Dining Out, Dining In and Dining Over
Dining Out – Eating out on the town
Nowadays, we have found restaurants with dishes for vegans fairly easily, especially in the Americas, Australia, and, of course, Britain (where the vegan movement began). Although your chances are slim at the local burger or chicken chain, some have ample salad bars. If you are on the road, it’s usually best (and most healthful for your travel partners) to plan ahead and bring your own food and drink. For just one example, you can carry chai tea with vanilla rice milk in a thermos, and you can bring breadsticks and Baba Ghanouj or a pan of Bob’s Peace Vigil Date Bars from the cookbook Dining With Friends. Your roadmates will likely love these snacks, and want to buy a vegan cookbook, thus supporting animal-friendly projects. When you’ve got it, flaunt it. Veganism is direct action any time!
If you know you’ll be stopping at a restaurant, call ahead to find out what vegan offerings are available. (Ask carefully about sauces and breads -- ask the chef, or have them check the ingredients list on packaged items - and if they do homemade pasta, ask about eggs; you might need to ask them to make up your dish beginning with a dry pasta instead of their house noodles.) Good restaurants will often take time to prepare a special vegan dish. Your discussion also informs restaurants that there is a customer niche they need to know and welcome. The more vegans get out there in the restaurant world and make their presence known, the more vegan items will start appearing on menus. Of course, don’t hesitate to use the word ‘vegan’ and explain what it means if necessary.
To let people know how to plan for dining-out events at a restaurant, you might find the message sent out by Club Veg Philadelphia helpful. Each of their event alerts includes this language:
NOTE: At restaurants offering non-vegan food items, we respectfully request that all attendees sitting at a Club Veg table order only vegan items for the comfort of all and in keeping with Club Veg principles. Thank you for your co-operation.
If you’ll be in a town with a vegan restaurant, though, do support it! That way, you know your hard-earned money will be in turn earned by people who are working to make the world a better, more respectful place. A number of vegan restaurants, from Eugene, Oregon to Philadelphia, Washington, DC and New York, have simply gone out of business for lack of community support. Let’s do what we can to help vegans and vegan establishments thrive.
Are you in various volunteer groups? Do shelter fundraisers? Keep alert. Suggest a vegan restaurant for community meetings early! Maybe you can work out a discount between your group and the vegan restaurant nearest you.
If you are on the road or just unfamiliar with your local restaurants, here are some sites that will help keep your belly full:
- Friends of Animals Vegan Restaurant Guides and Reviews -- a listing of restaurants in major U.S. cities as well as reviews.
- Happy Cow’s Vegetarian Guide to Restaurants and Health Food Stores -- a global dining database which tells viewers which restaurants are ovo-lacto-vegetarian, vegan, vegan-friendly, macro-biotic, or raw.
Dining In – Hosting dinner parties
Hosting a party at your place will help you avoid tension or confusion with friends and relatives, and is a great way to introduce the folks to vegan food. Let’s just say this now: Part of vegan activism is being a cook. No matter where you work or who your relatives are, if you can become a decent cook, you will have people around you who warm up to your commitment. The way to their hearts may well be their stomachs, so get cooking!
Buffet style dining works well if you are catering to non-vegans. Having an array of tempting foods shows people who are new to the idea how delicious and satisfying vegan food can truly be. Be ready to share recipes!
Part of being a terrific host is anticipating your guests’ needs and preferences. Think about how you’d like to be treated when you go to dinner at a friend’s home and then extend the same courtesy to your own guests. When you invite them, ask if they have special dietary needs, or if there’s anything they don’t like. Show your willingness to accommodate their needs in the same way you’d like to have your own needs accommodated in their homes.
If you are having a potluck, be clear in your invitation about what ‘vegan’ means: that is, completely vegetarian items. No milk or flesh products, no honey or eggs. State directly that it is a vegan potluck and give specifics about what items are vegan. Whether at your own potluck or one hosted by a friend, share your knowledge with an ingredients card near your dishes.
You may want to give suggestions for dishes non-vegans would have no trouble bringing, such as a salad (no bacon bits, no cheese or dairy dressing, no croutons with butter, milk or whey ingredients; but croutons made of garlic toast using olive oil or Earth Balance vegan margarine are perfect). A pasta and bean salad is easy to make and works well with an oil and vinegar dressing. There is also a recipe for the classic Mediterranean salad in our cookbook, Dining With Friends. You might wish to give the recipe to the guest, and let them see how delicious that salad turns out!
If you have a lot of non-vegan friends and this is the first vegan potluck you’re throwing, you can present the idea in a positive way by making it a theme party. This can be a real conversation starter and set a great example. For example, emphasize the ecologically kind aspects of veganism by combining the meal with a well-planned recycling event or a raffle that will benefit a local wildlife preserve or community garden.
Despite all your efforts to explain what items are vegan, what do you do if someone brings a non-vegan dish? Show them as much appreciation as you showed your friend who brought that yummy tofu cheesecake, and politely explain why it isn’t vegan. Tell them that there is plenty of food (make sure you always prepare extra just in case) so you’d like to request that they set their dish aside and take it home later. Again, show them that you appreciate their offering.
Dining Over – Dinner invitations from your non-vegan friends
It’s fun to be invited to someone’s house for dinner – especially if you feel confident in requesting that your commitment be respected. For some vegans, eating in the presence of animal products is just too unbearable and they avoid such situations. (This is more common among long-time vegans; the good news is that for them, most everyone who’s close to them knows about vegan living so well that vegan events may well be the norm surrounding them anyway.) Other vegans can enjoy non-vegan events as long as their own meal is vegan.
Whatever your position is, you need to make sure that your host is aware of it beforehand. Showing up at family Thanksgiving and then reacting with horror and disgust when you see a turkey on the table is not helpful. A better approach is to invite everyone to your place, or offer to bring the main dish -- Holiday Cashew Nut Roast, or Pasta with Artichoke Hearts, for example. Here again, we see Dining With Friends can be a lifesaver. In this cookbook, Priscilla Feral revisited all the very best holiday recipes passed down in the family for generations, and made them into excellent, modern, and, most of all, animal-friendly works of culinary art.
If you make the choice to attend a dinner where meat will be served and you have let your host know that you do not eat animal products, you may still arrive to find the only vegan dishes are the salad and potatoes. To many people who are unfamiliar with veganism, tofu may be a form of martial art, and they may believe that you live off of lettuce and juice. If you wind up in this situation, ask for the oil and vinegar, eat the salad and potatoes, praise them as the gifts they are, and have a snack when you get home. A friendly explanation of why you are not eating the other items may enlighten your host and help the planning for future meals. Remember that your gracious attitude shapes the way other guests at the dinner table describe vegans. Each meal with non-vegans is an opportunity to dispel myths and answer questions about your decisions.