The Ghosts In Our Machine

Siobhan’s Ghost-Free Journey: Day 5

Photo of the Rush line up the evening of the World Premiere  of  THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE at the Hot Docs Film Festival (a sold out event). This photo is chosen today because at one time or another, people in this line experienced what we are about to discuss. But here we all are – united and celebrating.

Day 5 already! Siobahn, it has been a true pleasure to be a part of your journey. We have covered so many topics this week and we have been truly fortunate to have had Victoria Moran join us yesterday. For anyone who didn’t follow Day 4, we encourage you to read what Victoria has written about the topics of why some vegans revert to eating meat, and the issues surrounding what to feed our companion animals.

Today the focus will be on society’s reception to vegans. Siobhan would like to discuss the negative comments and criticism that often comes from friends, acquaintances  and family members when one decides to lead a vegan life. In Siobhan’s words “ There seems to be a lot of vegan haters out there, and a lot of people hold the belief that vegans are smug and pushy people who try to force their beliefs onto everyone…How do you deal with all the vegan haters?”

Siobhan, can you tell us more about any backlash that you have been getting? Are any of your friends or family members supportive of your journey?

For the Ghosts,

Mentors Donna and Rosemary

The opinions we express as GFJ Mentors are ours personally. We are not professional health practitioners.  Neither are we treating a specific health care issue.  That means we are not offering advice on health-care problems. If you  are experiencing a health-care problem, it is important to seek the advice of a health professional. However we are experienced, practicing vegans and we look forward to coaching you on your journey.


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  1. Mentor Donna September 20, 2013 at 6:39 am

    Good Morning, Siobhan!

    This is something that so many people ask about. Having one’s beliefs dismissed – or in some cases – belittled, can make us feel frustrated and sad, especially if these reactions come from friends and family members.
    I have come to think that a lot of these reactions come from others because it seems to them, that all of a sudden we are different from them. As Victoria Moran mentioned yesterday, so much of our culture is based around food. Memories of birthday cakes, family dinners, etc. – food is what brings people together. So, I think that what sometimes happens, is that our friends are not so much judging us (even though it seems that way) – but they feel that the friendship is changing. Family members wonder about holiday meals and what to serve, etc. People don’t just love food – they love WITH food. If we gently keep the relationships going, introduce them to wonderful meals, talk about our beliefs in a non-confrontational way – it can make a difference. They may or may not make changes in their own lives, but you will be a constant influence – operating from a place of love.

  2. Mentor Rosemary September 20, 2013 at 9:26 am

    As Donna so eloquently points out in her post above, if you come from a place of love and compassion, the expression will follow. However, we often forget that this means a place of love and compassion, not only for your friends and family but also for ourselves, our values/beliefs, and for non-human animals.
    I think the balance is key~ respect all the way around.
    So often, we go the other extreme~ to apologize for being vegan! Be who you are, be confident in your values and beliefs, don’t apologize for living your truth. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be critical or judgmental~ that’s what non-vegans tend to remember! Most of us were non-vegans at some point, and I think if we keep this in our consciousness, this helps to keep it real and balanced. Remember, most people who react negatively to being vegan, are people that feel threatened in some way. Their fear may come out in defensiveness, confrontation, denial, and criticism because your presence alone may make them feel uncomfortable.
    Lastly, there are some people who will be open and curious and respectful, and there will be some you encounter that are more comfortable remaining in an “unexamined life”. As time goes on, you’ll find this balance and live more at peace within yourself and with those around you who are not vegan.

    • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 10:10 am

      Excellent advice Rosemary!

      You’re right, maybe I am coming on too strong in some cases. In the past few years, I’ve definitely become less defensive and tend to just stay quiet, let the person go on a tangent, and then politely disagree with them, but it’s hard not to feel insulted when it’s something I care so much about. I wouldn’t call myself an “extreme” vegetarian/vegan who pushes their beliefs onto everyone, but I will definitely speak my mind if I know someone has unfair beliefs – more so just to try and get them to see another side to their rigid ideas of what’s “natural”. I will certainly try to use your more level-headed style of response next time though!

  3. Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Hey everybody!

    Well, it’s my last day on the GFJ…but definitely NOT my last day of veganism. This past week has been such a learning experience, and I am so grateful to everyone who helped me along the way and brought their ideas into any of our discussions. Victoria, Donna, and Rosemary…you have all been such angels throughout this whole process, and I thank you so much!

    You’re right, I find that especially when it comes to family members, people get the impression that you are isolating yourself from everyone else. My family and friends are used to this now because I was an extremely picky eater up until only a few years ago (I would never eat any customary celebration foods such as cake, pie, turkey, hot dogs, pizza, etc. just because the taste would make me gag). I also became a vegetarian when I was 14 so they’ve adjusted a little to that, but it still doesn’t stop them from making offensive comments or trying to force me into eating meat. When I mentioned to my mom and dad that I would be doing this vegan challenge, they both came back with a whole slur of negative, unsupportive comments against the “crazy” vegan lifestyle. Society seems to take someone announcing their vegan/vegetarian diet as some open invitation to dish out their own criticism. Rarely do people appreciate or even consider someone’s reasons behind their lifestyle choice (ie, loving animals and wanting to do less damage to the environment) and instead they just take it as an opportunity to attack the person and engage them in a battle of why meat is essential and why they should be eating it.

    I have had every possible anti-vegetarian comment thrown at me over the years, and honestly it gets to the point where I won’t even announce it just in fear of the bullying I receive about it. When these ignorant comments are made toward me, I always defend myself in a non-intrusive way and come back with valid counter-arguments, but it still gets exhausting always having to constantly justify my personal choices to people who I often barely even know.

    I think you’re right in that people want to show their love through/with food, especially family members…and I have definitely experienced this with my mother – and still do! When I became a vegetarian, she took it as a personal insult to her cooking and her nurturance, and forced me to make all my own meals in the first year or so. After that, she finally accepted the idea and started making special side meals just for me that used vegetarian alternatives, and actually enjoyed it because it brought a new style of cooking into her forté. Still, it doesn’t stop her from shoving bacon in front of my face every time I come home to her place, or telling me I’m missing out on life and that I’m going to die before I’m 40! Ahh, moms.

    Does anyone have any tips on how to ease my transition to veganism for my family and friends?

    • Mentor Rosemary September 20, 2013 at 11:24 am

      Siobhan, you have certainly been through so much around eating and family concerns. Since you have revealed more about history of being a “picky eater”, understanding your family and friends’ reactions is a bit more clear. Perhaps they are afraid for you and your health on top of having the typical and general fears that most non-vegans have about this topic? Maybe a pattern has been established in your family where they perceive you as having trouble with food as opposed to embracing this endeavor with you?
      If you think this may be the case, then simply acknowledging that you know they had reason to be concerned because of your past, but you’re asking them now, to support you. You’re an adult and are mature enough to be responsible for your choices and health. Just a thought….
      Also, Debra’s suggestion about disengaging on the topic is always an option if you’re not up to discussion or if it’s not purposeful or productive. You can always end the conversation with a smile and walk away~sometimes that the best you can do.

      One last suggestion~ focus on yourself right now. Your health, your beliefs/values, and possessing knowledge and information about veganism. Once you’re grounded and clear about your direction, the communication is usually much easier. Bravo, Siobhan, you’re on your way!

      • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 12:30 pm

        Yes Rosemary, adequate nutrition is always a major concern for them based on my past health issues growing up (I also had a lot of stomach issues and missed a lot of school up until about grade 9 because I was physically sick so often). However, in the past 3 years or so I have become a lot more open to trying new foods, and I am a lot less sensitive to foods I once hated or that made me become ill. I also rarely ever get sick nowadays, and I have no deficiencies anymore.

        These are all excellent suggestions you provide! I have had the mindset to drive a vegan lifestyle for several years now, but all of you have helped me to make it a reality and ease myself into it at my own pace. Thank you so much, guys 🙂

  4. Debra Roppolo September 20, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Hoo boy. That’s a lot to contend with, and I congratulate you for sticking to principles all this time — it can’t have been easy. If there’s any way you can convince your family to watch Forks Over Knives, that might be a good place to start — at least it would allay their fears about your health.

    For family dinners, try bringing a yummy vegan dish or two — or offer to do the cooking! Nothing wins people over like good vegan food.

    And on the days that all the explaining just gets exhausting, you could just say “You know what? We’ve had this conversation before and I’m just not up for it right now.” And leave it at that.

    Does that help at all?

    • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      Hey Debra,

      I actually have got my mom and sister to sit down and watch Forks Over Knives with me, but it didn’t seem to have any effect. I also took my dad and his wife to the screening of The Ghosts in Our Machine back at Hot Docs, and needless to say they still ended up ordering bacon cheeseburgers afterward. The thing that always kills me, however, is when I ask them if they would ever eat a dog, cat, or bunny and they react totally outraged by my ~cruel proposition~. My family is pretty stubborn and old fashioned, so it’s kind of something I avoid discussing with them now. I’ll have to start using your “walk away” approach more often!

      Bringing along a vegan dish is a great idea, actually. I think I will do that this Thanksgiving…any suggestions?

  5. Lorena Elke September 20, 2013 at 11:36 am

    HI Siobhan, First off congratulations on your ghost-free journey! You have done much to support nonhuman animals in your choice to become vegan. Rosemary and Donna are such excellent coaches because they are what you said “so level-headed” in challenging situations such as dealing with unsupportive family and friends. I tend to be more direct. I don’t see directness in this case as being judgmental or lacking compassion, I see it as being truthful…to the issue of animal exploitation, and truthful to myself. So if I am being challenged or critiqued, I will throw it back to the person challenging…maybe in the form of an observation or a question. For example, “hmm…it seems that my veganism is causing you some kind of discomfort…why is that?” Calling what is happening in the moment in a clear, concise way can sometimes interrupt the dominant discourse and the framework of the discussion. Of course, you have to be mindful of your tone of voice (LOL). Not compromising if done in a truthful, clear style, is another possibility. Good luck!

    • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      Yes, Rosemary and Donna have been so supportive in this whole process…it’s refreshing to interact with people (yourself included) who are so genuinely nice, compassionate and insightful!

      That’s a good idea to just be direct and shoot it back as an observation. Tone of voice and facial expression is definitely a key thing to be aware of, because I can tend to get sarcastic and snarky when I’m feeling belittled on my core moral beliefs!

      Just yesterday I had a coworker from Halifax drill into me all day long about how vegans and vegetarians are so easily “hypnotized” by “animal rights propaganda” and was basically laughing at the fact that I “fell for it” and completely undermining my intelligence. It got so annoying that there was a point where I just turned around said “all of this is coming from a fundamentalist Catholic former pastor, not the most reputable source for objective information” and that shut him up for the rest of the day 🙂

  6. Judy Hurst September 20, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Hi Siobhan! I can’t believe it’s friday already, this journey has gone by so quickly, with so much ground covered. It’s been awesome and thank you for taking part in it, I have learned a lot just from following along.

    On todays topic, I have found that in a number of areas, not just veganism, when we talk about the choices we make, oftentimes what other people hear is that we think their choices are wrong. I’m conscious of that when people ask me why I’m vegan because I think sometimes that if I talk about animal rights issues and my love for animals, what they “hear” is that they must not love animals if they eat meat. I talk about the environmental issues first and if they seem interested in opening the door further, then I will expand on the discussion.

    When it comes to family and food. I just try to show them how awesome my food is without drawing attention the fact that it’s vegan. Let them love the food just for it being delicious not anything else. We do that here at the restaurant too, and a lot of meat eaters love the veggie options on our menu so we have opened the door and when they are ready for there aha moment, perhaps it won’t be so scary.

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend and enjoy your continuing journey!

    • Mentor Rosemary September 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      Wisdom from a wise woman~ thank you Judy for offering this perspective and joining us in the dialogue all week. Your contributions have been so helpful!

      Taking the subtle approach is sometimes the best and most empowering one~ and it sure helps if you make incredible food!

      As an aside to the primary topic today, what dishes do you make that appeal most to non-vegans?

    • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      What restaurant do you work at, Judy? I’d also love to hear some recipe suggestions, as Rosemary said! My friends and family seem to think that vegans are so deprived of not only nutrition but also of yummy food in general…so I would love to prepare something vegan that would throw them for a loop 🙂

      You are so right. I can totally understand how it could come off as judgmental or threatening to those who don’t fully understand the concept, so I will have to keep that in mind and allow them to lead the way in terms of conversation topics.

      Thank you for providing so much awesome feedback throughout my journey, it has been so helpful!

    • Mentor Donna September 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      Judy – you bring up a very interesting point –
      ” if I talk about animal rights issues and my love for animals, what they “hear” is that they must not love animals if they eat meat. I talk about the environmental issues first and if they seem interested in opening the door further, then I will expand on the discussion.”
      Do you find most people want to take the discussion further?

  7. Mentor Rosemary September 20, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I love your post, Lorena!
    Here is a link to an interesting blog~ complementary to Lorena’s points.

    • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      What a powerful message, I love that!

    • Mentor Donna September 20, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      Love this article. I alos love this video made by Mercy for Animals – it is absolutely worth watching the entire video – the following is an excerpt from it:

      I WILL:

      Speak out against oppression, even if my voice shakes while I do it

      Lend a helping hand

      Be the change I want to see in the world

      Hand out a leaflet

      Inspire others

      Speak the truth, from a place of respect and integrity

      Be forward-thinking

      Never give up

      Treat others the way I want to be treated

      Make food choices that will respect animals, the earth, and my health

      Live in line with my values, even when I’m hungry

      Here’s the video:

  8. Lorena Elke September 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Rosemary, the post from is brilliant….and is exactly my point. Many do have “a desire to live a life unexamined, when it comes to nonhumans”. That is a sad reality. And, yes, Sioban, you too can “speak the truth, even if your voice shakes”! For the animals always. xo

  9. Adrienne September 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    There have only been a few times in the past 20 years that someone has crossed the line in terms of negative comments. Most people tend to be more inquisitive rather than rude, in which case I stay honest, on point, and do my best to give pithy answers. If they push what I consider respectful discussion, I usually just say “let’s agree to disagree” and change the subject. I refuse to be bullied by people, because my choices make them uncomfortable with their own.

  10. Mentor Donna September 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Yay, Adrienne!! It IS essential that we stand our ground. Sometimes we can use humor to diffuse a situation.
    Years ago, I had a group of 4 people (probably in their 20’s) come into my shop. One of the guys asked me “can you smell the meat on me?” It was so ludicrous – I replied “Can you smell the tofu on me ?” It made him laugh – we had a long conversation, and when he was leaving, he told me that he was thinking about the cows that lived on a farm down the road from him – and he was thinking that they weren’t so different from his dog. Every once in a while, what seems like a confrontation can yield something beautiful. I’ll never know if he ended up really opening his mind and heart – but the seed was planted.

  11. Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Donna you’re my hero!!!

    I also thought I would share this with you guys…it absolutely kills me how outdated our government’s guide to “healthy eating” is. Especially considering that it’s used in every physical education/health class in Canada to “educate” kids of all ages.

    I’d also like to share this autumn pumpkin spice granola recipe I made tonight – seasonal, delicious, AND vegan! I had it with some vanilla almond milk yogurt. SO GOOD

  12. lizmars September 21, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Siobhan, Donna and Rosemary,

    Thank you for another inspiring 5-DAY GHOST-FREE JOURNEY.

    Siobhan, you are now part of our GFJ Alumni.

    Let’s stay in touch.



    (Director/Producer/Writer, THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE)

  13. Abigail Doan September 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Dear Siobhan,

    Apologies for tis late reply. I just wanted to congratulate you on your brilliant GFJ and all of the amazing dialogue that we generated. I was traveling back to Eastern Europe this week, so I was not online regularly to comment properly.

    As a former GFJ participant, I just wanted to say that I have to doubt that you will be feeling the ripple effects for the days, weeks, and moths to come. The journey is just beginning and thankfully with all of this incredible input and transparency, your journey will continue to be compassionate and genuine.

    I truly feel that no matter where I roam now the GFJ stays with me. This is the beauty of such a deep and transformative community.

    I wish you continued success in all of your investigations and outreach efforts.

    To The Ghosts and Brave Souls everywhere,