I have encountered a lot of vegans whose biggest difficulty with their new lifestyle is to make it compatible with their work place as, generally speaking, most of them don't work in vegan businesses. Oh, I wish we all could do it! But how do we make the best of it in the meantime (while we support vegan businesses so we have more of them)?
A few years ago, I was working as a full time tax preparer in a thriving CPA firm in Los Angeles. When I first got the job, I was not vegan and had, therefore, no difficulties during lunch hour looking at what my co-workers were eating. But as my inner awareness of cruelty to animals increased, I went vegetarian, then vegan and that is when the difficulties started.
Going vegan is the easy step. It's just a learning curve which takes only a few weeks as we learn about new foods, which ones to avoid, what we should or shouldn't wear and obviously learn more about what is done to our animal brothers and sisters as we grow ourselves. The difficulty arises when we are confronted by those around us who "don't get it" and are not interested in changing. It is also hard to confront people who suddenly just don't understand who you are anymore. It is as if we have suddenly grown a third eye (literally and figuratively) and people around us, who don't possess this new awareness, become at once baffled and defensive. We become what Carol Adams calls "The Vegan in the room" and therefore we become mirrors to other people's own inner values. It is natural to be defensive of the unknown. After all our society teaches us to disconnect from our innate compassion from an early age by feeding us the flesh and secretions of other beings. This moral disconnection penetrates our psyche and very few of us eventually awake from the propagandist lie.
In the early days, I became the angry vegan. And I would preach to my co-workers about my new found "wisdom" and criticized them for continuing to eat the tortured flesh of the other animals I suddenly loved. But this attitude just served to ostracize myself from others and didn't help other animals at all. My co-workers became even more defensive, judgmental (after all I was) and in denial. So eventually, I had to change my approach. Reading The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle was the catalyst for this change.
At first, I started avoiding eating with them because I couldn't bare to see them eating corpses. But after a while, I realized that it served only to isolate myself from them. If I was going to serve the cause of other animals, I had to proudly eat my vegan foods in front of them and make sure they looked absolutely delicious. But in order to do that, I had to learn to detach (don't read indifference) from their own actions of eating other animals.
This served two purposes:
1. I was able to tolerate their eating of corpses in front of me (although I still hated it). The smell was in fact the hardest part as it turned my stomach. In this case, when it was too difficult, I would eat at my desk, away from the kitchen.
2. I was able to make them feel invited to try my vegan foods and learn for themselves that vegans don't eat just carrots and that they didn't have to participate in the exploitation of other beings to be healthy.
In the end, I made some progress at work. My boss, for office lunches, always asked me to select the wine (and I would select vegan wine of course) and he always made sure I was served a vegan meal at office lunch outs. I may not have turned anyone vegan in my work place, but I did plant seeds which matters. I also put the word "Vegan" in their vocabulary and, even if they didn't want to change, they couldn't ignore the work of vegans anymore on behalf of other animals. The hardest part is to be sufficiently detached from other people's actions in order to deliver a message. It may not be for you. I didn't think it was for me. But in the end, there was progress and new information was given.
A few weeks ago, my ex-office manager, tagged me on Facebook regarding a PETA undercover investigation, in which she was horrified by the treatment she saw of mother pigs. It was a surprise as I had never seen her really interested in the treatment of the animals she was eating. My comment on her post was: "Now you know why I am vegan."