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Uh oh. You’ve been given a non-vegan gift.

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It’s Christmas morning, or your birthday, or your wedding, and you’re surrounded by people who love you very, very much. A gift is passed to you, and your great aunt is smiling because she bought it for you, and she feels VERY proud about her purchase. You are going to absolutely love it, and she is sure of this! You begin to unwrap the garment, and slowly, it dawns upon you that the beautiful shoes neatly tucked in the box are made of 100% pure leather. “Boots, just like the ones you always wanted!” Aunt Trudy exclaims, before you can get a word in edgewise. You smile uncomfortably, because these aren’t boots you would ever feel happy wearing. They aren’t vegan, and they’re made from the skin of an unwilling calf. You nod a thanks as politely as you can, and on to the next activity.

When you’re a vegan, get ready for this to happen a LOT. It’s different than food, which is generally a lot easier to turn down politely. Gifts have a different cultural connotation to them, and I find non vegan gifts harder to navigate than opting for a salad at a dinner party. It doesn’t matter who you are or how loudly you have proclaimed your ethics, kind and well meaning people are going to give you gifts and expect you to use them, without even realizing that they don’t go along in any way with your system of beliefs. What is a vegan to do, especially one who is brand new to the lifestyle? There are a lot of choices, each appropriate for different times, so it’s best to be prepared. How do you deal with non-vegan gifts?

You can say “thank you” to prove you aren’t a total neanderthal, and on with the show like it never happened. Refusing a gift, especially a heartfelt one and in front of an audience, is too uncomfortable for some people to even imagine. It paints you in an unfair light, and mortifies a person who truly thinks they were gifting something you’d love. Return the gift if it has a receipt, or donate it. I find that giving friends items that aren’t vegan (for instance, a face mask I was gifted with eggs in it) says, “it’s okay to use eggs so long as I’m not doing it.” Yet, as to not be wasteful, a person in true need might be a good compromise.

You can say “thank you,” and have a teaching moment in private. Let Aunt Trudy know you’re just not sure how much use you’re going to get out of these boots, since they’re made of leather and it goes against your principles. Explain exactly why it isn’t compassionate to purchase leather. Some people think veganism is simply a diet, and a lot of that is the fault of plant based eaters who continue to wear animal products and live non-vegan in other ways. This is a great chance for you to educate someone about what veganism truly is! Can the item be returned? If so, invite her along for the trip! Then you can open her up to the wild world of “label reading” that we vegans love so much, and treat her to something delicious afterwards. Turn an uncomfortable moment into something productive for the both of you, and enjoy yourself while doing it.

Refuse the gift immediately. Danger, Will Robinson. Good for you for holding fast to your beliefs, but if family members have little exposure to vegans other than you, you run the risk of making all vegans look a particular way (like dicks). No matter how gracefully you refuse it, some conversations are best left in private, but to each their own! I’m not going to tell you how to live your life! Ethics are ethics, and we all have the right to stand up for what we believe in, even if it makes us look ungrateful. If the gift was given to your in private, now, that’s another story, and return to options one and two.

Big event coming up? Have a wishlist. Shopping for gifts is really hard! Save family the trouble and embarrassment of a potentially flop gift by making sure your wedding registry is available, and if they ask what you want for an upcoming birthday, opt for a dinner out instead to save everyone from shifting in their seats.

Look, there’s nothing at all wrong with not wanting a non-vegan gift. You can appreciate their efforts without appreciating what is wrong with the item. It’s all in how the situation is handled, and if you play your cards right, who knows? Maybe you’ll create a new vegan out of Aunt Trudy yet!

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