How to Politely Decline Non-Vegan Food You Are Offered

As a new vegan, one of the things you need to decide is, how are you going to respond when someone offers you non-vegan food? It can be an awkward situation because you may feel bad turning down the food, especially if it is homemade.

How can you politely decline non-vegan food? A polite way to decline non-vegan food is with a short, polite reply like, “Thanks, but I’m vegan, so I don’t eat that.” However, some vegans prefer to just say they aren’t hungry. And some vegans just decide to eat the food anyway.

Let’s go over some factors to think about when deciding how you want to turn down the non-vegan food you’re being offered as a vegan. It really depends on your personality and your reasons for being vegan. It can also depend on who is offering you the food.

Factor 1: What are your reasons for being Vegan?

If your reasons for being vegan are ethical or political reasons, then you may feel more inclined to take any opportunity you can to take a stand and explain why you’re vegan to others. This is a sort of activist point of view that applies more to some vegans than others.

When you make a solid commitment to veganism, you know that you will find yourself in these situations where people are offering you non-vegan food or inviting you to eat non-vegan food.

For some ethical vegans, one of the actual purposes of committing to veganism is that, as a result, you end up forcing the conversation about veganism as a regular occurrence in your life. Your presence as a vegan repeatedly forces the discussion about whether it’s okay to kill and eat animals.

In this view, as a vegan, you are “throwing yourself on the gears of the machine” in a sense.

If you take that view, then you might consider it cowardly or missing the point to just come up with some fake excuse like saying you’re not hungry or you have a food allergy.

If you see yourself as wanting to be an activist an advocate for the animals, or if you have the goal of spreading awareness about how animal agriculture affects climate change, then you’ll want to speak up honestly that you aren’t eating the food because you’re vegan.

If that fits you, then scroll down and check out the subheading “Tips for Being Brave About Declining Non-Vegan Food.”

What If Veganism Is Just a Personal Choice for You?

But maybe you don’t see yourself as a vegan activist. Maybe instead you’re just as someone who is choosing veganism for your own health reasons or your own personal feelings. If so, then maybe you don’t feel any need to take a stand or get into debates with anyone else about it.

If that’s how you feel, then sometimes it might not feel worth it to get into a debate about veganism. You might just feel annoyed, anxious, or worked up by telling people that you’re vegan and hearing their criticisms or being subject to them drilling you with questions for the next 10 minutes.

I think this is totally okay. Even if you do feel an ethical commitment to veganism and you care about the animals, even in that case, you shouldn’t feel pressured to always use yourself as a social bulldozer by making vegan proclamations at every dinner party.

Sometimes it might just not be worth taking a stand to you, and that’s okay. I know many vegans who feel this way, and they’re not bad people or bad vegans.

Factor 2: Are You Shy? or Do You Like Getting into Debates About Veganism?

Another factor that will affect the approach you take when offered non-vegan food is whether you’re a shy or outgoing person. Do you like taking a stand and debating others? How does conflict sit with you?

Some people are heroic for arguing about their beliefs. Others struggle with that kind of intensity and drama in social interactions, and those people contribute in other ways.

I have found that my shyer vegan friends will usually find less confrontational ways to reject or decline non-vegan foods. They may make up a fake reason they aren’t eating any of it, or they may just accept it and then be sneaky about throwing it away.

Or they might even decide to go ahead and eat it. They might decide that their 95% adherence to veganism is enough.

More and more people are adopting positions like this, being vegan at home but accepting non-vegan food that is offered to them. If that’s what makes the most sense to you, that’s awesome.

Don’t let dogmatic vegan activists tell you that you’re spineless or “not a real vegan.” There are so many ways to navigate our non-vegan world as a vegan. Different approaches make sense for different people, and that’s okay.

Factor 3: Who’s Offering You the Non-Vegan Food?

If you just decided to go vegan today, and then your parent or best friend offers you a hamburger, you probably want to be honest, polite, and clear with them that you’re vegan and not eating meat anymore.

It’s a practical issue that you should communicate honestly with these people because you’re going to be interacting with them regularly. So they should know about your new diet and start adjusting to it.

On the other hand, if you’re at an event with strangers who you will likely never see again, then you have a little more choice about how to address it.

You could give them a fake reason why you’re not eating the food, or you could give them an impassioned speech about veganism. Either way, it probably won’t come back to bite you or anything because you won’t see them again.

If you’re getting food with your coworkers or your boss and they don’t know you’re vegan yet, how do you want to handle that? Usually, I would go ahead and mention that I’m vegan since I will probably be working with these people on an ongoing basis, and it may help for them to know that I’m vegan, for office parties and stuff like that.

However, if you know that your boss or coworkers will be judgmental about your veganism, then you don’t necessarily need to tell them. They might not notice if you just order a light vegan option and say you’re not that hungry.

Factor 4: Is the Food Completely Not-Vegan or Just Barely Not-Vegan?

Another factor to consider when being offered non-vegan food is how not-vegan it is! Does it only have a tiny non-vegan ingredient, like some small amount of animal byproduct far down on the ingredients list? Or is it a big hunk of hamburger, wrapped in bacon and covered with cheese?

For me, I let animal byproducts slide a little more when I’m being offered the food in a social situation. For example, I don’t buy bread with honey or whey in it at the grocery store—it’s always been my habit to find 100% vegan bread. But if I’m at a dinner party, I don’t usually ask to see the ingredients for the bread.

I usually let things be a little more relaxed in that sense. So I might be okay with honey in the bread at a dinner party or restaurant. But I’m still not going to eat meat. I just personally draw a line there.

So this is something for you to decide. Do you want to be any more relaxed or flexible in these kinds of social situations? Or do you want to try to be consistent about which foods you are ethically opposed to eating?

I think either approach makes sense and has merit. Decide what would feel more fulfilling, meaningful, and manageable to you, and don’t feel bad if other vegans disagree with you about it.

Do You Want To Have a Conversation About Veganism Right Now?

Ultimately, a lot of these factors culminate in one main question: Do you want to have a conversation about veganism right now?

If you’re shy, and if being vegan is just a personal choice for you, and if you’re just hanging out with strangers who you’re never going to see again, then maybe it makes the most sense just to “fly under the radar” and not announce that you are vegan.

But if you find conversations about veganism to be interesting and meaningful to you, then you should be honest and direct, tell people that you’re vegan. Usually, people will ask follow-up questions or share what they’ve heard about veganism.

These people might say “I could never do it” or “I tried that once, but I couldn’t keep weight on.”

If you find meaning in helping other people try veganism, then you can potentially give them tips and encourage them to try veganism again. It could be really, really positive! You could gain a vegan friend and be a mentor or teammate for this person in changing their own diet.

Obviously, sometimes the conversation will have a more confrontational or tense feeling to it. If you’ve experienced this a couple of times before, you might even get scared off from telling people that you’re vegan. If that’s the case, read the next section about being brave about declining non-vegan food.

Tips for Being Brave About Declining Non-Vegan Food

If you personally choose to “fly under the radar” and not announce that you’re vegan, I think that’s totally okay. However, if you’re looking to become more brave about announcing your veganism and getting into any resulting conversations, here are some tips for that:

Remember: No-one should be pressured to eat food they don’t want to. It’s understandable to momentarily feel bad for declining to eat someone’s homemade food that they wanted to share with you. But consider if the roles were reversed.

If that person had a personal or ethical reason why they didn’t want to eat a meal you made, you wouldn’t want them to feel pressured or bad about it, would you? So don’t feel bad or pressured to eat what they made.

Remember: It’s not uncommon for people to turn down food. There are many, many reasons why people turn down the food they are offered. Many people have allergies. Many people have religious restrictions on what they eat. Many people are dieting or trying a new way of eating. Many people have aversions to specific foods based on personal taste.

You may feel bad for making a scene or being the odd one out, but honestly, it’s very common for people to turn down food offers for a variety of reasons. It happens all the time, and it’s no big deal.

Realize nothing they say to you about veganism is personal: Some people have very loaded opinions about veganism, but it’s not a personal attack on you. Maybe they’ve been yelled at by vegan activists or annoyed by PETA commercials for a long time, and so they have some frustration built up about that.

Listen to them with some curiosity rather than having your guard up to protect yourself against criticism. Generally speaking, you’re not hearing criticisms of you.

Be curious to hear others’ perspectives on veganism: If you do want to get better at talking to people about veganism and potentially “converting” people to veganism, then you need to become familiar with the reasons people say it doesn’t work for them.

You will find valuable and interesting information by listening to how people respond when you bring up veganism at the dinner table. Don’t be judgmental—just be curious and learn how people think about this issue.

Some Example Ways to Politely Decline Non-Vegan Food

Based on all the factors discussed above, you may take various approaches to this whole situation—it’s really up to you. That said, here are some polite ways to decline non-vegan food you are offered:

  • “That is so sweet of you to offer, but I’m sorry, I recently went vegan, so I’m actually not eating those foods anymore. It looks really good, though!”
  • “Thank you so much! Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to take that because I committed to eating vegan, and I think that has some animal foods in it.”
  • “Oh wow, that is really thoughtful of you. I’m sorry to say, though, I’m actually a vegan! So I don’t eat dairy. But that is so nice of you! I really appreciate that.

If you didn’t notice, the approach with each of these is a “thank you / sorry / thank you” sandwich. Make sure that your appreciation for the gesture comes across.

Most of the time, people are offering you food for really sweet and kind reasons. So it’s nice to acknowledge that and make sure they know you appreciate the gesture.

They still might feel awkward for offering you something you objected to. They might say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry; I didn’t know.”

And then I would just reply something like, “Oh, don’t worry about it! It happens! I don’t expect everyone to know. I just really appreciate the gesture. Don’t worry about it!”

As discussed above, you shouldn’t feel bad about communicating your dietary needs and preferences. You wouldn’t want someone else to feel bad or pressured about their own dietary choices, so try not to feel bad about your own.

If You Still Feel Anxious About Telling Other People You’re Vegan

If you have any more anxiety left about telling other people you’re vegan, you might feel better after preparing some responses to common questions.

Here are some common questions people ask vegans. You can try to prepare some thoughts on these topics so they don’t catch you off-guard:

  • Why are you vegan?
  • How long have you been vegan?
  • Is it hard to be vegan?
  • Where do you get your protein?
  • Do you feel better since going vegan?
  • Is [some food] vegan?
  • Isn’t [some celebrity] vegan?

Similarly, you might want to consider your responses to other things that might come up. Here are some common responses when people find out you’re vegan:

  • I couldn’t do it. I like cheese too much.
  • Humans are the top of the food chain.
  • God put animals here on earth for us.
  • Studies show that plants feel pain, too.
  • I respect you being vegan if you respect me eating meat.
  • I need meat for [some nutrient].
  • I love animals, but they taste so good.
  • We get it. You’re vegan.

Usually, just keeping your values in mind and explaining honestly why you eat a vegan diet is the best way to respond.

If they are just trying to mock you or they are really being rude, you can just change the subject or say “Can we talk about something else?”

Preparing a Vegan Elevator Pitch, Just in Case

It also may be helpful for you to have a “vegan elevator pitch” where you practice explaining why you think it’s great to be vegan in 30 seconds. You don’t want to sound overly rehearsed like you are reading from a script, but it’s great to just be able to quickly explain yourself.

When someone asks “Why are you vegan?” you have an opportunity to plant a seed and maybe make them think a little.

So take some time to think about what idea/perspective you think is most useful to share if you only have time to make one quick case for veganism. Then you’ll be more ready for these conversations that come up when people find out you’re vegan.

In The End, How You Respond Is Up To You

When you’re offered non-vegan food as a vegan, how you respond depends on your beliefs, your personality, and the specific situation. As I hope to communicate in many of my posts for this blog, it’s okay to be vegan in different ways.

If you want to be a vocal advocate for the animals or the earth by trying to convince other people to be vegan, more power to you, and you can use these situations to start valuable conversations.

But if you’re a shy vegan who doesn’t like confrontation and you eat vegan mostly as a personal choice, then feel free to come up with a fake reason or just act like you didn’t hear the offer!

There’s no single way to be vegan because veganism means different things to different people. That’s just the truth.

Yes, veganism has a history with “definitions” and “standards” of veganism established long ago—but the idea of veganism has also been picked up by many different sources and advocated in many different ways since then.

My goal is to encourage you to be vegan in the way that makes the most sense to you and has the most positive impact in your own life. So consider the factors laid out here, but ultimately, when you’re offered non-vegan food, do what makes the most sense to you.

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