How to Explain a Decision to Become a Vegetarian

Throughout history, there have been people who have chosen not to eat meat. The reasons are many and varied, and they're just as valid as reasons to eat any other type of diet, from all-meat to paleo, from fruitarian to gluten-free. Becoming vegetarian is a choice that people make because it matters to them, and no doubt it matters to you too. However, food choices can attract criticism, and the less polite or the more argumentative among your group of family, friends and acquaintances, may suddenly feel they've every right to grill you on your decision to become a vegetarian. Explaining why doesn't need to be a battle but it does help to have some supportive suggestions on ways to answer constructively or even to shut down further argument.


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    Expect curiosity. People are often genuinely interested to learn how you can manage without eating foods that they take for granted, enjoy and eat daily. Some of this curiosity relates to wondering how you substitute meat, find enough calories, make substantial meals and the like. It's a curiosity born of not knowing, and this is a chance for you to politely explain what you do in response to such questions. Treat the curiosity with goodwill until you get indications to the contrary; while some people will be aiming to argue with you about your choice, a lot of people simply wish to be informed.
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    Do your research. If you have decided to become a vegetarian but have done no research into where you will get your protein and iron from, prepare for an onslaught of negative reactions. It is important to have at least a few basics of vegetarian health 101 to rattle off until the conversation seems sufficiently dull to change the topic. However, don't buy into justifying what you're doing or eating too much. You can politely ask if the person questioning your diet has a perfect diet and if he or she would appreciate having to justify his or her intake of adequate nutrition down to the nth degree.
    • Remember to tell such persons that there is plenty of protein in plants. If there is a misunderstanding that plants are spineless weedy things with a few vitamins, some good roughage and not much else, you can reassure such people that there is a lot of protein in vegetable matter.
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    Stay calm when you do come across the provocative types. Don't bite, just be polite. There will always be those persons with a predilection for arguing, who love to trot out how you're going to die from a lack of all sorts of vitamins, proteins and life-sustaining goodies that they've read about in passing magazine articles. While it is tempting to ask them just when they got their nutrition qualifications and whether they have signs of the diseases attributed to over-consumption of fatty meat products, try your best to remain stoic. It's most likely that they're set in their preferred take on this, no matter what you say and if they like arguing, it'll just go on and on. Great ways to fob off the annoying grilling include:
    • Reply with genuine interest: "That's interesting, I've not heard that before, perhaps you know of the scientific journal that is published in so that I may research it further?" Or, "Yes, I've heard that several times before, so I looked it up, and the answer is actually X, Y, Z, according the the Harvard-Yale study done in 2012. It's very interesting actually, perhaps you'd care to hear more?"
    • Inform them that you feel great, you are currently very healthy but that you accept that anything can happen to anyone and you're not about to insist that your diet is superior to anybody else's; however, it works for you and for now, that's all that matters.
    • Say that you'd love to discuss it in greater depth but that presently you're starving and need to eat. Then tuck into your food and wave off more talk with gestures at your full mouth. This one is great for mealtimes because this is most often when your dietary choice gets thrashed out in morbid detail, right at the point they have visual evidence of your non-meat dish. With any luck, the conversation will have moved on after the meal has been eaten.
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    Have forbearance. You will be asked, time and time again, "What made you become a vegetarian?". Try to be clear about what motivated your choice, whether it be for health or ethical reasons, or maybe you just don't like meat. You may tire of repeating yourself over and over again, but remember that not everyone is asking you because they disagree with vegetarianism––maybe some are thinking of making the switch themselves, but are looking for a compelling argument! The trick is to get the balance right between being educational and not preachy.
    • If someone is wanting to pick apart your personal decision, answer briefly with your reasons, then don't entertain further discussion; if the person keeps picking at the issue, explain that you feel you've answered it sufficiently and that you've nothing more to say on the topic. Then change the subject.
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    Avoid giving a sermon or giving the impression that your choice is superior. Nobody likes to be made to feel like they're wrong. Explaining to a carnivore why you're a vegetarian should never be done in an accusatory, angry fashion; just as you have made the choice to be meat-free, they have made the choice to eat meat. Everyone has the ability to decide to eat what they feel is right for them, so attempting to convert hard-core meat eaters to your new way of life is a sure way to discredit your new way of thinking, at least in their eyes. It is also the wrong way to go about explaining your own decision, as it's defensive. Far better to demonstrate that it is what it is, a choice that you're happy with and a conviction that it's right for you.
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    Understand that some people will simply never agree with you, or even support your decision. That's okay - you are doing this for yourself, your health, and the earth. You can't please everyone, nor should you even try. Moreover, it isn't a case of having to justify your choice against theirs––both of you eat differently, both of you have reasons for this and you don't need the validation of anyone else of your dietary choice.


  • Be the healthy picture you wish to portray. It is important to maintain your health through your transition to vegetarianism or as a vegetarian. It is easy, through negligence, to slip into being protein- or iron-deficient. Make sure that you're eating the right foods, because being cruelty-free is no excuse to be unhealthy.
  • Keep a list of alternative subjects in your head, along with opening lines, so that you can easily change the subject when being asked about your eating habits really starts to irk you. There is a world of difference between happily explaining vegetarianism to a genuinely curious person and warding off unfriendly accusations from a deliberately provocative one.


  • Do not be surprised if some people feel compelled to remind you how great every meat item during the meal is. They may smack their lips, make comments such as "you don't know what you're missing out on" and even offer you some of their meal. Just laugh it off and say, "no thanks, I don't eat meat" and refuse to engage in the baiting. If they don't get a rise out of you, they'll soon tire of it.
  • A lack of respect for your dietary choice can translate to trying to undermine you. For example, the cook who slips meat stock into a vegetable soup and fails to tell you, then proclaims loudly that you didn't even notice after the meal. That kind of person is being mean to the core and the broader issue is that the person doesn't respect you at all because if they did care about you, they'd never have resorted to doing something so unkind. If this ever does happen to you, you know where you stand with such a person.
  • It can be easy to get upset when people badger you at mealtime about your food choices. If you feel close to tears, upset or angry at the questioning, try to see it as casual banter rather than deep probing and give flippant, fast answers, then tuck into your meal. If you can't handle the barrage of meal-focused conversation, nip out to the bathroom for a break, then come back when the conversation is likely to have moved on.

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Categories: Vegetarian