How to get a vegan inner circle
I recently wrote an article titled How to stay positive in a non-vegan world. As a result I got multiple requests to write more extensively on how to get a vegan inner circle, as that’s what people struggled with the most. So, in this article I will tell you exactly how to do that. It’s a longer article than usual because I really want to cover everything, I discuss both the mindset you need and the practical steps you need to take. I have to warn you, though, that even though the steps aren’t overly complicated, on an emotional level this might be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
Why would you want to?
Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, right? The hardest thing you’ll ever do. Why would you even be interested in that? Well, mainly to save the animals and yourself from a dystopian future.
The simple fact is that out of all the vegans in the world, the vegan most likely to get through to the non-vegans in your inner circle is you. Not because you’re necessarily the most informed or the most skilled debater, but because you’re there, you know them, and they have an emotional connection to you. No one else has that advantage. Other vegans, like me, might be able to help by putting out useful content, but whether or not the people in your inner circle even see that content depends entirely on you. So, when it comes to all the animals killed for the people in your inner circle, you are essentially their only hope.
Of course, the consequences for yourself if you don’t convince the people close to you aren’t as horrific as the consequences for the animals, but they’re still worth mentioning as well. If you don’t convince these people but keep them close nonetheless, you will have to suppress a core part of your identity. You will have to watch them continue to violate the most basic rights of innocent animals while you stay silent. Or maybe you don’t stay silent and you just have the same arguments over and over again while you get to watch them continue what they’re doing like you never said anything.
You have to change
So, you have two strong reasons for convincing your inner circle to go vegan. The main problem is, of course, that they don’t want to change. What they really want is to continue doing exactly what they’ve always done while you keep your veganism to yourself. That’s their ideal scenario, even if they don’t say it out loud.
That means that the most common strategy for getting people to change, simply informing them that what they’re doing is wrong, doesn’t work. So, you’ll need to up your game. And upping your game in the context of changing other people doesn’t mean focusing all your energy on changing them. It first and foremost means changing yourself. By changing yourself you put them in a position where they have to adapt.
It’s a negotiation
To understand how you need to change, you first need to understand why you haven’t succeeded yet. And that actually comes down to one basic fact: You’re in a negotiation and you’re asking for more than what you’re offering.
Think about it. They are living in alignment with society, enjoying food that they’ve eaten their entire lives, and feeling no guilt because they have a set of beliefs that perfectly justify what they’re doing. You are asking them to give all that up, and what are you offering in return? The opportunity to become part of a tiny, unpopular minority that refuses to eat most of the food regular people eat? If you take ethics out of the equation, which is what they’re doing, you’re offering them a terrible deal. That’s why you can’t even get them to the negotiating table.
If you want to get them to the negotiating table, and on top of that also win the negotiation, you’ll need some serious leverage. Which means you’ll either need to offer them something that you haven’t offered them before or you’ll need to take away something that they’re currently taking for granted. Assuming you don’t want to pay them to go vegan, you need to take something away.
You have all the power
This is the point where I’m going to ask you to radically shift your mindset in a way that you might not like. Please put any reservations you may have on hold for four paragraphs, I will address them after. What I’m about to say applies to every adult in your inner circle, the only exception is if you’re currently raising kids with someone.
So, what can you take away that people in your inner circle are currently taking for granted? Well, everything. You can take away everything you give them. Your attention, your respect, everything up to and including your presence in their lives. Now, I’m not saying you should, this is obviously not the preferred option, but I’m saying you can. You have that power, and if you don’t want to lose the negotiation, you need to be aware of that power.
You need to realize that all adult relationships are completely voluntary. And yes, that includes your relationship with your parents and other adult family members. You have less than a century left to live and you have eight billion people to choose from to spend your time with. Which of those eight billion people you choose is your choice and your choice alone.
So, what do you want to select on? Do you want to select on familiarity and keep the people who are currently in your inner circle there no matter what, even if they continue to act in opposition to your core values? Or do you want to select on your core values and replace the people who don’t share them with people who do share them?
If you keep in mind that there are millions of vegans in the world who can potentially replace the people in your inner circle if they remain committed to animal exploitation, then you have a very strong negotiating position. So strong, in fact, that you likely won’t even have to say it out loud because it will be clear from every aspect of your communication. This is the mindset that forces them to take what you’re saying seriously.
Isn’t this cultlike?
If you’re skeptical, then the first question you might have is: Isn’t it cultlike to remove people from your inner circle for not wanting to go vegan? The answer to that question is no. It’s not cultlike, and I will give you two reasons why:
One, because veganism is not a cult. Veganism is just a practical way of living, free of animal exploitation. That’s literally all there is to it.
And two, because you can do whatever you like. I’m suggesting this mindset because I’ve found it to be extremely effective, but whether you adopt it or not is completely up to you. Who you allow in your inner circle is a personal decision, and there’s nothing cultlike about making a personal decision.
Isn’t this heartless?
The second question you might have is: Isn’t this heartless? Which is an understandable question. After all, we are talking about potentially removing people from your inner circle over a disagreement. Wouldn’t it be too extreme to end an otherwise good relationship over just one topic you disagree on?
To answer this question it’s important to realize that we’re not just talking about a difference of opinion on an abstract topic. We’re talking about concrete choices in the physical world, choices about life and death. They are literally paying people to lock animals up and kill them.
If the people in your inner circle were dog abusers, no one would consider it heartless if you distanced yourself from them. If the people in your inner circle adopted cats from shelters only to kill them, you would be actively judged if you didn’t distance yourself from them. But when the people in your inner circle pay others to inflict similar cruelty and death on other animals it’s suddenly heartless and extreme to consider distancing yourself? That doesn’t make sense. They are the ones needlessly paying for animals to be exploited and killed, and if they continue to do so after you talk it through with them then they are the ones who are heartless.
Giving them a chance
So, that’s the mindset I recommend. Acknowledge that you have complete control over who you allow in your inner circle, decide that you won’t tolerate support for animal exploitation in your inner circle any longer, and approach every conversation from that standpoint. That way, the conversations you have are no longer about you asking those in your inner circle to change and offering nothing in return, they are about you offering them a chance to stay in your inner circle, on the condition that they change.
The right order
To be most effective, you also need to talk to people in the right order. You need to keep in mind that even your inner circle has layers. Right at the center is the most important person: you. The logical approach is to work outwards from there, starting with the second most important person.
That person might be your partner, one of your parents, your best friend or a sibling or other relative that you’re particularly close with. It’s not necessarily the person you talk to the most, although it can be, but it’s the person you rely on the most, the person you feel understands you better than anyone, the one you would miss the most if they weren’t there.
Why should you start with that person? Because you can’t take yourself seriously if you skip over them. And more importantly, others can’t take you seriously either. Skipping over them destroys your negotiating position. If you’re in a relationship with a non-vegan, then there’s not a single other person in your life who will believe that they might lose you if they don’t go vegan. No matter how important you claim it is to you, your actions prove that you’re willing to let it slide completely. The only way to avoid that is to start with the person closest to you.
Starting with the person closest to you has three added advantages: One, it’s easier to convince them because you know them so well. Two, you’re also one of the most important people in their life so they will put in more effort than others to keep you in it. And three, they’re more likely to be receptive to bluntness and tough love.
If you convince the person closest to you, you will have a tiny vegan inner circle already. That’s a great basis from which to move forward and convince the next person in your inner circle, the one you’re closest with after them. And if you’re not successful in convincing the person closest to you to stop supporting animal exploitation and you have a falling out over it, then everyone else you know will see just how serious you are about it, which will also help you to get taken seriously. Of course, the goal is to just convince them all, so let’s talk about how to get through to them.
Why they do it
Convincing them to change requires that you understand why they haven’t done so already. There are three main reasons for that: habits, beliefs and society. Notice how I’m not including taste. Taste is a factor people often mention, but most of the time they’re actually just talking about habits. They know which animal products they like, where to buy them and how to prepare them, so they’re not lying about liking the taste, but they’ve never done any kind of comparison. They’ve never actually explored the vegan cuisine or considered which of the products that they already like are vegan.
Most people prefer predictability over change, so habits are a big factor, although by no means an insurmountable factor. Beliefs are all the stories people have internalized over time that allow them to support animal exploitation without feeling guilty. Examples of those beliefs are the idea that we need animal products for protein, that animals are killed humanely, that vegan food is too expensive, that killing animals wouldn’t be legal if it was wrong, that real men eat meat, et cetera. And lastly, society is a significant factor because most people just really want to fit in.
So, in order to convince them, you need to help them change their habits, correct their beliefs, and inspire them to be better than society at large. Your mindset, the order in which you talk to them, and how you conduct yourself in the conversations is more important than how educated you are. But you do need to know some basic facts.
Because the animal industries are so obviously exploitative you can actually get quite far without knowing any details. Animals are being brought into this world just to be used and killed, you don’t need to know exactly how they’re used and how they’re killed to explain why that’s wrong, but it does help. Knowing the standard practices in the industries will make it easier to get taken seriously.
You also need some basic knowledge on nutrition. It’s easy to prove that we don’t need animal products to be healthy, you can just point to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ position paper on vegan diets, but it goes a long way if you can actually answer some questions about it as well. People don’t just need to know that they can be healthy as a vegan, they also need to know how, and if you’re the person trying to convince them then it’s on you to tell them.
How do you educate yourself on these topics and the variety of other topics that get brought up when talking about veganism? By reading my free e-book, Questioning Meat. Of course, there are countless other sources of information, but everything you need to know to convince people is in my e-book, and it’s free, so that’s the source I recommend. Reading it once is enough, by the way, you don’t have to learn it by heart.
Opening the conversation
Once you’ve got the right mindset, know who to talk to first, and are well-informed, it’s time for the first conversation. I strongly recommend you have all conversations in person, they’re challenging enough without giving yourself the handicap of not being able to see the other person or physically connect. Also, make sure you talk to them one on one. No one likes admitting they’re wrong, and having anyone else there only makes it harder for them to do so. And lastly, don’t have the conversations during mealtime, unless their meal is vegan and they’re enjoying it.
When you open the conversation, make it clear that you want to have a heart-to-heart. Maybe you’ve always avoided the topic or maybe you’ve had unproductive conversations in the past, whatever the case is, tell them you don’t want to continue like that. This topic is extremely important to you and you can’t agree to disagree on it any longer. You think what they’re doing is fundamentally wrong, so the two of you need to talk about it until they either stop doing it or they convince you that it’s not wrong.
It’s important to say that out loud. If you don’t acknowledge the option that they might convince you, no matter how unlikely you think that is, you can’t have a conversation. They think they have good arguments for what they’re doing and if you dismiss those before you’ve even heard them then they have no reason to listen to you either. So, do yourself a favor and acknowledge that option out loud.
Of course, no matter how you open the conversation, there’s always the possibility that they simply don’t want to talk about it. That doesn’t mean you have to raise the stakes right away. You can just continue with the next step, only raise the stakes if that doesn’t work either.
The key to convincing people is to ask questions. You start by asking them what their reasons are for eating animal products and then you ask them follow-up questions. You need to ask questions because you need to understand them, the better you understand them the more easily you’ll be able to get through to them. And by asking questions you also make them feel taken seriously, which will make them more willing to take you seriously in return.
Perhaps the most important advantage of asking questions, though, is that you can make people realize they’re wrong in a much more effective way than by simply telling them they’re wrong. The way to do that is to respond to a claim that they make by asking them questions about how they arrived at that conclusion. By doing so you can either weaken their claim by showing them that they actually don’t know what they’re talking about or you can disprove it altogether by showing them that their claim is in opposition to some of their other beliefs.
For example, if someone claims they need to eat meat for protein you can ask them questions like these: What is the recommended daily intake for protein? How much protein is in meat? How much protein is in beans? Do you think I’m protein deficient? If not, then where do you think I get my protein? The animals you eat only eat plant-based food, do you think there’s protein in their food or do you think they make it themselves? Et cetera. By asking them those kinds of questions you reveal to them how limited their knowledge is. Once they realize that their claim is not actually a fact, but just something they’ve heard and can’t back up, you can inform them in a friendly way about the actual facts.
Another example, that’s not about misinformation but about bad reasoning, is the claim that eating animal products is okay because animals also eat each other in nature. You can respond to that with questions like: Do you think animals in nature have as much choice as you have with a supermarket around the corner? Do you think animals in nature understand the pain they cause and the seriousness of taking a life? Do you think we should base our moral decisions on what animals in nature do? Animals in nature also engage in rape, cannibalism and infanticide, do you think we should do that as well or do you think it’s progress that we’ve declared that immoral?
You need to understand that they have spent a lifetime gathering reasons to consume and use animal products and they’ve never had to examine them, so their thoughts will be chaotic at best. Be prepared for them to continuously overestimate their arguments, use logical fallacies, present blatant falsehoods as truths and make the most coldhearted statements without even realizing it. But simply by asking questions you can weaken and take away their arguments one by one. Even if they argue that they like what meat tastes like you can ask them how much of the flavor actually comes from the meat and how much comes from sauces and spices, you can ask them how many vegan alternatives they’ve actually tried, and you can ask them if they think meat tastes so good that they’d be willing to kill an animal for it themselves. Don’t accept any of their arguments at face value, always ask questions.
As I mentioned before, even if they don’t want to have a conversation with you about it at all, you should still ask questions. You just need to start with questions about why they don’t want to have a conversation about it. Do they not think this is an important topic to discuss? Are they not interested in creating more understanding between the two of you? Don’t they see that your relationship will suffer if they refuse to discuss moral disagreements?
Keep them on topic
The essence of the conversation is very simple, you’re just asking them to stop supporting animal exploitation if they don’t have any valid arguments for it. But because their thoughts are so chaotic and they resist change, they will bring all kinds of other topics into the conversation. Usually, asking questions is the best way to make them realize that what they’re saying is either untrue or irrelevant, but sometimes you need to outright say it.
You’re talking to them about their direct support for animal exploitation. It’s not a conversation about sweatshops, it’s not a conversation about quinoa farmers, it’s not a conversation about the ecological footprint of avocados, it’s not a conversation about consumerism in general, it’s not a conversation about indigenous tribes, and it’s not a conversation about what the government or anyone else should do. It’s about their choices regarding animals and animal products in the here and now. If they want to discuss any other topic, that’s perfectly fine, but they should wait until you’ve reached an agreement on this topic. You’ve made it clear from the start what the conversation is about and any attempt to hijack it is disrespectful.
Don’t accept disrespect
Speaking about disrespect, make sure you keep it out of the conversation. Apart from attempts to change the topic, there are three main ways in which it might enter the conversation from their side, and if that happens, you need to nip in the bud.
The first way is if they start talking to you, not as an individual, but as a representative of the vegan community and start projecting stereotypes onto you. I’m talking about any statement about vegans being oversensitive, pushy, preachy, aggressive, or any other negative trait. If that happens you need to remind them right away that they are only talking to you and that you’re speaking for yourself. Ask them if they feel like those traits apply to you personally, and if so, ask them to elaborate. If they have a point then obviously apologize, but more likely than not, they don’t have a point. You need to resolve any disagreement about this before you can continue talking about anything else.
The second way is if they essentially start trolling you by bringing up arguments that they don’t actually believe in. For example, if they start talking about the ability of plants to feel pain. You can easily counter that argument by pointing out that animals eat plants and that the vegan lifestyle is actually the lifestyle for which the least amount of plants are killed, but if you feel like you’re being trolled it’s better to address the trolling directly. Actual animals, just as sentient as cats and dogs, are being killed for them and that deserves a serious conversation. If they still refuse to take it seriously after you point that out, then you have every right to get angry and stay angry until they do.
The third way is if they mock animal suffering. I’ll discuss how to deal with that under the next subheading.
Of course, if you want to be successful you need to conduct yourself in a respectful way as well. That doesn’t mean you should respect their choices, there’s nothing respectable about supporting animal exploitation. It just means you should communicate in a straightforward and honest way. Don’t get cynical or snarky, and if you catch yourself doing that, apologize.
Don’t accept apathy
As an alternative to arguments, they can also use another strategy to resist change: apathy. They can do this in a disrespectful way, by mocking animal suffering, but they can also do it in a less disrespectful way or even disguise it as a virtue by focusing on how honest they are for telling you that they just don’t care enough about animals to change. It’s common for vegans to respond to that by looking for different arguments that the other person might care about, like health or the environment, but that’s a serious mistake. Don’t do that.
Health and environmental benefits are good supporting arguments, but your true negotiating power is based on the animal rights argument. And the truth is that by saying they don’t care enough about animals they’re actually giving you an opportunity to use that power.
Their statement is heartless, so heartless that if they actually mean it they genuinely don’t deserve to be in your life. So, the way to respond to their statement is to check if they actually mean it. The check involves three steps of increasing intensity. Each step gives them the opportunity to acknowledge that they actually do care enough about animals to change or appear increasingly heartless and lose your respect.
The first step is just to ask them if they really mean it. Do they realize what they’re saying? Are they genuinely okay with land animals having their throats slit, aquatic animals suffocating to death, chicks getting killed on their first day of life, and calves being separated from their mothers, just because they don’t want to eat something else?
If their answer is yes, then the second step is to tell them that you want to show them a documentary on the animal industries, just to make sure they really understand what they’re supporting. At that point, they don’t have any valid reason to say no. They’ve already said they’re okay with what’s happening, so it’s nothing but a check. If they say no anyway, then you can call them out on their inconsistency. They’re either fine with what’s happening and should have no problem with a final check or they don’t want to see what’s happening and they should stop pretending they’re fine with it, which is it?
If they still insist that they’re fine with it then the third step is to watch Dominion with them. There are other documentaries that show the reality of the animal industries as well, but I recommend Dominion because it’s well-made, contains recent footage and it’s available for free. This is the final step. In all likelihood they can’t watch it without breaking and acknowledging that animal exploitation is wrong.
But, of course, people who genuinely don’t care do exist. If the person you’re talking to continues to support animal exploitation after watching Dominion, then the logical conclusion is that you overestimated them and they’re not the good person you thought them to be, just like someone who abuses their dog is not a good person. If you want a vegan inner circle and you find yourself in that situation then my advice is to express your genuine emotions about their heartlessness and distance yourself from them.
Don’t end the conversation before it’s over
Regardless of whether it’s a smooth or a difficult conversation, there will be a tendency for the other person to end it before it’s over. They will likely try to agree to disagree. They might say that directly or they might disguise it by subtly changing the focus of the conversation and offering a fake solution. For example, they might say that out of respect for you they will agree to eat only vegan food when they’re with you, but that in return you should respect them enough to let them eat what they want when they’re not with you. Of course, the conversation was always about if they should eat animal products not when they should eat animal products, but in the moment fake solutions like that might catch you off guard.
The way to avoid being caught off guard is to ask yourself one question before you end the conversation: Are they going vegan now?
If they’re not going vegan and they haven’t convinced you that animal exploitation is okay, then the conversation is not over. Don’t agree to disagree, don’t accept a fake solution, and don’t go back to business as usual.
Of course, it’s a big topic and you might not have time to get to the end of the conversation in one go, or, if you’ve got them thinking, they might need a day or two to think everything over. You can have the conversation in installments, that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure you never pause the conversation without agreeing on when you’ll resume it. And also, don’t pause it longer than you have to, no one actually needs more than a couple of days to think before they can continue the conversation.
It’s also important to understand that while the conversation is on hold, everything that you would normally do together for fun is an opportunity to remind them of what’s at stake. You don’t necessarily have to boycott all of it, but if they just spent hours defending animal exploitation you shouldn’t pretend that everything is okay. They need to know that your relationship will deteriorate if they don’t change.
I’ve focused a lot on the worst case scenarios because I want you to be prepared, but if you follow this approach you actually have a decent chance of convincing the people close to you. And once you do, it’s important to be helpful. Your job is not over once they realize that what they’re doing is wrong. They still need to form new habits and they need your help with that. Most people rely far more on habits than on principles, so helping them form new habits is of vital importance if you don’t want them to backslide.
The thing you need to help them with is food. You need to find food that is just as easy to prepare, just as affordable and tastes just as good to them as what they’re used to. You can refer them to sites like Challenge 22 and Happy Cow, but you need to personally make sure they’ve found options that they like. For example, if they’re used to drinking coffee with cows’ milk and they don’t like coffee with soy milk then you should be the one to suggest alternatives like oat milk, cashew milk and macadamia milk. Buy them for them if you can afford it, until they find one they like and get into the habit of buying it themselves. Also do this with non-food products that they rely on.
You also need to help them with nutrition. It may not necessarily be a topic they’re interested in, but realize that if they only eat vegan junk food and run into any health problems they’re more likely to blame it on veganism than on junk food. So, encourage them to eat healthy and take at least a vitamin B12 supplement. Read chapters 6-10 of Questioning Meat and visit veganhealth.org and nutritionfacts.org for reliable information on vegan nutrition.
And lastly, you need to provide them with social support. Waking up to the reality of the animal industries is not easy, and on top of that they might have other people in their life who are trying to discourage them from staying vegan. You have dealt with all of that before and you might be the only vegan they know, so give them as much support as they need.
Make new friends
Besides convincing the people who are currently in your inner circle to go vegan I also recommend getting to know more people who are already vegan. There are some great people in the vegan community and it would be a shame if you never met them. Get in touch with fellow vegans with common interests through social media and join some local vegan Facebook groups to see what the vegans in your area are up to. Some of them might become close friends!
I know, I kept it very short, but this is really all you need to do to get a vegan inner circle! I bet you didn’t think it would be this easy! In all seriousness, though, I hope this was as helpful as it was long. I just wanted to make sure I covered everything because you’re talking to people who have been brainwashed since birth and unbrainwashing them has its challenges. I’m confident that you have what it takes to overcome those challenges, though. That’s why I laid it all out for you. Now all you need to do is put it into practice and you too will have a vegan inner circle!