How Do I Positively Engage My Non-Vegan Family?

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» How Do I Positively Engage My Non-Vegan Family?

RAC member, Dr Corey Wrenn, analyses veganism within family dynamics and provides some advice on how to positively engage non-vegan family members.

A supportive network is one of the most important factors for sustaining veganism (Cherry, 2006). Unfortunately, some individuals find themselves at odds with their non-vegan families. There are several reasons why this happens. For instance, most people, consciously or not, fail to recognise that non-human animals categorised as food have the capacity to suffer (Bratanova, Loughnan and Bastian, 2011). Vegans may also be alienated from their families as they are often perceived by non-vegans as ‘thinking they’re better than everyone else’. This chastising of morally motivated individuals is something social psychologists have termed ‘do-gooder derogation’ (Minson and Monin, 2011)

Despite this, research indicates that individuals who feel threatened by veganism will be more open to discussion if they are given the opportunity to combat the perceived moral threat. Therefore, the isolated vegan might benefit from discussing their veganism with family members, even if that discussion becomes uncomfortable.

Unfamiliarity with new foods could be another barrier to eating vegan with non-vegan family members. A 2013 study found that repeatedly exposing non-vegans to vegan alternatives to ‘meat’ began to view them more favourably (Hoek et al., 2013). However, participants also reported boredom with the same three products included in the study, highlighting the importance of variety (Hoek et al. 2013). Indeed, the human brain is programmed to respond to novelty, which could be good news for veganism (Gallagher, 2011).  The large variety of foods associated with vegan cuisine could easily pique the interest of family members. In addition, the provocativeness of non-human animal rights issues may even appeal to their novelty-seeking minds.

Active involvement in preparing food can also be advantageous. Most parents may already be aware that having their children help in meal preparation can combat picky eating. This is due to the well-documented phenomenon known as the IKEA effect, whereby the creation of something leads to pride and a positive association with that creation (Norton, Mochon and Ariely, 2011). For that reason, family members who are encouraged to prepare a vegan meal may find themselves more favourable to that dish if they have prepared it themselves.

Lastly, the presence of food itself can win people over. For example, research has demonstrated that individuals who are given snacks to munch on when presented with new information were more likely to be persuaded to change their opinion (Janis, Kaye and Kirschner, 1965). The positive associations we have with food seem to spill over onto the message. Therefore, sharing vegan food with family members will not only increase their familiarity with that food but may also create positive associations with veganism.

Just be sure that the food is tasty. As Nathan Winograd argues in All American Vegan, “nobody is going to be won over by bland, flavourless, or overly healthy offerings.” If non-vegan family members are not tempted to taste vegan food, they will not be able to build any familiarity or positive associations.

The views expressed by our Research News contributors are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.


  • Give family members a chance to express their discomfort with your moral choices; an open dialogue may reduce negative attitudes
  • When possible, expose family members to vegan foods to increase familiarity and liking
  • Try to include a variety of vegan foods to peak interest and avoid boredom
  • Encourage family members to create vegan meals themselves, as preparation increases liking
  • Provide delicious vegan food for family members when discussing veganism; snacks positively influence persuasion
  • Opt for tastier foods over blander health-focused food when sharing with non-vegans

Further Reading

  • Adams, C. 2001. Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook. Three Rivers Press.
  • Askew, C. 2011. Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being, and Staying Vegan as a Teenager. Tofu Hound Press.
  • Torres, B. and J. Torres. 2009. Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World, 2nd ed. Tofu Hound Press.


  • Bratanova, B., S. Loughnan, and B. Bastian. 2011. “The Effect of Categorization as Food on the Perceived Moral Standing of Animals.” Appetite 57: 193-196.
  • Cherry, E. 2006. “Veganism as a Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach.” Social Movement Studies 5 (2): 155-170.
  • Gallagher, W. 2011. New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change. Penguin Press.
  • Hoek, A. et al. 2013. “Are Meat Substitutes Liked Better Over Time? A Repeated In-home Use Test with Meat Substitutes or Meat in Meals.” Food Quality and Preference 28 (1): 253-263.
  • Janis, I., D. Kaye, and P. Kirschner. 1965. “Facilitating Effects of Eating While Reading on Responsiveness to Persuasive Communications.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1: 181-186.
  • Minson, J. and B. Monin. 2011. “Do-Gooder Derogation: Disparaging Morally-Motivated Minorities To Defuse Anticipated Reproach.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 3 (2): 200-207.
  • Norton, M., D. Mochon, and D. Ariely. 2011. “The ‘IKEA Effect’: When Labor Leads to Love.” Harvard Business School Marketing Unit Working Paper No. 11-091

    A version of this essay was originally published by VegFund on May 7, 2013.

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