People ask me "why are you vegan?" Usually it comes up because we're going to have a meal together, or we're not because the plan is to go out for steak, and so I'm not going. At any rate, I get asked the question from time to time, and it's funny because I often get the sense that people who ask it are not really interested in talking about it. They are more interested in a quick soundbite they can file away and forget about it. So I usually give them "for ethical reasons," or sometimes "because I like animals" or "for ethical and health reasons."
My responses have some problems. I think sometimes people take this as a holier-than-thou kind of attitude. "because I like animals" can be taken to mean "..and you don't! you big jerk." If I mention the environmental reasons to eat vegan, I can induce a similar reaction.
So, I've gotten in the habit of not talking about my veganism, redirecting the conversation elsewhere when the opportunity first arises. If the choice works for me, why do I need to be a jerk and upset the social order at the dinner table? Nothing to see here, smile, move along and enjoy your steak!
Lately, I've been thinking of changing my stock response to "why are you vegan?" to "because life is better this way!" and listing the selfish reasons I'm vegan. I am simply happier; I feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally by being vegan. It allows me to enjoy my life more fully. (Selfish or generous; it's really all the same to me anyway, because I have figured out that all of our interests are one and therefore selfishness is generosity.)
Upon reflection (and inspiration from this guy), I've decided it makes sense to speak up more too. If I'm asked "do you mind if we eat meat at the table?" I'm inclined to say, truthfully, "Well yes, I am kind of put off by it; if you're offering to avoid eating animal foods in my presence, then yes! I would prefer that."
This is selfish too. If I can influence somebody not to eat meat, even one time, I feel I've done something good (I think, once a person really groks what happens to the animals that provide our food, one can understand why I feel this way). If I can speak with confidence about my true feelings on the matter, that's better than bottling them up and letting them be steamrolled. At least, it feels better afterwards! I don't enjoy whitewashing my feelings about kindness to animals and the connection to the food we eat. Nevermind the fact that I don't partake in so-called "white" lies, it just feels better to speak in a straightforward and honest way about how I feel.
Perhaps the challenge now is to learn to communicate with both accuracy in terms of my perspective, as well as gentleness and receptivity towards the perspective(s) of others. I like animals and the people I'm dining with, even when they're not vegan (yet!), so why not express that?