Tip 19: If You Can’t Say Anything Vegan: “Oh, You Can’t Eat That.”

veganmofoPosted as part of VeganMoFo (The Vegan Month of Food) 2014

When vegans are around, things get a little tricky – for all of us. Sometimes non-vegans get defensive or hostile because they think vegans are telling them their food choices are unethical. Sometimes vegans are! And that comes across as self-righteous and snobby.

So, I’m using the Vegan Month of Food – a month during which vegan blogs are celebrated and aggregated in one place – to provide some easy tips for non-vegans and vegans to use, so we can all get along a little better. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t say anything vegan, don’t say anything at all.”

Non-vegans, please stop saying this to vegans.

Let’s talk about the definition of “can’t.” It is a contraction of the word “cannot,” made up of the two words “can” and “not.” It means the opposite of “can.” So if someone cannot do something, it means they:

  • don’t know how to
  • don’t have the power or means to
  • don’t have the right or qualifications to

Essentially, it means a person is unable. I am a vegan, and I am able to eat meat, cheese, eggs and my pet dog. I have the power to, I know how to (well, I’d have to look up the best way to cook dog), I have the qualifications to and (arguably) I have the right to (I paid for the dog, after all, and fattened her up really humanely). I choose not to. That is very different than not being able to. It’s also different than not being allowed to, which is “may not,” and that implies someone else is telling me what to do. I can eat animal products. I may eat animal products. I don’t eat animal products. I won’t eat animal products. I choose not to eat animal products. But I can. Maybe it’s easier to think of it as a rule that some Vegan Higher Power handed down and that we reluctantly follow, but it’s not. Vegans don’t eat animal products because we don’t want to, and we have the choice not to.

If a person is vegan, it’s safe to assume she knows what that entails. There’s no need for you to point out or inform her about what foods she finds acceptable and not acceptable. She knows it. She’s the one who decided to be vegan, so let’s all assume she looked into it first, okay?

What are some alternatives?

  • “Do you eat that?” This is better because it’s a question rather than a statement, and it uses the word “do” instead of “can.”
  • “Would you eat that?” Same as above, but replace “do” with “would.” Warning, though: don’t ask this as a joke. It’s not funny or original. Only ask if you legitimately don’t know. (e.g., not as in, “Would you eat a chicken if you were stranded on a deserted island?“)
  • “What would you like? I will bring it to you.” I like this because I enjoy when people bring me food I like. My coworker does this a lot and it’s awesome.
  • Don’t say anything at all.

5 thoughts on “Tip 19: If You Can’t Say Anything Vegan: “Oh, You Can’t Eat That.”

  1. YES. I’ll often say, “It’s not that I “can’t” eat that, I just choose not to.” It does seem to make people think a little.

  2. I think it’s easier to dismiss if it seems like a rule being imposed. We do this with religious people too, or people who choose not to watch tv, or choose not to eat sweets. Let’s knock it off. 🙂

  3. YES!!! Well said. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I’ll often say, “Well, technically, I *can* eat that. I can eat whatever I want, but I make the choice not to eat any animal products.” Thanks for writing about this!

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