Veganism in social settings

One of the hardest parts of being vegan is dealing with a primarily omnivorous society. In the kitchen, you will be in total control of the menu and ingredients. When dining out, though, you will often have to rely on the good will of others who may know very little about vegetarian cooking and nutrition. In the worst case, this can mean eating appetizers or nothing at all while everyone else at the table enjoys a filling meal. It can be embarrassing when you have to refuse a meal generously offered by your host. So here are a few tips on how to stay well fed, avoid uncomfortable encounters, and make life pleasant for everyone at the table.


Visiting friends or family:

When eating at somebody else's house, it is extremely important to make your dietary restrictions known well in advance. Most hosts will be quite happy to adapt a meal to your needs as long as they have sufficient time to plan and to buy the proper ingredients. Be prepared to explain what veganism is and which foods are most important to avoid. It may be helpful to suggest some foods that you do eat; possibly you can even offer a recipe or two if your host is at a loss for ideas.

My favorite way to deal with dinner invitations is to make a vegan dish of my own to contribute to the meal. This solution has several advantages: it ensures that I will have at least one option that I know I like and can eat, it reduces rather than increases the work for the host, and it gives everyone else at the table the chance to sample some well cooked vegan food.

If you are concerned that you might end up in a situation where you have nothing to eat, you can always eat a small meal in advance or bring a snack along just in case. While this solution may not be optimal, it will at least keep the hunger pains away.

As in all social situations, try to be considerate. If your host goes to a great deal of effort to cook you a special meal but doesn't do it quite right (maybe the rolls contain whey and the pasta contains egg whites), consider eating it anyway. And of course, answer any questions about your diet as politely as possible. Even though veganism may be a central part of your life, most people honestly don't know what it is all about. They deserve your patience and understanding as they try to learn.


Catered events:

Vegetarianism is popular enough by now that almost all professional caterers will offer a vegetarian plate to guests who request it. When you RSVP for the event, just be sure to make a note that you would like a vegetarian (or vegan) meal. Remind your server again as the meal gets underway. The vegetarian option is not always as inspired as its meat-based counterpart (often it is just some rice and steamed vegetables), but at least you will have a plate in front of you and won't go hungry.


Restaurants can be the most confusing places for vegans. With no ingredient lists and with an unfortunate number of waiters who think that chicken and seafood are "vegetarian," it can be very difficult to make sure that you really are getting what you think you are getting. You have several options:

1) To be very certain that a meal is vegan, you can quiz the server and insist that he or she check the ingredient lists. This can be a painful process for both you and the waiter. One trick I have heard can work is to pretend that you have serious allergies to certain foods. Nothing gets a waiter moving faster than the fear of a sick patron in the restaurant.

2) You can take the "educated guess" approach. Learn what sort of problems are likely to occur (such as vegetable soup made with chicken broth or salad with bacon bits on top), and either avoid ordering those foods or ask the waiter about specific ingredients in specific dishes.

3) Sometimes you can ask for a specially prepared meal if nothing on the menu looks suitable. Some chefs are willing to take up the challenge and try something new. If nothing else, you will get a plate of vegetables to keep the hunger away.

4) Whenever you get the chance, eat at restaurants that specifically cater to vegetarians or vegans. They will be much more clued in to your needs, and you will find a wider selection of interesting foods. Many restaurants have a vegetarian selection. (Be sure to scan the descriptions to make sure that their definition of vegetarian is the same as yours.) The really cool restaurants mark items on the menu that are vegan. Some major cities have one or two restaurants that are completely vegan. If you are fortunate enough to live near one of those, be sure to treat yourself from time to time.


A special note to teenagers:

You are in a tougher situation than most vegetarians, because as long as you are living under your parents' roof, you will be depending on them to provide you with food and other means of support. Therefore, if you are deciding to become vegetarian or vegan, it is very important for you to help them accept and understand your decision.

Your parents' job is to look out for your best interests and take care of you as well as they know how to. If they have never heard about vegetarianism before, they will very likely have some concerns. They may worry about your health, or they may think that you are just going through a stage of rebellion. You can help relieve their concerns by doing your research. Educate yourself about vegetarian or vegan nutrition and learn what sorts of foods you will have to eat in order to get all the nutrients you need. If you have decided to become vegetarian for reasons other than health (such as animal welfare or the environment) read up on those issues from non-biased sources. If you can prove to your parents that your decision has been carefully thought out, you will be much more likely to earn their approval and respect.

Your parents might also be reluctant about making major changes in their own lives. Don't expect anyone else in your family to change their diet along with you. (They might surprise you by following in your footsteps down the road). Just make sure they understand that your decision is a personal one. Also, keep in mind that preparing two separate meals for the family each night can be a time-consuming chore. You can make life easier for your parents by learning how to cook vegetarian meals for yourself and helping out in the kitchen.