When I told them I had been a vegetarian and even a vegan for a number of years in my late 20s-early 30s they seemed to get quite animated (i.e. there is hope...we can draw her back). They seemed about to crush my argument of losing energy while on a vegetarian diet when I pulled out the big guns and told them that I was no longer a vegetarian because of medical reasons.
That confounded them and I could see the disbelief in their eyes. I repeated the phrase "We all have our own beliefs when it comes to our diet" a number of times in a number of different ways. One of them was dismissive, immediately. I felt the need to explain even further and was flustered by not remembering all the fancy names for the chemicals and the reactions that take place in the stomach when certain foods are eaten by people with certain auto immune diseases.
It brought to mind a potluck dinner party I went to in the last year where there was discussion about what ingredients were in certain foods (undoubtedly instigated by myself since being gluten free always inspires this). After about 10 minutes of lively discussions by pairings in the entire party (we were all in the kitchen gathering our plates of food) someone piped up: "Remember when we went to dinner parties and nobody talked about dietary restrictions?". All of us laughed because yes, I think the 21st century has brought an awareness of food and health issues and the scientific research has advanced enough so that even an individual who is not a food scientist/nutritionist/doctor can assess for themselves how they feel eating certain foods and eliminating others.
For example, have you ever given up gluten? When I first gave up gluten I felt a definitely lifting of "brain fog" that I had no idea was even there. I've talked to others about this and it is not uncommon. Unfortunately that is not why I remain gluten free. I follow a specialty diet since I have multiple sclerosis. My logic in doing so is: a) I can't afford the traditional treatments; and b) there is not a lot of evidence that the treatments do anything. So since I really don't have anything to lose and can possibly prevent blindness or a wheelchair in my future (or worse) I might as well give this a go. And from nearly 5 years of experience following the diet I can say that the diet affects my quality of life too.
As I attempted to explain this, the looks of disbelief in the eyes of the animal rights activists I was talking to broke my heart. These are people that haven't faced these type of choices and they were regarding my own choice as evidence that I was some kind of wacko.
This is the way many people regard religious fanatics too yet mega food corporations have embraced them. These companies are merely exemplifying the age old truism: "Religion makes money". I find it offensive that people automatically dismiss diet restrictions as a fad when many people are following them for real health reasons. These same people might respect a muslim for their halal food choices or a jew for their kosher choices in the interest of embracing religious diversity. I don't really expect that to change anytime soon but by writing this perhaps I will enlighten just one person. As one activist I had contact with for many years used to say in the face of clear public adversity: "We soldier onwards."