Going vegan in a house full of non-vegans can be tricky. Whether you’re a teenager living with non-vegan parents or an adult with non-vegan roommates, this post is your guide on how to best manage this situation.
In the past 13 years as a vegan, I’ve lived with non-vegans several times, so I have a sense of the challenges and how to meet them constructively. Read on for 18 tips on being vegan when your parents, spouse, or roommates aren’t!
1. Participate in the grocery shopping.
If you’re living at home with your parents, your mom or dad may complain that they don’t know how to buy vegan groceries for you. This is a fair point because reading labels for non-vegan ingredients can take some time to learn. (See my guide to reading labels here.)
There are two simple ways to address this issue:
- Offer to come along to the grocery store and help pick out the foods.
- Offer to go buy your own vegan groceries for yourself.
Even besides the issue of veganism itself, whoever wants to be most picky in their diet should do the grocery shopping. I learned this by living with a vegan friend. We decided to just split all grocery costs 50/50 and only send one of us to the store each time.
Well, I quickly realized it was easiest to volunteer to do the grocery shopping myself. That way, I could be picky about getting exactly what I wanted in the store, without having to ask my friend to find a specific kind of oil-free, unprocessed, blah-blah-blah ingredients!
2. Become the best chef in the house.
If you take an active interest in cooking and baking, this means you can be the one who’s doing more of the food prep, and you can make sure there are always great vegan options in the house.
It’s generally a lot easier to convince your roommates or family to try eating your vegan food with you, rather than convincing them to make a bunch of vegan dishes for your sake.
Your best vegan culinary creations may also win some of your house-mates over. Maybe they’ll want to know how to cook it, too. It’s possible with time that you’ll even convert someone else in the house to be vegan with you.
3. Do meal prep on the weekends.
Have you ever cooked enough food for the week and stored it in containers in the fridge? This kind of meal prep can be a game changer for any vegan—but it takes on extra value when you’re living in a non-vegan household.
When you do meal prep, you always have ready-to-go meals throughout the week, regardless what everyone else is eating. You’re not at risk of going hungry or needing to spend a lot of time cooking your own separate meal from scratch.
The way I’ve always enjoyed doing meal prep is with soups, stews, and other dishes where you just mix everything together in a bowl (rice and beans, pasta with sauce, etc).
But if you want to do meal prep that keeps different parts of the meal separate, that can be done, too. It just requires more containers—or special ones with compartments, like these (Amazon link):
4. Communicate your boundaries clearly.
One of the things that can really go wrong with a vegan in a non-vegan household is if your house-mates don’t know how seriously you take certain issues.
If you don’t want people using your pans for cooking with meat or butter, it’s okay to politely let them know. Don’t suffer in silence and then explode at them someday from letting it build up.
Try to use nonviolent communication methods to make these conversations go as well as possible. Try not to be accusatory by saying “You always do ______!” Instead, speak in a way that’s expressing how you feel and what you need. Here is a better example:
“Honestly, when I see ______, I feel kind of hurt because I need _________, and I’m not getting that. Would you be willing to ________?”
5. Don’t worry about converting your housemates.
Many vegans ask how to convert their parents, friends, or family to be vegans. In fact, I wrote a post about tips for converting your romantic partner to vegan. But honestly, the right path is usually not to try so hard to convert roommates and family.
If you’re someone who takes veganism and animal rights seriously, this can be hard. You may feel that you have a special responsibility to “break through to them,” as their loved one. But focus on the bigger picture.
Your home life should be a place that is healthy and energy-giving for you. It should be a place that sustains you, your mental health, and your energy to go be a positive example of veganism in the world.
Many vegans fall into the trap of feeling like they need to make their personal relationship with their dad or their roommate into a battleground—an ongoing debate that never ends.
Here’s my opinion: Let your dad just be your dad. Let your roommate just be a roommate—not an end to your means of making a vegan world. I understand the impulse. But you’ll have a much bigger activist impact outside your house. So just let your home just be your home.
6. Know your vegan nutrition.
As a vegan surrounded by non-vegans, you may get challenged on issues like protein, calcium, iron, omega 3’s, or whatever else.
If you know more about nutrition than anyone else in the house, you can easily answer these questions.
A well-planned vegan diet is sound from a nutritional perspective—major organizations have said so—but there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
Personally, I’d recommend Nutriciously’s vegan starter kit as one of the best resources to get up to speed on the relevant nutrition. It even includes a dedicated e-book with common questions about veganism and how to answer them.
If you’re strictly looking for free resources right now, Nutriciously also has a shorter free email course that covers the basics.
If you’re living with your parents, they may be glad to see that you’re learning so much about how to meet your own nutritional needs on this diet.
One word of caution: Many people have very strong feelings about nutrition. If you tell people that a food they eat is unhealthy, they may feel really judged by that and push back against it. Remember, you don’t want a fight.
Like I said above, I don’t recommend trying to convert your house-mates to vegan. But you want to know enough about vegan nutrition to take care of yourself and stay confident when your dad throws some dairy industry propaganda at you.
Again, I recommend checking out Nutriciously’s Vegan Starter Kit. It’ll arm you with the facts you need. You can also check out their shorter free course to start with.
7. Establish vegan areas in the cupboards and fridge.
Most shared kitchen situations between adult roommates involve each person getting their own cupboard or shelf. This is even more likely to be helpful if you’re vegan in a non-vegan household.
You might like to see if you can call dibs on one of the “crisper” drawers in your fridge, too. Then you can lock away your vegan cheese and tofurkey in there, away from the real meat and cheese.
Some houses have two fridges. If that’s the case at your house, consider if you would ideally want one of them to be vegan-only. If you’d like that, consider proposing it to your roommates!
You can always get a vegan-only mini-fridge for yourself, if nothing else seems suitable! They’re really not that expensive. Here’s a sleek one on Amazon.
8. Get your own pans if worried about contamination.
Some vegans will care about this more than others. But most of us would find it a little gross to think of bloody meat being cooked on the same surfaces as our tofu or veggies.
One type of pan you may especially want to get is your own cast-iron skillet.
Many people don’t fully clean their iron skillets between uses because you can end up rusting it if you don’t keep a layer of oil on it. so that can be especially gross for vegans living with non-vegans.
Luckily, these are not too expensive. Here’s one with great reviews on Amazon.
9. Find local vegans outside your house.
Being the lone vegan can be hard. So find community outside of your house.
What you’re looking for is someone who can emotionally and intellectually relate. Someone who you can share meals with. Someone who shares your excitement about vegan pizza or your frustration with non-vegan corporations.
There are Facebook groups for vegans in most big cities and college towns. Just search for “vegan” + your city name in Facebook to find them. You may also find local veggie groups on Meetup.com.
And you always have the option of convincing a friend to go vegan with you. I know I said above that I don’t recommend trying to convert your roommates… But if you have any friends who may actually be receptive, offer to help them get started. Some people just need that push.
Even if you’re hopelessly isolated in the end, there’s always vegan community online. Try interacting in some of these groups:
- Vegan FB Groups: Vegan Cheese Lovers Club, My Vegucation, Vegans United, Vegan Humor, etc.
- Vegan Subreddits: r/Vegan, r/veganfitness, r/DebateaVegan, r/veganmemes, r/veganrecipes, r/VeganFood, etc.
10. Find local restaurants with vegan and meat options.
It can be hard eating out with a group of non-vegans. Very often, they’ll be totally clueless about what restaurants to recommend so you have vegan options and they have something they’re comfortable with, too.
You can solve this problem by knowing what restaurants to suggest. There’s an app I highly recommend for this, called Happy Cow.
Happy Cow lists out all the vegan restaurants, vegetarian restaurants, health food stores, and—this is the key—restaurants with meat and good vegan options.
The website version of Happy Cow is free to use here. The iPhone app is something like $3. Personally I like the app because you can pull up a map based on your current locations.
Then you can just start listing off options, and see what people want: “There’s a Chinese restaurant 0.4 miles away. There’s a Thai restaurant 1.3 miles away. Oh, there’s a pizzeria with vegan cheese and real cheese 2 miles away.”
Types of Restaurants to Look For
Besides using Happy Cow, you should also just know what to look for. Here’s a basic sense of what you could eat at different common kinds of restaurants:
- Indian restaurants, Middle Eastern restaurants, Ethiopian restaurants, and Thai restaurants usually have lots of vegan options. So if your house-mates like any of those, definitely check them out.
- Some pizzerias have vegan cheese options. If not, the dough is almost always vegan, so order a no-cheese pizza and load it with veggies.
- Italian restaurants have pasta with meatless red sauce. Breadsticks usually have butter, but just ask for “dry sticks that are dairy-free.” They can usually make them vegan.
- Japanese restaurants typically offer maki rolls that are vegan—think avocado rolls. Miso soup and spring rolls are usually vegan, too. For an appetizer, I like getting edamame (it’s just soybeans and salt).
- Chinese restaurants have tofu and vegetables you can substitute in any dish. Ask about “fish sauce,” though—some asian sauces have it.
- Mexican restaurants have burritos that can be done vegan. Tortilla chips are almost always vegan, too.
- American diners are usually harder as a vegan. Sometimes there’s a veggie burger. There’s always fries if nothing else. (Vegans can eat most fries—this post has all the details.)
So make your list and have it ready for when your house wants to go out to a restaurant together.
11. Make a list of vegan foods the house already gets.
A lot of non-vegans don’t realize how much of the food they already eat is vegan. For some reason, when they hear “vegan food,” they just think of salad and tofu. But their own diet may already contain fruits, nuts, veggies, and grains that are fully vegan.
It can helpful to be able to point to a list and say, “These are the foods we already eat that are vegan.” That way, your roommates (or parents) will know they can make those familiar foods and share them with you.
You can potentially post up this list on the fridge or in the pantry, or just leave it on the counter for a while.
This will also hopefully remind your housemates to please keep buying those foods, if they’re the ones doing the grocery shopping.
12. Know how strict of a vegan you want to be.
What will you do if your house-mates offer you food that contains a little butter? Most vegans would politely decline it. But what if it just contains honey? Or what if it only contains sugar that may have possibly been refined with bone char?
When you’re living in a non-vegan household, you’re going to have a lot of these “gray area” moments. What if some vegan ingredient or area in your house gets “contaminated,” etc? How strict or picky should you be?
Here’s my opinion:
- You have the right to be as strict or obsessive about ingredients as you want. It’s your body, after all. Nobody should pressure you into being a lax vegan who eats animal by-products.
- But it doesn’t make you a bad vegan to be more lax, either. If you want to accept offers of a little non-vegan food from roommates or something, that doesn’t invalidate you as a vegan. You’re still cutting out 99% of non-vegan food from your diet. So it’s up to you.
Either way, think about what your boundaries are, how strictly you want to stick to your veganism and what that precisely means to you.
13. Communicate how foods can be made vegan for you.
One way to increase your housemates ability to share food with you is to tell them what they’d have to change to make a dish vegan. Of course, it might be rude to constantly nag at them with such comments. They could be annoyed, like “Ok, I didn’t ask.”
But especially if you live with your parents, it can help to occasionally mention, “Hey, if you cooked the meat part separately next time, I could actually share this pasta, too.”
Your mom or dad may not realize how simple it is to make certain foods vegan. So mention things like, “If you make the mashed potatoes with my soy milk and vegan butter, then I could have it.”
14. Always keep vegan snacks on hand.
I mentioned vegan meal prep above, and this is a similar tip.
It’s never a bad idea to have some nuts, fruit, carrots and hummus, or something else you can snack on. Sometimes these snacks can be paired up with the vegan part of a meal the rest of your family is eating.
Personally, I like keeping a bag of cashews in my backpack at all times. So if I’m out with the group and it’d be a nuisance to hijack everyone into a search for vegan food, I can choose to just hold myself over with some nuts.
Seriously, though, if you struggle with acne… check out my blog post on how to troubleshoot acne as a vegan. I struggled for years to learn what I shared in that post. And the tips on that page can help finally put acne behind you.
15. Practice empathy and compassion.
Some of the things your non-vegan housemates say might be so annoying and incorrect. But remember you were probably once unenlightened, too.
Try to understand where they’re coming from. If they’re spewing some meat industry propaganda at you, just recognize: They believe this is true based on what they’ve heard. And they may just be (1) concerned for your health or (2) defensive about their own habits.
We’re all influenced by different things. Not everyone is going to “see the light” from the same set of facts as you. Be patient, try to understand their perspective, and don’t discount their whole viewpoint because of some details you can’t relate to.
16. Be willing to take a joke.
Part of having empathy is recognizing that not all jokes need to be taken as attacks. Your dad or roommate might tease you about eating beans instead of meat. They don’t necessarily mean anything serious by it, though. To them, veganism is likely not a serious issue—they’re just kidding.
When you become defensive about jokes or turn it into a serious debate, it just shows people they know how to get under your skin. If you just laugh it off, ignore it, or tease them back instead, that shows more confidence.
One technique that is effective for handling jokes and teasing from others is to agree and exaggerate. If your roommate says you’re going to become weak on your vegan diet, just say, “Yeah, that’s what I’m going for. I’m hoping to become really emaciated and weak like one of those starving kids in Africa. I heard that’s the new look.”
You don’t necessarily have to be as goofy as that, but this kind of response shows that you’re not shook by their comment. It just turns it into a situation where you’re both joking around. There’s no need to take a little tease or joke as a serious conflict.
17. Lead by example—not by criticism.
I have a whole blog post I wrote on “How to Be Vegan Without Being Annoying,” and the main tip is to lead by example. All you need to do to influence people to be interested in vegan is to live a good life while eating this diet.
If you’re happy and healthy on this lifestyle, people will notice you’re thriving. Then you will be a very real, positive case study of veganism living in the same house as them.
There may be times to explain why you’re vegan or debate some issue, but if you want to make veganism look good over the long-term, one of the best ways is just to lead by example. So just focus on living a good life and being the kind of vegan you’re inspired to be.
18. Share examples of healthy, fit, successful vegans.
Along with your own example, sharing the example of other successful vegans can make a good impression, too. If your family or roommates are open to watching it with you, I would recommend looking at The Game Changers on Netflix.
The Game Changers is a documentary all about vegan athletes. They show the health benefits of a plant-based diet in a way that is pretty hard to argue with.
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