that your decision is yours alone to make and no one else should feel threatened or judged by you just because you choose to eat differently. The sad part is that no matter how positive you are about it, some people will still feel like you are judging them. This has nothing to do with you. What I believe is happening is that their conscience is telling them you are right and therefore they feel like that is coming externally from you. Really, the judging is happening inside them.
The very best thing you can do is remain positive and try to have a sense of humor about everything. I too decided to go vegetarian at a young age (12, not as young as you), and with two older brothers and lots of guy friends, I got teased A LOT for it. When I announced to my family I wasn't eating meat, my brother pinned me down and rubbed slices of ham all over my face. Ha! I probably cried at the time, but now I can laugh about it.
I have found that when you are able to be light-hearted about people's teasing, it tends to die down faster. If you try to fight them or tell them facts, they will keep making you feel terrible (I think because deep inside they know you are right and that they're choosing not to follow in your steps). I can't tell you it will be easy to stomach watching people eat meat because I still have a really hard time with that, but I just try to think of other things and avoid looking at their food. It's just not polite to tell people about the food they're eating while they're eating it. And, it will absolutely not make them change their mind. They will only be more stubborn about what they eat and make you feel more like a freak.
In fact, when you take a positive, compassionate voice, you will find more people wanting to learn about your lifestyle. You will get further with being friendly and happy about your choices, will feel better and less vulnerable to criticism, and others will see that and ask you about your lifestyle. And, it's just a better way to live.
Stay strong and try to find the humor in everything. Remember, there once was a time when you didn't know about factory farms, and that's the only reason you kept eating dairy products. Once you knew, it was nearly impossible to turn your back on it. All those other people are just still in the dark, so have compassion for their lack of knowledge.