Whether big events like weddings or birthdays, or smaller ones like after-work drinks, navigating social situations as a vegan requires discernment and preparation.

It’s well worth contemplating the reason for attending social events in the first place. Is it to show support for a loved one, or to enjoy the company of friends, or to celebrate an accomplishment, or simply to enjoy each other’s company? Acknowledging the purpose of the event – and our part in it – can help us decide whether to attend in its entirety, or at all, and the level of preparation that’s needed.

Being prepared not only helps us better cope with challenging situations, but it also makes us feel more confident and calm in doing so, helping us communicate more effectively when faced with questions or criticism. When we’re clear on the reason we’re attending events, then practical decision making becomes easier too. We may choose to attend for only part of the gathering, away from meal times when animal products will be consumed. If our presence does coincide with a meal (such as a wedding), it’s worthwhile for us to bring food along, so that we can be sure of something good to eat and warding off any arguments elicited by our low blood sugar levels. (And also to highlight that being vegan doesn’t mean eating nothing).

Some situations can be more confronting than others, whether it’s due to the presence of animal products or the incessant questions from people who are intent on discrediting our actions. In these situations it may be helpful to physically remove ourselves and have a few quiet moments of reprieve. A sympathetic ear, in the form of a like-minded friend or even an online group can reinvigorate is and help us feel less alone.

Inevitably, social gatherings bring questions and comments about veganism. A well rehearsed answer to some of the most common questions can go a long way in helping us avoid conflict while also still conveying our message. Before the event, we may wish to anticipate questions we’re most likely to be asked, and rehearse our response enough times that it rolls off the tongue fluidly.

Because social gatherings are so unique, and depend so much on the people attending, there is no “one” way to handle these situations. Perhaps most important is to be honest with ourselves and what we’re able to handle at that time, and to avoid self-judgment for the actions we take to protect our boundaries and ultimately our mental health.

Dr. Ash Nayate

Dr Ash Nayate is a vegan neuropsychologist, activist, writer, speaker, and mum. She made the shift from meat-eater to vegan overnight after watching the documentary Earthlings in 2008. Ash helps vegans, activists, and young people to improve their mental health and wellbeing. For over a decade she has been working in private practice as well as in major hospitals across Melbourne. Ash initially became vegan for ethical reasons, and quickly became immersed in the mental health benefits of a vegan lifestyle, and she is a strong advocate for brain health. In 2018 she released her first book on mental health for activists and change agents , titled "Staying Positive in a F*cked Up World".

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