Feeling Like the Odd One Out at Gatherings?
It is the time of year when celebrating is most prevalent. I have several parties to attend over the next few weeks, and though the parties are being thrown for various reasons with various groups, they all have one thing in common food. Doubtless, vegetarians and vegans love food; but unlike many people we may know, the idea of food that contains animal products can make us grab tissues, feel angry, or contemplate our health.
This topic takes me back. I remember the first time I went to a get together as a vegan. I’d recently been exposed to a vault of disturbing factory farm videos as well as the documentary Earthlings and got into the habit of analyzing my friend’s and family’s plates. Needless to say, food did not seem like quite as cherry a subject at the time. Because of my new feelings toward food, I felt troubled when an email of mine began with, “Hi everyone, Hope the end of the semester is treating you well. The time has come for us to gather for our usual end of the semester lab dinner to thank everyone for their hard work this semester.” My lab was throwing a dinner to show appreciation. It’s not that celebratory dinners were unusual for me, but I really did not know what to expect, and try as I might, I could not shrug off the discomfort of eating with non-vegetarians who I did not know super well. So, I responded to the email, “I’m not sure if I should go to the dinner on Tuesday. Not because I wouldn;’ like to eat with the lab, but because I don’t think there’s really anything vegan on the menu for me to eat.”
After a few months of hearing tofu jokes from my family I grew a bit concerned about coming out of my vegan closet to anyone. So I impatiently sat and contemplated. I waited a while, and a while longer, and ding, my lab professor responded. He looked into the options that the restaurant offered and let me know what was available and told me that he’d feel a little sad if I could’t make it. Counter to what I expected, he was not upset about my diet at all. He was supportive. I pushed myself to go and am glad I did! During the dinner, no one pressed me about my diet, I was welcomed along with my diet, and had a great time!
Since then, I’ve gone to countless lunches and dinners and have not had a bad experience yet. So here are some tips to keep in mind when attending holiday gatherings.
1. Letting people know you are vegetarian or vegan is not dangerous.
Out of all of the dinners I’ve attended, only one person asked “What do you eat?” and they did not ask out of spite. I have not received any rude comments.
2. If the restaurant is set, call up the place ahead of time and see if they do have options for you.
Bloomington is a great city to forego animal products in. Tons of restaurants, especially ethnic ones, have wholesome vegan options. If there really aren’t any options, let someone know. It is perfectly reasonable to let people know your dietary restrictions. Just think of all of the people who are going gluten free these days!
3. If the restaurant is not set and you have a chance to make a suggestion then suggest a place you enjoy eating at.
As a vegan, I’m more likely to expose my coworkers, friends, and family to new food than they are to me. Last spring, I suggested Little Tibet to several meat and potatoes loving coworkers and they were absolutely blown away by what Little Tibet had to offer.
4. You’re not alone. Millions of us know how you feel.
Ask your vegetarian and vegan friends. Most of us have had this experience before. I implore you to pick our brains. We are here for you.