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“Why it’s time to show vegans more respect in the workplace”

The Vegan Society has published a list of suggestions to help employers support vegans in the workplace. Here, Stylist’s Alessia Armenise explains why even the smallest changes are important to make sure people are not feeling alienated. 

In the last few years, veganism has been one of the hottest topics of conversation. The environmental challenges we are facing as a planet – and the consequent newfound awareness that, to change things, we must act – has put the plant-based lifestyle under the spotlight like never before.

A lot of people like to call it a fad, or think of it as just another ‘weird’ diet that’s enjoying its 15 minutes of fame, but the vegan way of life has been around for years. After all, The Vegan Society was founded almost 80 years ago, by Donald Watson in 1944. This same charity has just created a guide to help employers be more mindful of their vegan employees’ needs and, once again, it has sparked debate around veganism as a whole.

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As The Vegan Society states in its document, veganism is now recognised by the employment tribunal as a belief that should be protected under the Equity Act of 2010. As a vegan, I have honestly never thought about needing protection, but after reading the document, it became clear how many things we just accept as normal that, in another context, would be seen as unacceptable.

After all, you would never ask someone why they don’t eat shellfish, or try to convince them to try a pig in a blanket, if they avoid these foods because of their religion. Yet many people seem to feel entitled to comment on people’s decisions when they are driven by beliefs that are not connected to a specific God. 

2019's good news: 250,000 people took part in Veganuary.
Vegan workplace: 250,000 people took part in Veganuary.

The irony is that vegans are always stereotyped as being “preachy” and “annoying”, when in reality we’re the ones who are being preached at and judged for our choices.

Let me tell you something mind-blowing: my Omega 3 or protein level is none of anybody’s business but my own. I have never seen a vegan going around a restaurant asking people for their cholesterol levels, but I have heard a lot of them having to explain that actually chickpeas and lentils are full of protein.

The document from The Vegan Society suggests that employers should take action to ensure vegan beliefs are respected like anybody else’s. This would include having a separate kitchen to store food in the office and be exempted from activities that would clash with one’s way of life (from horse-racing to team barbecues). Other suggestions are: making sure that the employer provides a pension scheme in line with vegan beliefs, exempting vegan from having to buy non-vegan products and cater plant-based options when needed (like non-dairy milk, for example). But how is this really possible when people are not taken seriously?

We are so used to accepting that, when we are a minority, we can’t expect to be cared or catered for. But acknowledging someone’s necessities, especially in a workplace, comes down to one very important thing: respect.

Vegan workplace
Vegan workplace: "The first thing we need to do is make ourselves heard – even the most sensitive of employers might not think about the everyday challenges people have to face."

More than just a separate shelf in the fridge or new uniforms, respect is what people crave. Veganism is just one of many ‘minorities’ to be found in an office environment, and it would be a mistake to think that is it the only one that is overlooked. Megan, a designer working full time in an office, has an allergy to gluten that means that she can’t use the office toaster or anything else that might be contaminated. Since she is the only person with this specific need in the office, nobody even thought about it. So what is the solution to this problem?

The first thing we need to do is make ourselves heard – even the most sensitive of employers might not think about the everyday challenges people have to face. Hopefully, realising that demanding for our needs to be recognised is our right, will give us enough courage to finally raise our voices.

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