At the start of this month, I attended a training event delivered by the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy (CEVA) in London run by Melanie Joy and Tobias Leenaert. Melanie is a psychologist, international speaker and author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. It was her birthday at the training event and when she announced her age, the whole room quietly gasped. She’s 52 but looks years younger. Maybe the fact she hasn’t consumed meat for 30 years has had something to do with it, or perhaps she has a very good dermatologist! Tobias is a speaker, trainer, strategist and author of How to Create a Vegan World: A Pragmatic Approach. I have heard them both speak before, and despite some inevitable repetition, they kept me fully engaged and I was sold on all they had to say, despite some of their advice being quite controversial. However, some listeners remained sceptical and weren’t sure how it fit with their beliefs and values. But Melanie and Tobias were open to scepticism, modelling the 3 C’s they encouraged us to practise: Compassion, Curiosity and Courage.
The training focussed on effective communication to maintain healthy relationships and enhance vegan advocacy. The reason I wanted to share this with you was that I’m aware that having a vegan wedding can often create conversations with non-vegan family and friends that can be tricky to navigate. Weddings are stressful enough as it is without adding in to the mix relationship fall outs, so the following are some helpful tips I learned from the training to help with those conversations.
Practise conversational integrity. Align the same values that led you to become vegan to the conversations about veganism. For me, that means being compassionate, being honest and being kind even when I’m feeling hurt or if I disagree with someone’s point of view, to the best of my ability.
Don’t try to win the conversation. If you are trying to win that means you are trying to make the other person lose. Someone who is losing feels less worthy and can feel shame and a shamed person is likely to withdraw or become defensive. This will negatively impact on your relationship and make it less likely that they listen to your perspective.
Listen effectively rather than debate. Give the other person your full attention and reflect what you have heard them say. Being open to what they say will make it more likely for them to be open to what you share.
Express yourself effectively. Express your thoughts as thoughts and your feelings as feelings, rather than as facts So instead of 'You don't care about me', try saying ‘When you ask me to offer meat at my wedding It makes me think you don't care about me and I feel really hurt by that’. Then express what you need ‘I really need you to understand how important being vegan is to me’.
Remember your Carnism. For most vegans, at one stage you were a meat eater. Remember this time, as it will help you to empathise.
Avoid words like ‘murder’, ‘rape’ and ‘corpse’. These words are blaming (and shaming) and do little to open hearts and minds.
Make being vegan attractive to others. Your wedding may be the first time people have tried vegan food. Consider offering a variety of tastes and flavours to show people what’s possible.
Let go of perfection. Unfortunately, right now, it’s almost impossible to live 100% vegan. Setting your expectations for others to reach the impossible is likely to put them off, no matter how much you want it to happen. Consider what is possible and go from there.
Practise self-compassion. Vegan advocacy is tough. By taking care of your own needs first, you will become much more effective.
After my wedding, two guests went vegan, one tried veganuary and then remained mostly vegan, the photographers both went vegan and numerous family and friends have excitedly told me they have changed their diets and are eating more plants. I can’t take all the credit, there will be many factors that led to these changes, but I’m sure the yummy food choices that were served on the day and the conversations we have had since have made a difference.
I’d love to know what you all think of these tips or if there’s anything you have found useful that I have missed. Get in touch!