I read something on Facebook this morning that made me think that there is a pretty big disconnect when an omnivore invites someone for a holiday gathering and the guest announces, “I am a vegetarian” or the even more dreaded, “I am a vegan.” I have been thinking about this post—and the subsequent comments—all morning and have decided that the most useful response from me would be to offer my insights.
Christine’s Guide to Hosting Vegetarians and Vegans over the Holidays
When I tell a host that I eat a mostly vegan diet, I am hoping for several things.
1) That my host will not be insulted when I don’t eat the gorgeous Beef Wellington they spent two days preparing;
2) That my host will not be insulted when I offer to bring something tasty I can eat to share with everyone because I really try NOT to be a bother;
3) That my host will be prepared when I ask at Christmas Dinner/New Year’s Eve Party/etc. how something is prepared so I can determine if I feel comfortable eating the dish in question or whether I will make other choices.
I am also secretly hoping that:
1) My host may think twice about throwing bacon all over the roasted Brussel sprouts;
2) Or, if it’s just not Christmas without bacon on the Brussel sprouts, that they will consider putting a serving aside for me before bacon is added;
3) That my host would consider buying a single tub of Earth Balance (it lasts a long, long time in the fridge and tastes pretty good) for the mashed potatoes (my family eats Earth Balance and Just Mayo pretty happily without feeling like they are giving anything up); or at least have it on hand so I can put it on my dairy-free serving of mashed potatoes or maybe a slice of bread. In fact, I am HAPPY to bring my own tub of Earth Balance and quinoa milk if you don’t mind putting aside that single serving of mashed potatoes for me;
4) That my host considers making a meat-free, dairy-free side dish that is substantial enough to be my main dish but is still attractive to the other guests. Growing up in a big Italian family, there was ALWAYS pasta at holiday dinners so this seems pretty normal to me. I like pasta and red sauce. It is the rare omnivore who doesn’t have a vegetarian or vegan dish in their normal meal rotation. Simple is fine—I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and effort. But I also understand that cooking for a crowd over the holidays is a lot of work and pretty stressful. I will not be insulted if you ask me to bring something I can safely and comfortably eat. REALLY. I am also happy to provide suggestions if you really want to cook for me. My omni family and I have lots of experience with accommodating not only my diet, but my picky teenagers, my ex-husband who is on a low-salt diet (much harder than vegetarian/vegan in our experience) and a friend with Celiac’s disease, who basically needs to eat the complete opposite of what I do.
What I am NOT doing when I tell a host I eat a mostly vegan diet:
1) I DON’T expect you to buy expensive and/or hard to find ingredients to please me. There are more and more cool and interesting vegetarian and vegan foods available at the Giant these days that you might also enjoy, but I don’t really expect you to make a big fuss over me. I really just want to be able to communicate with you about what I might be able to eat. I am there for the pleasure of your company.
2) I DON’T expect you to spend two days slaving over a hot stove making me an elaborate meat-free, dairy-free meal. If you enjoy that kind of thing, go to town, but I like simple too and survive just fine on simple on the weekdays. I admittedly rely heavily on a husband who actually enjoys day-to-day cooking. If we were depending on me, there would be a lot more cereal and bagels served for dinner.
3) I am NOT judging you. My decision to eat a mostly vegan diet is just that—my decision. Made for reasons that are unique to me. A decision that took me 45 years to commit to because change is hard and bacon NEVER stops smelling good. I live with three omnivores and we manage to co-exist just fine in the kitchen and at the table. I do find that just saying that I eat a mostly vegan diet seems to make omnivores feel instantly defensive and judged. I find this fascinating as people really DO question my food choices on a fairly regular basis (if I had a dollar for every time someone asked “but where do you get your protein?!” I wouldn’t need to worry about next year’s college tuition bill!), but I don’t remember EVER asking ANYONE why they still eat meat. I am happy to talk about my decisions and choices and zealously promote more meatless meals but I don’t need to change or convert anyone. I just need to feel good about my choices.