A couple of weeks ago, we asked for your feedback about where this Eating Vegan series should go, and you guys had some really great suggestions! I posed the same question about Eating Vegan on my own website and got great feedback there, too. Today, I thought I’d tackle one that folks brought up in both places:
How do you deal with being vegan in social situations and when you’re eating out?
It’s easy enough to maintain a vegan diet when you’re cooking at home. You’ve got full control over what goes into the pan and onto your plate. Things get a little bit trickier when you’re eating somewhere outside of your home.
Visiting Friends and Family
Whether you’re headed to a dinner party or a cocktail hour with hors d’œuvres, your veganism is bound to come up. If you’re close with the host, I’d recommend mentioning it when you get the invite. Folks want you to have a good time, and usually they’ll try to accomodate. It’s a good idea to have one or two easy suggestions in mind, in case they ask. For appetizers, stick to simple things like chips and guac or hummus and pita bread. If it’s a full meal, see if they have a theme and offer up a recipe, if they’re open to that.
A lot of the time, I’ll offer to bring a dish, that way there’s at least one guaranteed vegan item on the menu. Again, just see if they have a theme in mind, then whip up something vegan and portable to offer. If you make enough to share, who knows! You might even change some minds about vegan food while you’re at it.
If you’re not comfortable asking about the menu or offering a dish to pass, you might want to “pre-eat.” It’s not the ideal solution, but it beats going hungry. I’ll be honest – this can be a little awkward if you’re in a sit-down meal situation. I think the key here is keeping a chin up, ensuring folks that you have eaten, and answering any questions folks might have. I’d love to hear how you seasoned vegans handle situations like this…I’ll admit that they’re not my strong suit.
It’s surprisingly easy to get a vegan meal at restaurants these days. Fifteen years ago when I went vegetarian, folks thought chicken broth was vegetarian. We’ve come a long way, baby.
If you know where you’re going to eat in advance, you might call ahead to ask any questions you might have. That way, you avoid a When Harry Met Sally moment when the server takes your order.
This isn’t always possible, and that’s no problem. At the restaurant, just scan the menu for a veggie-friendly dish. When the server comes by, you can ask if there is any egg or dairy (sometimes, it helps to specify that you don’t eat butter or cheese either) in the dish. If all else fails, you can usually count on a salad (no bacon, egg, or cheese, please) and a baked potato topped with vinaigrette instead of butter or sour cream.
A lot of places will make you a custom vegan plate if you ask. I’ve done this at many restaurants, and I often end up with the best-looking dish on the table! Just scan for dishes that you could modify into a nice, vegan meal. Ask if they can leave the meat, egg, and/or dairy out of a salad or pasta dish, and you can end up with something just as delicious as everyone else at the table!
When Things Get Ugly
Folks are bound to be curious about your vegan diet, so be ready to answer some questions about why you’ve chosen to eat the way you do. A lot of the time, it’s just genuine interest. I think it’s so important to answer these kinds of questions openly and cheerfully. You’re sort of a vegan ambassador, so put your best foot forward!
Curiosity is one thing, but it’s a whole different story if those questions turn into an attack. It is no fun when someone decides to ruin your meal because of your dietary choices, and I think this is a situation where taking the high road is the best. Maybe this person had a bad experience with a vegetarian or a vegan in the past. Maybe she is threatened by your diet or thinks you’re quietly judging her meal. Whatever the reason, changing the subject is probably your best bet, and humor is probably your greatest weapon. I’m a big fan of the “more for you” tactic. It tends to get a laugh and diffuse any tension.
Food is a touchy subject, and sometimes folks get defensive about it. You don’t want any omnivores at the table to attack you for what’s on your plate, so return the favor in advance. It’s always better to take the high road.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with eating vegan in tricky social situations. Feel free to share away in the comments!