I recently listened to a podcast on No Meat Athlete about the social challenges of being vegan.
One of the things Matt and Doug talked about was if you order something in a restaurant and ask them to adapt the item on the menu to get it without cheese, say, then it comes with cheese, is wasting that cheese worse than just eating it? And is picking the offending ingredient off quietly the best solution?
Another topic they discussed is if somebody makes you a vegan dish at their home, trying really hard to get it right, yet you see them add something which isn’t vegan, is it better to just eat it and then let them know for next time to omit that one thing and save them from feeling bad, disheartened or like they’ve let you down, or should you tell them you cannot eat it?
They also talked about whether it is better to make a joke and brush off any little jibes (such as those little ‘jokes’ we all inevitably get from family members at get-togethers, no matter how long we have been vegan for) to diffuse a potentially awkward social situation or whether to turn it into a teachable moment, but by doing so perhaps making the atmosphere a bit tense.
I would say it is well worth a listen and you can find it here – http://www.nomeatathlete.com/radio-83/
Veganism is becoming more mainstream, make no doubt about it. As we, as humans, become more aware of how our food is produced, the way animals are treated in farming and the impact it has on our planet, not to mention what animal products do to our health, more people are turning to a vegan lifestyle. My hope, and I think it is reasonable, is that in the next 5 to 10 years people will not be having this discussion about how to respond in awkward social situations as being vegan will be completely, 100% accepted, understood and embraced. But until that day arrives, here are my thoughts on these situations…
Don’t apologise or make excuses!
In restaurants, I say clearly order what you want. If you don’t get served what you asked for, then (politely) send it back! Any non-vegan would do this, so why not? I don’t see it as being awkward at all. Of course, you don’t need to scream and shout and make a scene, claiming vegan discrimination! Now that would be awkward. But you’re paying for a service and so long as you clearly asked for something, then if you don’t get it, they are at fault not you. I would not compromise my beliefs and my veganism to eat some cheese for any reason, especially not if I had the privilege of paying for it, too. And I wouldn’t just pick it off, either. No cheese means no cheese. Send it back.
And, besides, usually you are asking them to take things off (cheese, most likely) and so it is costing them less in ingredients anyway!
So don’t feel like you have to justify it to the rest of your group either, which we do by saying “well, you know, I don’t want to be awkward, but, I’m sorry, I…excuse, reason, blah blah blah” as I think it is that dialogue itself which causes the awkward scene. I would simply say “Oops, this has cheese on it. Excuse me. Please could you exchange this for one without cheese? Thanks!” Leave it there. Job done.
Family and group get togethers –
You can eat what you want with minimal to no impact on anyone else
Case in point – this weekend just gone was a bank holiday in the UK – and our last one until Christmas now! I went back to my family home and we had a huge BBQ. We took some Amy’s quinoa burgers and my dad, who was buying in all the other food, got some vegan sausages (he asked, we described, he bought.) We had a small section on the grill set aside for our measly 2 burgers and 2 sausages, and that was the only ‘special treatment’ needed. Everyone else had ‘regular’ BBQ and all the sides – salad, jacket potatoes, corn on the cob, olives, salsa, pickles, chips and dip, were all vegan anyway. Nobody being awkward, no impact on anybody. Good times had by all.
Group meals out? Take charge!
Let’s face it. Usually when a group of people go out to eat, everyone is secretly happy when one person pulls the trigger and takes charge of where the group is going and what time they are going to meet. Otherwise you get an “I don’t mind where we go, you pick” “no, you pick, I don’t mind” situation.
I would say, vegans be bold! Suggest places where you know they have vegan options or are vegan friendly and have dishes that says can be adapted on the menu, if you worry about being ‘awkward’ (but please refer back to point number 1 here!) These are going to be places everyone loves anyway – Pizza Express, Wahaca, Las Iguanas, Carluccios, Wagamama, indian, thai and mexican restaurants, the list goes on…
To eat or not to eat –
If someone makes you a dish and you see them put something which isn’t vegan into it, it is a pretty tricky dilemma. I would like to know what you would do, vegan (or not!) reader, if you were in this situation. Please vote or comment and lets get a debate going!!
Sure, it isn’t like they’ve added an allergen which is going to make you ill or potentially kill you. That would be different. If you had a nut allergy and you saw a friend cooking you dinner and slopping loads of nut oil into the dish, you would of course tell them you couldn’t eat it. And perhaps question if they were trying to bump you off..?!
But this has happened in two instances I have been told about. One was a colleague who said her friend made her a dish with chicken stock in it, and she told her friend she couldn’t eat it. (I think she may have offered to pay for a take away to appease the situation.) The other is Doug from the NMA podcast in question, who was having brunch at a friend’s house and saw them add Worcestershire Sauce, which has anchovies in it I believe. I think he did say he ate it to avoid creating any tension or an awkward situation.
I’m not sure what I would do, it hasn’t happened to me to date so I haven’t been in the situation to have to make a call. Does it depend on what it is that has been added and how much of it? Is this relevant? Is a bit of butter not as bad as fish sauce? If it is something which can be picked out, is that OK whereas if it is Worcestershire Sauce, once it’s in there, it’s in there? (Again refer back to point 1!) Does any of this matter?
Sitting here now, I don’t think I would be able to eat it, and I don’t think any of these variables matter to me. Whilst I don’t want to make my friends and family uncomfortable or upset them and I truly do appreciate it when people want to learn more and try, I am two years down this road now and I just feel too strongly about it. If I am ever in the situation, I will report back accordingly. But for the purpose of this post, I am going to stick my neck out and say that I think I would politely say I cannot eat it and phone for a chickpea curry and some roti, my treat!
This is hard to deal with. No matter what you say to some people, making a joke is their go-to response. I find it is sometimes their way of dealing with something they don’t fully understand, or perhaps they feel embarrassed that they are eating meat in a vegan’s presence?
But I don’t like it. I don’t like being laughed at. Shocking. It gets tiring. Especially when I am standing up for what I believe in and living my life in a more compassionate way, not forcing it onto others and not impinging on what others can eat, wear or do in my presence. By acting that way myself, I would hope others would act the same way towards me. Not always so, although for the most part I find these jokers to be the exception, not the rule.
I think there is a time and a place for both responses – to brush it off or to contest it – and it depends on who you are with, where you are and what you have discussed before. Helpful, I know. Whereas I know vegans who would say every moment like this is a teachable moment, I probably wouldn’t encourage a full-blown debate at a dinner party with your boss and people you don’t know that well, but then I do challenge my dad back when he says things like ‘do you want a bite? Go on, you know you want a bite really’ (of this cake, chocolate, pie, whatever it may be) as it is getting a bit tedious. And not only that, I don’t want it to be misconstrued as me depriving myself of something I really, really want. Because, as any vegan knows, if we want cake, chocolate or pie, we bloody well have some.
So there you have it. This is my take on this topic. I’d love to hear yours. I promise I won’t laugh at you.