There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like your work environment isn’t respectful of your vegan lifestyle. Unfortunately, meat-eating co-workers tend to ridicule vegans for our concerns regarding animal products being used at work, and sometimes, these co-workers dismiss our vegan diets all together. We all deserve a stress-free work environment, but fear of speaking up when something is antithetical to our beliefs can make communication with colleagues stressful—and even makes us feel like we’re putting our jobs are in jeopardy. Fortunately, there is hope for altruistic vegans craving a supportive, respectful workplace. Borrow these six tips to help you overcome on-the-job hurdles and make the hours between 9am and 5pm more vegan-friendly.
1. Ask questions
There is no better way to find out where your company stands on certain issues than to ask the people in charge, so ask questions about where the products come from and how products are being made. In one position I held, often I would do the food preparation for the salads. When I asked about the materials we were using for the process, I was happy to learn that the containers we used were compostable and made from plant-based materials. I also discovered that we used recycled paper bags instead of plastic bags, which are known to contain ingredients such as animal fat.
2. Encourage sustainable practices
In many work environments, ethical and environmental consciousness coincide … and often come into conflict. For instance, I have had jobs in which employees struggled with simple tasks such as sorting the recycling or knowing what is appropriate to put in the compost. To remedy this, I encouraged my co-workers to follow my lead. I made signs with images of what items belonged in each receptacle, moved receptacles to more appropriate locations, and volunteered to collect bottles and cans at the end of the day.
3. Switch to using vegan friendly cleaners and vegan soaps
Whether you are sharing a breakroom or a restroom, try to make these common areas friendlier for everyone. I remember working in a shop that used a vegan lavender-scented hand soap at the kitchen sink, while the restroom everyone in the building shared offered a questionable pink sludge. Let your employers know that switching items such as hand soap, dish soap, and lotion to a cruelty-free brand can have a positive impact in the workplace, and suggest that your company uses certain vegan vendors such as Amway and EO Products (each carries effective vegan products that aren’t tested on animals). By mentioning this issue to your higher-ups, you’re allowing employers to find everything they’re looking for (in terms of sanitation products) while having to place only one order.
4. Talk about uniforms and dress code
From aprons and gloves to shirts and shoes, employers don’t always consider cruelty-free alternatives when dealing with work attire. I’ve had employers who have mandated that employees purchase leather work shoes. To solve this issue, become part of the conversation when you hear that uniform and dress code policies are being updated. Ask your employers what they are looking for in their dress codes, and inform them of different companies and products you support. Share information about quality items that safe for a work environment while also being cruelty-free. For example, both Ethical Wares and Vegetarian Shoes carry sturdy work boots with steel toes and non-slip grip.
5. Be involved with food-related gatherings and company dinners
When a food-related event is proposed at work, recommend restaurants with vegan options on the menus. Ask coworkers if they have food allergies or dietary preferences, and be respectful of their choices. Also, offer ways to make potlucks a little less questionable. For example, suggest that people bring ingredient cards so everyone can easily identify allergens or foods that aren’t in line with their dietary principles. Doing so will make your co-workers feel welcome despite their differences.
6. Educate anyone who’s interested
Nearly every vegan knows how difficult it can be to explain our lifestyle choices to skeptics when that person’s only goal is to prove us wrong. However, when co-workers inquire about our choices in a respectful way, being patient and honest with your responses can build goodwill. Having a work environment that supports (or at least respects) your lifestyle choices is also good for your mental health. Swapping recipes, talking about your evening out to a new restaurant, or sharing your dinner ideas is part of connecting with others. Knowing that these common topics will be met with interest and curiosity can allow you to open up more to your co-workers. And when you can show mutual respect toward each other, you are more likely to excel in team-based activities.
Sierra Sander-Hewitt is an anthropology graduate with a passion for natural building, using lavender hand soap, and sorting recycling and compost bins.
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